Coastal temperate rainforest - in Britain?!


I first walked a coastal temperate rainforest 12 years ago in the Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island (1). Forgive my naivety, but I somehow thought that a rainforest was so named because of its internal humidity giving rise to constant dripping. Instead, the forest along an old boardwalk trail in the Long Beach area of the National Park was an amazing world of small creek valleys, moss covered branches and glorious stands of ferns covered by towering western red cedar and western hemlock (2). Because of the poor state of the boardwalk over the wetter areas, the trail was closed, but I hadn’t come that far, up the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia to Powell River, across to Comox on Vancouver Island by ferry, then over the island to Wickaninnish Bay, only to miss out on this phenomenon. I did miss out on seeing any of the wolf, black bear and cougar that stalk the park (3) but there was a particularly fierce plant in the forest undergrowth to make up for that: Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) a native to the cool moist forests of western North America, and whose woody stems are covered with brittle spines (4).

The importance of coastal temperate rainforests

Looking back now, I am surprised to learn that the importance of coastal temperate rainforests was only recognised a decade before my visit, when a proposal was made for them to become a new biome as a subdivision of the existing temperate rainforest type (5). Based on preliminary work to identify areas of coastal rainforest, it was noted that there were three features common to all: proximity to oceans, the presence of mountains, and high rainfall because of the interaction of those first two. Coastal temperate rain forests were thus found primarily on the western edges of continents where westerly winds move onshore from the open sea, giving them a characteristic of an overabundance of moisture throughout the year and, because of this property, the absence of catastrophic fire as a major ecological factor.

To support the proposal, a survey of the original extent of coastal temperate rainforests was carried out using a working definition of an existing coastal forest area between 32 and 60 degrees latitude, or where forest would have existed, and with at least 200cm (80 in) of annual rainfall. The latter also included snowfall and capture of moisture from fog. What this revealed is that coastal temperate rain forests constituted a relatively rare forest type, originally covering 30 to 40 million hectares, less than 0.2% of the earth’s land surface. They are restricted to the coastal margins of western North America, New Zealand, Tasmania, Chile and Argentina, as well as portions of Japan, northwest Europe and the Black Sea coast of Turkey and Georgia (see map (6)).

It was recognised within this geographical range that there were marked differences in the dominant species of coastal temperate rainforests, but that they shared a high level of structural diversity and functional features resulting from moderate temperatures and the abundant moisture, the latter reducing respiration transpiration demand. This is coupled with the dynamism of disturbance by natural forces such as seasonal winds buffeting the coastline giving higher incidences of windthrow and fallen trees, their decomposing trunks covered with mosses, ferns, and fungi, while epiphytic mosses and lichens clothe the standing trees. As noted, the increased structural diversity in turn expands the potential for biological diversity, not least the diversity that comes from the likely higher incidence of riparian networks draining these wet woodlands. On the latter, it would be no surprise to you that I saw lots of western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) growing in areas of standing water of the Pacific Rim coastal rainforest (7)

The global context of Britain’s coastal temperate rainforest

It will surprise you though that the UK was identified in the report as having had an original coastal rainforest area of 1.1m hectares (about 5%) based on precipitation maps, the most suitable region being the West Highlands of Scotland, but that there may be some interior rainforests in the Lake District and Wales. It was recognised, however, that this original area - where these oak/birch rainforests once predominated - was much reduced by the logging and burning that had long since created heaths and moors. Ireland was also identified, with an original rainforest area of 157,300ha (about 2%) but that comes as no surprise to me having walked many of its western woodlands that have an oceanic influence of mild temperatures, high annual rainfall, high numbers of wet days, wetness during the summer season, and a low potential water deficit (8). Those woodlands were rich in ferns, as well as mosses, lichens and liverworts, forming thick carpets over rocks, boulders, fallen trees, and clothing standing trees as they grow as epiphytic communities.

