Borrowdale rainforest in the Lake District to become a new National Nature Reserve

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Looking down at the Borrowdale rainforest towards the Jaws of Borrowdale | © National Trust Images / Paul Harris

Today (Wednesday 22 May), Borrowdale has been announced as the latest in the ‘King’s Series of National Nature Reserves’ (NNRs) by the National Trust and Natural England.

The new 721 hectare (1,782 acre NNR) is made up of vitally important habitats, including temperate rainforest, ancient woodland pastures and carefully selected areas where these can be expanded and reconnected.

It is in the heart of the Lake District, renewing the National Trust’s commitment to celebrating and enhancing this rare habitat. 

Borrowdale is one of a handful of NNRs across the country containing rare temperate rainforest habitat with the woodlands comprising the largest remaining piece of England’s native rainforest. With the valley regularly experiencing the highest rainfall in England, it’s as wet as a tropical rainforest albeit much cooler, resulting in lush woodlands, dripping with mosses, ferns and lichens. 

Some of these ancient trees, including the veteran sessile oaks which gave Derwent Water its name, have grown up on steep slopes that have remained undisturbed for centuries and are a refuge for rare specialist species of lichen like lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) and mosses including Hallers’s apple-moss (Bartramia halleriana). They also provide the ideal breeding habitat for otherwise declining birds including the redstart, pied flycatcher and tree pipit. The woodlands are also one of the few remaining strongholds for native red squirrels. 

Alongside its care and enhancement of the precious landscape, the conservation charity is aiming to modify some carefully selected sections of the existing paths to make them more accessible and help everyone to be able to explore this unique site. 

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

“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.” 

Pete Barron, local resident and conservationist said:

“With having lived within sight of this woodland now for 30 plus years, it’s part of my life. When I go for a walk first thing in the morning, I go to Johnny Wood and I do a circuit round by the Beck. The access and special qualities of the woods are highly valued by the local community all year round.” 

Jean Johnston, Senior Advisor at Natural England said:

“England’s rainforests are vitally important for wildlife, climate and water management. These are ancient and special places of huge value to local people and visitors alike. We warmly welcome this renewed commitment to making sure they are looked after so that they are in the best possible health. We look forward to working with the National Trust and its farming tenants to help make the woods and ancient wood pastures even bigger and better than they are now” 

Guy Shrubsole, author of The Lost Rainforests of Britain, commented:

“It’s fantastic that Borrowdale’s amazing temperate rainforests are being declared a National Nature Reserve, in recognition of their great ecological significance. 

“Like all of Britain’s temperate rainforests, the Atlantic oakwoods of Borrowdale remain fragmented and under pressure – so I very much hope this new declaration inspires farmers and landowners in the surrounding landscape to get involved in rainforest restoration, and benefit from some of the new government funding available for this. 

“By reconnecting rainforest fragments, we can make these rare, beautiful habitats more resilient to the climate crisis, whilst also helping reduce flooding downstream.” 

Traditional fell farming is another integral part of Borrowdale’s cultural history, helping to shape the land and will play a key role in Borrowdale’s future. 

To help ensure the success of the project and the best outcome for the valley, the National Trust is consulting with and working alongside local farmers, many of which are already doing important conservation work. Helping them access payments for their efforts will be an essential part of the management of the NNR and the surrounding land. 

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.” 

Over time, and in consultation with farmers and local landholders, plans are for the NNR to grow to include other vital parcels of woodland in the area. Re-connecting parcels of woodland will help create wildlife corridors and improve the resilience and overall health of the forest. 

Jade Allen, National Nature Reserve Officer for the National Trust said:

“We are incredibly excited for the launch of our new Borrowdale Rainforest National Nature Reserve project.  It is a big step towards caring for and enhancing the incredibly special rainforest of Borrowdale. 

“Our hopes for the future are for the woodlands to be thriving and regenerating, for the biodiversity here to be improving, and to start reconnecting the woodland fragments for a more resilient ecosystem. 

“By working with our local farmers and community, we are looking forward to better connecting people with the woodlands, wider nature and history of Borrowdale.”

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