Scotland’s rainforest is one of our most precious habitats. It is as important but even rarer than tropical rainforest, yet few people in Scotland know it exists and fewer still know how globally significant it is.
Scotland’s rainforest, also known as Atlantic woodland or Celtic rainforest, is made up of the native woodlands found on our west coast in the so-called “hyper-oceanic zone”. Here, high levels of rainfall and relatively mild, year-round temperatures provide just the right conditions for some of the world’s rarest bryophytes and lichens.
It is the diversity of these bryophytes and lichens that are found in vast quantities on trees, boulders, in ravines and on the ground, that make Scotland’s rainforest internationally important. In fact, we have some of the best remaining rainforest sites in Europe.
of Scotland's rainforest remain
of Scotland’s woodland cover is made up of rainforest
But Scotland’s rainforest is in trouble. As little as 30,000 hectares remain – a mere 2% of Scotland’s woodland cover and only one fifth of the area that has climatic conditions suitable for rainforest.
The remnant oak, birch, ash, native pine, and hazel woodlands that do cling on in Scotland are small, fragmented, and isolated from each other. Almost all show little or no regeneration due to high levels of grazing; almost half are being choked with invasive Rhododendron ponticum; and one fifth has been planted up with exotic conifer plantations. They also face threats from diseases like ash dieback, as well as nitrogen pollution, infrastructure development, and climate change.
If we don’t start taking serious and urgent action to support and protect our rainforest, we face the risk of losing this internationally important habitat completely. And the longer we wait, the harder it will become.
The John Muir Trust is a founding member of the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest; a voluntary partnership of more than 20 organisations with a shared interest in “Saving Scotland’s Rainforest”. Since the Alliance first came together in May 2019, it has created a strategy that aims to secure funding for landscape-scale restoration projects, change government policy to support rainforest conservation, and raise awareness of this special habitat.
In addition to providing policy and advocacy support, the John Muir Trust manages and looks after native woodland at our properties within the hyper-oceanic rainforest zone, including Ben Nevis, Quinag, the Isle of Skye, and Knoydart. We also contribute to a collaborative monitoring programme and work to restore and expand this unique habitat across our properties.
Right now we are in the midst of twin climate and biodiversity crises. Scotland’s rainforest plays a fundamental role in combatting both; its rare and fragile ecosystem influences our climate, locks up carbon and provides vital homes for a globally significant assemblage of species, some of which occur nowhere else.
Scotland’s rainforest is also an important place for the people that live and work on the west coast of Scotland. Its management provides jobs, its canopy provides cover for livestock, and communities use it for exercise, health, and well-being. It is a natural classroom for school children, a meeting place for groups and volunteers, and a destination for tourists.
By reducing grazing pressures, clearing invasive species, and establishing new native woodland, our vision is that Scotland’s rainforest will thrive once again. Implementing this vision will help protect the environment, deliver Scotland’s national and international commitments on conservation and forestry, deliver new social and economic opportunities, and allow people to enjoy the magic of the rainforest for generations to come.