Flow Country: A closer look at Scotland's vast and ancient peatland tipped to gain UNESCO status
Straddling 200,000 hectares (494,210 acres) across Caithness and Sutherland, the amorphous expanse of peatlands is dotted with pools, hummocks and ridges, and nests an abundance of rare wildlife.
The site forms part of a larger 400,000 hectares of blanket bog, making it the biggest type of habitat of its kind in Europe.
It is, then, no wonder that The Flow Country, which began forming in the Mesolithic to Neolithic periods, is in the running to become a World Heritage Site.
If successful, the ecologically complex habitat will be accorded the same status as the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon.
Five UK sites made the headlines this week for winning backing to apply for world heritage status, including the Zenith of the Iron Age Shetland.
The application can take years of work, gathering together exhaustive reports detailing reasons why the site is worthy of UNESCO status.
The end is in sight, however, for The Flow Country Partnership (TFCP), which handed in a 250-dossier on the vast peatland area earlier this month after three decades of work.
"I think we have a decent chance,” said Joe Perry, of Highland Council, one of the groups in the partnership. "The application has already gone through some strict oversight.”
Some may question why a blanket bog could be awarded the world’s highest cultural accolade that celebrates “outstanding beauty.”
But TFCP, which includes NatureScot and RSPB Scotland, insist the tagline “the more you look, the more you see” is perfect for the precious habitat.
“There is some real beauty when you get close,” said Mr Perry. "At certain times of the year, bog cotton grows which can turn large parts of The Flow Country white.”
But UNESCO status is not all down to looks.
Blanket bog grows where precipitation exceeds evaporation. In such places of perpetual dampness, the plants build up to form layers of peat which can reach 10 metres thick, packed with plant fossils, midge remains, and ash blown south from Icelandic volcanoes.
TFCP said the ecological processes that have resulted in the peat formation sequester carbon on a very large scale.
Mr Perry said the UNESCO status would help the site become “a flagship for the habitat type.”
“A lot of peatlands are in really poor condition.
"If we're serious about climate change, restoring them is one of the most important things we can do.
"Having this as a world heritage site which people can visit and learn from is really valuable.”
The status would also then benefit the local region, another factor UNESCO looks for.
"It would bring more eco-tourists who would support the local businesses,” said Kenna Chisolm, of RSPB Scotland.
Caithness and Sutherland is said to be one of the least populated parts of Western Europe.
She said the global recognition for the area “would encourage people back to the rural space with green jobs and tourism.”
A decision on The Flow Country’s nomination will be made next year.
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