I also found out that a few months after I walked the rainforest in Pacific Rim, Peter Rhind had made the case for the importance of Britain’s coastal temperate rainforest as being of considerable interest to world conservation (9,10). Peter is an old acquaintance from my early days of advocacy for wild land (11,12). In a theme that Peter would develop more fully later on (13, 14) he questioned the fixation with the “idea of preventing natural succession” so that “our natural climax vegetation is often grossly undervalued”, arguing that “natural succession should be seen as an important feature of conservation in its own right”. He noted that while there had been one attempt to identify priorities for habitat conservation in England in 1994, based on criteria that included the degree of international importance, it came as some surprise that natural woodlands were not identified as high priority. He accepted, though, that very few, if any, of the woodlands in England could be described as coastal temperate rainforest.

Peter suggested that part of the problem in that prioritisation was the influence of the burgeoning EU system of conservation at that time, which judges the quality of habitats on a sub-set that in global terms is often “badly degraded and heavily influenced by human intervention”. Moreover, there is little comparable rainforest habitat within a European context, and so “a much more meaningful comparison, especially to gauge the quality of a habitat, is to assess it within a global biome context” such as with the coastal rainforests of southern Chile, New Zealand, Japan and North America. This led him to believe that we must start to promote more natural climax vegetation if we are ever going to come anywhere near producing habitats of global importance in Britain, and that this argued for non-intervention, especially Peter averred in the contemporary absence of large carnivores, as being “the only way in which to achieve as near-natural a state as possible”.

The west coast of Snowdonia opened up new opportunities

While this importance of British coastal rainforest is hindsight for me, the experience of years of walking wet woodland on holiday in SW Pembrokeshire and, more recently, the magic of Ireland’s western, oceanic woodlands (8,15) have always made them a draw. Thus a week-long gathering of old friends on the west coast of Snowdonia earlier in March opened up new opportunities. I walked two woodlands between 2 and 3km from the coast, both Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and which were described as “temperate rain forest” in their Site Management Statements (SMS). They are grouped together in a Special Area of Conservation for Meirionnydd Oakwoods on the basis of their rich Atlantic or oceanic bryophyte (mosses and liverworts) and lichen communities (16). The most humid conditions in Coed Cors y Gedol (17) were in the riparian habitat where the Afon (River) Ysgethin flows through the wood. Ferns were abundant, and both standing and fallen trees were covered in mosses, liverworts and lichens, the rocks covered by bryophytes. It gave the impression of an ancient woodland, with a long continuity of natural processes, especially in the woodland on the southern bank of the river and which had no access. There was no evidence of deer in this or the other woodland I walked. Like England, Wales exterminated its roe deer by the 1800s and, apart from a few releases in the latter part of the 20th century, in Powys and other areas of north and south Wales, has never regained them in the same way that England has (18). Progress on voluntary reinstatement from England across Offa’s Dyke is very slow!

I was looking forward to walking Coed Lletywalter as the SMS said there was a population of tree lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria) on 20 or so trees (19). I had first seen this spectacular leaf-like lichen growing on a tree in Brackloon Wood near Westport in Co Mayo (8) and then growing on a fallen oak in Tomies Wood in Killarney National Park (15). Apart from its distinctive appearance, it has an unusual property for lichen of having a nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria as a third partner to its fungal and algal component (20). However, apart from a section of path through the wood below some small cliffs, there was little enchantment in this wood. There were few mature trees, and there had been much disturbance in recent years, I since find from aggressive felling of beech trees that opened up the canopy so that holly flourished, and which in turn had been aggressively felled but not cleared (21). While there were mosses and liverworts in areas of rock outcrops and boulders, I did not find the tree lungwort lichen I was looking for.

The Snowdonia coast itself had the vast range of sand dunes of Morfa Dyffryn National Nature Reserve (NNR) with its very sandy beach at low tide (22). The front of the dunes were unfixed meaning they had limited vegetation holding them together (“embryonic shifting dunes”) but there was a lot of sea spurge and Portland spurge (Euphorbia paralias and portlandica) towards the front of the dunes. This lack of vegetation fixing the sand leads to massive windblown curves and valleys that are stunning. I did find a fabulous series of dune slacks a little further in. This is where the sand cover is shallow and there is greater water retention from rainfall. It is the first time I've seen alders growing in a dune slack, albeit that they were pretty attenuated. There were beautiful zonal patterns of the different vegetation around the centres of the slacks – three different willows, some dwarf and creeping; large marsh reeds; the alders; lots of mosses and lichens; and I think I identified the dead stems of last year’s marsh helleborine orchids, as well as other marsh orchids.

