If you were asked where the world’s most endangered rainforest is, your first answer is unlikely to be the British Isles. But the UK is home to dwindling patches of temperate rainforest, a rare and ancient ecosystem found in isolated fragments along the country’s western coasts.
Covered in an emerald sheen of evergreen flora, vast tracts of temperate rainforest once grew all along the western coasts of the UK. Atlantic storms, heavy rainfall and high humidity levels provide a moisture-rich environment where this unique habitat can thrive, but centuries of deforestation mean the Woodland Trust – the UK’s largest forest conservation charity – now describes this world’s rare ecosystem as “more at risk than the tropical rainforest”.
In rainforest regions of the UK, however, conservationists are mapping, preserving and regenerating this rare habitat, while encouraging travellers, hikers and nature lovers to visit.
“Temperate rainforests are characterized by very wet, humid and mild climates,” explained conservation charity scientist Dr Alison Smith. plant life, who currently leads a project to protect and improve temperate rainforests in South West England. “They require low temperature variations throughout the year and high annual rainfall. Often they are found in coastal and mountain areas with deeply incised topography – such as rivers, ravines and waterfalls – which add to wet conditions.”
Globally, the temperate rainforest biome is found in countries as large as Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, and Chile. In the UK, the rolling landscape of the windy west coast is the perfect refuge for temperate rainforests, and many surviving fragments are found in south-west England, Wales and the west coast of Scotland and Northern Ireland.