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Writers bring power of storytelling to Flow Country's World Heritage Site status bid


By Alan Hendry

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The Flow Country Partnership hopes to secure Unesco World Heritage Site status for the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland. Picture: Lorne Gill / NatureScot
The Flow Country Partnership hopes to secure Unesco World Heritage Site status for the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland. Picture: Lorne Gill / NatureScot

The power of storytelling is being harnessed in the campaign to secure Unesco World Heritage Site status for the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland.

To mark International Bog Day on July 25, and as part of the Unesco bid, three pieces of creative writing have been produced to capture the beauty and significance of the globally important blanket peat bog.

The Flow Country Partnership – a collaboration including Highland Council, NatureScot, RSPB Scotland and Wildland Limited – aims to make the peatlands of the far north Scotland’s first World Heritage Site inscribed for purely natural criteria.

The Flow Country ecosystem stores some 400 million tons of carbon, more than all of the UK’s forests and woodlands combined, making it crucial in the fight against climate change. The landscape of interlinking pools is also home to an array of plants and rare birds in habitats that will be at risk without long-term restoration and protection.

If successful, the World Heritage Site bid will secure the peatlands’ international status alongside such natural wonders as the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef.

The stories have been written by award-winning authors Janis Mackay and Ruth Thomas as well as Roxane Andersen, professor of peatland science at UHI and a leading scientific authority on the Flow Country.

Ruth Thomas: 'As a writer, I love to convey how people connect with the place they're in.'
Ruth Thomas: 'As a writer, I love to convey how people connect with the place they're in.'

According to the partnership, "each has taken a very different approach to the task of helping people understand the need to protect this area of land as well as the sense of peace and creativity it inspires".

These are now available online, published ahead of International Bog Day, at www.theflowcountry.org.uk/words-and-art

Ms Mackay, a children’s author, conjures up the Bog-Girl of the Flow Country in an atmospheric tale about the guardianship of the peatlands’ unique wildlife. Ms Thomas’s story, Above the Plain, is described as a subtle journey of awareness.

Prof Andersen has taken to poetry to describe the "special blanket" knitted by the plant spirits to keep the dragons lying beneath from awakening and causing havoc.

Janis Mackay: 'I am a great believer in the power of the imagination and see it as a gentle catalyst for change.'
Janis Mackay: 'I am a great believer in the power of the imagination and see it as a gentle catalyst for change.'

Steven Andrews, project coordinator for the Flow Country Partnership, said: “We saw the power of storytelling during our presentations at COP26. Being able to use stories to express the value and wonder of the Flow Country captures people’s imagination and attention in ways that science can’t do alone.

"With this being Scotland’s Year of Stories, it felt a truly worthwhile project as part of the campaign to secure World Heritage Site status and the stories we have are captivating. I believe that these will go a long way to helping people understand why protecting the peatlands is so important.”

Ms Thomas said: “As a writer, I love to convey how people connect with the place they're in – even a place that's initially strange to them, as the Flow Country was to me before I went there earlier this summer.

"Unusual settings tend to become more familiar when we look more closely at them – just as an apparently insignificant detail can be crucial to the wellbeing of both a story and a landscape.

"It was the sudden appearance of a tiny lizard on the boardwalk while I was there that triggered all kinds of memories for me – as it does for my story's main character – and altered a lot of expectations about what the Flow Country is, and why we need to protect it.”

Roxane Andersen is professor of peatland science at UHI and a leading scientific authority on the Flow Country.
Roxane Andersen is professor of peatland science at UHI and a leading scientific authority on the Flow Country.

Ms Mackay said: “I was delighted to be invited to write a story, set in, and celebrating, the Flow Country. Having lived in Caithness as writer-in-residence for five years, finding there that the wide-open and free spaces in the landscape in turn gave me the clarity and space to write novels, it was not difficult to turn my imagination back to that wondrous place.

“As a storyteller and writer I am a great believer in the power of the imagination and see it as a gentle catalyst for change. When we imagine something, we can feel its truth and potential.

"When we imagine something – or somewhere – we may be moved to act in order to support that place.

“Storytelling allows us to see inner pictures, to imagine, and the art form speaks to the heart."


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