Often prefixed with ‘Amazon’, rainforest is not a word we’ve ever associated with Scotland – but it turns out the west coast boasts a type of rainforest even more endangered than its tropical cousin.
Defined by National Geographic simply as “an area of tall, mostly evergreen trees, and a high amount of rainfall”, rainforests are found on every continent barring Antarctica, from the impenetrable jungles of the Congo to the temperate woodland on Australia’s northern coast.
If that sounds like a very loose definition, it isn’t, and, according to the Woodland Trust, the climatic conditions for rainforests appear on less than 1 per cent of the earth’s landmass. Britain and Ireland actually punch above their weight historically, once coated in a layer of ‘Atlantic’ or ‘Celtic’ rainforest.
Today only fragments remain, mostly on steep-sided hills and ravines that animals are unable to graze. Scotland’s ancient forests, mostly oak woods and hazel woods, now total a mere 30,000 hectares (a little over the area of Edinburgh), clustered mostly around the lochs of Argyll, Inverness-shire, and the Isle of Skye.
A lush labyrinth of twisted trunks and vivid greens, the forests boast biodiversity of international importance. They probably won’t end up on David Attenborough, but the mosses, lichens and liverworts rank among the world’s rarest, sprawling over boulders, trees and the forest floor.
Once described as “a lichenologist’s Mecca” by Scotland’s Scientific Advisory Committee, a single ravine near Knapdale houses up to 200 varieties of these so-called ‘lower plants’, around a quarter of the UK’s native species.
Now, the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest (a voluntary partnership of 20 conservation organisations) is launching an urgent appeal for funds to protect the forests from a litany of threats. Grazing by sure-footed deer, nitrogen pollution, climate change, diseased ash trees, and strangulation by invasive rhododendrons all threaten this most historic of habitats.
Campaigners need roughly £850,000 ($1.59m) to save two crucial projects – one in Argyll, the other in the Highlands – and compiled a video seeking support.
Did you know about Scotland’s rainforest? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
– With PA
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