Wildlife Trusts and Aviva team up to bring back UK rainforests


The Wildlife Trusts are embarking on an ambitious new project to restore rainforests in the UK thanks to £38 million of funding from Aviva.

Temperate rainforest is a very rare and biodiverse habitat that once stretched from Cornwall to western Scotland. UK rainforests have been largely destroyed over many hundreds of years for timber, farming, transport networks and development. Now they cover less than 1% of the UK in areas such as western Scotland, the Lake District and western Wales.

Temperate rainforest is now a rare habitat in the UK, but it is extremely biodiverse. This is Coed Crafnant in North Wales (The Wildlife Trusts).

The scheme will see at least 2,000 ha of trees (the equivalent of some 2,600 football pitches) planted at reserves in western areas of the UK.

It is part of a wider programme of nature-based projects funded by Aviva to remove carbon from the atmosphere, which aims to improve biodiversity and climate resilience by restoring wild places.

Creating and connecting wilder landscapes is fundamental for nature's recovery, stopping climate change and adapting to its impacts. This includes achieving UK net-zero targets, reducing the threat from extreme heat, flood and drought, and protecting at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: "We're looking forward to working with communities to bring back rainforests along the UK's Atlantic coast – these woods are magical and much loved by those who visit and live near them.

"The task of restoring land to help nature recover and store carbon has never been more urgent. Nature – wild habitats and the species that depend on them – is in fast decline and we're in a climate crisis. These twin emergencies are interlinked and threaten communities, water supplies and the future of farming – which is why we're so pleased that, with Aviva's support, we'll be substantially increasing our efforts to address these crises.

"We have very strict criteria for what we consider to be a very high integrity carbon credit scheme for the residual emissions still left after strenuous efforts to reduce them at source. Aviva's approach meets our high standards. We're excited that we'll now be able to work with many more communities to help nature fight back, improve climate resilience and enhance the lives of all those involved through these projects.

"We believe that there needs to be a huge increase in nature-based solutions to climate change – but it's critical that these solutions are not used as an excuse to carry on with a polluting ‘business as usual' model which fails to reduce emissions at source. Too often, businesses try to ‘put the genie back into the bottle' – but Aviva is taking a more far-sighted approach. It is investing in restoring nature to store carbon 20 years before the carbon associated with Aviva's potential future investments goes into the atmosphere. This is to be applauded."

Pied Flycatcher is among the declining species reliant on Atlantic rainforests (Clive Daelman).

Amanda Blanc, Aviva Group Chief Executive Officer, added: "The fact that Britain's native rainforests will take carbon out of the Earth's atmosphere is reason enough to restore them. But on top of that, they're incredibly rare and beautiful. This vital work we are undertaking with The Wildlife Trusts will mean people can experience this rich natural habitat. Communities being able to access these sites will improve wellbeing and show how biodiversity fights and reduces the impacts of climate change. Aviva is proud to help reestablish temperate rainforests in the UK as part of our efforts to be a Net Zero company by 2040."

The UK's rainforests are temperate rainforests, which means they grow in areas that have high rainfall and humidity, and a low annual variation in temperature. They are also known as Atlantic woodland or Celtic rainforest.

UK rainforests are made up of trees including sessile oak, birch, rowan, holly, alder, willow and hazel. They are home to Red Squirrel, Pine Marten and declining bird species such as Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Common Redstart. Wet conditions support a luxuriant abundance of mosses, liverworts, lichens, and ferns – many of which grow on the trees or cover boulders, crags and ravines. The dampness is ideal for masses of fungi, including globally rare species.

As trees grow, they absorb carbon from the atmosphere which is stored in the soil, roots, trunks, and branches of the tree itself. The epiphytes – the lichens, mosses and ferns covering the trees – also carry out this function, and so UK rainforests have huge potential for storing carbon.

To achieve the UK's net-zero ambition, it is estimated that woodland cover needs to increase to at least 17% across the UK by 2050 (it is currently around 13%). Research, surveying and working with communities are the first steps to establishing which areas of land are suitable for rainforest regeneration.

The Wildlife Trusts will ensure that these restored rainforests are as resilient as possible to increased heat, drought and fire as the climate changes. As well as being established in the wettest parts of the UK, the charity is choosing tree species with reduced risk from wildfire and will be monitoring the projects carefully over time to measure their biodiversity and adaptation benefits. Improving the size and connectivity of UK rainforests will maximise their resilience to changing conditions.