Plants are essential to everyone's lives. Welcome to Plantlife.

Scotland’s woodlands as species rich as tropical rainforest

New ‘Secrets of the Celtic Rainforest’ project aims to safeguard their future.

October 11 2015

What do Octopus Suckers, Black-eyed Susan and Smokey Joe have in common? They are all rare lichens that thrive in the mild temperate climate of Scotland's Celtic Rainforest - a habitat is rarer around the globe than tropical rainforest.

Beyond Britain and Ireland, it is found mainly in the redwood forests of North America, the beech forests of southern Chile, in south-east Australia, New Zealand, Japan  and Taiwan. Internationally important, it is now the focus of a new project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Scottish Natural Heritage, to promote the forest's rare plant "gems" and safeguard their future.

Above: the aptly named "Octopus Suckers" (Collema-fasciculare), one of the wierd and wonderful lichens found in the Celtic Rainforest. Image © Andy Acton.

But what makes Scotland's rainforest so important? The many plants and fungi that grow here... a typical ravine in Argyll, for example, has as many as 200 species of mosses and liverworts.  These species have been growing for millennia in some of the rainforests’ remotest spots. One woodland in Knapdale, Argyll, supports 25% of Britain's entire mosses and liverworts including species such as Prickly Featherwort, and rare "filmy" ferns - so called because of their translucent looking fronds.  

“Lichens, mosses and liverworts are often overlooked” explains Plantlife's Polly Phillpot: "Because these plants are so small and diverse and not, on first glance, as obvious as other species they can get forgotten. But if you look more closely, you realise just how intricate and beautiful these plants are - a rainforest in miniature." 

Sadly, the Celtic Rainforest and its internationally important plants are under threat from invasive rhododendron, which is shading out  the habitat. Plantlife is working with land managers and communities across the west coast, including families, schools and children, to put these secret gems back on the map and save this important aspect of Scotland's natural heritage.

Clifton Bain, author of ‘The Rainforests of Britain and Ireland – A Traveller’s Guide’ says "One of the great joys on entering the strange, enchanting world of the Celtic rainforest is the vast array of shapes and colours provided by the lichens, mosses and liverworts which seem to cloak every branch and rock.  The work of Plantlife in bringing these incredible and most ancient of our plants to wider attention is so important in conserving this threatened habitat and offers a thrilling new dimension to a walk in the woods."

“Our natural heritage is a most precious resource" adds Lucy Casot, Head of HLF Scotland. "Thanks to National Lottery players, HLF grants have helped to protect an amazing range of landscapes, habitats, and species of plants and animals. HLF is delighted to support the ‘Secrets of the Celtic Rainforest’ project that will stimulate people’s interest in the natural world and so help them conserve it for future generations.”

Related pages: