On the 12th September 2019, the Flows to the Future end of project conference was held in Inverness. The conference commemorated the achievements of the Peatlands Partnership’s project, which has been taking place over the last five years in the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland.
The £10.6 million project has been undertaking large scale peatland restoration work and has also put in place a range of visitor and research facilities such as the Flows Lookout |(a 6m high viewing tower), a new Flows Field Centre at Forsinard and visitor information points across the Flow Country. The Project also undertook an extensive programme of schools and community activities. It has been funded by Lottery players through the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as many other organisations and supporters.
The conference was attended by 83 people and involved 15 speakers. A wide range of topics were discussed - you can access some of the presentations given by the speakers below, where you will also find audio and video recordings.
The morning session was chaired by Professor Stuart Gibb, Chair of the Peatlands Partnership and the afternoon by George Campbell, Regional Director of North Scotland, RSPB. Throughout the day they introduced a wide range of speakers and topics, which truly represented the multi-faceted nature of the Project.
The conference was kicked off by a rousing welcome from Councillor Margaret Davidson, Leader of The Highland Council, and a very supportive recorded keynote speech from Mairi Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (see above).
Council Leader, Councillor Margaret Davidson
Caroline Eccles, our Project Manager, then provided an overview of the Project in a presentation entitled 'Five Years of Flows to the Future; Peat Probing and Problem Solving', shedding light on the Project's funders, activities and the people involved in making it a success. You can view Caroline's presentation here.
Professor Des Thompson FRSE (Principal Advisor on Biodiversity, Scottish Natural Heritage) gave an inspiring and amusing presentation on the recent history of The Flow Country and the conservation value of this globally important area for both biodiversity and for its role in carbon storage and regulating climate change. You can view Professor Thompson's presentation here (this includes a series of lovely Flows wildlife photos and no text).
Professor Des Thompson
RSPB Senior Site Manager at Forsinard Flows NNR, Darrell Stevens, was then joined by Anson Macauslan of Welbeck Estate to discuss the peatland restoration both on the Reserve and on the surrounding estates. The project had funded an advisory service, which enabled many land managers to secure funding for peatland restoration work. You can view their combined presentations here.
From the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, Dr Roxane Andersen gave an update on the current scientific research going on in the Flow Country, explaining new techniques which use satellites to monitor the condition of the blanket bogs. You can view Dr Roxane's presentation here.
The after-lunch session focused on members of the Flows to the Future Project team. First, Caroline Eccles took to the stage to uncover the many ways in which the Project has managed to stimulate wide interest in the bog; its beauty and environmental and ecological importance, in a presentation entitled 'Bogs the Brand and How to Sell the Flow Country'. You can view Caroline's presentation here.
This was followed by an energetic discussion between the Flows to the Future Project's Education Officer, Hilary Wilson, and the ever-enthusiastic, long term volunteer Brian Johnston, who demonstrated through use of multiple props/classroom materials how they have worked to engage children in the Flow Country through educational activities when visiting schools, and having school children visit the Forsinard Flows Reserve. You can view their presentation here.
The Project Team's session was rounded off by Beki Pope, Communities Officer, and Sydney Henderson, Project Officer, who gave a two-part talk on 'The Flows Community: Local and Global'. First, Beki spoke in detail about the Project's community engagement activities, particularly with respect to visits to the Forsinard Flows Reserve, and the day of commemoration of The Jellicoe Express (which transported 500,000 military personnel during World War I and II), hosted by Flows to the Future. Beki's presentation, which consists of a series of photographs of reserve visitors and the Jellicoe Express day, is viewable here.
Having served as a volunteer for the Project in 2018, Sydney's following talk gave an inside perspective on life as a volunteer at the Forsinard Flows Reserve and the incredibly important contribution volunteers have had in delivering the Project's aims, as well as for the RSPB more widely. Sydney's presentation, which consists of a series of photographs of volunteer activities, is viewable here.
After a refreshment break, Dr Andersen returned to the stage in conversation with artist Hannah Imlach to discuss the benefits of collaborations between art and science. This gave some fascinating insights into the way both artists and scientists can benefit from the relationship. The Flows to the Future project has worked with a number of artists including the recent Below the Blanket event in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. You can listen to a recording of their conversation here.
Hannah and Roxane discuss the benefits of collaborations between art and science
Joe Perry, Project Coordinator for The Flow Country World Heritage Site Project, delivered an upbeat and inspiring presentation on potential World Heritage Site Status and what this could mean for the Flow Country. You can view Joe's presentation here.
Lastly, Eann Sinclair (Area Manager of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Chair of the NC500 Working Group), pointed out how HIE operated across Caithness and Sutherland and what their future development role would be across the whole of their area. You can view Eann's presentation here.
In closing the meeting, Professor Gibb, on behalf of The Flows to the Future Project staff and their partners, thanked everyone for their support over the last 5 years.
Photo credit: John Wright