Green light to Peatlands Partnership to apply to UNESCO for World Heritage Site status

28 July 2020

The Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland

The UK Government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has given its backing to The Peatlands Partnership’s World Heritage Site Working Group to go ahead with developing the nomination of The Flow Country to UNESCO for World Heritage Site (WHS) status.

The Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland is regarded by many as being the best blanket bog of its type in the world. The precious peatland habitats of The Flow Country are not only important for nature and wildlife, they also provide vital services for people and are one of our richest carbon stores, making them a vital defence against the effects of climate change.

In December 2019, the World Heritage Site Working Group submitted a Technical Evaluation of The Flow Country to the DCMS and The Minister’s response has indicated the UK Government’s support for The Flow Country being the UK's candidate for World Heritage Site status to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2023. The Partnership now has a clear timetable to prepare and submit a full nomination to UNESCO, who will then determine whether or not The Flow Country meets the criteria for World Heritage Site status.

Speaking on behalf of the Peatland Partnership’s Flow Country WHS Working Group, its independent Chair, Frances Gunn of Tongue said:

“This is wonderful news for the north, especially at these difficult times when good news stories are few and far between. It’s all really exciting and has taken such a great effort from everyone to get through to this stage.

Whilst 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 once we’ve re-opened for business after the current pandemic.”

WHS Working Group colleague, Thomas MacDonell of Wildland Limited added:

“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 WHS proposals forward explained:

“We are very proud of The Flow Country here in Highland and I am delighted that the DCMS has chosen this incredible landscape as the United Kingdom’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, Chair of Highland Council’s Caithness Committee, added:

“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 status, but that we can do so in a way that brings benefits to both the habitat and surrounding communities, for our future.”

The news has also been welcomed further afield with a number of Scottish Government and partner organisations adding their congratulations and support.

Natural Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon MSP 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 their success to date and wish them well in their 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.”

NatureScot CEO, 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.

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.”