Much of Britain’s temperate rainforest has been destroyed – but it can sometimes regenerate. The race is on to map what survives and restore what we can
Few people realise that England has fragments of a globally rare habitat: temperate rainforest. I didn’t really believe it until I moved to Devon last year and started visiting some of these incredible habitats. Temperate rainforests are exuberant with life. One of their defining characteristics is the presence of epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants, often in such damp and rainy places. In woods around the edge of Dartmoor, in lost valleys and steep-sided gorges, I’ve spotted branches dripping with mosses, festooned with lichens, liverworts and polypody ferns.
You may have heard of England’s most famous fragment of temperate rainforest: Wistman’s Wood, in the middle of Dartmoor. With its gnarled and stunted oaks, its remote location marooned within a sheep-nibbled moorscape, and attendant tales of spectral hounds that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, it has an outsize reputation for somewhere so tiny in size: eight acres – about four football pitches.