Atlantic hazelwoods – the longest surviving, relict habitats in Scotland

I knew I would be on more solid ground for coastal rainforest when walking woodlands around the Oban area in western Scotland a few weeks ago. The forecast was for rain the whole time and, although fortunately wide of the mark, it did explain why the woods dripped with oceanic mosses, liverworts and lichens. I had gone to that area on the recommendation of Jeanette Hall, the woodland ecologist for Scottish Natural Heritage, who first put me on to Scottish Atlantic hazelwoods (15). It took me a couple of trips to Ballachuan Hazelwood on the long, straight ridge of the southern part of the Isle of Seil, to work out how to get the best from its 23ha (23). By going off the paths and following deer trails instead, there is an astonishing treasure of lichens, including tree lungwort, script lichens (Graphidion communities (24)) that specialise on smooth bark trees like hazel, as well as mosses and a carpet of woodland wild flowers under an unplanted, unmanaged pure hazel wood. I didn’t notice glue fungus (Hymenochaete corrugata) on the first visit, but I had got my eye in by the second –unattached hazel branches apparently suspended in thin air, but which are actually glued to another branch by this fungus (see photos in (25). There's some theory that the fungus gains a competitive edge in the decomposition process by trapping these falling small branches that get lodged against living stems so that they do not hit the ground (26) but it may also be a method of aerial transfer and dispersal of the fungus through contact. The four day gap between visits brought on the ground flora, especially the ferns and bluebells, and wild garlic in the wetter areas. I counted 12 woodland wildflowers in bloom, including early purple orchid, bugle, wood anemone, woodruff, wood sorrel and primrose. It was also delightful to walk along the rocky shore of the loch at the eastern edge of the wood, with its dramatic coastal tidal race; the scented scurvy grass (Cochlearia officinalis)  lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica) and milkwort (Polygala vulgaris) growing in the maritime grass; along with the thrift flowering among the rocks, the sea anemones in rock pools, and seals checking me out.

The ecological importance of these Atlantic hazelwoods raises the possibility of them being one of the longest surviving, relict habitats in Scotland because the presence together of lungwort lichen, script lichen and glue fungus are indicative of a long period of ecological continuity in undisturbed, old-growth hazel stands – they would be lost to coppicing and removal of the wood (26). Climatic oceanicity is also a factor in these hazelwoods, the exceptional lush growth of oceanic mosses and liverworts that require constant high levels of humidity in order to thrive, leads to these woods being termed “Celtic rainforest” (26). Oceanicity can be determined as an index by dividing the mean annual number of wet days by the range of monthly mean temperatures (27). A small temperature range and frequent rainfall both contribute to high index values, the higher values indicating a more oceanic (wetter and milder) climate. Atlantic hazel occurs within areas having an index of 20 or more, and which is also the requirement for the oceanic bryophytes and the Graphidion series of lichens (26, and see Fig. 7 in (27)). In confirmation of Peter’s point about there being little comparable rainforest habitat within a European context, a map of an oceanicity index for Europe seemingly showed that north-western Scotland and western Ireland have by far the most oceanic climate in Europe, reflecting the fact that those are also the prime areas for many western oceanic bryophytes, lichens and ferns (27).

Astonishingly, Ballachuan Hazelwood is not a designated SSSI. Apparently, very few Atlantic hazelwoods are covered within protected areas, the number not currently designated being over 100 and with most of these sites being small (28). This is probably because they are not specifically covered in the detailed woodland Guidelines for Selection of Biological SSSIs (29) they do not easily fit into any of the National Vegetation Classification community types for woodland or scrub (30) nor are they recognised individually as a priority habitat under the European Habitats Directive (31). A case has been made last year for protection of Atlantic Hazelwoods to the Scientific Advisory Committee of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) (29). The Committee agreed that Atlantic hazelwoods should be recognised as an internationally important woodland type with high interest in Scotland; that SSSI Selection Guidelines for Atlantic hazel woodland are developed to support a new woodland feature; and that further work should be progressed to identify representative examples of this habitat type in Scotland (28). I can't find any update yet on this.

