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Natur am Byth! is a cross-taxa partnership, which means many different organisations are working together to save a variety of species – from insects and plants to birds. This is important as  when any species is lost from an ecosystem, it can make the whole ecosystem weaker and less able to cope with change, regardless of what kind of species it is.

One element the Natur am Byth programme focuses on is the mini-wonders of the Welsh Marches. The area has a rich diversity of mosses and liverworts, lichens, fungi and insects. These species all have one thing in common: they are generally pretty tiny. Many people just aren’t looking closely enough to spot them –and that’s what we want to change.

Why it’s important to find and record rare lichens

But before we can get started protecting rare species, we need to know where we’re currently at. ‘Baseline monitoring’ gives us a picture of how our target species, and the sites where they exist, are doing – we can then use this data to plan how we’ll manage those areas for nature. We can also track how these species recover in the future.

A bushy brown lichen

So, I went out to some very beautiful sites in Mid-Wales, hunting for some of the project target lichen species. This is what I found

  • The bushy brown Bryoria fuscecens lichen, which were dangling down in hairy
  • The Circumspect Dot lichen which is only known from 6 trees in Wales
  • The Geranium Firedot lichen, with tiny bright orange fruiting bodies set amongst a crust of pistachio green granules

What I discovered during a day of lichen hunting:

Lichen hunting can be like looking for a needle in a haystack – except the needle is as small as a pinhead, and the haystack is a woodland.

I got rained on heavily, I got lost hunting for trees, I had to shoo away cattle who were trying to eat my notebook, and I spent far too long peering through my hand lens checking every gnarly nook and cranny for some of these miniscule marvels.

At times I felt like I was living in that miniature kingdom. I’d come across insects and die of fright thinking they were enormous, and I’d pull my eye away from the hand lens only to be dizzied by the astonishing complexity of the enormous world we occupy.

An old oak tree in a woodlands

It has been a joy working to collect the data which can be used to demonstrate that the Natur am Byth project is having a positive impact and supporting these species.

Not only does the project have the potential to support these rare lichens with recovery, it also has the potential to change perceptions – magnifying the hidden worlds we overlook daily and showcasing the rare and special mini wonders that occupy them

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Discover the gnarled woodlands on the wildest peaks in Wales, as Robbie Blackhall-Miles reveals the secrets of Eryri’s miniature but magical Juniper forests.

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

The Wild Leek has been a symbol of Wales for so long that its stories date back to St David himself.

The Natur am Byth partnership is Wales’ flagship Green Recovery project. It unites nine environmental charities with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to deliver the country’s largest natural heritage and outreach programme to save species from extinction and reconnect people to nature. Thanks to players of the National Lottery over £4.1m from the Heritage Fund was awarded to the partnership in June 2023. NRW has contributed £1.7m and the Natur am Byth partners have secured a further £1.4m from Welsh Government, Arts Council of Wales and a number of charitable trusts, foundations and corporate donors. These include donations from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and significant support from Welsh Government’s Landfill Disposals Tax Communities Scheme administered by Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA).

I’m lucky enough to have worked in our temperate rainforests for well over a decade now, and although much of our recent work here at Plantlife has had a focus on rainforest areas of England, through our LOST project in the Lake District and the Building Resilience project in South-West England, both funded by  the National Lottery Heritage Fund, I’ve had the opportunity to get out into some of our Welsh rainforest in past weeks and been reminded just how special they are.

Lungwort at Dolmelynllyn

The first of these visits was to the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn estate at Ganllwyd to look at some transplants of Lungwort lichens that we undertook 5 years ago. This was initially an attempt to rescue these lichens from an old Ash tree that was literally clothed in Lungwort lichens, of three varieties, that blew down in a summer gale. Transplanting these big leafy species is relatively straightforward to do in practical terms but hard to get right, the skill is in finding the right niche and one that’s away from the chomping teeth of slugs.

Success is far from guaranteed, and the majority of these transplants had succumbed to slug browsing. There were some notable successes though, with this ‘lob scrob’ Lobarina scrobiculata thriving on a Sycamore, all the better as this is one of the rarer lungwort lichens in Wales. The area where this was transplanted has spectacular communities of lichens on old Ash, Oak and Sycamore trees, probably the best display of lungwort lichens in Wales with abundant Tree Lungwort Lobaria pulmonaria, Parchment Lichen Ricasolia amplissima, ‘Stinky Stictas’ Sticta fuliginosa and Sticta sylvatica and Blue Jelly-skin Leptogium cyanescens.

