Caithness & Sutherland Peatland Becomes New National Nature Reserve
16th August 2007
The internationally important peatland of Caithness and Sutherland will join other national, natural treasures like St Kilda and Beinn Eighe when The Flows National Nature Reserve (NNR) is launched today (17 August 2007) by Highlands and Islands MSP Rob Gibson.
At 11,373 hectares, Scotland's latest NNR is part of the single largest expanse of blanket bog in the world and is internationally recognised for its habitat quality and breeding bird populations. Other features of importance include wet heath, open waters, otter and many species of waders, waterfowl and birds of prey.
The new NNR is located around 30 miles north of Helmsdale and extends across the peatlands into west Caithness and primarily comprises land within the former Forsinard and Dorrery Estates.
At today's launch event at the RSPB visitor centre at Forsinard, RSPB staff will promote the range of interests and activities on offer at the NNR, outline future plans for the reserve and provide a guided walk round a pool system trail to an invited audience.
Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands said: "I am delighted that a new stage in the recognition of the importance of the Flows is being marked today. As one of the biggest blanket bogs in the world it has a special importance as we tackle the effects of global warming. It underlines that Scotland has a key role in tackling climate change by safeguarding and promoting the wider understanding of the Flow Country's significance.
"I am pleased to acknowledge the hard work in planning and restoring the Flows to protect their essential wetness. While this seems obvious in this record year of rains, it points to the long-term commitment of NNR status to maintain this huge blanket bog. This makes me all the more determined to back the future recognition for the Flows NNR as a candidate for world heritage status that St Kilda has already achieved."
The national and international importance of The Flows National Nature Reserve is reflected in the extensive designations which include Ramsar, Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation status. Furthermore, 73 per cent of the new NNR is designated as SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).
The new reserve will be managed by RSPB who have a comprehensive management plan in place which has been approved by Scottish Natural Heritage. The plan includes deer management, the demonstration of peatland restoration techniques and effective management of grazing levels and muirburn.
Through its role in promoting awareness, understanding and enjoyment of the peatlands, and implementing sensitive land management, the NNR will take forward two of the objectives in The Peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland Management Strategy for 2005-2015. This aims to secure a sustainable future for the peatlands.
The NNR will be used as an example to positively influence the management of peatlands elsewhere and to raise awareness of the peatlands among local communities, schools and visitors in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable fashion. There is a programme of guided walks throughout the year and additional educational visits with local schools already exist.
Chief Executive of SNH Ian Jardine who spoke at the launch said: "The Flows NNR is an important addition to our series of national nature reserves. It adds to the diversity of other NNRs that can be found throughout Scotland and the facilities at Forsinard helps the 5,000 people visiting it each year to experience and understand a unique and fascinating habitat which is of international importance. It also makes a significant contribution to the local economy and we anticipate designation as a NNR will also make the area even more attractive as a place to visit. The area also offers an ideal opportunity for long-term ecological research on blanket bog. We know that peatlands have a very important role to play in climate change as they are massive carbon stores. This gives this very ancient landscape a very modern significance.
SNH is providing funding over the next two years to help RSPB carry out the necessary work to enable the NNR to meet SNH's minimum standards for NNRs, for example by improving the visitor facilities.
In addition to office, volunteer and workshop accommodation, the RSPB-operated facilities at Forsinard include a visitor centre, car parking and toilets, along with interpretation displays, an excellent AV which was filmed locally and a 1.6km flagstone trail allowing access to a pool system which characterise the area.
Stuart Housden, RSPB Scotland's Director, said: "RSPB Scotland is delighted
to receive this accolade and funding for our work in the Flows. Around 20 years ago this ancient landscape was subject to large scale, but in many cases inappropriate, planting with exotic conifers. RSPB Scotland was at the forefront in campaigning to protect the flows, and we acquired a land holding in the centre of the area in 1994. Since then, with the help of the EU, the Heritage Lottery Fund and several government agencies, we have been has been restoring this great peatland back to its former glory, principally through
carefully targeted plantation removal which allows the bog habitat to redevelop. Indeed, a significant part of the new NNR is formerly forested land that is now restoring back to bog. We warmly welcome the encouragement SNH have given us in this key work through NNR designation."
A family fun day will take place at the Forsinard visitor centre on Saturday 1st September 2007.