The importance and protection of Atlantic Hazelwoods should be recognised since a lot of nonsense gets talked in Britain about open grown trees in cultural landscapes as being veteran trees, and our best contribution to woodland biodiversity alongside the old growth forests of Europe (32, 33). However, the sages who espouse this self-absorbed fantasy ought to ponder the evidence that a hazel in a clonal ring in Ballachuan is 759 years old – and there is no sign that it has ever been coppiced, along with the other hazels in this pure hazel woodland (26). Pure hazel stands develop mostly along coastal fringes over rocky or steep slopes where exposure and thin soils have inhibited other woody species becoming established (26). Hazel under a tree canopy is weakened by shading out and will deteriorate over time, unless the shading is removed so that its natural process of regeneration by throwing up new stems is uninhibited. Thus in pure hazel stands, where the hazel is not over-topped by a tree canopy, hazel forms a self-perpetuating habitat that appears to be able to persist indefinitely because it is not reliant on a single trunk, the older stems of the hazel stool dying back to be constantly replaced by the newer stems, so that the stand is a structural continuum.

Intriguingly, recent observations in pure hazel woods suggest the formation of “hazel rings” where a group of hazel stools form a circle around an open space (26). This could be a coincidence in that the individual stools have arisen that way, or it may be the result of an ancient stool expanding outwards, where the middle part has decayed away. The satellite stools formed may thus have evolved through a gradual outward expansion of new stems at the edge of the original stool, until a point is reached whereby the central rootstock had become aged, exhausted and shaded out from the outer, more vigorous stems, so that stems are unable to replenish the central space. On this basis, all satellite stools in the hazel ring would be clonal, a preliminary study of six rings in Ballachuan giving some evidence of this genetic similarity (26).

More evidence of oceanicity and ecotones

Tree lungwort lichen was in all the woodlands I walked around Oban, and not just on hazel but also on oak, willow, alder, birch and rowan. While it was pretty much all in a grey, desiccated, dormant state in Ballachuan, a protection against lack of moisture called poikilohydry, I saw rehydration initiated by overnight rain that had puddled in a lungwort leaf in Shian Wood (34) so that a green patch had developed. There were some fully hydrated, bright green lungwort in Glen Nant NNR (35) and Glasdrum Wood NNR (36) both these Atlantic oak woods being designated for their oceanic bryophyte and lichen assemblages, the latter being where I first clocked glue fungus. The Atlantic oakwood of Taynish NNR is also designated for its bryophyte and lichen assemblages (37) but it was the groundflora in a section labelled “Atlantic rainforest” along its woodland trail (38) that got me excited, especially the ferns. Taynish also had a lovely rocky shore at the eastern edge of the woodland. It was fascinating to see the natural ecotones, the transition zones of the types of woodland on the two wooded shores of Taynish and Ballachuan – the transition from oak or hazel on drier tops and slopes, through birch and willow in the wetter bases of the slopes, and out to the narrow band of treeless, short, maritime grassland of the rocky shores. You had to laugh at the profusion of flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing in the damp outflows from the woods being covered in dry seaweed, dumped there after high tides.

For a number of years now, I have examined the vegetation cover around the coastal margins of the UK, and I think it is there that natural grassland still exists, and it would have been one of the margins where the grassland wildflowers would have been found originally before wholesale woodland clearance (39). It comes down to looking for where the environmental/edaphic factors are such that the growth of shrubs and trees is inhibited, with the grassland species winning out. I often see lousewort and milkwort growing in land devastated by grazing, such as on Carn Llidi, a high point on the pony grazed headland of St David’s Head, owned by the National Trust, but this is obviously not their natural range when compared to the maritime grasslands that are the penultimate ecotone on the wooded rocky coasts of Ballachuan and Taynish.

