Tropical Rainforests Are Not the Only Rainforests Under Threat

Scotland's temperate rainforest is in trouble.

Celtic Rainforest in summer, Argyll, Scotland
Celtic Rainforest in summer, Argyll, Scotland.

Jamie Lamb / / Getty Images

In North America and in Europe, there is a lot of justifiable hand-wringing over what is being done to the Amazon and other tropical rainforests. Treehugger readers will already be well aware of the role that we western consumers play in that deforestation and the extent and seriousness of the problem.

Few realize, however, that we have our own rainforests to protect, and that in many cases, we have not been good at doing so.

Temperate rainforests can be found in several locations with oceanic climates around the world, including only a couple of hours from where I live here in Scotland.

They cover less than 1% of the planet and are threatened in numerous ways by climate change and human activity—they are crucial habitat that sequesters carbon at impressive rates—yet many people here in the British Isles are unaware of their existence here.

What is a Temperate Rainforest?

Temperate rainforests are forests in the mid-latitudes that are cool and wet due to marine influence and heavy rainfall. They have dense canopy cover and an understory of mosses, lichens, and more.

Britain's Lost Rainforests

I am currently reading Guy Shrubsole's excellent book “Lost Rainforests of Britain” and though I was already well aware of these amazing environments from many holidays and hikes over the years, and through my work as an ecosystem restoration consultant, I am still enjoying learning more. And in talking about this with others, I have been surprised to realize just how little known our internationally significant temperate rainforests are.

Through the link above you will find a map that has been created showing the location of rainforest fragments across the west of the British Isles.

Here in the British Isles, many regions of rainforest have been lost.

Much of the West Coast of Scotland, for example, would have once been covered with rainforest that no longer is. Though remnants of ancient rainforest still linger in a range of locations along the west, in Scotland, Wales, and parts of southwestern England.

The gree hell. Mossy roots and trunks in deep forest.
Mossy roots and trunks deep in the forest of Scotland. Drepicter / Getty Images

These woods, predominantly oak, with some hazel, rowan, birch, ash, holly, and sometimes native pine, are particularly precious for the sheer diversity of life they contain. They are characterized by their moisture and high levels of precipitation and humidity. And are also characterized by the fact that the trees are abundantly clad with ferns, mosses, liverworts, and lichens.

These temperate rainforests, like those in the Pacific Northwest of North America—which is the largest temperate rainforest remaining on Earth—are precious remnants of the Atlantic oak woods that once covered far larger swathes of the British Isles, as well as other parts of north-western Europe.

These areas are notable not only for their biodiversity but also for their excellent carbon sequestration capability. The epiphytes they contain also hold many secrets, and could hold many medical solutions as yet untapped.

Restoring Rainforests

Fortunately, alongside Guy Shrubsole, there are many others working to increase awareness of our temperature rainforests, to protect remaining fragments, and to restore rainforests to a broader area where they would naturally be found.

As for Scotland's rainforest, the more people who learn about it, the more likely we are to protect it, as the Alliance for Scotland's Rainforest points out. The largest and best areas of intact habitat of this type are found in Scotland, and we must look to protect, expand and restore this globally rare type of environment.

There are currently 93,000 hectares of semi-natural woodland within Scotland's western rainforest zone, but less than one-third of this woodland—around 30,000 hectares, contains rainforest biodiversity. These remnants face many threats—from deer, sheep, encroachment of non-native rhododendrons or conifer plantation, air pollution etc.—but increasingly, work is being done to protect them.

Often, when pressures like overgrazing or red deer populations are removed from rainforest sites, those sites are able to regenerate naturally. To allow some of these precious rainforests to spread, rather than shrinking, we may only need to prevent harm, rather than planting trees or taking a more active approach. As one of our most precious habitats, it's high time we take urgent action to support and protect our rainforest.