It was a balmy hot day on the west coast and I was going to head up a mountain but the heat was making me lethargic so I opted for the shade of the forest instead: the rainforest. Few people realise we have temperate rainforest here in Scotland. I’ve heard it called Scotland’s best kept secret. It once stretched from Portugal to Norway, along the Atlantic coast, but only fragments remain. One of my favourite fragments is Ariundle, a national nature reserve near Strontian. I hadn’t anticipated seeing much in the way of wildlife: it was about 26C in the middle of the day, so I was happy to find I was wrong. I saw plenty.
It may not be quite as lush as a tropical rainforest, and it’s not completely untouched – the forest has been carefully managed for timber in the past – but the thick cushions of moss that cover almost every tree and the ferns that protrude from the trunks and branches certainly make it feel like a rainforest. It was in the open glades, pungent with the sweet scent of bog myrtle, that I saw most. There were the bright whites and pinks of the sturdy heath-spotted orchids. There was bird’s foot trefoil, tormentil and the violet-blue bugle.
It was the latter that was attracting a multitude of butterflies: small pearl-bordered fritillaries and the local speciality – the chequered skipper, found nowhere else in the British Isles but in this corner of Scotland. They flitted from flower to flower with such urgency, as if they were conscious of how brief this hot spell would be.
And then, as I sat by the river, I saw my first damselflies of the year: large reds, and my first dragonflies too: gold-ringed and four-spotted chaser. Aptly named; they shot after each other, in even more of a hurry than the butterflies. Males chasing away males, and chasing after females.
I headed back under the shade of the sessile oaks. This rainforest was uncharacteristically hot – usually the sky is grey, rain drips from ferns and wisps of mist creep through ancient branches. I love it on those days too but if the sun hadn’t been out I wouldn’t have seen so much life. This rainforest is full of life. It’s just a shame there is so little of the forest left. I think it’s one of our greatest natural heritage treasures. It’s the real west coast and yet so many who come here know nothing of it, instead marvelling at the empty hillsides where the forest once grew.