Evidence of deer was ever present to varying degrees in all the woods, such as their trails and resting places of scrapes or flattened areas of groundflora, and catching sight of them in Ballachuan, Glasdrum and Glen Nant woodland. The most impact of deer browsing was in Glen Nant, where the open nature of the woodland, and the poor groundflora dominated by grass, gave the impression of a wood pasture, an agricultural land cover that seemed common in this area of Argyll. There is a back history of Glen Nant being used for the grazing of both cattle and sheep over the twentieth century, after the bark and charcoal production had ceased, and at such a heavy level throughout that woodland regeneration was held in check (35). I found greater woodland flora diversity along incised riparian courses in Glen Nant, which I first thought could be due to greater shade in this very open woodland. However, the lush and varied growth, including bilberry, mosses and ferns, and the springy nature of the groundcover inside a high fenced deer exclosure showed that the riparian diversity was probably from inaccessibility to deer browsing as well as to the greater shade. It was a shock to realise the impact that deer were having there, continuing to hold back the regeneration of woodland quality in the same way as the sheep and cattle. This is recognised in the SMS as likely to be a problem for the woods lichen habitats in the long term (35). While the impact of deer at Ballachuan was much less destructive, there was a downside to their presence since I came away both times having to pick off ticks with tweezers. How do they get up under your clothes?!

Signs of beaver activity

My other mammal observations, apart from a very black mink that scuttled away from me on the bank of the Nant River, were the signs of beaver activity at Barnluasgan in Knapdale, the Scottish trial release site (40). I was there at the wrong time of day to see these official beavers, but the evidence of their presence was inescapable, the new lodge on a small, wooded land spit that protrudes into Loch Barnluasgan, and the many gnawed trees of varying diameter along the edges of lochs. It is especially interesting if you walk your own trails through the native woods on the eastern edge of Loch Coille-Bharr and see how beaver have hauled themselves a short way out of the loch to where they have found rowan to forage, leaving the birch untouched. The rowan stools were fluffy from the leaves developing on the new growth of the stools, but what was surprising was the large semi-circle (~10m) made up of bare sticks laid loosely on top of each on the ground between there and the loch, as though a table had been set out over time for easy and repeated access to their forage food. Was there a smell of beaver here - a resinous odour of castoreum from scent-marking by beaver that some say is like new leather?

The most stunning engineering by the beavers is the damming of the small Dubh Loch as it drains into Loch Coille-Bharr (see Images 48-51 in (41)). The rise in water level behind the dam has more than quadrupled the size of the loch, subsuming a forest track road and drowning stands of birch on the western side, but creating an area I saw being exploited by ducks, swans and dragonflies. Given greater through flow and siltation, this could be the first new beaver meadow in Britain for many centuries. Spectacular as this is, I did wonder how the strategy of the trial of releasing beaver into some spatially adjacent lochs would be a real test for their reinstatement, when compared to the predominantly riverine distribution of the unofficial beavers in the Tay river catchment (42). The pairs of beavers tended to settle and stay put on the lochs in which they were released (43). Although they explored much of the stream network that links the lochs together, they largely chose not to exploit the river and riparian resources (44). Thus since nearly all of their activity has been concentrated around the lochs, and with only a few dams constructed on inflows and outflows in close proximity to lochs where the flow was slow or sluggish, then very little change in stream habitat occurred during the trial. This is in marked contrast to the number and frequency of small dams – 32 over one year - built in an area that is a case study in the final report of the Tayside Beaver Study Group (44).

The population of the official trial did not reach a predicted size of four breeding pairs, establishing only three groups of between two and four members plus potentially any kits born in the summer of 2014, and one single male, a minimum of 10 altogether (44). Three of the males released died in the first year, and five other beaver went missing over the following years. Of the 14 kits born, most have died leaving perhaps one or two wild born beaver on site. Thus there has been no increase in the number of families over the duration of the trial, making it difficult to predict how beavers might spread in the landscape at Knapdale, or from there to elsewhere (43). This can be compared with an estimate of the Tayside beaver population of 38-39 beaver occupied territories in 2012, equating to approximately 146 individual beavers, and suggesting that new families have repeatedly been established there (46). The differences are measured in the greater reproductive success amongst the Tayside beavers in terms of higher litter size and lower kit mortality - all the kits from 2012 and 2013 died in Knapdale (43) - with speculation that the differences may reflect the different provenance of each population: there was endless speculation about the Bavarian origin of unofficial Tay beavers being the wrong origin (42) when the official trial made great play of the Norwegian origin of its beavers (43).

