Cumbria’s globally rare temperate rainforest to be enhanced and celebrated

Paul Harris

England’s largest temperate rainforest is to become a new National Nature Reserve, Natural England is set to declare today (Wednesday 22 May).  

Temperate rainforests are found in places that have high rainfall and humidity and a low annual variation in temperature.  The humidity and low temperature range create truly unique biodiverse habitat often rich in lichen and mosses. Once abundant in the UK due to the oceanic climate, this globally rare habitat now covers less than 1% of England’s surface.

Borrowdale – a 721-hectare National Trust site in Cumbria – is the wettest inhabited place in England, the rainfall in the upper end of the valley is twice that of the lower end which has created a landscape that drips with lush vegetation.  

The upland woodlands are rich carbon stores full of rare lichens, mosses and liverworts. These specialised plants hold an important place in a busy farmed landscape.

The new National Nature Reserve will conserve and restore the ancient oaks, birches and ferns which have climbed the steep slopes for thousands of years and will also support important upland birds such as redstarts, pied flycatchers, tree pipits and the iconic red squirrel, for which the woodlands are a stronghold.  

Through this declaration, the National Trust will improve access to nature for local people as well as visitors and protect the longstanding cultural heritage of Borrowdale, with a valued continued commitment from the tenant farmers to prioritise nature conservation which builds on traditional practices which have shaped the landscape for generations. 

The National Trust is consulting with and working alongside local farmers to help them access payments to further important conservation work which is an essential part of the management of the NNR and the surrounding land.

Marian Spain, Chief Executive at Natural England, said: 

“This landmark declaration is an important step forward for nature recovery in England. Operating at a landscape scale, reconnecting parcels of the forest and creating corridors for wildlife will make these iconic habitats more resilient to the impacts of climate change.  

“This declaration demonstrates the power of working together to accelerate nature recovery, and we are delighted to share this journey with the National Trust and the tenant farmers, which have long been the custodians of this landscape, to protect the precious rainforest for future generations.” 

Jane Saxon, General Manager for the North and West Lakes, National Trust said:

“The new declaration is a testament to the increased focus on caring for and enhancing the rainforest while celebrating the impact this unique landscape has had on the natural and cultural heritage of the Borrowdale valley.    

“By creating this nature reserve, we are actively managing the woodlands for nature conservation and access through compatible practises.  

“Today, less than 1% of the land in the UK is covered by temperate rainforest, and as such it’s particularly important to conserve this rare habitat for future generations.  This declaration is a step towards a successful joint management approach for nature with our tenants and spreading awareness on how unique and precious this nature reserve is.” 

Anne Cornthwaite, a National Trust tenant farmer at Ashness Farm, said:

“At a time when there are really big changes happening within British farming, it is very exciting to see the small changes we made ten years ago in the way we delivered our environmental stewardship at Ashness Farm, has contributed to Moss Mire being bestowed this most amazing status as a temperate rainforest within a National Nature Reserve.” 

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:  

“Temperate rainforests are among our most precious landscapes – teeming with wildlife and bursting with rare lichens and mosses which are found only here.   

“We are committed to protecting our remaining temperate rainforests and have invested £750,000 to improve the resilience and management of these enchanting landscapes. This declaration will knit together this lush landscape, supporting some of our nationally important species, and will accelerate our commitment to halt and reverse the declines in nature, as set out in the Environmental Improvement Plan.” 

Borrowdale is also set to be more accessible so it can be enjoyed by visitors to the landscape and the local community. The National Trust will work to modify existing pathways to make them more accessible so that more people can enjoy the reserve and experience the special rainforest habitat and the dramatic volcanic landscape it sits within. To make sure the rainforest is cared for, focus will be on engaging the local community and existing visitors without encouraging an increase in visitors to the valley.

The declaration builds on the government’s temperate rainforest strategy, a new plan to recover England’s temperate rainforests – backed by £750,000 of Research & Development funding to improve resilience, management and protection of our unique temperate rainforests in England found in Cornwall, Devon and Cumbria.  

The government has set ambitious targets to halt and reverse the decline of nature and Natural England is supporting the delivery of these targets by creating a National Nature Recovery Network with larger, more joined up spaces for nature allowing wildlife to thrive.

Today also marks the extension of the Moccas Park and Gillian’s Wood National Nature Reserve in Herefordshire which will increase in size from 139 to 239 hectares incorporating some of the country’s oldest oak trees and follows the declaration of the Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood National Nature Reserve in Leicestershire on Monday.

These reserves are the latest to be declared as part of the King’s Series of National Nature Reserves. With the support of His Majesty King Charles III, Natural England will leave a lasting public legacy for people and nature by creating the King’s Series.   

It is currently National Nature Reserves Week, a celebration showcasing the vital role that nature reserves play in delivering nature recovery with over 100 events taking place at sites around the country for people to connect with nature.  

Visit this link to see an event in your area.

Additional information:

  • Visit this link to learn more about the reserve.

  • During May 2024 NNRs in England will increase by 2 to 221, with a total area of over 110,000 hectares – approximately 0.8% of the country’s land surface. The largest is The Wash covering almost 8,800 hectares, whilst Dorset’s Horn Park Quarry is the smallest at 0.32 hectares. 

National Nature Reserves week: 

  • National Nature Reserves Week is an annual celebration of NNRs across England, showcasing the vital role of National Nature Reserves in delivering nature recovery, and their benefits to communities and visitors through engagement and nature connection.  
  • National Nature Reserves Week 2024 takes place from 20th May to 31st May. Over 100 events will be taking place on NNRs around the country, aiming to connect more people from a wider diversity of backgrounds with some of England’s most important places for nature. National Nature Reserves are for everybody, whether connecting through wildlife, wellbeing, faith, friendship, culture, or the arts. Discover more at National Nature Reserves Week 2024  and find your inspiration at a National Nature Reserve near you.
Published 22 May 2024