Today is United Nations World Wildlife Day and this year’s theme is “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet.” In recent years forests have attracted attention for their role in capturing carbon in the fight against climate change. They have sustained the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally for much longer than that. For as long as there have been people and trees, woodland has fed and sheltered us. Here in Scotland that is as true today as it ever was.
Down the west coast heavy rainfall, mild temperatures and clean air create the conditions for an explosion of biodiversity under the canopy of native woodlands. Every surface is lush with mosses, lichens and ferns. These are our rainforests and it is our responsibility to look after them. We would have a cheek to criticise countries clearing tropical rainforest to ranch cattle or mine minerals, while allowing our own temperate rainforest to be grazed out by deer or overgrown with Rhododendron ponticum.
Scotland’s rainforest is one of our most precious habitats, and yet most Scots are not even aware we have it. A voluntary partnership of over 20 organisations, The Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest is seeking to change that, and also to turn round the fortunes of this dwindling habitat.
Our rainforest can help us combat the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. Its rare and fragile ecosystem is a so-called “nature-based solution” as it locks up huge volumes of carbon while providing a vital home for a globally significant assemblage of species, some of which occur nowhere else. But Scotland’s temperate rainforest, just like the tropical rainforest isn’t just important for biodiversity or climate control. People live and work here. They always have.
At Lagganulva on the Isle of Mull Helen MacKay relies on the hazel, oak and ash woodland surrounding her farm to provide year-round shelter for livestock, which is especially valuable during calving. Helen says it is a healthier environment than any shed. It allows her cows to follow their natural instincts when it’s time to separate from the herd. She should know, as she is also the local vet. Like other farmers in the area, Helen is eager to protect her slice of rainforest and encourage natural regeneration.
Based in Morvern, Donald Kennedy is a contractor and partner in the Lever & Mulch Partnership and has been working to remove invasive Rhododendron ponticum from native woodlands across the west coast for more than 15 years. This essential task is an important source of employment for many communities.
So is deer management. John Taylor works for Forestry and Land Scotland and is tasked with managing large areas of woodland in the heart of the rainforest zone. This involves controlling the red deer population and restoring forests planted with non-native conifers back to native woodland. Deer management provides local employment, reduces traffic accidents that involve deer collisions, and even reduces the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas far more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide.
Scotland’s rainforest is a visitor attraction even if most of those visitors have yet to realise it is a rainforest. Jon and Angela Mercer run Glenloy Wildlife – a tourism business in Lochaber. Jon says nature-lovers are blown away by the variety of wildlife here. It cannot be experienced anywhere else. The more rainforest there is, the more opportunities for wildlife watching and nature tourism.
So our rainforest supports jobs; its canopy provides cover for livestock; people use it for exercise and to recharge their mental batteries. It is a natural classroom for school children; a meeting place for groups and volunteers; and a destination for tourists. Scotland’s rainforest is a hugely important natural asset contributing to the economic, social and mental wellbeing of the people who live in and around it. That is why action on green recovery must include expansion and restoration of the rainforest.
Yes, Scotland owes it to the world to look after these woods for their natural wonders, but we owe it to local people to look after them as a considerable community asset too.
In the next Parliament we will be working closely with Nature Champion MSPs to secure a better future for the rainforest and the people it supports.
PR and Communications Officer at Woodland Trust Scotland