Ex soldier launches project to triple UK’s ‘stunning’ rainforests by transforming Cornish farm

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Merlin Hanbury-Tenison will transform his Cornish farm into the largest temperate rainforest restoration project in England and Wales after the habitat helped his PTSD suffering

A veteran of the Afghanistan war has launched a project to triple the “stunning” temperate rainforests in the UK after crediting the habitat with helping ease his post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Thousand Year Trust is being launched this week by Merlin Hanbury-Tenison who experienced three tours of Afghanistan.

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Hanbury-Tenison took over his family farm, Cabilla, in Cornwall five years ago and found the temperate rainforest still surviving there to be a place of solace after working in London and spending a decade in the military.

He told the Guardian: “After London and with some of the experiences I’d had in Afghanistan bubbling to the surface I started to suffer from quite bad PTSD and I very much attribute the forest at Cabilla being a large part of what stopped me from getting really unwell.”

He is now set to transform his 120-hectare (300 acre) hill farm on Bodmin Moor into the largest rainforest restoration project in England and Wales.

The charity is working with local farmers, landowners and charities to identify land suitable to triple Cornwall’s estimated 1,200-1,600 hectares of surviving temperate rainforest.

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Ex soldier launches project to triple UK’s ‘stunning’ rainforests. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock) Ex soldier launches project to triple UK’s ‘stunning’ rainforests. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock)
Ex soldier launches project to triple UK’s ‘stunning’ rainforests. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock) | NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock

The ultimate aim is to triple the UK’s surviving rainforest to 1m acres over the next 30 years. Hanbury-Tenison will transform his family farm with agroforestry, natural regeneration, planting 100,000 trees and farming free-ranging Highland cattle, Cornish black pigs and the local ponies.

Rainforests in Britain currently only cover just 1% of the country, as they have mostly been destroyed by agriculture and development over hundreds of years. The habitat is very lush and often contains rare plants, lichens and fungi.

‘There are rainforests on our doorstep’

Recognition of the UK’s temperate rainforest has soared in recent months after Guy Shrubsole released his Sunday Times bestseller The Lost Rainforests of Britain, while David Attenborough also highlighted the unique importance of the habitat in his latest BBC series, Wild Isles.

Hanbury-Tenison said: “We’ve all grown up thinking of rainforests as tropical rainforests and that’s how I grew up, not realising there was a rainforest on my doorstep – a temperate rainforest, the most stunning habitat we have in the UK.”

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Shrubsole is a trustee of the Thousand Year Trust and hopes more farmers, landowners and politicians “will step up to help protect and regenerate” temperate rainforests.

He said: “For too long, we had forgotten we even possessed this habitat – but now there is growing recognition of its wonders, and it seems to have really caught the public imagination.”

At the farm 100,000 trees will be planted to add to its 40 hectares of rainforest, while 40% of the forest restoration will be via natural regeneration. The process will be accelerated by the rootling and seed-spreading of free-roaming pigs and protection for jays who bury acorns and inadvertently plant oaks.

The farm’s new income streams include agroforestry, selling the free-range meat it produces alongside carbon credits. The wilding could also potentially attract payments for biodiversity net gain and ecosystem services, such as flood alleviation and improving water quality.

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The trust is initially creating new Cornish rainforests and will aim to buy land for rainforest restoration, working with a cluster of farmers on Bodmin Moor to identify areas that are suitable.

Wildling uplands has been criticised in some regions for supposedly clearing working people from the land, but Hanbury-Tenison said the charity’s first aim was always to work with the existing family farms to encourage new nature-positive ways for them to stay on the land.

The project comes after the Wildlife Trusts named two temperate rainforests in Wales and on the Isle of Man as the first to be restored in a programme to help the rare habitat recover across the British Isles.

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