‘Magical’ wildlife-rich rainforest being planted in Devon

Thirty-hectare site above Dart valley will include lichens and ferns and could take a century to reach maturity

A temperate rainforest, a magical, wildlife-rich place of mosses, lichens and ferns, is being planted on the slopes above a West Country river, tumbling almost to the doors of one of the UK’s most green-minded towns.

Tree species including sessile oak, birch, rowan, holly, alder, willow and hazel are to be introduced to the 30-hectare (74-acre) site above the Dart valley and close to the Devon town of Totnes in the south of England.

In time, the habitat, also known as Atlantic or Celtic rainforest, should become home to mammals such as stoats and pine martens, and threatened birds including wood warblers, redstarts, and pied flycatchers.

Wet conditions should support an abundance of mosses, liverworts, lichens, and ferns – many of which grow on the trees or cover boulders and ravines. The dampness will be ideal for fungi, including globally rare species such as hazel gloves fungus.

Devon Wildlife Trust is creating the rainforest at a site called Bowden Pillars farm, a stroll from the centre of Totnes with lovely views of Dartmoor. The forest will take decades – perhaps a century – to grow to maturity but should be worth the wait.

Harry Barton, the chief executive of Devon Wildlife Trust, said: “I’m very excited that we can now start to recreate rainforest in this beautiful part of south Devon. It will provide vital habitat for wildlife in a time of nature crisis, store vast amounts of carbon, and help restore the health of the soils and the quality of the water that drains off them.

“Bowden Pillars farm will be a fantastic asset for the people of Totnes, who will be able to walk out of the town and straight into this stunning landscape.”

English oaks and moss in Wistman’s Wood, Devon, England.
English oaks in Wistman’s Wood, Devon, England. The restoration of the Totnes land is part of a wider programme of nature-based projects. Photograph: Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty

Rainforests of the British Isles grow in areas that have high rainfall and humidity, and a low annual variation in temperature.

They have been largely destroyed and now cover less than 1% of Britain. The restoration of this precious habitat in Devon is part of a wider programme of nature-based projects funded by the insurance company Aviva to remove carbon from the atmosphere and to help nature recover.

The 30 hectares of rainforest will sit within a larger 50-hectare site where two other interesting projects are taking place. The Apricot Centre, which champions sustainable, diverse farming, will grow wheat for local bread production among fruit trees and introduce a herd of cows for grass-fed beef and a flock of hens. Within a few years there should also be new human inhabitants – 40 green homes are to be built as part of a “regenerative settlement” on the old farmhouse site.

Guy Shrubsole, an environmental campaigner and author of The Lost Rainforests of Britain, said: “This is fantastic news, and not just because I’m a Totnes resident. Everyone benefits from the restoration of temperate rainforest: it soaks up carbon from the atmosphere, reduces flood risk, provides shade for people and animals, and supports a gorgeous panoply of epiphytic mosses, lichens and ferns. Visiting a temperate rainforest is a magical, enchanting experience that imprints itself on the mind.

“Dart, as the poet Alice Oswald reminds us in her poem of that name, derives from the Celtic for ‘oak’, so it’s very apposite that one of the first rainforest restoration projects should be to help restore Atlantic oakwood to the valley of the Dart.”

• The caption to the second picture was amended on 15 June 2023 because the trees photographed are English oaks, not sessile oaks as an earlier version said.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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