The Flow Country, located in Caithness and Sutherland, is home to the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe - so vast that it can be hard to take in!

To celebrate the start of a Flows to the Future touring exhibition, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, taking the Flows to people across the country we have a guest blog from Professor Des Thompson, Principal Adviser on Science with Scottish Natural Heritage, which pays tribute to this incredible landscape.

The Flow Country – five reasons to be thankful

The Flow Country is an amazing, special place. For those of you that know it you’ll understand how awe inspiring it is. This touring exhibition is an exciting way to connect people who haven’t experienced the Flows to this unique part of Scotland. While we have much to be thankful to the Flow Country for, here are five reasons I feel deserve celebrating.

First, the Flow Country is vital for staving off the insidious impacts of climate change. It’s a massive carbon store. Binding up far more carbon than all of our forests, it is essential that we conserve and hold onto the carbon. However, some of the Flow Country has been damaged by forestry planting, reducing its ability to act as a carbon store. That’s why we are devoting so much graft to restoring the bogs, removing the trees that should never have been planted, and using the very best of engineering, science and traditional know how in the process.  And here we should also give thanks to the many who have contributed funding for so much peatland restoration work, especially to the millions of people who buy lottery tickets, and to the political movers who have made this possible.

Second, the Flow Country is vast – in fact it is so big in extent that you sometimes need several Ordnance Survey maps simply to get to one mountain spied on the horizon! Studded with hummocks, hollows, pools and dubh lochans, it is no wonder that the Gaelic language has more than 100 words to describe ‘peat’. Nowhere else in Britain, can you be so alone yet so absorbed by the landscape

Third, it can be silent, it can be buoyant with the sounds of special birds, it can be ferociously windy, and often incessantly rain drenched -  and on many days all of these things. The dreich, oceanic climate is perfect for blanket bog formation. No wonder only a tiny 3% of the world’s land surface is peatland, with blanket bog forming small outliers of that -  with 15% of it here in Scotland. And in the Flow Country we have what the great peatland expert,  Professor Hans Joosten,  of the University of Greifswald, describes as ‘primus inter pares’ – a first among equals. That’s something to be thankful for 

Fourth, this is a peopled land, and people and nature work exceptionally well here. For thousands of years, imperceptibly as the bog mantle has grown a millimetre or so each year, people have lived off the land and water - nourished and nurtured by the peat. The Flows to the Future Project, launched three years ago, has done tremendously well to harness everyone’s energy to secure a strong future for this area, which is captured in the new exhibition.

And fifth, we should lift our eyes to the truly international realms of what we have here. Surely, this totemic place must become a World Heritage Site – not simply placed on the so-called ‘Tentative List’, but instead declared as a World Heritage Site. There is excellent science carried out here, much of it in superb new facilities.  More and more people are coming to the Flow Country to experience it for themselves, and the new walkways and viewing tower installed as part of the Flows to the Future project help them immerse themselves even more in the landscape. And, of course, there is the extraordinarily important landscape with its distinctively special wildlife. Despite these fantastic riches there are still threats to it which is why we must appreciate and value the wider ecosystem benefits. This is a special inspiring place, steeped in culture and nature, it deserves to be proclaimed as a World Heritage Site.

So, we have at least five reasons to be thankful for the Flow Country. Why not come along to the exhibition as it makes its way around the country and discover more for yourself?

The Flow Country Touring Exhibition can currently be seen at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh until September, before moving on to Glasgow, Stirling, Aberdeen and Annan, with more locations to be confirmed. 

  • Fantastic, a unique huge habitat. A previous U.K. Government which gave consent to plant commercial, for profit, forestry on the Flow Counytry should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. However the RSPB has and is doing a tremendous job in restoring the forested areas to natural blanket bog. Well done RSPB for rectifying a terrible past Government decision.