Establishing a native range in Scotland

Given the impact of beavers at both Knapdale and on the Tay, I can’t help but think that they will be the next big story for woodland and herbivore dynamics after deer – forget all the nonsense from the conservation industry about faking natural processes with ponies and cattle (47). The official beaver trial period is now finished, the final reports of that and of the Tayside Beaver Study Group will have been given to the Scottish environment minister (48) along with a synthesis report from Scottish Natural Heritage containing an assessment of a range of scenarios for future beaver reintroduction (49) leaving the minister to make a decision on the future of beavers, and beaver reintroduction, in Scotland. It will be an intriguing decision because Scotland opted for “native range” in its legislation on wildlife (50) for which separate guidance has had to be issued on its meaning (51). Former native species that are assisted to repopulate what may have been their historical natural range would not be in their current native range, and thus releases would have to be licensed. The guidance has this:
“Once a former native has been reintroduced back into a location, it does not automatically become part of its native range”

This would appear to allude to the current process for beaver of evaluation of the trial releases to determine whether to accept a de jure reinstatement at the site of release, and thus whether a native range has been established. The guidance does accept that native range is dynamic, that some species expand their range naturally and, where this occurs, it is considered to be a natural extension of the species’ native range, even though the underlying drivers such as land use or climate change may be linked to human activities. However, it then has this:
“Former natives whose range is expanding after a reintroduction project are still considered to be outwith their native range for the purposes of the 1981 Act”

This is a surprising statement, given the recognition that native range is naturally expanded if there are no barriers to movement. Is the guidance appearing to suggest that native range cannot be expanded naturally outside of a licensed release location? That if beaver naturally move away from Knapdale or the Tay river after those locations have been accepted as being native range, then they will be in breach of wildlife law?

Ecological continuity and coastal slope woodlands in Wales

I came home from Scotland to find that Peter had recently written a paper that identifies 22 coastal slope woodlands in Wales, providing a basic assessment of their ecology and conservation, and arguing for recognition of their community type in the woodland classification of the NVC, and for their protection (52). What caught my eye is that he likens them to the Atlantic hazel woodlands of Scotland. The coastal slope woods are small in size, mostly below 10ha, but with the Glaslyn Woods of 95ha on the relict sea cliffs in what used to be the Glaslyn estuary, making up nearly half of the total 222ha. All but one of these woodlands is classed as ancient, but only half of them have any statutory protection. Peter noted a number of characteristic features: the rocky, often boulder-strewn slopes have extensive carpets of bryophytes, and the trees have luxuriant growths of epiphytic bryophytes and lichens, the latter including tree lungwort and script lichens, as well as glue fungus. He says this probably relates to the long ecological continuity of these woodlands in conjunction with the mild climate – more of which later. He also noted the stunted nature of the woodlands, some only reaching head height. Peter says such woodlands have been described as “coastal krummholtz” in an allusion to the stunted and often one-sidedness of conifer trees growing at their upper limit of the tree line, and which suggests that the climate in some coastal zones is marginal for tree growth because of salt spray and wind. However, this stuntedness may not always be solely due to coastal exposure, and may also be a factor of growing on thin soils or scree.

I’ve always been a fan of coastal slope/slump woodlands, diving in wherever I get the chance, such as those on the N. Yorks coast (Cayton Bay, Cornelian Bay, Hayburn Wyke (53)) and Dorset/Devon coast (Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs (54)) and so I was pleased to see that Peter included in his paper the woods at Goultrop Roads on the Pembrokeshire coast path, just south of Little Haven. Much of this woodland is on too sheer a cliff slope to walk around in. However, over the years, I have explored more and more of it, appreciating how coastal exposure shapes so much of its structures, especially the oak trees whose structure take the form of an octopus (39). This is on top of the general wetness that Welsh woodland in this coastal area has in terms of lichens, bryophytes and ferns. I have seen the wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) there that Peter mentions. I don’t remember seeing any tree lungwort, but then I have seen so many other lichens in the woods at Goultrop Roads (see below). Peter describes a system of Indices of Ecological Continuity, based on the presence of epiphytic lichens in woodlands. Whereas the presence of ancient woodland indicator plants gives an indication of the continuity of woodland cover (8) the index of ecological continuity is based on a list of 30 indicator lichens, the presence of which characterises woodland that has retained varying degrees of ecological integrity over time, a high index implying that the woodland has never been clear-felled or extensively coppiced (55). It is pleasing to know that Goultrop Roads in an initial survey was found to have 27 lichen species, 12 of which are indicator lichen species, and with perhaps others to be found in a more detailed survey. This points to strong evidence of ecological continuity from a lack of disturbance, at least on the steeper slopes that are far richer in lichens than the more accessible parts of the wood that may have been coppiced in the past (52). I will be there again in Autumn, and so will look out for the tree lungwort.

