Britain’s vanishing rainforests must be protected, say campaigners

Nearly three-quarters of England’s remaining temperate rainforests do not have any official protection, according to new analysis, as a campaign urges the public to help identify, protect and expand what remains.

Just 18,870 hectares (46,624 acres) survives in England from an ecosystem that once stretched from Cornwall to the west of Scotland, having slowly been cleared by humans over the centuries. Seventy-three per cent of the country’s remaining fragments of temperate rainforest, a species-rich habitat, are not designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), despite their importance for biodiversity. Many are threatened by overgrazing, pollution and invasive species.

The Lost Rainforests of Britain, led by Guy Shrubsole, environmental campaigner and author of Who Owns England?, is using resources from Plantlife, a conservation charity, to encourage people to identify and submit coordinates for the fragments of forest that still exist. The results will be collated on a soon-to-be released map. Shrubsole is campaigning for the government to adopt a Great British Rainforests strategy to better protect the areas and allow them to naturally regenerate.

At a recent event in parliament, environment minister Rebecca Pow said that much of the remaining temperate rainforests were already protected, citing figures from Natural England. But analysis by Lost Rainforests of Britain has found that only 5,000 hectares (12,489 acres) of English rainforest is under formal protection in SSSIs.

“These shocking stats must spur the government into urgently protecting our surviving fragments of rainforest,” said Shrubsole.

“Temperate rainforest is vanishingly rare, covering less than 1% of Britain and supporting a panoply of amazing species of lichens, mosses, birds and mammals. We clearly have an overriding international responsibility to protect it. Yet our analysis shows that barely a quarter of England’s precious rainforest sites have SSSI protections.

“Ministers have stated they’re committed to protecting and restoring our lost rainforests – now it’s time they took action.”

In response, Pow said the international importance of temperate rainforests, also known as Atlantic woodland, in supporting rare and threatened species has been recognised in domestic biodiversity policy for many decades.

“Many temperate rainforests are protected by existing policy. Many are ancient woodlands, which are protected from development in all but wholly exceptional circumstances; we have committed in the England trees action plan to increase protections in the planning system for long-established woodland in situ since 1840,” she said.

“Many of our temperate rainforests support rich assemblages of species. SSSI selection guidelines for woodlands are focused on securing a representative series rather than protecting every example,” she added.

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