Celtic rainforest

Here is a sneak preview of a short digital story Craig put together for a local project…

… and here is the transcript.

Most people have heard of the tropical rainforests that, despite decades of logging, still cover vast swaths of the earth. Fewer people have heard of the much rarer coniferous and broadleaf temperate rainforests that only occur in coastal oceanic-moist climates with an annual precipitation of over 1400mm and a mean annual temperature is between 4 and 12 °C.

A subset of the temperate rainforest is the even rarer celtic rainforest specific to the celtic nations of the Atlantic seaboard area of Europe, and of which Wales has some of the best examples.

It is in remnant form because most of Wales has been farmed for millennium. While we lament, and rightly so, the destruction of the tropical rainforests we must remember that the picturesque patchwork landscape of sheep and cattle farms, hay meadows and coniferous woodland in our beautiful corner of the world is man-made and left to its own devices would revert to the same oak forest ecosystem that colonised the land after the end of the last ice age.

Today the celtic rainforest is found in the land that is too difficult to farm – at the bottom of the deep steep valleys surrounding river tributaries. The welsh for valley – Cwm – is reflected in place names such as Cwm Morgan and here good examples of celtic rainforest can be found. Writing in ‘The Living Landscape‘ author Patrick Whitefield captures the ambiance of these woodlands:

“These valley woods are often dense and jungly. Few sounds from the outside world reach you when you are walking in them and all you can see is woodland. Civilisation can feel far away. Even though you are you know there’s a bare, ordered fieldscape above you on all sides, somehow it feels a bit improbable.”

Our tree Ent

Our tree Ent by the river in the Celtic Rainforest

Indeed it does. Mosses, liverworts, lichens and filmy ferns abound in the celtic rainforest – signs of clean, unpolluted, moisture laden air. Before the industrial revolution, most old welsh trees would have grown to look like one of Tolkien’s Ents and as we leave the hydrocarbon age behind, maybe, they will again.

Our tree Ent

Our tree Ent

Our tree Ent down by the river

(A few days later) We found another way down to the river, much easier than the first way. On the bank is this wonderfully shaggy tree. We immediately decided that this is our beautiful Ent (even though it is growing on the opposite side of the river and therefore not actually on our land). For the life of me I can’t think what kind of tree it is. We’ve been to visit on at least three separate occasions and never have I thought to look at the leaves. There are so many other things to observe. It is covered in moss, there are various types of ferns growing along the branches and lichens abound too. I have never seen a tree like it in the UK!

Looking at this photo again, I suspect it is a Sycamore. Remind me to check the next time we go to the river.

More photos of the Ent on Flickr

River hunting

View across the far-away field

The river is somewhere in amongst those trees

We’ve always known that there is a river along the lower edge of our land, you can see it clearly on the map, but every attempt to find it in those first few days had failed. Half welly walk proved too over-grown, the bottom of sunshine meadow was too steep with slippery rocks covered in waist high brambles and the wood in the far-away field was like walking through a thicket.

Day three (the 3rd of August). We were determined to find our river. We gathered a packed-lunch, flasks of water, loppers, gardening gloves and walking shoes and made an early start towards the far-away field.

It was a glorious summers day. We steadily made our way down through the buzz of bees and arrived in the shade at the edge of the wood. The first hurdle was how to get over the barbed wire topped fence – just that little bit too high for comfortable straddling. Unclasping the barbed wire from the top of the wire netting below we made enough space to squeeze through. Stepping into the wood proper was like walking into a different world. It looked like it hadn’t felt human feet in decades, if not centuries. Wrens darted about the moss covered branches as we clambered over decaying old tree trunks.

Craig with loppers

Careful now!

Craig walked with loppers in front, I followed with camera in his foot steps. It didn’t seem right to create a large swathe of disturbed track through the quiet wood. We could hear the river (you can hear it from pretty much all of the land), but couldn’t see it. The only thing to do was to keep heading down. It was slow going with branches and brambles blocking our path. A trickle of a stream to our right indicated that we were on the right track. It also indicated very sodden soil – not good for our walking shoes.

I don’t know how long we were walking. Time seemed to stand still. The sound of the river grew ever louder, but still remained out of sight. Just how big is it? We couldn’t guess.

River looking downstream

Afon Sylgen looking downstream

Eventually we reached rockier ground. I couldn’t wait any longer. I nipped around Craig and his careful lopping activities. Peering over the edge of a moss-laden rock I could see the rushing water below. It was moving fast, tumbling over rocks. A surprisingly small amount of water considering the noise! Still we weren’t at the water’s edge. It was now a race to see who could find the quickest route to the river bed. I was first, but only because Craig helped me down a particularly large rock and safely onto slippery stonier ground.

We’d made it. It was awesome. We walked along the river chatting about where we’ll put a wildlife watching hide and wondering whether it would get washed away after a torrential downpour. Looking up, the moss, lichen and fern covered branches were incredible, like some kind of Celtic rainforest. We are truly lucky to have this paradise so close.