Beara Rainforest is a 32-acre tangle of old Sessile Oak and over a dozen other wild native tree species, all dripping with epiphytes (plants growing on trees, one of the defining characteristics of rainforest anywhere in the world). The ground flora is also particularly rich and, with a riot of different species of flowers, ferns, fungi, mosses, and lichens, the botanical diversity here is as high as you’ll find anywhere on the island of Ireland. Indeed, in terms of its bryophytes (mosses & liverworts), the southwest of Ireland is considered by many experts to be something of a global biodiversity ‘hotspot’, a richness that is very well reflected at Beara Rainforest.
Every season has its own special attractions, which are continually changing and evolving throughout the year. For example, spring is an impressionistic kaleidoscope of colour, as multitudes of woodland flowers bloom; summer sees the forest at its most luxuriant; in autumn a fantastic variety of fungi make their appearance; while winter reveals the spectacularly sculptural forms of the trees more clearly, giving a whole new dimension to the ‘architecture’ of the forest. No one patch of woodland at Beara Rainforest is the same as another, as the species composition and underlying topography vary greatly every few yards. In addition to temperate rainforest, a mosaic of other rich natural habitats are present, such as wetland and rocky heath.
More than fifty species of birds either live in – or can be seen in and around – the reserve, including on occasion the magnificent White-tailed Eagles recently reintroduced to the area, along with Peregrine Falcons, Chough, and Ravens. The woods themselves are a favourite hunting ground for Sparrowhawks, and one particularly thrilling sight is to see them swooping aerobatically through the trees while seeking to take Wood Pigeons, Jays, or other prey in mid-flight. There is also a good variety of mammals, and rare Lesser Horseshoe Bats roost in the reserve during the warmer months. Other rare and protected species found in Beara Rainforest include Marsh Fritillary, Kerry Slug and Killarney Fern (all three of the translucent filmy ferns native to Ireland are present here). Quite a few of the species that can be seen in the reserve are members of the anomalous ‘Lusitanian’ group, which are also native to southern latitudes of Europe, but not to intermediate zones.
Beneath the canopy of trees, the landscape at Beara Rainforest is dramatic, with towering craggy escarpments, scattered gargantuan boulders and deep gorges with rushing torrents, all formed from age-weathered sandstone. Combined they create an ecological and aesthetic wonderland, in which gnarled old oaks – carpeted in mosses, ferns, and a variety of other epiphytes – grow from the rock fissures or ledges where chance happened to sow an acorn, their roots twisting out across the naked stone.