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(Proposed) Borrowdale Rainforest National Nature Reserve

Ashness wood in the summer with lush moss covering boulders on the ground and sun rays piercing through the trees
A thick carpet of moss covers the ground at Ashness wood in Borrowdale | © Melinda Gilhen-Baker

Ancient temperate rainforests are some of the rarest habitats on earth. They are important carbon stores and home to a rich variety of specialized animals, plants and fungi. The Borrowdale Oakwoods are one of England's largest remaining pieces of temperate rainforest that once spread from the north of Scotland down the west coast of England Wales and Ireland and are part of a long standing cultural landscape. The National Trust and Natural England have applied for National Nature Reserve status for some of the Borrowdale temperate rainforests. We are hopeful for a spring declaration this year so check back soon for updates.

Borrowdale has a vibrant community with traditional fell farmers, other commoners and local businesses. It also welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year coming to experience it's beauty and charm. The incredible woodland here is a major part of what makes this valley so special and brings a wide breadth of benefits to all who live here. Working with tenant farmers and other land managers in the valley, we are finding the best ways to restore the land, improve biodiversity and re-connect woodlands for wildlife while preserving the heritage of the landscape. Starting with 735 hectares, we have the opportunity to continue to expand and protect this patch of rainforest and make sure it has the chance to thrive.

Lush mosses and other epiphytic plants growing on a branch in the Borrowdale temperate rainforest
Lush plant life growing atop of tree branches in the Borrowdale rainforest | © National Trust Images/John Malley

A rare and precious habitat

Very few places in the world have the conditions to support temperate rainforests. In order to thrive, these particular habitats need high levels of rainfall and humidity. Of course, they also need a temperate climate with relatively little changes in temperature year round, never getting too hot or two cold. Western UK's oceanic climate makes it an ideal place for rainforests to thrive with ferns and other epyphitic flora able to take hold on every wet and porous surface. Instead of tropical vines and great palm trees, here you will find oak and birch as well as lush ferns. Having had little interference from people over the last centuries other than some livestock grazing, the Borrowdale rainforest is also an old growth forest with varying levels of tree growth, a well established mycelial network, large old trees with deep grooves and plenty of rotting wood for fungi and insects to thrive. The area is rich in bryophites (mosses and liverworts) and lichens which have specialised to live in this very particular habitat and which have now become rare throughout europe and beyond.

Lobaria pulmonaria lichen on the trunk of a tree in the Borrowdale rainforest
Lobaria pulmonaria in the Borrowdale rainforest | © Melinda Gilhen-Baker

It’s fantastic that Borrowdale’s amazing temperate rainforests are working towards being declared a National Nature Reserve, in recognition of their great ecological significance. Like all of Britain’s temperate rainforests, the Atlantic oakwoods of Borrowdale remain fragmented and under pressure – so I very much hope this new designation inspires farmers and landowners in the surrounding landscape to get involved in rainforest restoration, and benefit from some of the new government funding available for this. By reconnecting rainforest fragments, we can make these rare, beautiful habitats more resilient to the climate crisis, whilst also helping reduce flooding downstream.

A quote by Guy Shrubsole Author of The Lost Rainforests of Britain
A red squirrel standing on a thick branch, facing the camera
Red squirrel searching for food in the rainforest | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Species under threat

We know very little about the world of bacteria, fungi and invertebrates that live in the soils and within the mosses in Borrowdale. Such rich diversity working together to form this very specific eco-system. Like so many such habitats, loosing one species can have a devastating effect on the rest of the woodland and beyond. There are also many more recognizable species of plants and animals which we are working hard to protect and hopefully increase their numbers such as red squirrels, pied flycatchers, northern hairy wood ants and various rare lichens such as Lobaria Pulmonaria.

