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World Heritage Site status for Flow Country will remain a priority

By Staff Reporter- NOSN

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The observation tower at Forsinard Flows reserve in winter. Picture: Lorne Gill / SNH
The observation tower at Forsinard Flows reserve in winter. Picture: Lorne Gill / SNH

SECURING World Heritage Site status for the Flow Country will continue to be a priority for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in 2020.

In November, the Peatland Partnership’s £10.6 million Flows to the Future Project in Caithness and Sutherland came to a close.

This project was led by RSPB and attracted over £4 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with SNH contributing £330,000 to it over the last five years.

Inappropriately planted forestry on deep peat had damaged the blanket bog over the decades, impeding the capacity of peatland to capture carbon. But in the past five years the project has cleared 837.4 hectares of non-native trees on deep peat, while helping neighbouring landowners receive funding for another 75,000 hectares.

Restoring peatland provides an important habitat for plants and wildlife, improves water quality and mitigates flood risk, according to SNH.

In Scotland, around 25 per cent of the country is covered in peat soil. If all of the carbon dioxide from that peatland were released, it would be the equivalent of more than 120 years of Scotland’s emissions being produced at once.

The local project may be over but SNH says it is committed to continuing with work to have the Flow Country declared as a World Heritage Site. It has been on the UK’s tentative list of such sites since 1999.

The Flow Country is the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe and covers about 200,000 hectares. A recent academic study has described it as “the best peatland of its type in the world".

SNH’s Highland area includes many of Scotland’s most impressive national nature reserves (NNRs). This accolade is given to Scotland’s best sites for wildlife, to promote their conservation, protect their internationally important habitats and species and to encourage their enjoyment by the public.

A spokesperson for SNH explained: "We are using nature-based solutions to try to combat the climate emergency and the recent national declines in our biodiversity. It’s not too late, and we are demonstrating natural techniques that can help reverse these trends.

"For example, at Beinn Eighe reserve in Wester Ross [the UK’s first NNR], we are restoring habitats to expand the native and ancient Caledonian pine woodland without using deer fences.

"Healthy woodlands play a vital role in setting the balance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere: trees and woodland plants absorb carbon dioxide, using it to build their leaves, stems and roots. Woodlands also help support our amazing native wildlife and, thanks to the young trees, we have recently recorded resident black grouse for the first time since the NNR was established in 1951.

"We are also working to try to connect people with nature through events and guided walks. This year, we have held a series of Green Health events at Creag Meagaidh reserve to improve both physical and mental health and wellbeing."

Meanwhile, SNH’s Ullapool team has moved onto greener energy. It now has an electric charging point and a hybrid car, and a fully electric car.

The spokesperson said: "We believe this is the first SNH office to have fully converted to green energy – as much as we can – and we’re also looking at installing an electric car charging point at Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve, on the popular NC500 tourist route."

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