We manage native woodland of global significance, particularly in the West Highlands and Argyll.
Here, Scotland’s ‘temperate rainforest’ is home to ancient oak, ash, birch, hazel and Scots pine. It’s also where you’ll find rare and fascinating mosses and liverworts, lichens, fungi and ferns.
A unique habitat
Scottish rainforest is found in Argyll and the west Highlands – where the climate is wettest.
The humidity, along with the high rainfall and variety of soils, creates perfect conditions for more than 500 species of mosses, ferns, lichens and liverworts. In fact, some species have their ‘world headquarters’ in the area. A handful are found nowhere else.
What else lives here?
- Spring flowers, such as bluebells, wood anemone and primroses
- Migrant songbirds – look out for redstart, tree pipit and wood warbler
- Woodland birds, such as buzzards, great spotted woodpeckers and jays
- Deer and badger – and the rarer red squirrel, wild cat and pine marten
- Hundreds of insects – most notably, the threatened chequered skipper butterfly
The yellow specklebelly and other lichens restricted to ancient rainforests – part of what makes Scotland a special place
The history of the forest
Although native woodland can look more ‘natural’ than our conifer forests, it has also been shaped by man.
Oak has always been used as an important source of timber and fuel. In the 1700s and 1800s, many Atlantic woods provided charcoal for ironworks, while the bark was used to produce tannin for processing leather.
During periods of agricultural and forestry expansion, Scottish rainforests were often cleared for animal grazing, or planted with faster growing conifer tree species. Rhododendron and other invasive shrubs colonised large areas from the gardens of Victorian properties.
All this changed in the 1980s and 1990s, when we began to recognise the ecological importance of native woodland.
Conserving Scotland's rainforest
Our staff toured the country, searching for areas of surviving native woodland and drawing up plans for their conservation or regeneration. Some of the most significant sites were even recognised as Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Since then, we’ve thinned or felled conifers, cleared invasive shrubs, and reduced grazing by deer and livestock. Where we don’t think woodland will regenerate naturally, we’ve planted native trees.
However, we’ve had to make the changes gradually so there are no sudden changes to humidity, and the species that live there have time to respond and become more robust.
What we’re trying to achieve in the long term is a positive balance between ancient woodland sites and new areas of native woodland. As a result, we predict the landscape will be even more diverse... and more beautiful.
Visiting Scotland's rainforests
If you want to see this unique habitat, we recommend a visit to:
- Ariundle: one of the richest surviving fragments of the ancient oakwoods and a National Nature Reserve;
- Glen Nant: another National Nature Reserve that includes a variety of woodland types
- Barnluasgan: part of Knapdale forest and the home of the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland.
Forestry and Land Scotland is a member of The Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest, a collection of NGO’s and Government agencies who are working together to restore this immensely valuable habitat. Together, we are raising the profile of Scotland’s rainforests and working at a landscape scale to address threats such as rhododendron and over-grazing by deer. You can see more about the work of the Alliance as well as beautiful pictures and film of rainforest here.