Under the lens: Kintyre’s Temperate Atlantic rainforest

Kintyre’s Temperate Atlantic rainforest is a rare ecosystem, its importance increasingly better understood and appreciated – at least by those who know what they are looking for.

Now the challenge is to bring these precious pockets of woodland scattered throughout the coastal stretches of the West Highlands and islands into the popular consciousness, so that they can be learned about and preserved – as well as enjoyed – across the generations.

Ed Tyler, community growing specialist for South Kintyre Development Trust, has spent years with wife Dr Carina Spink maintaining 40 acres of rainforest in South Knapdale, and has a wealth of knowledge on some of the remarkable species to be found in this environment.

Ed explained: “Atlantic rainforest is found here in abundance thanks to the humid, damp conditions which exist most of the year, with coastal fog and drizzle, known in Scots Gaelic as ‘smirr’.

“The climate on these coasts is relatively frost-free, with the sea never going below freezing.”

Script lichen, growing on hazel tree in East Kintyre. By Eric Spence.

Ed described some of the amazing sightings which Atlantic rainforests like East Kintyre’s have brought into focus.

“A simple botanical lesson, first of all, is that there are five main life forms growing on trees, rocks and banks of soil – apart from flowering plants.

“These are lichens, mosses, liverworts, fungi and ferns.

“These are all sporing plants and existed before flowering plants.

Of the five, most people are familiar with mosses, fungi (often called mushrooms), and ferns. However, the other two groups – lichens and liverworts – will probably be new to people, yet they are to be found almost everywhere across the peninsula.


“Lichens come in lots of different shapes and sizes – they are all over the place.

“Some of the bigger lichens have distinct ‘lobes’, and will grow onto mosses.

Dog lichen (Peltigera canina) spores.

“Others form crusts on tree bark, while others fix themselves on to bare rock.

“Another group of lichens grows on young branches and seem to merge into the bark; one of this group looks like it might be a strange form of handwriting!

“The fascinating thing about lichens is that they are associations of organisms, which we call a symbiotic community.

Put simply, every lichen consists of a fungus plus either algae and/or bacteria.

Lichen stamen popping up on a bridge in Torrisdale Estate, East Kintyre, December 2023.


“Liverworts are easily mistaken for small mosses, therefore you need a hand lens to easily identify them.

“There are literally hundreds of different species in the rainforests. These are the most difficult of the five group to identify – by far.

“The largest of these liverworts is visible with the naked eye, called Greater Whipwort (Bazzania trilobata).

“Amazingly, you can see the individual cells of some liverwort species with a x10 lens.

“Mosses and liverworts are collectively called bryophytes.”

Ed Tyler, community growing specialist for SKDT and Kintyre Grows, pictured on a rainforest walk of Torrisdale Estate.

“Everyone knows about mushrooms but there are thousands of species in existence.

“Similarly, everyone is familiar with the tropical rainforests which cover huge areas including in Brazil, DR Congo and Indonesia, but only one percent of the world’s surface is covered by temperate rainforest.

“There are species of lichen and bryophytes, within Scotland’s rainforests, which make up a fraction of this one percent, which are found nowhere else in the world.”

For more information on SKDT’s work visit https://www.skdt.org/category/latest-news/

Find us on Facebook at South Kintyre Development Trust and Kintyre Climate Action, and on Instagram at @southkintyredt

An area of Temperate Atlantic rainforest in East Kintyre, December 2023.