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Living Rainforest, Berkshire

Bromeliad or air plant by Barbara Ballard Turaco from Ethiopia by Barbara Ballard The Living Rainforest is home to both plants and animals of the rainforest. It’s an all-age day out and is a perfect spot to visit year round, especially when the weather curtails outdoor activities. Well marked trails let you get close to the plants and animals of the rainforest. Take time to investigate and discover all the fascinating facts about the plants and animals. You’ll need keen eyes to spot some of the hidden treasures. If you are bringing children phone ahead to find out “show” times.

White tree nymph butterfly by David Tipling courtesy Living Rainforest Red eyed tree frog on banana leaf by David Kjaer courtesy of The Living Rainforest Birds, butterflies and lizards roam freely in the glasshouses, and endangered Goeldi's monkeys can be spotted leaping from branch to branch, using their tails for balance. Edward's pheasants, emerald doves, and bronze-winged pigeons fly freely around the rainforest.

West African croc by Barbara Ballard Python by Barbara Ballard A West African dwarf crocodile named 'Courtney' adds a bit of excitement. The smallest of all crocodiles, this species stalks fish and birds, small animals such as rodents, and crabs in the wild. Other rainforest creatures include the salmon pink bird-eating spider, red-tailed boa constrictor, and jungle carpet python.

Lobster Claw plant by Barbara Ballard Giant passion flower by Paul Harcourt Davies courtesy of The Living Rainforest Plants on show include both food and medicinal plants such as bananas, coffee, cocoa, and ginger. In the summer look for giant water lily leaves that reach up to 2.6m (8' 6") across floating on the pond. They bloom in late summer with white and pink blossoms as large as 30cm (12").

Orchid by Barbara Ballard There are familiar houseplants such as the Swiss cheese plant. In this hot, wet atmosphere they grow to enormous proportions. Orchid lovers will enjoy seeing blossoms clinging to tree trunks year-round. Don’t miss the metre-long turquoise flower spikes belonging to the endangered jade vine (more information below) that hangs overhead during late spring/early summer. Watch out for the red-bellied piranha fish meat-eating pitcher plants lying in wait for prey.

Large leaf aroid by Barbara Ballard The mission of The Living Rainforest is to explore the links between rainforests, people and nature through education, conservation and sustainable living. It offers a unique educational visit for people of all ages and abilities to learn how the future of rainforests and other ecosystems is closely connected to human lifestyles, and the challenges this poses for science, technology, and society.

A Brief History

Devil's Ivy by Barbara Ballard The Living Rainforest stands on the site of what was for many decades a leading orchid nursery in Europe. In 1991 a conversion began, led by the shoe-magnate and philanthropist Keith Bromley in partnership with horticulturist Barrie Findon. In 1993, a new rainforest visitor centre opened to the public, Wyld Court Rainforest, featuring plants and animals from the world’s threatened rainforests.

Comet moth courtesy The Living Rainforest By 1996, the visitor centre was relatively well-established and Mr. Bromley gave the project to the World Land Trust, a small UK-based conservation charity with many projects overseas. However, in the four years that followed many difficulties were encountered and financial success proved elusive. The venture was eventually passed on to Karl Hansen, the centre’s senior executive officer since early 1999, with the backing of Mr. Bromley.

Humid glasshouse by David Kjaer courtesy of The Living Rainforest In 2000, Karl Hansen established The Living Rainforest as an educational charity in its own right, with a number of key directors staying on as trustees including the chairman, Professor Gren Lucas OBE, and Margot Walker, FLS. Since the handover, the project has shown strong and steady growth. In addition to improvements in the ecological display of interacting plants and animals, new emphasis has been placed on sustainability and the inter-connections between rainforests and humanity.

The Human Impact Project

Human impact walkway courtesy The Living Rainforest The recently completed ‘Human Impact Project’ embraced an environmentally friendly philosophy throughout the design stage and has realized this with sustainable construction. The ‘Human Impact Project’ provides a new facility for interpretation and education. The objective is to show and to increase understanding of rainforests and other ecosystems, and more generally to highlight how nature works, how humanity fits in, and what positive or negative influence we can have.

Clematis by Barbara Ballard The project involved the demolition of the existing glasshouses that were in poor condition and replacing them with new spaces. A new visitor centre called the Exploration Space has been constructed, together with a glazed link to the existing Rainforest zones called the Exhibition Walkway.

Rainforest greenhouseby Barbara Ballard The new spaces contain demonstrations of sustainable construction and renewable energy technology, a video display on the human impact on rainforests, exhibits on the challenge for science, technology and society, and flexible areas for play, art, exploration and research.

Montane chameleon by David Kjaer courtesy of The Living Also included is the reduction in the use of fossil fuels and conversion to green technology for heating and power. The main source of heat is now an extremely efficient biomass boiler that burns carbon neutral woodchips obtained from local sustainable sources. Electrical power is generated by daylight using photovoltaic cells installed on the canopy above the café terrace.

The focus for the construction of the new buildings was to maximize the use of materials with low embodied energy. These require less energy to extract, manufacture, transport, construct, maintain and dispose of. Natural materials have been used where possible. Also recycled materials have been used as these are seen as the third stage of energy and material conservation in the ‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle’ trilogy.

