Delegates gather in Thurso to celebrate a decade of peatland research in the Flow Country 

Delegates from around the UK and Europe gathered in Thurso last week for a scientific conference organised by the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) celebrating 10 years of co-ordinated peatland research in The Flow Country.

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Delegates gathered at Thurso Merlin Cinema for presentations and workshops highlighting scientific progress

The event attracted around one hundred 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 3% of the global land area but contain 25% of the global soil carbon stock: that is twice the amount found in the world’s forests. 

Over three days in Thurso, 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 George Gunn based on peatland land use and showcased local Caithness produce from Wolfburn Distillery, Dunnet Bay Distillery, North Point Distillery, Caithness Summer fruits and John O’Groats Brewery.  

Director of Research and Innovation and of the ERI, Professor Stuart Gibb, said “The Flow Country peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland cover around 4000 km2, 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 will allow the scientific community to celebrate the 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 UNESCO World Heritage Site.” 

The bid to secure World Heritage Site status for the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland will be submitted to UNESCO by the UK Government at the end of 2022 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. 



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Further information on the Flow country may be found at: