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Caithness News Bulletins June 2006

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Internationally Important Flow Country - Scotland's Latest National Nature Reserve
A large area of internationally important peatland in Caithness and Sutherland is set to become Scotland's latest National Nature Reserve.

The main Board of Scottish Natural Heritage has agreed that land at Forsinard and Dorrerry, owned and managed for wildlife and people by RSPB, be declared as The Flows National Nature Reserve (NNR).

As part of the agreement RSPB will be the approved body responsible for managing the new NNR. RSPB have a comprehensive management plan in place, approved by SNH, which will be reviewed at five-year intervals.

The reserve represents a significant part of the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland, which is believed to form the single largest expanse of blanket bog in the world. The land is internationally recognised for its habitat quality and breeding bird populations.

At the reserve - around 30 miles north of Helmsdale and extending across the peatlands into west Caithness - internationally important features include blanket bog and wet heath, otter and 12 species of waders, waterfowl and birds of prey.

The area extends to 11,399 hectares and primarily comprises land within the former Forsinard and Dorrery Estates.

The new reserve 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.

In addition to office, volunteer and workshop accommodation, the facilities at Forsinard include a Visitor Centre, car parking and toilets, along with interpretation displays and CCTV links and a 1.6 km flagstone trail allowing access to a pool system.

More than 6000 people a year visit the site and inject almost 200,000 into the local economy.

Lesley Cranna, the SNH area manager for North Highland, welcomed the creation of the new reserve with its abundance of flora and fauna as a great place for people to visit.

She said: "National Nature Reserves are outstanding places in Scotland managed for the conservation of nature and the enjoyment of people. I am delighted that the Flows will become a National Nature Reserve.

"This is further recognition of the international importance of the Caithness and Sutherland peatlands. I hope it will encourage people to come to the area, marvel at this amazing natural habitat and enjoy the wildlife it supports.

"As well as being wonderful places to visit, NNRs make an important contribution to the area's economy. RSPB have an excellent visitor centre at Forsinard with an easy walk which gives the visitor a wonderful experience of the peatlands.

"Peatlands are probably the only habitat where people can walk on 8000 years of undisturbed history and I would encourage everyone to try it."

The area is managed under The Peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland Management Strategy for 2005-2015 which aims to secure a sustainable future for the peatlands by promoting the natural heritage with the needs of the local community and economy.

And another partnership programme, the EU LIFE Peatlands Project, has played a significant part in restoring active blanket bog of European importance in Caithness and Sutherland. It is a partnership of SNH, RSPB, Forestry Commission Scotland and Plantlife International with The Highland Council on the steering group.

Welcoming the creation of the new NNR, George Campbell, North Regional Director for RSPB Scotland, said: "The Flows are a truly inspiring place with views sweeping over the peatlands which are interspersed with lochs and the patterned dubh lochans where birds like greenshank, golden plover and dunlin breed.

"Already more than 6000 RSPB members and others interested in this special place visit the Flows each year, and we are hoping that with SNH`s help we can do more to promote and manage the reserve for wildlife and people to enjoy.

"Since we acquired part of the area in 1994 we have removed inappropriate forestry plantations and dammed hill drains to restore the blanket bog. This has created employment locally and we look forward to working in partnership with SNH and the community to continue this important work."