Up in the clouds at Trawsfynydd

Another site visit took me to a remote woodland near Trawsfynydd where we’re helping Natural Resources Wales work out how best to manage this woodland. Although only a few miles up the road from Ganllwyd this is a very different woodland to Dolmelynllyn being at higher altitude and exposed to higher levels of rainfall this favours different communities of lichen and bryophyte with what could be considered our ‘cloud-forest’ lichens and a rich ‘hyperoceanic’ bryophyte flora including many rare species.

This has also reminded me just how diverse our rainforest is, in the same that way that no two wetlands, estuaries or mountains are the same, no bit of temperate rainforest is the same. They all differ according to geology, topography, aspect, climate, history, management etc; our temperate rainforest in South-West England is quite different to that in Western Scotland, with Wales somewhere in between. They are especially influenced by ‘oceanicity’ – the degree to which proximity to the Atlantic influences climate – and broadly speaking they are drier and sunnier to the south and much wetter to the north.

This basically means that you’ll never see the same things twice and there’s a lifetime of exploration to be had. I’d urge anyone to grab a hand lens (by no means essential, but definitely helps appreciate the small things) and head out to explore.

Some of my favourite rainforests to visit in Wales are:

  • The National Trust’s Hafod y Llan and the woodlands of Nant Gwynant, nestling below Snowdon
  • The Woodland Trust’s Coed Felinrhyd and Llennyrch in Dyffryn Ffestiniog
  • The National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn at Ganllwyd, north of Dolgellau
  • RSPB’s Coed Garth Gell, on the Mawddach west of Dolgellau
  • North Wales Wildlife Trust’s Coed Crafnant in Dyffryn Artro
  • Natural Resources Wales’ Coed Cwm Cletwr, south of Machynlleth
Wales Farming News
Black cow and white cow in Welsh Upland background trees and hills.

Wales Farming News

Agricultural grasslands dominate Wales’ rural landscape. Finding ways to restore species-rich habitats to farms is a priority for Plantlife Cymru.

Rare Fungus spotted at Kenfig National Nature Reserve
Brown topped fungus with yellow gills in a green grassy area.

Rare Fungus spotted at Kenfig National Nature Reserve

Chris Jones, the Warden of Kenfig National Nature Reserve, recently found the very rare fungus, during a routine survey.

How to Stand up for Wildlife and Protect Local Sites From Being Destroyed
Crop spraying.

How to Stand up for Wildlife and Protect Local Sites From Being Destroyed

Every day, our wild plants and fungi are put at risk from planning decisions, chemical sprays and more. Find out what you can do to help protect nature.

Alison from Plantlife’s Building Resilience project visits a temperate rainforest in Dartmoor, dripping with lichens, mosses and liverworts, and a richness in diversity rivalling the cloud forest of the Andes. Watch our video to see what she finds, and discover why we need to take action to protect this precious fragment of our ancient woodlands for the future.

Still not sure if you’re walking through the rainforest?

Take a look at the guides below and see how many rainforest indicators you can spot – maybe a huge long-lived Oak tree smothered in colourful lichens, or a meandering river carving it’s way though the woodlands.

Plantlife is at the forefront of taking action for our temperate rainforests. We’re working with land managers across the UK to bring more rainforest into appropriate management, providing unique, specialist advice to collaborative partners, and campaigning for better protection for this important habitat.

Join our fight to save the UK’s rainforest by becoming a Plantlife member today.

Finding Hazel Gloves Fungus: Why Recording Matters

Finding Hazel Gloves Fungus: Why Recording Matters

Hazel Gloves Fungus is a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, learn more about this rainforest fungi this Reverse the Red month.

Lichens: A Beginner in a City
Rob Hodgson with lichen characters

Lichens: A Beginner in a City

Living in Bristol, Rob Hodgson went on his own lichen journey, showing how anyone can go lichen hunting from anywhere.

Clean Air Means Thriving Temperate Rainforests

Clean Air Means Thriving Temperate Rainforests

Clean Air Day on June 15 is a chance to look at the impact of air pollution, not just on our physical and mental health, but the overall health of our natural environment and wildlife.