Edinburgh science festival: Rainforests

28th January 2000 at 00:00
Douglas Blane watches as the rainforests are brought to pupils at Garscadden primary

Whistles, whoops, clicks and shrieks echo around the assembly hall at Garscadden Primary School as the tropical rainforest pays a welcome visit to chilly Glasgow. "Close your eyes," botanist Julie Jones tells the children, "and imagine you're sitting on the forest floor, with leaves and insects all around you and huge trees up above. Feel how warm and damp it is. Listen to the rain."

"A rainforest is made up of different layers," she continues. "At the top are tall trees called emergents, which can be 200 feet high. Just below is the canopy with snakes, birds, bats, frogs, insects, spiders and all kinds of plants. Below that is the understorey and the forest floor."

Tropical scientist Naomi Knights takes up the story: "There are strange things living in the rainforest, like these little tree-frogs that live their whole lives in pools of water inside plants high in the treetops.

"Or this Venus flytrap plant that eats insects. If a fly buzzes around and hits one of its hairs nothing happens, but if it hits a second hair the trap closes and the fly gets digested. Be careful not to poke it, because if it closes when there's no fly inside it will eat itself and die."

As well as sights and sounds the show provides a dramatisation of the current predicament of the rainforests.

An area as large as Britain is destroyed each year, which means that in 40 years all the rainforests will be gone, along with a stupendous variety of plant and animal life - perhaps 90 per cen of the species now on Earth.

The children are divided up into three forest-related groups - insects, forest-dwellers and Scots who want to buy a piece of rainforest and have a slice of its immense value for themselves.

Julie reappears clad in jeans and hard-hat, brandishing an axe and bursting with enthusiasm: "We'll cut down the trees, sell the timber and make loads of money," she says. "Yeah great," agree the Scots. Understandably, however, the forest-dwellers do not look happy, and neither do the insects.

Naomi explains that with the trees gone, the rains will wash away the soil and the land will become useless. Julie wanders off, crestfallen, but soon bounces back in khaki shorts and a flower-brimmed straw hat. "I have a better idea," she says. "Tourists. They'll come to the rainforest for a holiday, and we'll make sure they enjoy themselves but don't cause any damage."

This sounds good, and eventually everyone agrees that eco-tourism and sustainable harvesting are the best way to ensure the survival of some of the rainforests. If we act quickly enough.

As they file out, the children are offered fruits of the rainforest - sweet pineapple, tangy ginger, ylang-ylang aromatic oil and some unidentifiable little brown delicacies.

"What are these?" Gary asks.

"Chocolate-coated termites," Julie tells him. He gives her a long look and selects a piece of pineapple.

The Rainforest Science Show runs February 28-March 17. To book, tel: 0131 473 2070. A living piece of rainforest can be found at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

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