Two calves grazing in a field at Ashness Farm in Borrowdale with views down to Derwent Water
Calves and sheep grazing at Ashness Farm in Borrowdale | © Melinda Gilhen-Baker

Working together with local farmers

The traditional practice of fell farming has long shaped the land in Borrowdale as farmers heard their sheep and cattle through field and fell and across the commons. Much of the culture and charm which attracts millions of visitors each year comes from this particular heritage, with Herdwicks and Galloways looking out over dry stone walls next to centuries old farmhouses and barns. Hedgerows have long been a staple here and their creation and maintenance has been the perfect means to seperate fields while providing food and shelter to livestock as well as to local wildlife. In order to look after the precious woodland habitat here, we are working with farmers, utilizing their knowledge of the land, to balance our need to produce food locally with nature's ability to provide and regenerate. Getting grazing numbers right, creating new woodland pastures, putting in ponds and hedgerows are just some of the ways farmers have already been working to regenerate the land in Borrowdale and their efforts are showing. Working together, we will ensure both our cultural and natural heritage will continue to thrive so that a few generations from now, visitors will still be walking down the valley enjoying being under a lush canopy of trees full of birdsong while Galloways and Herdwick graze nearby.

At a time when there are really big changes happening within British farming, it is very exciting to see the small changes we made ten years ago in the way we delivered our environmental stewardship at Ashness Farm, has contributed to Moss Mire being bestowed the most amazing status as temperate rainforest.

A quote by Anne Cornthwaite Tenant farmer at Ashness Farm

Cultural history and the importance of place

Place names are often taken for granted but they can be an important window into the past. Although Borrowdale comes from the Norse Borger Dahl or " Valley of the Fort", the earlier Celts named the water here Derwent or "Abounding in Oaks". Trees, and Oaks in particular, were sacred to this early british culture and so such a valley would have surely been a significant destination. Oaks have remained a symbol of English culture and strength and it is by no accident that it forms the logo of the National Trust. Today, the oak woodland here still draws the local community and visitors from across the UK to come and spend some time in it's peaceful and inspiring presence and should be protected as a piece of our collective cultural history.

Borrowdale NNR

April 2023

Finding a project lead

Every project begins with an idea, an inspiration, and in order for that idea to grow, you need the right people. The first step to making the Borrowdale rainforest National Nature Reserve a reality was to hire a new National Nature Reserve Officer. The search began in early 2023 when the role was created. By April, Jade Allen, a passionate conservationist and local talent, was chosen to lead the project. 

Jade Allen near Derwent Water in Borrowdale
Jade Allen, National Nature Reserve Officer - Borrowdale | © Jade Allen
A group of friends stop to take a rest among the mossy rocks of the Borrowdale rainforest.
Taking a rest among the moss covered rocks in the Borrowdale rainforest. | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Visiting the Borrowdale Rainforest

The woodlands you see in Borrowdale are almost all classified as rainforest and they are open to the public with many footpaths throughout the valley and along the shores of Derwent Water.

There are a few parks that serve as great starting points to explore the woodlands. Great Wood, Ashness bridge and Seatoller car parks are all ideally positioned to step straight into the rainforest. The Bowder stone car park is also a good place to begin a rainforest adventure.

Please help us look after this special place by sticking to the path, taking all litter away with you and always following the Countryside Code.

Contact us


Want to learn more? Have any questions? We would love to hear from you.
View of the Atlantic sessile oakwood, Borrowdale Valley, Lake District

Wildlife in Borrowdale and Derwent Water 

Discover the internationally significant ‘Atlantic oakwoods’ and Derwent Water which support a variety of rare species of plants and animals, including the red squirrel and vendace.

Rangers planting a new orchard at Ashness Farm on a winter's day

Our work in Borrowdale 

From conservation projects and protecting archaeological features to improving the experience of visitors or laying hedgerows, our work at this special place is rich and varied.

Visitors enjoying the autumnal sunshine on the shore at Borrowdale and Derwent Water, Cumbria

Everyone needs nature 

Everyone needs nature and the calm it brings. Be still in a fast-paced world when you connect with the places that will always be there to welcome you back.

Herdwick sheep grazing in fields next to Tarn Hows on a summer's day

Farming in the Lake District 

Learn about the traditional farming practices in the Lake District and how the National Trust works with farm tenants to restore vital habitats, protect wildlife and support quality local produce.