Ecological restoration is not just about the reinstatement of the animal kingdom

We are at a time when it seems everyone is producing policy statements on reintroductions of former native species (56) and more superficial articles appear that do not seek to identify the drivers behind alleged "rewilding" locations, trotting out the same talking heads and their pet reintroduction species, misunderstanding the the international system of protected area classification, and sliding over the ecological issues of whether containing domestic livestock behind fences has any equivalence to natural processes (57,58). It just all looks like pathetic bragging lists if it is not seen in the context of the ecological restoration that is desperately needed of our highly modified landscapes, and how this is to be achieved within the mix of land ownership that we have. Ecological restoration is not just about the reinstatement of the animal kingdom, but also about the reinstatement of native vegetation to those highly simplified landscapes (59,60). Because so little evidence of natural landscapes remains here, then those examples with a robustness to their ecological inheritance, have a fundamental importance to our understanding that has to be acknowledged, such as our rainforests and slope woodlands. That our coastal temperate rainforests have a global significance must alert us to the importance that native vegetation and natural forces have in our understanding of natural processes. George Peterken succinctly sums up where we have gone wrong, when he considered the contemporary influence of deer in woodlands (61):
“The long-term effect of habitat alteration and removal of predators has been to place grazing and browsing levels throughout the landscape at the mercy of human values rather than natural processes”

Mark Fisher 2 June 2015, 5 June 2015

(1) RAIN FORESTS 25th May 2003. In “The Natural Landscape of North America – In Ten Easy Weeks”, Self-willed land

(2) Discover the rainforest, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada, Parks Canada

(3) Living With Wildlife, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Parks Canada

(4) Devil’s Club - Oplopanax horridus, Biodiversity of the Central Coast of British Columbia

(5) Kellogg, E. L. (1992) Coastal Temperate Rain Forests: Ecological Characteristics, Status, and Distribution Worldwide. Ecotrust/Conservation International, Portland, Oregon, USA

(6) Original Global Distribution of Coastal Temperate Rain Forests

(7) Skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, swamp lantern, western skunk cabbage, yellow skunk cabbage - Lysichiton americanus, Biodiversity of the Central Coast of British Columbia

(8) Wild Nephin – future natural wilderness in Ireland, Self-willed land Augiust 2012

(9) Rhind, P. M. 2003. Comment: Britain’s contribution to global conservation and our coastal temperate rainforest. British Wildlife, 15: 97-102

(10) Atlantic European Coastal Temperate Rain Forest, Atlantic European Ecosystems, Atlantic European BioProvince

(11) The revisionism of the conservation industry – expanding the noosphere in Britain, Self-willed land March 2012

(12) Untamed nature, Self-willed land March 2014

(13) Rhind, P. (2004) Give Nature a Chance. ECOS 25(2) 85-91

(14) Rhind, P. (2004) Spread of the Noosphere. British Wildlife December 16(2) 107

(15) Lack of natural control mechanisms - the missing lynx, Self-willed land June 2014

(16) Meirionnydd Oakwoods and Bat Sites SAC, JNCC

(17) Coed Cors y Gedol SSSI Site Management Statement, Countryside Council for Wales 2008

(18) The Welsh Assembly Government’s strategy for Wild deer management in Wales, Welsh Assembly Governement February 2011

(19) Coed Lletywalter SSSI Site Management Statement, Countryside Council for Wales 2007

(20) Tree lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria), Trees for Life

