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November 05, 2021 5 min read
Now, this might sound as if I’ve been living under a rock, but it was only a matter of weeks ago that I was completely unaware that Scotland had a rainforest. A small part of me hopes that this comes as a surprise to you, too, as I’ve lived in Scotland my entire life and I’d feel a little less silly about it. I've been learning more about them this week after a chance encounter with a friend in-store who is working on conservation project. I had always thought that rainforests could only be found along the equator, although I now know that those are tropical rainforests. Scotland’s rainforest, on the other hand, is a temperate rainforest, the likes of which are found in cooler, coastal areas in the middle latitudes. When you think about it, it’s obvious that we’d have one here, considering we do have forests and our reputation for rain…
In the same way that tropical rainforests are teeming with rare and wonderful species, Scotland’s temperate rainforest is filled with swathes of unique and rare species that are native to Scotland, such as lichens, mosses, and liverworts. While birch trees form the majority of the tree cover, Atlantic oak, ash, native pine and hazel can be found there, too. Conditions vary: some areas are open and light, while other spots are gloomy and humid. The high rainfall, mild temperatures, and crisp, clean air we have here in Scotland provide ideal conditions for this diverse mix of trees and lower plant species. Amazingly, this kind of climate covers less than 1% of the entire planet, meaning that Scotland’s rainforest is internationally recognised as one of the most precious habitats in the world.
Both Scotland’s temperate rainforest and its equatorial counterpart have one key characteristic in common: they are crucial to our global environment. Rainforests act as “carbon sinks”, meaning that they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and give back oxygen. The absorption of CO2 helps to stabilise the Earth’s climate – a process that is more vital than ever in the current climate emergency. And rainforests are essential in other ways, too: they provide a home to species that are unable to survive anywhere else in the world, meaning that they are crucial in helping the world combat the current biodiversity crisis.
However, Scotland’s rainforest isn’t only important for the environment and biodiversity; it’s also essential for the people who live and work within and around it. For example, the management of the rainforest provides jobs for local people, it’s a natural classroom for local children, and its canopy provides cover for livestock. For both locals and visitors who are aware of its existence, the rainforest is a valuable place that is enjoyed for health and well-being purposes, thanks to its fresh air and inspirational, magical surroundings.
So, why is so little known about Scotland’s rainforest? Well, sadly, there isn’t a whole lot of it left – around 30,000 hectares.
There are two significant threats to Scotland’s rainforest: overgrazing and invasive non-native species. The two main culprits are deer, which contribute to 80% of the overgrazing problem, and rhododendron ponticum, which is choking 40% of the area. And these aren’t the only threats. Climate change and air pollution are both significant threats to all rainforests across the world. Since the climate that governs Scotland’s rainforest is already incredibly rare, even the smallest shift in conditions could have a devastating effect.
In order to overcome these threats, there needs to be significant and rapid action. There are currently 60,000 hectares of forest in Scotland that could be restored to rainforest status with the right management, but of course funds are limited. We can all do our bit to change this situation by spreading the word that 1) Scotland has a rainforest and 2) it is in danger and needs our help and 3) we can all help to raise for organisations protecting it.
Thankfully, there are already people out there who are doing great things for Scotland’s rainforest. For example, Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest is a voluntary partnership of over 20 organisations that are working together to save Scotland’s rainforest. They are doing a fantastic job at establishing landscape-scale projects to restore and expand the rainforest site, identifying how the Scottish Government could give greater priority to restoring Scotland’s rainforest, encouraging and enabling landowners to expand and restore the rainforest, and working together to share ideas, information, knowledge and expertise in order to improve the organisation’s understanding of how to best manage the rainforest.
So far, the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest has succeeded in getting every Scottish party to identify the restoration of Scotland’s rainforest in their manifesto in the most recent election, which represents an impressive and significant start to their journey. You can donate, or find out how you can volunteer or help in any other way here.
Someone else who is working to save Scotland’s rainforest is Dr Vivien Cumming, who is currently filming a documentary about the Scottish rainforest in the hope of raising awareness about the need to protect it. I had the pleasure of chatting with her recently, where she told me about an exciting event that was scheduled to take place in Scotland’s rainforest during COP26, 2021. Together with the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest, and organisation Jiboiana, who work with and help fund indigenous communities in their protection of the rainforests, Vivien had arranged for a group of indigenous leaders from the Amazon to come and bless Scotland’s rainforest. If you’d like to learn more about this amazing event and see clips from it, head over to Jiboina’s Instagram page here.
The protection of our rainforest has begun to garner the attention of some pretty influential people too. For example, two influencers activists and who are doing an outstanding job of spreading the word about Scotland’s rainforest are Jack Harries and Alice Aedy, co-founders of Earthrise Studio. Jack and Alice are working with Dr Cumming on her documentary, and are sharing the process with the 1.4 million followers they share between them.
If you’d like to visit Scotland’s rainforest, head to Scotland’s west coast. It’s easily accessible through certain towns, including Balmacara. The Coille Mhòr, a woodland that boasts magical oak and birch woodlands with thick carpets of mosses and an abundance of lichens, is located just above Balmacara Square.
Did you know about Scotland’s rainforest? If you did, have you been there? Be sure to let us know, and send us any pics if you have. We’d love to see them!
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