IT was once plentiful along the west coast of Europe before pollution and clearing left it as vulnerable to destruction as its tropical namesake.

Scotland’s unique temperate rainforest is now the focus of nature conservation organisations who have joined together in bid to prevent them vanishing forever.

Members of the new “Atlantic Woodland Alliance” will gather at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) today [MON] for the launch of a report outlining how to save the forests in Scotland, their last European stronghold. Rainforests are found along the west coast where the moisture-laden Gulf Stream from the Atlantic Ocean comes in contact with the land and condenses into rain.

The woodlands are classed as cool temperate rainforest, which is also found on the coasts of North America, Norway, Japan and New Zealand.

The Scottish west coast has some of Europe’s best examples of epiphyte communities, which is the collective term for lichens, mosses and other plants that grow on trees to avoid competition for sunlight on the forest floor.

It is the quantity of rain, coupled with a mean annual temperature neither too hot nor too cold, that enables temperate rainforests to thrive in Scotland and in other isolated pockets around the world.


But the rainforests have become fragmented and around 50 per cent of them destroyed as they become even more endangered than their more famous tropical counterparts.

Plans have been drawn up for conservationists to attempt to clear vast areas of the remaining strongholds in Argyll in a bid to keep the unique habitats thriving for centuries to come.

Adam Harrison of Woodland Trust Scotland, said: “Scotland’s rainforest is just as lush and just as important as tropical rainforest, but is even rarer. It is found along the west coast and on the inner isles and is a unique habitat of ancient native oak, birch, ash, pine and hazel woodlands and includes open glades and river gorges.

“Our rainforest relies on mild, wet and clean air coming in off the Atlantic, and is garlanded with a spectacular array of lichens, fungi, mosses, liverworts and ferns. Many are nationally and globally rare and some are found nowhere else in the world.”

Scotland’s rainforests are relics of once great swathes of forest, dating from the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, which grew along the Atlantic coastline.

The woodlands are invaluable for protection against flooding as they act like sponges and soak up the heavy rain, but felling in the 18th and 19th centuries left them fragmented along the coast.

Many European temperate rainforests have become degraded as a result of pollution or poor management but Scotland represents some of the best examples of the habitat anywhere in the world.

Lichens are vital to Scotland’s ecology as they fix atmospheric nitrogen, which very few species can do. They are also primary producers of biomass and play an important role in soil formation and provide a habitat to an array of creatures.

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Dr Chris Ellis, RBGE’s head of cryptogams – the plant group that includes lichens, mosses and fungi – said: “This habitat was once found all along Europe’s Atlantic coast, but it has dwindled over thousands of years due to clearance and air pollution from steady industrialisation. “The west coast of Scotland has suffered less from these pressures and is now one of the last strongholds of Europe’s rainforest.”

Plans have been drawn up that will see conservationists attempt to clear vast areas of the remaining strongholds in Argyll in a bid to keep the unique habitats thriving for centuries to come.

The remnant oak, birch, ash, pine and hazel woodlands are small and isolated from each other. They are over-mature and often show little or no regeneration.


Almost all of them are over-grazed to a degree that will prevent re-growth. Invasive rhododendron can be found in 40 per cent of sites and threatens to choke the rainforest and its distinctive flora.

One in five sites have been planted up with exotic conifers, which lower their value as rainforest habitat.

Gordon Gray Stephens, of the Community Woodlands Association, said: “It’s not too late to take action. Our vision for regenerating Scotland’s rainforest is clear – we need to make it larger, in better condition, and with improved connections between people and woods.

“Coming together as an alliance can help to make this happen.”