How might a Flow Country World Heritage Site benefit me?
The potential benefits of World Heritage Status can be wide ranging and will be there to take advantage of if desired:
- Branding of produce and marketing opportunities facilitated by the World Heritage project.
- Potential to add value to carbon investments, working alongside the developing Flow Country Green Finance Project.
- Jobs and training boost around peatland restoration work.
- Profile of the region elevated, bringing increased potential for investment: ‘putting the Flow Country on the map’.
- Drawing tourism away from the periphery and slowing down those that visit: the Flow Country is a shy landscape that needs time to be appreciated.
- World Heritage is often seen to be a catalyst for investment in infrastructure.
- On a global scale, World Heritage Status for the Flow Country will promote the importance of peatlands around the world, helping other areas to gain more protection from degradation and ultimately helping the fight against climate change.
Find a wider summary here: https://www.hie.co.uk/our-region/casestudies/flowcountry/
Case Study - The Jurassic Coast
It is recognised that World Heritage inscription of the Jurassic Coast stimulated the creation of a new identity for the coastal region. It has also been found that the coastal region has become more dynamic as a result of this new identity, which is demonstrated in the following ways:
- increased investment
- better partnership working
- increased media recognition at a national and international level
- new infrastructure and services
- new business start-ups with new products
- new employment opportunities
- the increasing sustainability of the tourism product
- improved education linkages nationally and internationally
From: An Economic, Social and Cultural Impact Study of the Jurassic Coast (2008)
The annual financial benefit of UNESCO designations to the UK is a minimum of £151 million.
Will a Flow Country World Heritage site bring extra restrictions?
For areas of the land that are already covered by environmental designation for peatland interests (76% of the proposed site is covered by SSSI/SPA/SAC/Ramsar designations), inscription as a World Heritage Site will bring no extra restrictions. In the remaining 24% of the proposed site World Heritage status will not prohibit any developments, but will be a material consideration. This will be particularly relevant if the proposed development would negatively impact the Outstanding Universal Value of the site (blanket bog landscape or the biodiversity it holds). In practice though this is more likely to be a significant consideration for larger scale developments than for smaller ones – and often such developments are already needing to consider potential impacts on the nearby designated areas and on peat generally.
- No changes to levels of livestock grazing.
- No change to peat cutting rights.
- No change in deer management
Will World Heritage Status fossilise the landscape and stop developments?
No. World Heritage commits to protect, conserve, present and convey the values of sites inscribed to future generations and UNESCO recognise that World Heritage Sites are where, or near where people live and work, so understand that development happens. UNESCO require that protection is already in place, which it already is for the Flow Country through the existing designations and the planning system. The Flow Country Partnership recognises that the Flow Country is a living landscape that has been home to people for the last 8 thousand years: the people have shaped the landscape and the environment has shaped the people. The draft vision for the Flow Country World Heritage project states that ‘World Heritage Status for the Flow Country will ensure that its world-class blanket bog, associated biodiversity and carbon storage ability is protected and enhanced, that it is an unparalleled and accessible natural resource for education and well-being, and that the status is beneficial both for our vibrant communities and our visitors’.
Who is leading the bid for World Heritage status?
The bid for World Heritage status for the Flow Country was initiated by the Flow Country Partnership, a body comprised of the main stakeholders in the peatlands and adjacent communities across the region. The Flow Country Partnership is, in essence, well established – it was formed in 2006 (then the Peatland Partnership) with the aim of enhancing and promoting the special values of the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland, through the promotion of sustainable land management, the encouragement of sustainable community and economic development, and through co-ordinated action. More information about the Flow Country Partnership can be found here: https://www.theflowcountry.org.uk/about-us/the-peatlands-partnership/
What is the Flow Country being nominated for?
The Flow Country is being nominated to UNESCO for criteria ix and x as defined in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. These relate to outstanding examples of ongoing ecological and biological processes (ix) and outstanding examples of natural habitats and biological diversity (x). More simply put, the blanket bog landscape (ix) and the biodiversity it contains (x). The Cultural history is also a key component within the bid but does not coincide with the natural criteria for which it is being nominated. More information can be found here: https://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/
How is the Flow Country defined?
Everyone has a slightly different conception of where the Flow/Flowe/Flough Country is. The proposed World Heritage Site is being nominated on the basis of the blanket bog landscape which stretches across much of Caithness and Sutherland. Therefore, the proposed World Heritage Site attempts to take in all of the diversity in peatland landscapes which can be found across this region, based on (but not limited to) the already recognised Peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland SPA/SAC/Ramsar designations. This includes the wetter and more broken blanket bog found in the west and the more rolling and continuous examples found to the east.
What is the rationale behind the boundary?
The rationale for the boundaries is that they contain areas of the blanket bog landscape in the most natural condition and containing the full range of diversity found across the region, the majority of which is contained within SSSIs and other designations.
The boundary also includes areas adjacent to the blanket bog landscape that are functionally important, and provide protection, to the property’s values. This will include areas that are otherwise surrounded by blanket bog and form part of the blanket bog landscape.
Areas under restoration will also be included in the property as there is sufficient evidence to suggest that over time, they return to naturally functioning blanket bog; except where additional infrastructure, such as tracks, etc. causes excessive disruption to the blanket bog hydrology.
Will the proposed World Heritage site have a buffer zone?
The proposed site will not have a buffer zone. These are not considered as appropriate for natural sites in Scottish Planning Policy given the protection already afforded by SSSI/SPA/SAC/Ramsar designations.
How are we talking to communities and stakeholders?
An initial consultation on the concept of a Flow Country World Heritage site was held in 2009, resulting in the recognition of broad support (80%) for the project. Since then, updates on the progress on the project have been provided through press releases, widely picked up in the local and national press (Northern Times, John O’Groats Journal, Press and Journal, Scotsman, Herald, Times), TV and radio coverage, social media, and the Flow Country Website. Presentations have also been given to a wide range of stakeholders and interest groups including Deer Management Group, Fisheries Trusts, Tourism Groups, etc.
Further public consultations have been held during 2022: on the draft boundary (May – July) and on the draft management plan (July – September). Increased participation has been recorded and early indications from face to face drop in events are for a similar level of support as found during the 2019 consultation (80%).
The formal consultation has now closed but we will continue to engage with local communities to keep them informed of the bid progress and are always happy to take on views and answer questions.
How will The Flow Country World Heritage Site be looked after?
The main body that will oversee the World Heritage Site, should it be inscribed, is a partnership-based Steering Group. This group, which currently exists to oversee the bid process, has representatives from all of the different stakeholders who would have a role in looking after the Site. This includes community representatives as well as landowners and agencies. In addition, there will be a small professional team to oversee the Site, and a range of technical working groups to focus on specific subjects. All of these bodies will be focused on delivering the vision set out above.
When will we know if the bid has been successful?
We hope that we will know in summer 2024, when the World Heritage Committee meet and make the decision.