This post is by Guy Shrubsole.
Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, pictured above, is easily the most famous example of temperate rainforest in England. But it’s far from the only fragment in existence.
Very few people know that England once supported large expanses of temperate rainforest, in a swathe across the western upland parts of the country – from the Lake District in the north, through the Pennines, Dales and Forest of Bowland, to Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor in the Westcountry. They were felled by Bronze Age settlers, medieval tin-miners, Victorian charcoal-makers, and in the modern era by foresters who replaced them with high-yield conifers for timber. Blanket bog formed over large areas of the uplands, deterring the return of dense woodland, and overgrazing by sheep has prevented their regrowth on the hillsides and in the cloughs.
Yet despite all this, pockets of temperate rainforest cling on in England today. They huddle in lost valleys and sprout from piles of scree where boulders prevent even the surest-footed sheep from nibbling fresh saplings. What’s more, they could yet spread further, if we give them the space to grow and protect them from overgrazing. Indeed, as I’ll show in later posts on this blog, some of England’s rainforests are already expanding through natural regeneration.
The trouble is, no-one seems to have comprehensively mapped where England’s last, lost rainforests still survive and thrive today. A 2015 book by Clifton Bain, The Rainforests of Britain and Ireland, is an excellent guide, but even it misses many fragments of rainforest that I know to exist, having chanced upon them. It’s important for us to know where they are – both to protect what’s left, and to help coordinate efforts to restore them.
And that’s where you, dear reader, come in. Can we, together, map England’s lost rainforests? I’ve started the job with the map below, which has two layers:
- A layer showing the ‘temperate rainforest bioclimatic zone’ – this uses a dataset kindly sent to me by Christopher Ellis, author of a 2016 peer-reviewed paper modelling where temperate rainforest is most likely to occur in Britain (I’ve combined it with a 5km x 5km OS grid).
- Known fragments of temperate rainforest that I’ve been able to visit and photograph.
But I know there’s lots more temperate rainforest out there waiting to be discovered, and that needs adding to this map. Can you help? If you know of fragments of temperate rainforest (and even better, if you have photographic proof), please fill out this Google form and tweet me your photos. As submissions are made, I’ll regularly update the map with your finds. Thank you for your help!