THE group behind the competition to create a county flag for Sutherland this week unveiled the final design – exclusively to the Northern Times.
The artwork depicts a swooping eagle centre stage on a vivid yellow and red background with three heraldic stars down its left hand side.
It is an amalgam of three competition entries, although the names of the winners have not been released.
The new flag will be officially launched at an event later in the year, to be attended by the Lord Lyon, who has given his seal of approval to the design.
Sutherland Vice Lord Lieutenant, Lt Col Colin Gilmour, Rosehall, hailed it as “eye-catching”.
The Lord Lieutenancy team was the driving force behind the flag competition.
Lt Col Gilmour said: “I think it is eye-catching, which is what you want. A lot of these flags you would not know one from the other. This will stand out at a distance.”
The contest, launched last summer, attracted 328 entries from across the globe. Sutherland schoolchildren were heavily involved.
An 11-strong selection panel comprising representatives from groups and schools across the county have spent the last few months poring over the entries and opted to blend elements from three.
The winners have all received a book on heraldry as a prize.
A spokesman for the panel said an eagle had featured on a considerable number of the entries.
He said: “The eagle was chosen as a unifying feature of the flag – the west (of Sutherland) now has a fair population of white-tailed sea eagles and the east has golden eagles in good numbers.
“It was felt that the bird’s swooping pose, albeit perhaps unique on a flag, was considered bold and easy to identify from a distance.”
The vivid red and yellow background was felt to reflect the “rich sunrises and sunsets experienced in Sutherland and the glorious beaches and winter grasses on the hills and moorland.”
Red and yellow are also the oldest colours appearing on early Sutherland shields – the old Sutherland district flag incorporated red as a background colour.
According to the spokesman, the three stars are the oldest known heraldic device from Sutherland and dated from at least the 13th century.
Stars – known as “mullets” when used on flags or coats of arms – featured on the arms of the first Earl of Sutherland.
After the amalgamated final design was chosen in November, it was painstakingly hand-drawn by flag expert Philip Tibbetts, who has guided the Lord Lieutenancy through the competition process, and then digitised.
The Lyon Court, the offices of heraldic expert the Lord Lyon, has now issued his warrant for the design, meaning that a flag manufacturer can be sourced.
Lt Col Gilmour said: “Following the official flag launch, any business, organisation or individual will be entitled to purchase and fly the flag.
“It could also be used by hotels and B&Bs on their websites or leaflets, flags, sign posting and perhaps on key-rings, badges and even sports strips.”
Lord Lieutenant Monica Main said: “I would like to thank everyone who participated and entered the competition, especially those parents and teachers who ensured that there were so many entries from the younger generation.”
Sutherland is only the fifth of 34 Scottish counties to secure its own distinct flag and the third mainland county to do so, following its neighbour Caithness in January 2016 and Kirkcudbrightshire, later that year.
Orkney and Shetland both have their own flags.