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Do we live in a rainforest?

3rd November

It was soon after arriving at Nutsford House that Amanda started to use language like cloud forest and rainforest to describe the wonderful view we have of the woods in the Brockey Valley below.

I was more than a little sceptical.

And then we took a walk along the old railway line that used to pass through these woods, and we noticed firstly how damp it was and then how there were lots of plants growing on other plants.

And then we turned on Radio 4 and Guy Shrubsole was talking about how 20% of the UK used to be temperate rainforest.

And then we bought Guy’s book (The Lost Rainforests of Britain) and then we went to listen to Guy speak in Taunton.

And, as it turns out, “Do we live in a rainforest?” is not as silly a question as it might seem.

For Exmoor is an area that might already contain tiny fragments of existing temperate rainforest but certainly is an area where this habitat could potentially thrive again, something that could be enormously beneficial in the race against climate change.

So, what does a temperate rainforest look like in the UK?

Guy’s website ( is far better placed to answer this question but, broadly speaking, temperate rainforests are damp areas of woodland where plants like moss, lichen and polypody ferns grow on trees.

Damp is the key word here. And November at Nutsford House is teaching us that if you are searching for damp conditions, the West Country is a good place to look!

But, despite the associated precipitation, it is exciting to think that, between the last Ice Age and the Bronze Age, this area might have been a rainforest.

Guy’s book and his lecture were inspiring and interesting in so many ways - over the next month, he’s in Cornwall, Bath, Kendal, Ashburton and Oxford ( - but one thing that caught my attention in an unexpected way was the literary connection.

Arthur Conan Doyle had links with South Devon and Dartmoor - The Hound of the Baskervilles is set here - and the author was supposed to have been hugely inspired by the myths and legends around Wistman’s Wood, which is perhaps Britain’s most well-known area of temperate rainforest and would, in Conan Doyle’s time, have been bigger than it is today.

You can see exactly how this eerie, haunting landscape could inspire stories. “Wisht” is Devon dialect for “weird” and it was wisht hounds that were supposed to haunt Wistman’s Wood, hence the hound in the Sherlock Holmes story.

Another literary lover of atmospheric settings was J R R Tolkien and it is no surprise that the cover of Guy Shrubsole’s book was drawn by Alan Lee, who has illustrated lots of Tolkien’s books and was involved with the conceptual design of the Peter Jackson films. Settings like the Dead Marshes and Fangorn Forest seem to have more than a hint of temperate rainforest in them.

More rainforest most certainly equals more natural air filters to fight climate change, but more rainforest might also equal more atmospheric settings for literature. And I’m up for both of these!

So, could we be living in a rainforest?

When we moved to Nutsford House, I hadn’t envisaged that this question would not just be laughed out of the kitchen. But now I’m not so sure. I should listen to Amanda more!

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