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'Wonderful news for the north' as UK government backs Flow Country for World Heritage Site status


By Alan Hendry

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Visitors around the Forsinard lookout tower in the Flow Country last summer. Picture: David Richardson / FSB
Visitors around the Forsinard lookout tower in the Flow Country last summer. Picture: David Richardson / FSB

THE bid to secure World Heritage Site status for the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland took huge step forward today as the UK government pledged its support in a move hailed as "wonderful news for the north".

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) gave its backing to the Peatlands Partnership to go ahead with preparing a nomination which will go before Unesco's World Heritage Committee in 2023.

Community leaders were delighted with the announcement, with Councillor Nicola Sinclair, chairperson of Highland Council’s Caithness Committee, calling it "a tremendous opportunity to acknowledge the value of the Flow Country" and bring wider recognition to the area.

The Flow Country is regarded as the best blanket bog of its type in the world. Its peatland habitats are seen as internationally important for nature and wildlife as well as being a rich carbon store, making them a vital defence against the effects of climate change.

In December the Peatlands Partnership’s World Heritage Site working group submitted a technical evaluation of the Flow Country to the DCMS. The government's newly declared support means the partnership now has a clear timetable to submit a full nomination to Unesco which will then determine whether the Flow Country meets the criteria for World Heritage Site status.

Natural environment minister Mairi Gougeon (left) with north MSP Gail Ross and Frances Gunn, chairperson of the World Heritage Site working group, on a visit to the Flow Country a year ago. Picture: David Richardson / FSB
Natural environment minister Mairi Gougeon (left) with north MSP Gail Ross and Frances Gunn, chairperson of the World Heritage Site working group, on a visit to the Flow Country a year ago. Picture: David Richardson / FSB

The working group's independent chairperson, Frances Gunn, said: “This is wonderful news for the north, especially at these difficult times when good news stories are few and far between. It has all really exciting and has taken such a great effort from everyone to get through to this stage.

"While there’s still a lot of work to do, I am sure that a World Heritage Site will bring many benefits and help boost our fragile economy after the pandemic.”

Working group member Thomas MacDonell, of Wildland Limited, said: “We are delighted that we have successfully moved to the final submission stage. This potential accolade can only add value and a wider appreciation of our fantastic natural environment.”

Councillor Margaret Davidson, leader of Highland Council, one of the core partners taking the World Heritage Site proposals forward, said: “We are very proud of the Flow Country and I am delighted that the DCMS has chosen this incredible landscape as the UK’s next World Heritage Site nominee.

"The council will work hard with our partners to ensure that the Flow Country successfully passes the final stage of the process.”

Councillor Nicola Sinclair said: “This is a tremendous opportunity to acknowledge the value of the Flow Country and secure the wider recognition that it deserves. The people who have been working on the bid are truly dedicated and I thank them for that and look forward to supporting them through the next stages.

"For those of us who live and work in Caithness and Sutherland, the Flow Country is a special part of our place, our history. I’m confident that not only can we secure World Heritage Site status but we can do so in a way that brings benefits to both the habitat and surrounding communities for our future.”

The Flow Country at Forsinard. Picture: Alan Hendry
The Flow Country at Forsinard. Picture: Alan Hendry

Scotland's natural environment minister Mairi Gougeon said: “Scotland’s inspiring natural environment creates a powerful sense of belonging which helps define us as a nation. I visited this amazing peatland myself last year and saw the local community’s support for the World Heritage Site application, so I want to congratulate the Peatlands Partnership on its success to date and wish it well in the future nomination to Unesco.

"This is indeed great news not just for Caithness and Sutherland but for all of Scotland. The Flow Country will be a great addition to the global list of World Heritage sites.

"Not only will this be Scotland’s first purely ‘natural’ World Heritage Site but its inscription will also recognise the important role peatlands play in tackling the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) chief executive Francesca Osowska also welcomed the announcement and said: “Congratulations to everyone involved in getting The Flow Country to this stage. This is excellent news for both nature and the people of Scotland, and has come at an opportune moment.

"The many benefits a World Heritage Site would bring to the Highlands could play a key role in the green economic recovery we will all be striving for as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The lookout tower at the RSPB Forsinard Flows nature reserve. Picture: RSPB Images
The lookout tower at the RSPB Forsinard Flows nature reserve. Picture: RSPB Images

"We look forward to working with all our partners to help ensure a successful nomination to Unesco in 2023.”

Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, said: “This is such great news for Scotland. To have the importance of our peatlands recognised in the fight against climate change, and to be able to celebrate the fantastic landscape of the Flow Country, is such a boost in these difficult times.

"I know everyone involved in the application has worked so hard, and the partnership should be very proud of their achievement.”

The Peatlands Partnership includes SNH, Forestry and Land Scotland, Scottish Forestry, Highland Council, RSPB Scotland, Plantlife International, the Environmental Research Institute (University of the Highlands and Islands), Highland Third Sector Interface, the Flow Country Rivers Trust, Northern Deer Management Group and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It is chaired by Professor Stuart Gibb.

Protest group Protect the Mhoine said recently that the decision to grant planning permission for the Sutherland spaceport could damage hopes of securing World Heritage Site status for the Flow Country. It claimed the facility at the Mhoine "will have an impact on the integrity and size of the peatlands that make up the Flow Country and make it so internationally significant".


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