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Secrets of the Celtic Rainforest

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Secrets of the Celtic Rainforest is a Plantlife Scotland project raising awareness of the international importance of these forests and unlocking the secrets of the unique species that dwell within them.


What are Celtic Rainforests?

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Atlantic woodland (c) D.Long

The Celtic Rainforests of Scotland, also known as Atlantic woodlands, form part of the wider western Atlantic woodlands of the UK. They are a habitat known as ‘temperate rainforest’. Temperate rainforest is a rare habitat worldwide - rarer even than tropical rainforests! These mainly coastal forests have a special 'oceanic' climate, which is very wet and mild, due to landscape and warm ocean currents.

The combination of high rainfall and stable mild temperature makes the woodlands very humid which allows for the growth of some really special residents – the lichen, mosses and liverworts, fungi and ferns. It is these species that really make the Celtic Rainforests what they are. Not only do they help maintain the humidity in the forest but they also give the forests that mysterious and magical feel. We will hope to meet some of these forest residents along the way.

Where can I find these Rainforests?

Beyond Britain and Ireland coastal temperate rainforests, like our Celtic Rainforest, are found mainly in the redwood forests of western North America, the beech forests of western Chile, in south-east Australia, New Zealand, south-western Japan and Taiwan. In Scotland they are mainly situated along the west coast. You can see this more clearly on the map below.

Why don't YOU discover some of these sites for yourself?

Through events:

Through self-led walk leaflets:


BH - Celtic Rainforest Site map A4v4

Introducing the Ghillie Dhu


in treeTo help us get better acquainted with the Atlantic woodlands of Scotland we will need a guide. Who better than the Ghillie Dhu? He is a forest guardian sprite from the Celtic Rainforests of west Scotland, who knows them like the back of his hand. So much so, that his clothing is made of moss and foliage from the woods. He’s very protective of his forests though, so we will have to tread lightly and he won’t give away all his secrets at once!


Check out our *NEW* downloadable Ghillghillie-dhu-resourcesie Dhu story by Claire Hewitt and Celtic Rainforest curriculum-linked activities in our RESOURCES section below!


Meet the residents

The smaller plants of the Celtic Rainforest provide habitat and maintain the humidity levels necessary for the health of the forest. These special plants are called lichens and bryophytes (the mosses and liverworts) and some of them are very rare in the rest of Europe, but Scotland is a 'hotspot' for them.

  • A lichen is unique because it is two organisms in one! A fungus and an alga/or cyanobacteria.
  • Mosses and liverworts are ancient non-flowering plants, having been around for 400 million years. Mosses have small leaves that grow all round their stems, whereas liverworts have two ranks of leaves either side of their stem.

Let's meet some of the residents of Scotland's Celtic Rainforest:

The Lichen

Tree Lungwort / P.Phillpot

Tree Lungwort (c) P.Phillpot

Name: Tree Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria)

Lives: On tree trunks & branches eg. old oak trees, hazel, rowan and willow. The west of Scotland is a particular ‘hotspot’ for this species due to the relative lack of atmospheric pollution here during the 19th Century Industrial Revolution. It is much more scarce in all other parts of Britain. If you fancy finding out more about Tree Lungwort you could always adopt this lichen?

How it got it's name: A large ‘leafy’ lichen; it’s lobes look like the shape of human lungs. In fact in medieval times doctors used this lichen to treat lung disorders!

Ghillie Dhu's note: When this lichen is dry it looks grey/bluish, but once it has rained, it changes to a lovely green!


The Moss

Slender Mouse-tail Moss / G.Rothero

Slender Mouse-tail Moss (c) G.Rothero

Name: Slender Mouse-tail Moss (Isothecium myosuroides)

Lives: On tree trunks and boulders, forming dense mats.

Appearance: This resident has a tree-like growth form, unbranched near it’s base, becoming branched above. The stems of this species grow parallel to the ground or surface they are growing on.

Ghillie Dhu's note: This moss provides a forest habitat in miniature for the micro-fauna of the woods.



The Liverwort

Greater Whipwort / G.Rothero

Greater Whipwort (c) G.Rothero

Greater Whipwort (Bazzania trilobata)

Lives: Mainly found on earth banks, around tree bases, on boulders, rotting wood and occasionally tree trunks.

Appearance: Unlike other liverworts, the leaves of this species do not lie flat, but instead curl down from the stem to give it a more  three-dimensional appearance.

Ghillie Dhu's note: It’s a little like coming face to face with an alien when viewing these residents through a hand lens!


Keep a look out for more residents coming soon, we just have to ask the Ghillie Dhu nicely! 


Are they threatened?

Rhodo pon habitats_atlantic woodland cover_D Long - Copy

R.ponticum (c) D.Long

Unfortunately there are threats facing our native rainforests here in Scotland:

  • Rhododendron ponticum is invading the forests and shading out these special smaller plants and fungi
  • The woodlands are becoming increasingly isolated and fragmented
  • These woodlands benefit from the right amount of grazing - too little can lead to the woodland becoming shady and choked; but too much leads to more fragmentation and not enough regeneration of young trees.



What can I do?

  • Start to Explore a Celtic Rainforest for yourself - you can download our map of Celtic Rainforest sites to visit here.
  • Upload photos you have taken in a Celtic Rainforest to our Plantlife Scotland Facebook or Twitter @PlantlifeScot pages and #celticrainforest - we would love to see them!
  • If you live near an Atlantic Woodland, become a Flora Guardian and help us monitor & conserve some of the special plants within them. Please contact us at
  • Attend a Celtic Rainforest Event that will be advertised here over the course of the project.
  • Adopt the lovely large leafy Tree Lungwort!
  • Teachers and Educators - download our Online Resources to help you interpret the Celtic Rainforest with your students.

What have you been doing?

  • Carntyne Primary in Glasgow have been creating musical compositions about the Celtic Rainforest with the help of string duo High heels & Horsehair. Listen to their fabulous music about the Ghillie Dhu, Tree Lungwort and Old Man's Beard lichen to name but a few here! Well done to you all!
  • Fintry and Buchlyvie Primary Schools have been surveying different woodlands (including no. 20 on our map above; Inchcailloch Island) to find out what makes a Celtic Rainforest as part of their John Muir Celtic Rainforest Discovery Award. Read how they got on here and how you could also work towards this award.
  • A group of keen participants took part in a Celtic Rainforest Lichen Dyeing workshop near Ariundle Oakwoods (no.3 on our map above). Read all about it here...

Our supporters & partners

Many thanks to our project supporters;  the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage.

We are also working with partners; Ardroy Outdoor Education Centre Trust Ltd, John Muir TrustNational Trust for Scotland, and Forestry Commission Scotland.

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