Flow Country nature reserve opens
About 28,000 acres in Caithness and Sutherland has been designated a protected area by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
More than 70 per cent of the land is already a site of special scientific interest and the creation of the Flows National Nature Reserve could help towards eventual classification as a World Heritage Site.
It includes areas where coniferous, non-native trees were planted in the late 1970s and early 1980s in a tax loophole created under the Thatcher government. Until 1988, when it was rescinded, it allowed any investment in woodland to be written off against personal income tax.
Among those who bought land were celebrities such as Sir Cliff Richard and Terry Wogan. The loophole was closed after pressure from environmental groups concerned the peatlands were being destroyed. The trees have now been felled and the damage is being repaired.
The reserve, which will be managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), comprises land in the former Forsinard and Dorrery estates, 30 miles north of Helmsdale, Sutherland, and extends into west Caithness.
It makes up a significant part of the Flow Country, an area of peatland believed to form the single largest expanse of blanket bog in the world. Its renowned features include blanket bog and wet heath, 12 species of wading birds, waterfowl and birds of prey, and other wildlife, such as red deer, wildcat and otter.
Rob Gibson, a Highlands and Islands MSP, will perform the opening. He said: "As one of the biggest blanket bogs in the world, it has a special importance as we tackle the effects of global warming. It underlines that Scotland has a key role in tackling climate change."
He said reserve status gave a long-term commitment to maintaining the blanket bog: "This makes me all the more determined to back the future recognition for the Flows NNR as a candidate for world heritage status that St Kilda has already achieved."
Pete Mayhew, the RSPB's conservation manager for north Scotland, said: "
RSPB, with help from several government agencies, has been at the forefront of restoring this great peatland back to its former glory, principally through carefully targeted plantation removal which allows the bog habitat to redevelop.
More than 5,000 people a year visit the site and inject almost 200,000 into the economy.
Ian Jardine, SNH's chief executive, said
: "We know that peatlands have a very important role to play in climate change as they are massive carbon stores. This gives this very ancient landscape a very modern significance."
SNH is providing funding to help RSPB carry out work to meet standards for national nature reserves.