Glass wing butterfly by David Kjaer courtesy of The Living Passive solar design makes use of solar gain in the spring, autumn and winter, and canopy shading minimizes direct sunlight during the summer. The Exhibition Walkway acts as a thermal buffer reducing heat loss from both the Lowland Rainforest and Exploration Space. Thermal screens have been installed in the existing Lowland Rainforest and Amazonia for insulation and shading. The new facility will allow visitors to explore their impact on rainforests and other threatened ecosystems and makes The Living Rainforest's operations more sustainable.

The project has provided a fantastic opportunity to transform operations and exhibits, making them more sustainable and allowing The Living Rainforest to develop a deeper dialogue with visitors about the challenges ahead. The Living Rainforest currently attracts around 75,000 visitors per annum and this is expected to increase to 85,000 following project completion.

Green butterfly courtesy The Living Rainforest Bromeliads by Barbara Ballard The sustainable credentials make the new facility itself an exciting exhibit:

The glass from the demolished glasshouses has been recycled,
The bricks from the demolished glasshouses have been cleaned and re-used in the new building,
All excavated spoil has been retained on site for landscaping,
The main structural frame is constructed using timber from sustainable sources,
The roof structure uses composite timber lattice beams and is covered with a natural rubber membrane,
The external walls are constructed from and clad with timber,
The timber suspended floor minimizes the use of concrete and the floor covering is made from recycled tires,
The new building is naturally and not mechanically ventilated,
The new building is insulated with recycled newspaper,
Lime mortar in the walls includes recycled glass aggregate,
The blockwork used is made from recycled glass aggregate,
The paving slabs used are made from recycled aggregates,
The main source of heating has been converted from oil to woodchip, Photovoltaic panels provide a small amount of electrical power,
New worktops in the animal husbandry facility are made from recycled plastic bottles,
The sheep hurdles are made from waste timber from local Sites of Special Scientific Interest and carefully managed coppice woodlands.

The Living Rainforest’s Jade Vine

Jade vine courtesy The Living Rainforest The Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) is a member of the Leguminosae family which includes plants such as peas and beans. The Jade Vine could hardly look more different. From a densely-tangled mass of branches hang more than 90 bright jade-coloured flower spikes (racemes) each over one metre long.

In nature the Jade Vine is pollinated by bats. The blue-green colour of the flowers shines out in the dusk and is clearly visible to the night-flying mammals which are attracted by the enormous amounts of nectar that each flower produces. The bats cling on to the raceme stalks and hang upside down to drink the nectar.

Native to the Philippines rainforest, the Jade Vine is a climbing plant that scrambles up though the tropical forest canopy to reach the light. Sadly, extensive deforestation has meant that this stunning plant is now threatened in its natural habitat, as vast swathes of the tropical forest are cleared for agriculture or felled for timber. A survey estimated that only 20 per cent of the forest remained by 1988.

The plant was first seen in 1854 by botanists who were members of the U.S. Wilkes Exploring Expedition in the dipterocarp forest of Mount Makiling on Luzon. The common name, jade vine, refers to the rare jade or bluish-green color of its flowers. Each flower is five to seven centimeters long, boat-shaped, and gently curved like an upturned beak of a bird. The flowers are clustered in a bouquet, 60 to 90 centimeters long, which hangs gracefully from the stem. At their peak, the flower clusters are so spectacular, but when not in flower the vine virtually disappears among its neighbors in the forest. After flowering, the vine produces large oblong fruits with short-lived seeds that remain viable for only a week or two.

Woody climbers such as the jade vine are called lianas; their abundance in tropical rain forests—they make up an estimated ten percent of the total species—paints the popular image of impenetrable jungle. Once rooted in the ground, the plant grows toward light in the canopy, twisting like a rope around the trunks and branches of tall trees.

With age, the stems become tough, woody, and thick, helping to support the giant dipterocarps, which are often rooted in very thin soil. Removal of trees results in the loss of lianas, which depend reciprocally on the trees for support. While lianas seem to grow abundantly after a forest is logged, a careful inventory will show that the number of species has drastically decreased. Aggressive and weedy species from outside the forest often move in and occupy the open space, and so lianas like the jade vine have become one of the most threatened groups of plants in the Philippines.

Visitor Information

The Living Rainforest is located near Hampstead Norreys, near Newbury, Berkshire, north of the M4 off the B4009 and west of A34, south of Oxford.
Tel. 01635 202444.
Open: daily, 10am-5.15pm
Web: The Living Rainforest

Information courtesy The Living Rainforest
Photos of red eyed tree frog, glasshouse, glass wing butterfly, and pgymy marmoset by David Kjaer courtesy of The Living Rainforest
Photo of white tree nymph butterfly by David Tipling courtesy of The Living Rainforest
Photo of giant passion flower by Paul Harcourt Davies courtesy of The Living Rainforest
Photo of jade vine, comet moth, green butterfly and human impact walkway courtesy The Living Rainforest
Other photos by Barbara Ballard

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