The Importance of Rainforests (First Published in West Sussex County Times)

RainforestI have been blessed to spend 20 years working in the Ecuadorian Amazon and Choco cloud forest, a world away from my home in Pulborough.

It has been like having parallel lives.

The UK has one of lowest levels of tree cover in Europe at 13%, globally ranking 136th out of 189 countries. Looking down from a plane over our green desert fields, we can see how few trees there really are with only tiny patches of ancient woodland remaining, maybe unaware that here in England our level of biodiversity is painfully low.  Although the woodland cover has doubled in the last 100 years this is mainly with non-native conifer plantations, where very little diversity can exist.

The west coast of the UK is the natural habitat for a very special type of ancient woodland – temperate rainforest. However, the vast majority has been cleared.  Even though UK regulations state that forests over 400 years old are deemed ancient, this has sadly not protected those that were in the path of HS2 – a wood 400 years old gets little more protection than one that is 4 years old.

Why are ancient forests so important?
As well as their intrinsic value, they lock up carbon to help with climate change, provide oxygen, improve our health, reduce pollution, overheating and flooding, they support people, livestock and hundreds of types of life within them.

So far known to science there are 391,000 species of vascular plants and 144,000 species of fungi which have been named and classified, however, it is estimated that over 93 percent of fungal species are currently unknown to science!  We have millions yet to discover. There are close to 70,000 vertebrate species, 5,000 amphibian species, 7,500 bird species and more than 3,700 mammals.  We know that many more millions of unknown insect species exist and the vast majority live in forests.  These fungi and insects may be able to help us in many ways with evolving health and technologies.

At COP26 Countries pledged to end deforestation by 2030, but sadly deforestation is rapidly increasing in some areas of the Amazon, driven not just by large agribusiness cutting down the forest for cattle, soy and palm oil but also small-scale farmers growing coffee and cacao (for chocolate). Poverty is driving their need to clear land, not just for food and medicine but to send their children to school.

Why is so much money spent on planting new trees to ‘carbon offset’ whilst mature forests are being cut down? Why are we not paying to keep the key biodiversity areas alive?

If you would like to offset your carbon please do check  We can do so much more than just tree planting. Together we can make the world a better place and keep forests standing.

Finally, remember where your next breath comes from and if you are ever under anaesthetic give thanks as this originally came from the Amazon forest too!

Nicola will be speaking on Wednesday 20th July 7-8 pm at our Sussex Green Ideas Zoom monthly event. To book a free place visit and click on the Eventbrite button.

By Nicola Peel

Nicola Peel