How stories and poetry are shining new light on Scotland’s iconic peat bogs

The beauty and fragility of an iconic landscape in the far north of Scotland is being celebrated in a series of literary works as part of a move to gain global recognition for the site.

The Flow Country is a massive area of blanket bog that stretches across 190,000 hectares of Caithness and Sutherland.

With deep layers of peat formed over thousands of years, the area is globally significant for its ecological value.

Its bogs are estimated to store around 400 million tonnes of carbon – more than the total held in all UK woodlands – and support a vast range of wildlife.

The landscape also has cultural importance for local communities.

A bid is currently being prepared, with support from the UK government, to gain Unesco World Heritage Site status for the peatlands.

The Flow Country Partnership, a collaboration including Highland Council, NatureScot, RSPB Scotland and conservation firm Wildland, is spearheading the campaign, which aims to see the site achieve the accreditation for purely natural criteria.

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UK minister for Scotland backs Flow Country bid for Unesco World Heritage site s...
Campaigners are preparing a bid to Unesco which could see the Flow Country, a vast area of peatbogs stretching across 190,000 hectares of Caithness and Sutherland, designated as a World Heritage Site

It would join natural wonders across the world such as the Grand Canyon and Great Barrier Reef if granted the United Nations designation.

Now the campaigners are harnessing the power of storytelling to help make the case.

The stories have been written by award-winning Scottish authors and a peatland scientist who is a leading authority on the Flow Country.

Each writer has used their own unique approach to convey the need to protect the bogs and portray the sense of peace and creativity the place inspires.

Janis Mackay is one of the authors who has penned a story capturing the essence of the Flow Country as part of the Unesco bid

In ‘The Bog Girl’, children’s author Janis Mackay conjures up an atmospheric tale highlighting the peatland’s unique wildlife.

Above the Plain, penned by Ruth Thomas, is a subtle journey of awareness. 

Roxane Andersen, a professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands, has turned to poetry to describe the “special blanket” of the landscape, knitted by the plant spirits to keep the dragons lying beneath from awakening and causing havoc.

Writer Ruth Thomas said she loves to convey how people connect with the place they're in, even if it's initially strange to them – as the Flow Country was to her before she went there earlier this summer

The poem was first read aloud in Glasgow last year, at the United Nations climate conference COP26.

“Being able to use stories to express the value and wonder of the Flow Country captures people’s imagination and attention in ways that science can’t do alone,” said Steven Andrews, project co-ordinator for the Flow Country Partnership.

“I believe that these will go a long way to help people understand why protecting the peatlands is so important.”

Ms Mackay, who lived in Caithness as writer-in-residence for five years, said: “As a storyteller and writer I am a great believer in the power of the imagination and see it as a gentle catalyst for change.

“Stories work on our feelings and deeper sense of truth.

“Stories can inspire us to act, inspire us to visit places, inspire us to empathise and care about places.”

Ms Thomas added: “It was the sudden appearance of a tiny lizard on the boardwalk while I was there that triggered all kinds of memories for me – as it does for my story's main character – and altered a lot of expectations about what the Flow Country is and why we need to protect it.” 

The stories are now available to read on the Flow Country website, where full details about the Unesco project can also be found.

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