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Another step forward for Flow Country world heritage bid

By Gordon Calder

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The RSPB Scotland lookout tower at Forsinard Flows. Picture: RSPB Images
The RSPB Scotland lookout tower at Forsinard Flows. Picture: RSPB Images

A BID to get the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland recognised as a World Heritage Site has taken "a very important step" forward, according to project coordinator Joe Perry.

He said the initial part of the process was completed last week with the submission of the technical evaluation to the UK Government.

"This is essentially the first stage of the application process to become a World Heritage Site, so it is a very important step," he said.

"The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will assess our technical evaluation in mid-January, before deciding whether or not we can proceed to stage two which involves a full nomination document going to Unesco [the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation] in 18 to 24 months' time."

Unesco will decide if the Flow Country can join other sites with World Heritage status such as the Taj Mahal in India, the Grand Canyon in the United States and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

We are very grateful for the support we have received across Caithness and Sutherland.

Mr Perry, who is project coordinator for the Flow Country World Heritage Site Working Group, said the second stage involves a second round of community consultation. This follows on from a series of 15 drop-in sessions and Full Flow events, featuring archaeologist and historian Neil Oliver, geologist Professor Iain Stewart and Unesco expert Professor Barry Gilbertson, one of which was held in Thurso earlier this year.

"The feedback we received from the first stage of our community consultation was very positive and we are very grateful for the support we have received across Caithness and Sutherland," Mr Perry said.

He believes there is a strong case for the Flow Country being the most important blanket bog in the world.

"With such a strong focus on climate change in the world’s media at the moment, we really feel it is time for a peatland World Heritage Site – there isn’t one at the moment," he said. "This remarkable carbon store is so important to tackling this huge threat and World Heritage Site status could raise the profile of peatlands around the world, at the same time as putting Caithness and Sutherland firmly on the map."

The Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland is the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe. It covers about 4000 square kilometres and is of global importance.

During his visit to the north to support the world heritage bid, Prof Stewart, who has made a number of TV documentaries and is based at Plymouth University, described the Flow Country as "the hidden jewel of the north". "It is of national and international importance and really important for the planet," he said.

Neil Oliver, who is well known for his TV programmes, said the Flow Country is important as a carbon store and for its bird and other life but also as a place where people live. Prof Gilbertson, a visiting professor at Northumbria University, spoke about what it could mean for the far north if the Flow Country becomes a World Heritage Site.

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