Work Begins to Revive Britain’s Lost Rainforests

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Scattered across the British landscape are often-overlooked treasures: ancient rainforests covering only 1% of the country. While the term may evoke images of lush jungles in the Amazon or Borneo, few realise that Britain boasts its own unique rainforests which were almost ubiquitous across the main island. However, these ecosystems have been greatly degraded through intensive agriculture, rapid urbanisation and generational neglect. Thankfully, work is underway to restore these great lungs of the North Atlantic.

Tucked away in remote corners of Britain, the temperate rainforests thrive with their thick canopies and diverse wildlife. The Celtic Rainforest in Wales and the Atlantic oak woodlands of Scotland are prime examples, particularly in the western rainier parts of the island which meet the high humidity of the ocean. These ecosystems, characterized by high levels of precipitation and mild temperatures, host a wealth of biodiversity.

These rainforests harbour a diverse range of species, with many being unique and endemic to these regions. Examples include mosses, lichens, ferns, and ancient oak trees. In the case of the latter, Britain has the highest number of specimens in Europe, with 3,300 hardwoods, the oldest among them being Lincolnshire’s millennia-old Bowthorpe Oak. This is in part a result of geographical fortune where the island has avoided the burning through of woodlands required to support Europe’s historical terrestrial wars.

Beyond their biodiversity, Britain’s rainforests play a crucial role in mitigating climate change. Forests act as carbon sinks, sequestering vast amounts of carbon dioxide. As climate change accelerates, the need to reduce carbon emissions becomes more urgent, and restoring these rainforests presents a natural solution.

Britain’s rainforests also play a crucial role in water management and conservation. The dense vegetation acts as a natural sponge, absorbing and regulating water flow. This helps prevent soil erosion, maintain water quality, and reduce the risk of flooding in downstream areas. Restoring these rainforests ensures the resilience of watersheds, benefiting both the environment and local communities.

So in a groundbreaking initiative, The Wildlife Trusts, backed by a substantial £38 million in funding from Aviva, are spearheading a visionary project to restore British rainforests.

The initiative aligns with broader nature-based projects geared towards addressing climate change, achieving Britain’s net-zero targets, and safeguarding 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 (‘30×30’).

The project’s distinctive approach, investing in nature restoration two decades ahead of potential carbon emissions associated with future investments, is commendable for its forward-looking perspective and commitment to sustainable practices.

The restoration project sets a goal to increase woodland cover to at least 17% across the UK by 2050, aligning with the country’s net-zero ambition.

The meticulous selection of suitable areas for rainforest regeneration will be guided by extensive research, surveys, and active community involvement.

In conclusion, the endeavour to restore British rainforests is not just a local conservation initiative but a global imperative. By nurturing these ecosystems back to health, we not only safeguard the rich biodiversity they host but also actively contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change. The collaboration between The Wildlife Trusts and Aviva exemplifies a proactive and visionary approach that sets a precedent for sustainable conservation efforts across the country.

Waterfall in Kells Bay, County Kerry. Ireland. July 2017.
Hauke Musicaloris.

Broadleaved trees growing beside Afon Cwm-mynach covered in mosses and fungi typical of Celtic Rainforest. Dec, 2009.
John Haynes