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Why are Plantlife protecting south-west England’s rainforests?

Temperate rainforests are one of Britain and Ireland’s most important habitats. Like any rainforest around the world, they are home to a vast diversity of plants, with some species at risk of extinction as this habitat is their only known home. Temperate rainforest in south-west England tends to be less wet and somewhat warmer than its counterparts elsewhere in the UK, and it is therefore important for a number of ‘southern oceanic’ lichen and bryophyte species that are rare or absent elsewhere in the UK and Europe.

Britain’s temperate rainforests are just as special and spectacular as their tropical cousins but are actually even rarer

In Britain the horsehair lichen Bryoria smithii is only known from two rainforest sites in Devon where its entire population would fit comfortably on two sheets of A4 paper and Arthonia thoriana, an achingly rare comma lichen, is not known from anywhere else in the world other than at Horner Wood in Somerset.

Life after death: rare lichens saved from dying trees

Focusing conservation efforts on what rainforest remains is crucial. Practical conservation on the ground has safeguarded five especially vulnerable rainforest sites across Somerset and Devon by clearing invasive species, letting more light in through the canopy and creating a future generation of veteran trees. In total, 73 hectares of temperate rainforest have been directly managed under the project with a further 162 hectares coming under better management as a result of training land managers across the region. Regionally threatened lichens – including the spectacular and rare Tree Lungwort Lobaria pulmonaria that resembles human lungs – have been successfully translocated from ash trees threatened by Ash Dieback to nearby Hazel, Oak, and Sycamore trees.

Citizen science volunteers rediscovered 15 fragments of lost rainforest

What’s next for our rainforests?

Thanks to the National Lottery players, the National Lottery Heritage Fund (HLF) awarded Plantlife £433,700 to protect the south-west rainforests. The legacy of this project included the release of groundbreaking expert management guidance by Plantlife.

The guidelines, the first interactive, online version to be produced by Plantlife to outline how best to look after these temperate woodlands for the benefit of lichens, ferns and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) are decades in the making and an output of pioneering conservation work.

These pioneering guidelines will safeguard some of our most rare and threatened lichen communities in the temperate rainforest of Devon, Somerset and Cornwall for the future.

Toolkit for woodland managers

Rapid rainforest assessment guidance

Rapid rainforest assessment survey

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