Lydford Gorge temperate rainforest


In a race against time, conservationists are striving to safeguard the survival of rare flora and fauna inhabiting the UK’s last remaining temperate rainforests.

These lush woodlands, primarily situated along the western coasts of the UK, harbour unique lichens that are not found anywhere else on the planet. The historical decline of these rainforests has placed globally significant plants and fungi in jeopardy of extinction, with specific threats including deforestation, climate change, air pollution, and the impact of ash dieback.

Temperate rainforests, characterised by heavy rainfall, are located in the middle latitudes of the Earth, creating a unique environment for rare plants and fungi to thrive. Remaining pockets of temperate rainforest can be found in various regions such as the west of Scotland, north Wales, the Lake District, and southwest England. However, these ancient woodlands have significantly diminished due to deforestation and overgrazing over the years.

Described by Dartmoor ranger Demelza Hyde as a “miniature world of mosses and lichens,” these environments are considered the lifeblood of temperate rainforests.

At locations like Lydford Gorge, many rare species have been discovered only in recent years. Conservation efforts are underway to preserve lichens growing on dying trees through transplantation to other parts of the forest and by planting new trees.

“Because of ash dieback and the changes in climate – the crisis that we’re facing – we have a very finite amount of time to do something about it,” she said. Ash dieback is a fungus that spread from Asia and has devastated European ash trees in recent decades.

The threat of ash dieback, a fungus originating from Asia, has further exacerbated the challenges faced by these rainforests. Lichens, a unique class of organisms, play a crucial role in these ecosystems. Comprising fungi growing in association with other life forms like algae, there are over 2,000 lichen species in Britain and Ireland alone, many of which are exclusive to temperate rainforests.

Highlighting the importance of obscure species, naturalist April Windle emphasises that tiny lichens deserve as much attention as larger, more conspicuous ones.

“In conservation, it tends to be the big, fluffy, very charismatic species that get a lot of the attention,” she explained.

“But for me, within a habitat like this, it’s the small things that make these habitats so incalculably important: the lichens that you find in these woodlands are as rare, if not rarer, than the habitat in which they’re found.”

The horsehair lichen Bryoria smithii, known at only two rainforest sites in Britain, and the rare comma lichen Arthonia thoriana, found solely at Horner Wood in Somerset, underscore the uniqueness and fragility of these ecosystems.

Despite their significance, temperate rainforests in the UK were largely unknown until recently, underscoring the urgent need for awareness and protective measures.



At Natural World Fund, we are passionate about stopping the decline in our wildlife.

The decline in our wildlife is shocking and frightening. Without much more support, many of the animals we know and love will continue in their decline towards extinction.

When you help to restore a patch of degraded land through rewilding to forests, meadows, or wetlands, you have a massive impact on the biodiversity at a local level. You give animals a home and food that they otherwise would not have had, and it has a positive snowball effect on the food chain.

We are convinced that this is much better for the UK than growing lots of fast-growing coniferous trees, solely to remove carbon, that don’t actually help our animals to thrive.

This is why we stand for restoring nature in the UK through responsible rewilding. For us, it is the right thing to do. Let’s do what’s right for nature!

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