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Temperate rainforest in south-west England is a globally rare habitat, full of special lichens and mosses which can only be found on Britain’s mild, damp Atlantic coastline.
Both temperate rainforests and the species that live there face severe challenges from climate change, air pollution, tree diseases and changes in management.
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.
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.
Throughout this project we…
•Carried out essential woodland conservation work that will help to protect some of our most rare and threatened lower plants for the future
•Created opportunities for the public and the people who manage these woods to enrich their knowledge about rainforests and the species they are home to
•Engaged schools, families and members of the public through innovative woodland events and training programmes.
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.
Image by Rachel Jones
Tree lungwort, image by Rachel Jones
Plantlife conservationists Alison Smith & Dave Lamacraft at Horner, Exmoor, image by Rachel Jones
Tree Lungwort Lichen, image by Kate Hind
The beneficial impact is not limited to protecting existing rainforests: working alongside Plantlife experts, a team of trained volunteers have surveyed nearly 300 woodlands across the region using Plantlife’s Rapid Rainforest Assessment, improving our understanding on their condition to help inform future management. They have also discovered 15 high quality rainforest locations by finding new records of rainforest indicator species records such as the oceanic liverworts Greater Whipwort Bazzania trilobata and Prickly Featherwort Plagiochila spinulosa.
Over 60 new species records at sites across the counties have been recorded. Lichens living in rainforests in the South West of England include the delightfully named String-of-sausages Usnea articulata, Floury Dog Lichen Peltigera collina, Tattered Jelly-skin Scytinium lichenoides, Mealy-rimmed Shingle Lichen Pannaria conoplea, and Tumbling Kittens Hypotrachyna taylorensis.
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.
Plantlife’s interactive toolkit for woodland managers, provides you with a better understanding of temperate rainforests and a guide to managing the lichens and bryophytes the lichens that grow there.
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