Living Reference Work Entry

The Wetland Book

pp 1-17

Date: Latest Version

Blanket Mires of Caithness and Sutherland, Scotland’s Great Flow Country (UK)

  • Richard LindsayAffiliated withSustainability Research Institute, University of East London Email author 
  • , Roxane AndersenAffiliated withEnvironmental Research Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands


The Flow Country of northern Scotland dominates the northernmost part of mainland Britain. It is thought to be one of, if not the, largest more-or-less continuous expanses of blanket mire in the world. It extends from the coast of Caithness in the east to the foot of the mountain chain which dominates western parts of Sutherland, covering some 400,000 ha in all. The mire systems of the Flow Country occur in a wide variety of forms as well as displaying distinct east-west gradients in their vegetation and surface microtopography. These mires also support internationally important breeding bird populations, including many species more usually associated with the northern tundra. The area has a long history of human occupation and land use but the treeless peat-dominated landscape, which developed around 6200 BP, remained largely unchanged until after World War 2 when some experimental conifer plantations were established on the deep peat. These were then followed in the 1980s by a huge expansion of conifer plantation across the peatlands, leading to a major battle between conservation bodies and the forest industry. The afforestation was eventually halted but only after some 70,000 ha had been planted or was scheduled for planting. Substantial efforts are now being devoted to restoring these plantations to open bog. Meanwhile windfarm developments pose a new threat. Despite these challenges, the area is under consideration for possible World Heritage status.


Blanket Bog Britain Caithness Conifer Flow Forestry Forsinard Mire NCC Peat Plantations Pools RSPB Scotland Sutherland Tundra Windfarm