Why Rainforests Are Priceless!

Spring 2024

We are hugely fortunate to be the custodians of one of the largest areas of unspoilt temperate rainforest in the entire UK, described by Rewilding Britain as the “best rewilding site in the country!” The Leighon Estate on Dartmoor, Oxygen Conservation’s first-ever acquisition and one of our most ecologically precious landscapes, highlights one of the many limitations of the emerging natural capital economy.

From a natural capital perspective, rainforests are worthless!

The current system is predicated on proving additionality, the development of the new, and almost completely neglects the preservation of the old, the mature and the rare. From a carbon credit perspective, a newly planted tree (plastic tree guard included) is considered to be more valuable in our fight against climate change and biodiversity loss than the incredibly rare landscapes that risk extinction if we don’t consider the environment and the natural capital economy in a more complete and interconnected way.

Let’s explore this further…

What is Temperate Rainforest?

Located in the southwest of England, Dartmoor is renowned for its open moorlands and precious patches of temperate rainforest, often nestled in steep river valleys or cleaves. These areas receive a significant amount of rainfall, creating a moist and humid environment that supports a lush and vibrant ecosystem, characterised by a rich tapestry of bryophytes, lichens, ferns, and ancient woodland.

Temperate rainforests are biodiversity hotspots, teeming with a variety of species that thrive in cool, damp conditions. Towering trees such as oak, ash, and birch species dominate the canopy, while in the understorey lies a lush layer of ferns, scrub like rowan, holly, and hazel, and magnificently diverse fungi – some of which are almost completely unique to this environment. The forests are alive with the sounds of wildlife, including a range of bird species, insects, and mammals like the elusive otter, pine marten, and even rumoured beavers. These ecosystems are not only crucial for the wildlife they support but also serve as important carbon banks, storing carbon within their vegetation and soils, as well as playing a key role in water regulation (both quality and quantity).

Despite their significance, temperate rainforests are incredibly rare and fragile, and face significant threats from human activities and climate change, making their conservation vital for our country’s ecological health and cultural heritage.


An Underappreciated Carbon Bank

Despite their majestic beauty and ecological significance, the temperate rainforests on Dartmoor are undervalued, especially concerning their role in carbon sequestration. These forests, dense with ancient trees and rich undergrowth, are veritable carbon vaults, locking away hundreds of years’ worth of carbon within their biomass. From a carbon perspective, the fact that current regulations fail to recognise their worth is a grave oversight. They have erroneously branded them as ‘worthless’ due to the absence of additionality when considered through a purely carbon lens.

On the path to net zero, of course, it’s absolutely imperative that we plant millions of new trees, but we also need to protect our existing woodlands, recognise and respect the work they are currently doing, and have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years. They have been locking carbon away long before we realised it was an ecosystem service that our life depends on.


A Haven for Wildlife

The temperate rainforests of Dartmoor are a biodiversity hotspot that have built up complexity and richness over many thousands of years. As a result, they offer refuge and sustenance to a plethora of species found nowhere else. These forests are home to a myriad of wildlife, ranging from the elusive European otter to a variety of bird species such as the majestic buzzards and the enigmatic wood warblers. The damp, richly organic environment also provides a fertile haven for an array of plant species, including the iconic English oak and a diverse assembly of ferns, mosses, and fungi, each playing a crucial role in the forest’s ecological balance. These incredible habitats are one of the most biodiverse habitats on Earth and can be home to more than 400 species of lichen and bryophytes, some of which are of international conservation importance, being found nowhere else in the world. The UK’s temperate rainforests not only help to tackle climate change through storing significant volumes of carbon, but also help to tackle the biodiversity crisis, by protecting some of the rarest and most important species.

The Need for Conservation Credits

Given the multifaceted benefits these rainforests provide, from carbon storage to biodiversity and bioabundance, it is imperative to establish a system that recognises and truly values their contribution to the natural world. The concept of conservation credits offers a promising solution – recognising value in a holistic way not through oversimplified arbitrary lenses. By attributing a tangible value to the ecosystem services rendered by these temperate rainforests, such a system would ensure that they are more valuable protected than destroyed.

Conservation credits could incentivise the preservation of these habitats, allowing natural capital investors to generate revenue from maintaining and enhancing the ecological integrity of these areas. This financial mechanism could catalyse conservation efforts, ensuring that these forests are preserved for future generations to admire and benefit from.


The Leighon Estate and the other temperate rainforests of Dartmoor are not just scenic marvels but are vital components of our natural world, offering lessons in resilience, symbiosis, and sustainability. In an age where natural habitats are increasingly under threat, recognising and compensating for the true value of these rainforests is not just beneficial—it is essential. By implementing conservation credits, we can safeguard these treasures, ensuring that they continue to thrive and support the intricate web of life they harbour.


Why Rainforests Are Worthless Priceless!

The temperate rainforests on Dartmoor, exemplified by the Leighon Estate, embody the profound contradiction within our current natural capital valuation systems, highlighting a need for a paradigm shift. These ecosystems, teeming with life and ancient wisdom, stand as a testament to nature’s intricate complexity and resilience. They challenge us to broaden our perspective, to see beyond immediate, tangible benefits and recognize the intrinsic value of nature’s multifaceted contributions to our planet’s health and our own well-being.

The introduction of conservation credits could be a pivotal step toward honouring and preserving the richness of these rainforests, moving us closer to a future where natural treasures are revered and protected, not for their potential exploitation but for their essential role in sustaining life on Earth.

In this crucial moment, the choice is ours: to continue undervaluing these irreplaceable ecosystems or to truly recognise that temperate rainforests are far from worthless and are, in fact, priceless.


Rich Stockdale
Founder & Managing Director