An “enigmatic” peat bog seeking worldwide recognition

Flow country

Flow Country is a vast area of ​​peat bogs, lakes and mountains

A vast expanse of peatland in Scotland’s Flow Country could become one of the newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But why do some people think the landscape deserves attention?

Heather Jardine was a girl when machines arrived in the 1970s to sculpt the earth in the hills around her home in Sutherland.

He remembers how peat bogs were drained, when huge ditches were made with huge excavators.

The land was being prepared for large blocks of commercial forestry, which involved planting millions of non-native trees.

Heather says, “When I was a little kid, it was exciting to see all the pots and activities.

“But later it was realized that it was the wrong thing to do.

“In 2000, work began to demolish the entire forest and block the ditches.”

In the following years, the importance of the damaged environment became clear. Renovation work continues to this day.

Curlew in Flow Country

Flow Country is home to a variety of wildlife including birds, mammals and plants

Flow Country contains the most intact and extensive blanket bog system in the world.

This area of ​​bogs, bogs, pools, lakes, hills and mountains covers large parts of Caithness and Sutherland in the northern highlands.

It’s about 50 miles across – roughly the distance from Glasgow to Edinburgh – and covers nearly a million acres of land.

The bogs, which have been growing for 10,000 years, are formed by layers of waterlogged mosses and other vegetation as they die.

Plant life does not completely decompose due to the acidic conditions, so the material retains some of the carbon it has absorbed on the surface of the bog.

In places, the peat is 10 meters thick – deep enough to sink two double-decker buses stacked on top of each other.


The areas marked in orange constitute the Flow Country candidacy for UNESCO World Heritage status

The flows are the habitat of birds, otters and water vultures and are covered with sphagnum moss. Its other plants are sundews that feed on insects trapped in their sticky tentacles.

It helps combat climate change by storing around 400 million tons of carbon. Damage to peat risks releasing harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The application for UNESCO World Heritage status is due to be formally submitted early this year, and Unesco’s decision is expected in 2024.

Seven sites totaling 469,500 acres of Flow Country would create the new site.

The designation would recognize the ongoing ecological and biological processes of the bog as well as its biodiversity.

The idea of ​​securing this status has been circulating since the late 1980s, but over the last few years the Flow Country Partnership has been working to secure local support for a formal bid.

The area is sparsely populated with small communities around the edges of blanket bog. The nearest towns are Thurso and Wick.

Many residents make a living from farming and farming, while others work in tourism, at the Dounreay nuclear power plant complex near Thurso or offshore wind farms.

Heather Jardine

Crofter Heather Jardine says living in Flow Country is like ‘living in the heart of nature’

Heather Jardine, like many other residents, has various jobs. She is a hostess, hairdresser and owner of holiday accommodation.

He lives in Strath Halladale, in the center of Flow Country, and supports the bid for UNESCO status.

Her late father moved from England to work in Dounreay 60 years ago and loved the area so much he never left it.

Heather shares his passion for Flow Country and does not want a repeat of the damaging peatland activities she witnessed in the 1970s.

“We are here in the heart of nature,” he says.

“We can’t imagine not seeing all the stars at night and not being able to swim in clear rivers in the summer.”

Norrie Russell

Norrie Russell believes Flow Country deserves World Heritage status

Norrie Russell has lived in Strath Halladale for 27 years, 20 of which he manages the 52,000 acre Forsinard Flows National Nature Reserve at RSPB Scotland, then works as an advisor with local crofters and farmers.

He is also the chairman of the Halladale Hall and Amenities Association.

“One of the things I’ve always liked here is the power of the community,” he says.

Norrie believes that achieving UNESCO status could create new opportunities in sustainable tourism and the promotion of local products, while highlighting the environmental value of peatlands.

He says traditional livelihoods such as homesteads and farming may still exist, adding that they already play a key role in providing grassland habitats for vulnerable species such as the curlew.

Forsinard, Country of Flow

Flow Country covers large parts of Caithness and Sutherland

Norrie says, “I think the landscapes themselves are extremely unique.

“These are not everyone’s cups of tea, not everyone likes landscapes that are wide and open, but a huge number of other people will travel long distances to spend time here.”

And he adds: “In the spring, when green-legged and golden plovers sing, it’s a fantastic place.”

However, there are others who are concerned about the potential impact of the label.

Willie Findlay has been farming 3,000 acres near Melvich for almost 30 years. He has diversified his offerings by offering horse-drawn carriage tours around his farm and says the World Heritage status could help attract more tourists to the area.

However, it has concerns about possible negative effects on agriculture and restrictions on investments such as wind farms.

golden plover

The golden plover belongs to the feathered inhabitants of the Flows

Willie, who has 750 Cheviot sheep and 24 cows, says: “I already have 800 acres under special scientific names and I have quite a limited number of animals I can raise in these areas.

“I’m afraid a World Heritage site would also impose restrictions.”

Dr Steven Andrews, coordinator of the Flow Country World Heritage Project, says the public consultation acknowledged that there were high concerns about the perceived new restrictions.

But he says most people wouldn’t notice any change in their day-to-day lives.

“World Heritage will not bring any additional restrictions,” he says.

“What Unesco requires is protection already in place. The border we came up with already has the highest level of protection that can be given to it, 73% are covered.”

Dr. Steven Andrews

Dr Steven Andrews of The Flow Country Partnership says UNESCO designation would raise the profile of the world’s peatlands

Steven, who grew up on the outskirts of Flow Country, hopes Unesco will help raise the profile of the Flows and other peat bogs.

“It’s a bit of an enigmatic landscape, like many peat bogs. They are hard to come by and I think that is one of the biggest challenges,” he says.

“It’s about helping people understand their worth.”

Steven adds: “The country of Flow has been neglected to some extent, although the people who live there understand that.

“It’s very important that these peatlands are understood and sharing them would mean a lot to me and I think it would mean a lot to the local people.”


The wildlife of the area includes sundews that catch insects in their sticky tentacles

WWF Scotland and RSPB Scotland are among those keeping a close eye on the world heritage bid.

Ruth Taylor, Agriculture and Land Use Policy Manager, says: “Flow Land is Europe’s largest tip peat bog, a huge carbon store and a valuable habitat for many rare plant and animal species.

“Declaring this site a UNESCO World Heritage Site would show how important our peatlands are and what benefits they can bring to the environment and local communities.”

Ben Oliver Jones, construction manager of RSPB Forsinard Flows, said the designation would recognize the important landscape and recognize those who live and work there.

He added: “The Land of Flow’s World Heritage status would shed a brighter light on peatlands around the world, spurring new efforts to protect, restore and study these landscapes in other parts of the world.”

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