Assessing the Rainforests in three National Parks

  • Contributor information: CNP

19 December 2018

Rachel Jone’s of Plantlife, looks at their project to build resilience in temperate rainforests, also known as Atlantic woodlands; a globally rare and extremely important habitat.

What do volunteers in the Lake District have in common with volunteers on Exmoor and Dartmoor? Not much you’d think with so many miles between them. However through two Heritage Lottery funded projects, Plantlife is working with volunteers in all three of these National Parks. They are assessing the condition of our temperate rainforests, also known as Atlantic woodlands; a globally rare and extremely important habitat for lichens, mosses and liverworts (lower plants).

Alison Horner in Exmoor

Dr Alison Smith carrying out the Rapid Woodland Assessment in Horner Wood on Exmoor. Photo credit: Plantlife

If you’ve been to coastal or upland woodlands in the Lakes or south west you’ll have been to one of these rainforests but might not have known that’s what it is. Atlantic woodlands have a certain and unmistakable quality. They are warm, damp, lush places with clean air and dappled light. Trees are draped with lichens and the ground and boulders are carpeted with moss. They are ancient places, having been relatively undisturbed for hundreds of years.

Aira Force by April WindleAtlantic woodlands at Aira Force in the Lake District. Photo credit: April Windle

Helped by volunteers on Exmoor and Dartmoor Plantlife’s Dr Volunteers on DartmoorAlison Smith has developed a Rapid Woodland Assessment tool that will enable us to find out what condition our Atlantic woodlands are in. We’ll learn where the good quality woodland is, where woodland with potential to support rare lower plants in the future is, and what if anything poses a threat to the health of the woods. 

Voluntary groups have been enthused by the prospect of getting out into their local woodlands and looking for typical Atlantic woodland features like big mossy boulders; a good mixture of tree ages and species; and old trees with deeply fissured bark, dead branches and rot holes in the trunk, all of which are good habitat for some of the most rare lichens. We are looking now for woodland owners, woodland managers and interested members of the public who want to carry out the Rapid Woodland Assessment.

The two projects will map the results from these assessments and highlight the ‘hot spots’ for lower plants.  This will enable us to focus our attention on woods with the highest potential to support lower plants and provide training and support to woodland owners in these hot spots and in the wider area.

Volunteers in the Lake District have started to carry out the survey and Exmoor and Dartmoor surveys will commence over the winter of 2018/2019. Working with local volunteers is going to be vital to the success of this work over the next few years. It’s an exciting piece of citizen science, getting communities who we know have a passion for their local woodlands involved in scientific research that will influence how woodland is managed for the future.

Project volunteers surveying on Dartmoor. Photo credit: Plantlife.



By Rachel Jones, 

Project Manager, Building Resilience in South West Woodlands Project, Plantlife

Anyone interested in taking part in the Rapid Woodland Assessment should contact:

Exmoor/Dartmoor – Dr Alison Smith, Lead Community Scientist, Building Resilience in South West Woodlands project

The Lake District – April Windle, Senior Project Officer, LOST