The Flow Country has been chosen for a World Heritage Volunteers Programme (WHV) under the framework of the UNESCO World Heritage Education Programme. It is the only project in the UK to be chosen this year and is part of The Flow Country’s World Heritage Project; a project funded by the Peatlands Partnership which is striving towards securing World Heritage Site status for The Flow Country.
Thanks to the WHV, young people under the age of 30 from all over the world were invited to apply for a residential placement at RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve from 12- 23 August 2019. There were 13 places available and the successful applicants will be arriving next week.
The volunteers, who come from the UK, France, Denmark, Norway, Spain and Switzerland, will experience this unique landscape for themselves, learn about its international importance, and help to conserve and protect it.
During their visit, the World Heritage Volunteers will be helping RSPB Scotland staff to re-wet the peatland at RSPB Scotland Forsinard through drain blocking, removing non-native trees and monitoring the health of the bog. On 14th August, they will also be treated to a special performance of traditional Scottish music from the musicians taking part in the Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail. Scotland’s Natural Larder, an initiative from Scottish Natural Heritage, will be there to provide delicious food made from ingredients found in the Flow Country. This free event, at the Forsinard Flows Visitor Centre, is open to members of the public from 2pm – 4pm.
Claire Foot-Turner, Warden at RSPB Scotland Forsinard Flows, said: “We are delighted to be hosting the UNESCO Young People volunteers to the Flow Country, we look forward to meeting them, showing them around introducing them not only to the peatlands, but also some of the culture. We will be holding a ceilidh in the Halladale Hall at 7.00pm on 14th August, with music from the Feis Rois young musicians and will be open to the general public as well (there is an entry charge of £7, or £5 for concessions, to cover costs), which will be a great opportunity for the local community in Caithness and Sutherland to also be involved in this exciting event. We also have many conservation activities lined up from the group, where they will be joined by local and residential volunteers as well as representatives from neighbouring estates and groups.”
The Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland is the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe. It covers about 200,000 hectares and RSPB Scotland’s Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve lies at the very heart of it. The area is vital in the face of climate change and RSPB Scotland has been working to protect it for over 20 years.
Blanket Bog is a rare type of peatland which only forms in cool places with plenty of rain and, as the name suggests, it covers the landscape like a blanket. Plants which grow in the Flow Country, like sphagnum moss, don’t fully rot away when they die, instead they build up deep layers of peat to form areas of blanket bog.
The Flow Country’s blanket bog has been growing for over 10,000 years and the peat is up to 10 metres deep in some areas. It stores more than three times the amount of carbon found in all of Britain’s woodlands combined. Peatlands only cover 3 per cent of the world’s land area but they hold nearly 30 per cent of all the earth’s carbon. They are therefore one of the world’s most important defences against climate change.
To keep this carbon locked up, the peat needs to remain wet. In the 1970s and 1980s, large parts of the Flow Country’s blanket bog was damaged due to inappropriate non-native forestry plantations and agricultural use. While the bog can withstand short term variations in temperatures and moisture, for example drier weather in the summer, the drainage for forestry and agriculture work caused serious damage to the waterlevels. For the last 25 years, RSPB Scotland staff and volunteers have been working with a number of other organisations and funders to restore the Flow Country’s blanket bog by removing the non-native trees and re-wetting the peat.
As well as creating new peat and storing carbon, this work also helps biodiversity and improves water quality. The area is important for wildlife, including breeding wading birds like golden plover, dunlin and greenshank.