Delegates from around the UK and Europe gathered in Thurso for a scientific conference organised by the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) celebrating 10 years of co-ordinated peatland research in the Flow Country.
The event attracted around 100 delegates from universities, research centres and stakeholders including the James Hutton Institute, Forest Research, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, RSPB and NatureScot.
The first Flow Country Research Conference was held in 2012 and over the last decade has become a regular event in the calendar for scientists of all disciplines engaged in the study of peatlands such as the Flow Country.
Over this time, the conference has contributed to a re-evaluation of peatlands which only cover about three per cent of the global land area but contain 25 per cent of the global soil carbon stock – twice the amount found in the world’s forests.
Over three days, the ERI, based at UHI North Highland’s Thurso campus, organised conference presentations, workshops and field visits where delegates highlighted scientific progress and also shared new understanding of the importance of peatland ecosystems. The sessions featured contemporary environmental issues including water quality, climate change, natural resource management and biodiversity.
The conference also celebrated local roots with a reading from a new play by writer and Caithness makar George Gunn based on peatland land-use and showcased local produce from Wolfburn Distillery, Dunnet Bay Distillery, North Point Distillery, Caithness Summer Fruits and John O’Groats Brewery.
Director of research and innovation at the ERI, Professor Stuart Gibb, said: “The Flow Country peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland covers around 4000 square kilometres, and represent the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe and is a site of global significance. The area contains the single largest concentration of carbon anywhere on land in the UK as well as being home to internationally important habitats and wildlife.
“This conference allowed the scientific community to celebrate progress made in understanding peatland function over the last decade, and to identify new challenges ahead as the Flow Country continues on its journey to be considered as a Unesco World Heritage Site.”
The bid to secure World Heritage Site status for the Flow Country will be submitted to Unesco by the UK government at the end of this year and, following a site visit, the outcome will be decided in mid-2024.
If successful, it would be Scotland’s only World Heritage Site inscribed for purely natural criteria and the first site listed internationally for the exceptional value of its peatlands.