(21) Coed Lletywalter, Management Plan 2013-2018, Woodland Trust

(22) Morfa Harlech a Morfa Dyffryn SAC, JNCC

(23) Ballachuan Hazelwood, Scottish Wildlife Trust

(24) The Graphidion, British Lichen Society

(25) Hymenochaete corrugate, Leif Goodwin Photography

(26) Coppins A.M. & Coppins, B.J. (2010). Atlantic hazel. Scottish Natural Heritage

(27) Averis, A.M., Averis, A.B.G., Birks, H.J.B., Horsfield, D., Thompson, D.B.A. & Yeo, M.J.M. 2004. An illustrated guide to upland vegetation. JNCC.

(28) Scientific Advisory Committee: Forty-Seventh Meeting Minutes. Scottish Natural Heritage, Battleby, Rowan Room and GGH Abernethy, 27 March 2014

(29) Atlantic Hazelwoods: the case for conservation of a newly-recognised woodland type. Scottish Natural Heritage Scientific Advisory Committee SAC/2014/03/02

(30) National Vegetation Classification: Field guide to woodland, JNCC 2004

(31) COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (OJ L 206, 22.7.1992, p. 7)

(32) Green, E. (2010) The importance of an Open Grown Tree – from Acorn to Ancient. British Wildlife 21(5) 334-338

(33) Lonsdale, D. (ed.) (2013). Ancient and other veteran trees: further guidance on management. The Tree Council, London 212pp.

(34) Shian Wood, Scottish Wildlife Trust

(35) Glen Nant SSSI Site Management Statement, Scottish Natural Heritage 2010

(36) Glasdrum NNR in Glen Creran Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest Site Management Statement, Scottish Natural Heritage 2010

(37) Taynish Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest Site Management Statement, Scottish Natural Heritage 2011

(38) Taynish Trails, Taynish NNR, Scottish Natural Heritage

(39) Harting Down - obsession with conserving man-made landscapes, Self-willed land November 2007

(40) Visit Knapdale, Scottish Beaver Trial, Scottish Wildlife Trust, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Forestry Commission Scotland

(41) The Scottish Beaver Trial: The story of Britain’s first licensed release into the wild. Final Report, 2014

(42) The Tayside beavers - living wild and free in Scotland, Self-willed land January 2011

(43) Harrington, L.A., Feber, R., Raynor, R. and Macdonald, D.W. 2015. The Scottish Beaver Trial: Ecological monitoring of the European beaver Castor fiber and other riparian mammals 2009-2014, final report. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 685.

(44) Perfect, C., Gilvear, D., Law, A. & Willby, N. 2015. The Scottish Beaver Trial: Fluvial geomorphology and river habitat 2008-2013, final report. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 683

(45) Tayside Beaver Study Group Final Report

(46) Campbell, R.D., Harrington, A., Ross, A. & Harrington, L. 2012. Distribution, population assessment and activities of beavers in Tayside. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 540.

(47) What is rewilding? Self-willed land September 2013

(48) The Scottish Beaver Trial


(50) Misperceptions of the Infrastructure Bill - willful ignorance of the conservation industry? Self-willed land August 2014

(51) SNH Guidance Notice: Native Range

(52) Rhind, P. M. (2014). Conservation and management of coastal slope woodlands with particular reference to Wales. Journal of Coastal Conservation, 1-13

(53) Rare and precious – words devalued by the conservation industry, Self-willed land June 2011

(54) Walking the wild places, September 2010

(55) Indices of Ecological Continuity for Woodland Epiphytic Lichen Habitats, British Lichen Society

(56) Lynx UK Trust lets the cat out of the bag, Self-willed land April 2015

(57) Make way for the lynx and the bear as ‘rewilding’ projects gather pace across Britain, Tracy McVeigh, Observer 3 May 2015

(58) The rewilding plan that would return Britain to nature. Lucy Jones, BBC Rare Earth 4 June 2015

(59) The natural vegetation of England, Self-willed land August 2014

(60) Watching the naturalness return to the Carrifran Valley, Self-willed land April 2015

(61) Peterken, G.F. (1996) Natural Woodland - Ecology and Conservation in Northern Temperate Regions. Cambridge Uni. Press