Harnessing our natural assets - land and sea
The region's rich natural assets offer net zero opportunities
How the North of Scotland's peatlands can have a vital role in fighting the climate crisis.
The Flow Country peatlands and the surrounding landscapes are a vital element of Scotland’s biodiverse and low carbon future.Roxane Andersen, Professor of Peatland Science, University of the Highlands and Islands
Stretching across Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of Scotland are 400,000 hectares of one of the world's rarest habitats. The Flow Country is Europe's largest expanse of blanket bog. The quality of its peatland vegetation, bog pools and the rare species of insects and birds are such that it's had the green light from UK experts to pursue a long-held dream and submit a full nomination to UNESCO for World Heritage Site status. You can see latest progress on this here.
The Flow Country’s blanket bog stores 400 million tonnes of carbon, more than double that of Britain’s woodlands. A healthy blanket bog is an important part of greenhouse gas reduction, as it constantly takes carbon out of the atmosphere. The peatlands also act as a natural filtration system for the rivers and streams that run off and through it, helping to provide cleaner waters for fish and other aquatic wildlife.
As well as its potential to contribute to zero carbon targets, and being of vital importance ecologically and environmentally, the Flow Country is important to the local people who have lived and worked around the peatlands and in the surrounding straths for thousands of years.
There’s a massive amount of potential from peatlands from green finance and carbon trading. With the land owned by a mix of private individuals and public bodies, partnership work has been exploring the potential routes to tap into the huge potential “carbon value” of the Flow Country - in a way that is compatible with a just transition where benefits would be retained within local communities.
The land is managed by partners who make up The Flow Country Partnership. It includes Nature Scot, Forestry and Land Scotland, Scottish Forestry, The Highland Council, RSPB Scotland, Plantlife International, the Environmental Research Institute, Highland Third Sector Interface, the Flow Country Rivers Trust, Northern Deer Management Group and us at HIE.
Photo courtesy of Paul Turner
The Flow Country partnership has delivered a number of projects over the years, including an £11 million blanket bog restoration project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
More recently, it has worked with the 'Landscapes as Carbon Sinks' initiative - a Deep Demonstration programme involving the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI), EIT Climate-KIC, the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Sustainable Forests and Landscapes (CSFL), and a number of European partners.
Phase 1 of the project was to explore future options for the blanket bogs' health and ecosystems, to create positive climate change and to ensure land management decisions involve the local community.
The partnership has now moved to a second phase to develop a project for the Flow Country which can serve as a model for the future.
The aim is to create a scalable pilot project delivering ecological restoration, sustainable land use, a carbon investment model, support for circular business and community development.
Photo courtesy of Paul Turner
There is huge potential for new opportunities in the area, and in upskilling local people and bringing in new skills. More people will be needed to support the landscape project, and there are likely to be new green jobs and career paths covering new industries brought into the region.
There is also likely to be additional demand for skills in green finance and the carbon economy; and jobs in peatland restoration, as well as contracting roles on an advisory basis and for monitoring activities.
Developing young skills has been a feature of work at the Science Skills Academy, a multi-partnership project led by HIE, and funded though the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal. They've run over 90 sessions on peatlands for over 1,600 Highland pupils in 2021.
NatureScot has been leading a peatland restoration project for the Scottish Government since 2012. Get guidance and funding information on their project action webpage.Peatland Action project
The Peatland Code is a voluntary standard for UK peatland projects wishing to market the climate benefit of restoration. It provides independent verification for buyers and for projects.Peatlands Code
Here are some other web pages and stories you may be interested in.