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Extension to Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands protected area at Forsinard Flows proposed by NatureScot

By John Davidson

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Sphagnum moss is vital for peatland formation.
Sphagnum moss is vital for peatland formation.

Peatlands that were planted with conifers after tax breaks in the 1970s and 80s have recovered to the extent that they will be soaked up into a wider conservation area.

A public consultation on a proposed extension to the protected area within Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands began on Thursday.

NatureScot, the country's nature agency, said that these peatlands have some of the best areas of blanket bog in the world and are home to rare birds and plants.

They are covered by a number of different protected areas to conserve and enhance them.

The peatlands protected area measures 143,569 hectares, with the proposed extension planned to increase this by 1.7 per cent or 2446 ha.

The protected areas that NatureScot intends to extend are:

  • Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
  • Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Protection Area (SPA)
  • Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Ramsar site

In addition, 10 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) underpinning these sites are proposed for extension:

  • Ben Griams SSSI
  • East Halladale SSSI
  • Forsinard Bogs SSSI
  • Loch Caluim Flows SSSI
  • Rumsdale Peatlands SSSI
  • Shielton Peatlands SSSI
  • Sletill Peatlands SSSI
  • Strathmore Peatlands SSSI
  • West Halladale SSSI
  • West Strathnaver SSSI

Most of these areas are within the Forsinard Flows National Nature Reserve and are now owned by the RSPB, with smaller areas owned by the National Forest Estate and private individuals.

Anyone who owns or manages land that is in the proposed addition to the protected area will receive a letter that explains how they can respond to the consultation.

Peatlands help to combat climate change by locking up carbon as peat continues to form. This can only happen in well-managed peatland, where the ground is wet and sphagnum mosses can grow.

The proposal will see a further 2446 ha added to the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands protected area.
The proposal will see a further 2446 ha added to the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands protected area.

Some of these peatlands were drained when conifer plantations were established in the 1970s and 1980s. Bog restoration work removed conifers from some of the highest priority peatland areas, between 1996 and 2006, largely funded by the EU’s LIFE Programme.

NatureScot explained that this work has advanced enough that areas where restoration was started with EU LIFE funding will now be added to the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands protected area. This is part of a commitment made to the EU as part of the funding award.

Sphagnum moss is now well established in these areas and rare birds such as greenshank have already returned. With continued good management, adding this land to the existing protected area will ensure further success for this peatland restoration work, according the the agency.

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