Environment

British rainforests: Rare ecosystems to be restored in Wales and the Isle of Man

Believe it or not, some of the world’s most endangered rainforests are right on the UK's doorstep.

A fragment of Britain's ancient rainforests at Coed Crafnant.

A fragment of Britain's ancient rainforests at Coed Crafnant. Image: Ben Porter/Wildlife Trusts

Imagine a rainforest. Where is it?

Maybe you pictured Brazil, or the Congo. But believe it or not, some of the world’s most endangered rainforests are right on our doorstep.

Lush temperate rainforests once covered swathes of the UK. Decimated by agriculture and construction, these unique ecosystems now cover less than one percent of British land.

But a new project hopes to revive this lost Celtic rainforest. The Wildlife Trusts has announced plans to restore the forests in two locations in Wales and the Isle of Man.

The group are “delighted” to undertake the restoration, enthused director of landscape recovery Rob Stoneman.

“[The rainforest restoration projects will] provide vital habitat for wildlife in a time of nature crisis, store vast amounts of carbon, and benefit local communities for generations to come,” he said.

Where are Britain’s rainforests?

British rainforests are very different to their cousins in the Amazon – but they are just as worthy of preservation.

Thriving in wet, humid, and mild climates, the ancient forests are found near the sea in areas that receive high rainfall.

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The areas are so damp that plants grow on other plants – meaning trees are festooned with lush green moss, ferns, lichens, and fungi.

Such landscapes are currently rare in the UK, covering roughly 130,000 hectares of Britain – or around 0.6 percent of the country’s land mass. These forests are concentrated on the west coast of Scotland, and in Snowdonia, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the West Country.

But it wasn’t always this way. Around 20 percent of the country has a climate that is warm and wet enough for temperate rainforest to thrive.  

Much of this precious ecosystem could be restored, campaigners have declared.

Funded by a £38 million donation by Insurance company Aviva, the first two sites to benefit from the Wildlife Trusts restoration are Creg y Cowin in the Isle of Man and Bryn Ifan in North Wales.

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At Creg y Cowin, the Manx Wildlife Trust will replant 28 hectares with native tree species. A further eight hectares will regenerate naturally.

At Bryn Ifan, the North Wales Wildlife Trust will plant 40 hectares of mountain rainforest.

Natural regeneration: What’s next for Britain’s rainforests?

It’s a good start, says Guy Shrubsole, a campaigner and author of the book ‘The Lost Rainforests of Britain’.

But public funding could take the projects much further.

“This must be a spur to the UK government to act too – moving from acknowledging the importance of Britain’s rainforests to more protections and funding,” he tweeted.

Shrubsole has previously indicated that the UK’s temperate rainforests could double in a generation if they were allowed to naturally regenerate.

Natural regeneration means letting nature take its course, allowing trees and shrubs to self-seed and spread.

Restoring Britain’s temperate rainforests is a very popular policy. According to a 2022 Yougov Poll – commissioned by Shrubsole’s ‘Lost Rainforests of Britain’ organisation – 93 per cent of the British public support protecting these ecosystems, while 85 per cent back its expansion. Four fifths think public funding should support its restoration.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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