While we have been lecturing the Brazilians about the loss of the Amazon rainforest, we have lost most of our own temperate rainforest and now we have only 3% of it left. Temperate rainforest is just as effective at soaking up carbon dioxide as tropical forest. Therefore, we should be looking at our own environment first, before blaming others for losing their forests.
The temperate rainforests of Britain lie in the wettest West regions – namely Cornwall, Wales, the Lake District and Scotland. Guy Shrubsole has investigated the British rainforests and is now a campaigner for preserving them. However, he first had to locate and map them. His first map shows where the climate is suitable for rain forests and also probably show where forest existed in previous centuries. The second map shows the few bits of forest which are left.
Loss of the rainforest by overgrazing
In Britain it seems that sheep are largely to blame for the loss of the rainforests. It was George Monbiot who first suggested that overgrazing by sheep was a problem. In particular, sheep like to eat little seedling trees which means that the forest can neither regenerate nor expand while sheep are allowed to graze freely. Sheep farming normally occurs on marginal land and many farmers have gone out of business because they cannot make any money. This means that if the government encourages forest regeneration, rather than sheep farming, then we have the start of rainforest regeneration.
However, it is not only sheep that damage the rainforests. Deer are much more damaging and there are about a million deer in Scotland. If you have ever seen the damage that deer can do if they get into a garden, then you will understand. You will probably not be able to save your roses. To keep deer out, you will need a particularly high fence that they cannot jump over. Large landowners in Scotland are reluctant to either put up fences or to cull (kill) the deer. This is because they want plenty of game to shoot or hunt. Indeed, it is surprising that venison is not more often on the menu in Britain.
Rhododendron invades rainforests
Rhododendron Ponticum (the common purple variety) is an invasive species in Britain and they are invading the rainforests. The problem is that, because they are evergreen, their leaves shade the ground and do not allow other seedling trees to grow. They are also difficult and expensive to remove. Another problem plant (for farmers) is bracken – which animals tend not to eat and it tends to spread. However, it can be an indicator of where rainforest used to be. In this respect, it would be better for farmers to leave it alone and eventually it might become rainforest again.
Why we should try to save our rainforests
Why should we try to save our temperate rainforests? The first reason is because they contain an amazing biodiversity of plants – such as ferns, lichens and fungi. These also give rise to animals and birds – most of which have become rare. The second reason is to limit global warming. As with the tropical rainforest, the temperate rainforest locks up carbon in the plants and soil. Most of these rainforests grow in peat bog. In the bad old days, the Forestry Commission often had to dig it up in order to plant their acres of conifers. Nowadays digging up peat bogs is a no-no because they contain millions of tons of carbon.