Description of the area covered
Caithness and Sutherland is a very diverse
area in both landscape and wildlife terms. This immense
variability reflects the complex underlying geology ranging from
the generally flat landscapes of Caithness on Old Red Sandstones
(flagstone) to the Lewisian gneiss ‘cnoc And lochan’ scenery
of the west coast with it’s Torridonian sandstone/quartzite
mountains. Much of central Sutherland is composed of rocks of the
Moine series (Moine schists), named after A’Mhoine near Tongue
where these rocks were first described. The climate shows strong
variation from the mild oceanic west with high rainfall to the
drier, more continental, east coast. The range of wildlife and
habitats found here is equally diverse with virtually all northern
plant and animal communities represented from coastal to mountain
zones. many of the habitats and species found in Caithness and
Sutherland are of national and international importance.
The low intensity management of land for
crofting, farming and sporting purposes has helped maintain the
natural heritage interest and created the characteristic
landscapes we see today.
Caithness and Sutherland contain a wealth
of prehistoric and later settlement sites. Many are well preserved
and form an irreplaceable archive for understanding the past.
Archaeological sites are particularly dense and well preserved in
some localities, for instance, the Strath of Kildonan and
Surface area: 7650 km2
Population density: 5 inhabitants/km2 –
one of the least densely populated areas of Europe.
142 Sites of Special Scientific Interest
(SSSI) including 8 National Nature Reserves (NNR), covering
approximately 215, 468 hectares (2,155 km2).
19 sites of international importance and
either designated or proposed under Natura 2000 network as Special
Protection Areas (SPA), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and
/or Ramsar sites.
The Peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland
candidate SAC has been proposed by the UK Government as a World
Heritage Site and covers an area of some 143,539 hectares (1435 km2).
4 National Scenic Areas covering 101,700
hectares (1017 km2).
Almost 28% of the surface area of Caithness
and Sutherland is covered by SSSI designations and 13% by National
There are over 1200 sites of historic
importance in Caithness and Sutherland, these include: 564
Scheduled Ancient Monuments, 649 Listed Buildings (of historic and
architectural interest) and currently, 6 Gardens and Designed
Unique or outstanding natural
The Peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland
– one of Europe’s largest areas of active blanket bog and now
proposed as a World Heritage Site. Essentially unchanged for over
4,000 years this is one of Britain’s most ancient landscapes and
home to a wide range of breeding peatland birds such as
Greenshank, golden plover, red-throated and black-throated divers
and several species of birds of prey.
Outstanding breeding seabird colonies of
national and international importance e.g. North Caithness Cliffs
Special Protection Area (SPA), East Caithness Cliffs SPA, Cape
Wrath SPA and Handa Island SPA with the largest breeding colonies
of guillemots and razorbills in Britain.
Internationally important populations of
waders and wildfowl over winter on the sheltered shores of E
Sutherland and important numbers of Ospreys use these same areas
for feeding during the breeding season.
Nationally and internationally important
habitats include those of the high hills found at unusually low
altitudes in the extreme north, and the northernmost woodland
fragments, with both pine and oak woods reaching their northern
limits in the area. The limestone areas of north and west
Sutherland are also of outstanding importance for a number of
|A number of
uncommon or rare plant species, e.g. The Lapland Reed –
Caithness has the only site plant in the world – and Primula
Scotica, the Scottish Primrose, an endemic species found
only in Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland.
Nationally and internationally
important geological sites demonstrating both the history of the
earth’s formation over the last 2800 million years and evolution
Unique or outstanding
cultural heritage features:
The well preserved and
irreplaceable prehistoric and later settlement sites in Caithness
and Sutherland include:-
for instance, Mid Clyth and Achavanich
in Caithness and Learable in Sutherland.
Burial cairns: including
of Get, Camster
Cairns and Loch
Yarrows in Caithness. There are also very good examples in
found throughout Caithness And
to Caithness and Sutherland and may have been used to house
and castles: the cliff coastline
of Caithness provides spectacular sites for forts and castles,
Sinclair and Girnigoe, Old
Keiss and Old
Wick in Caithness. Interesting sites in Sutherland include Dun
Varrich, Ardvrek Castle and Skelbo House. The latter is an unusual
semi-fortified, prestigious farmhouse – very rare in the
Dunrobin Castle is
one of the oldest inhabited castles in Scotland. It is of
considerable architectural interest and forms the centerpiece to an
impressive formal garden and designed landscape which effectively
(if not formally) culminates in the statue to the first Duke of
Sutherland on Ben Bhraggie.
Pre-Clearance settlements: The
Sutherland Clearances have a special place in Scottish history and
the creation of the national identity. The remains of pre-Clearance
settlements may be found throughout Sutherland but are particularly
prevalent in Strathnaver and the Strath of Kildonan. Sites such as
Rossal and Bad in Loskin in upper Strathnaver are of considerable
historical importance through their association with Patrick Sellar
and the events which led to his trail in 1816. Clearance settlements
are also found in parts of Caithness, for instance at Badbea.
Fishing villages, harbours and
fishing stations: show the impact of
the herring industry not only at Wick but at small ports around the
whole coast for example at Dunbeath, Lybster, Keiss and Whaligoe in
Caithness and Embo, Helmsdale, Talmine, Skullomie and Rispond in
Sutherland Estate development: The
transformation of Sutherland estate in the 19th century
saw the construction of a range of impressive farm steadings. This
continued through the Sutherland reclamations of the 1870s and 1880s
particularly in Assynt, Lairg and Kildonan. This even included the
building of concrete farm steadings – a very unusual feature. From
the mid 19th century there developed a Sutherland Estate
style of architecture which may not only be seen in a whole range of
estate and public buildings but in vernacular buildings as well.
Vernacular heritage: The
use of Caithness
flagstones for roofs and fences makes a strong visual impact.
Relic crofting landscapes demonstrating the deliberate congestion
created by resettlement policies pursued in conjunction with the
Sutherland Clearances are to be found particularly in north and west
Sutherland and the more marginal areas of east Sutherland.
Tourism is the single most
important industry in Highlands, generating approximately £373
million in holiday trips and £200 million in day trips per annum.
It accounts for some 13,000 full time jobs in the area.
Tourism in Caithness and
Sutherland has developed at a lesser rate than other areas of the
Highlands, although it is not less important in economic terms. The
main agencies involved in tourism developments recognised a need to
better co-ordinate the provision of support for tourism, and so two
area Tourism Strategies have recently been brought together (one for
Caithness, one for Sutherland). These Strategies are, in effect, the
start of an innovative "contract" between agencies and
industry. A total of 84 Objectives are contained within the two
plans, with each Objective having a series of specific actions (164
actions across the two areas).
For the first time the tourism
industry in the north has an agreed direction. Its implementation
will be closely watched by other areas, as Caithness and Sutherland
lead the way in this field. The lead body for tourism in the
Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board (HOST) whose Mission Statement
"To promote and develop the
Highlands of Scotland as a world class tourist destination. Through
excellence in visitor servicing, marketing and professional support
for our industry".
Area 1806 sq.km
Main Towns Thurso, Wick