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IPA Factsheet - Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands
Site code
CountryUnited Kingdom
Administrative regionScotland North Highland (Caithness)
Central co-ordinates58o 20' N / 3o 56' W map
Altitude0 - 476

 Site Description The IPA qualifies under Criterion C(i). The ‘core area’ of the IPA represents the largest and most intact peat mass in the UK, three times larger than any other peatland area in either Britain or Ireland. The extended area of the IPA is the largest area of blanket bog in Europe, and possibly in the world (estimated to be 4% of the global resource of the threatened blanket bog habitat). Because of the special features of the cool Atlantic climate, ‘dystrophic water bodies’, ranging in size from pools to small lakes (‘lochans’) form on the peat surface on level and gently sloping ground, and the particular patterning of these pools on blanket bog is unique in the world. Although the hydrology of the blanket bog has been disrupted in many areas, especially by tree planting, large areas of the blanket bog, even within afforestation areas, remains ‘active’ (ie with Sphagnum species continuing to lay down peat). Forested areas on blanket bog peat are included within the ‘zone of opportunity’ of the IPA.

 Botanical Significance The IPA also qualifies under Criterion A(ii) for the EU Habitat Directive IIb species Saxifraga hirculus. A large population of this species was discovered in 2002 at a site to the east of the IPA (within the SAC but subsequent to its notification, so not listed as a feature). This population, on a small area of mineral soil, is probably the largest in the UK. Six further smaller populations have since been found nearby (suggesting more may yet to be found). The species’ ecological requirements here are unknown, but further undiscovered populations may be repressed by grazing. More generally, the hummocks, hollows and small pools of the bog surface provide niches for a diverse range of bog plants. The IPA holds the largest and most continuous areas dominated by Sphagnum moss species in the UK, including the nationally rare S. pulchrum. The rare moss, Dicranum bergeri, regarded as indicator of undamaged mires, is also recorded. A number of nationally scarce vascular plants are recorded, including Betula nana, Vaccinium oxycoccus, V. microcarpum, Rhynchospora fusca, Carex limosa, and Hammarbya paludosa.

 General Habitat Description These peatlands are important as one of the largest areas of semi-wild land in the UK. Historically, the main use of the land has been as grazing for sheep, cattle and some ponies, and as sporting land for shooting of deer, grouse and other birds, but this has always been at low-intensity. Forestry was seen as a potential commercial use for parts of the land in the 1980s, based on non-native conifers and supported by a tax incentive regime that was removed in 1988. Some of that planting is now seen as inappropriate, and the objective now is to establish semi-natural woodland on non-peat soils in balance with the peatland resource. The open expanses of Caithness especially are currently seen as prime sites for windfarms, with many approved or in planning, but the benefits to carbon outputs of windfarms on peat soils are highly questionable.

Land use

Land use% CoverLevel
agriculture (animals)Major
nature conservation and researchMinor
extraction (peat)Minor

Threatened Species

Species NameIPA Assess.Species Assess.AbundanceData qualityCriteria
Saxifraga hirculus L.20122012raregoodA(ii)

Botanical Richness

EUNIS level 2 code & nameIPA Assess.Habitat Assess.% of indicator speciesNo. SpeciesNational BiotopeData qualityCriteria
D1 Raised & blanket bogs2016201600unknownB

Threatened Habitats

IPA Habitat code & nameIPA Assess.Habitat Assess.AreaData qualityCriteria
7130(*) Blanket bogs ( * if active bog)20122012400000goodCi
3160 Natural dystrophic lakes and ponds200720070unknownCii
3130 Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters witth vegetation of the Littorelletea uniflorae and/or Isoeto-Nanjuncet200720070unknownCii


DesignationProtected Area NameRelationship with IPAOverlap with IPA
Site of Special Scientific InterestDunbeath Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA6403
Site of Special Scientific InterestLoch Caluim Flowsprotected area contained by IPA6186
Site of Special Scientific InterestStrathmore Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA7295
Site of Special Scientific InterestBlar Nam Faoileagprotected area contained by IPA2875
Site of Special Scientific InterestCoire Na Beinne Miresprotected area contained by IPA3496
Site of Special Scientific InterestShielton Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA5593
Site of Special Scientific InterestOliclettprotected area contained by IPA751
Site of Special Scientific InterestMoss of Kilimsterprotected area contained by IPA182
Site of Special Scientific InterestStroupster Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA2815
UnknownImportant Birds Area Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA121900
UnknownImportant Birds Area Loch shin & Nearby lochsprotected area overlaps with IPA8376
Ramsar Wetland SiteCaithness and Sunderland Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA143539
National Scenic AreaKyle of Tongueprotected area overlaps with IPA6104
National Nature ReserveThe Flowsprotected area overlaps with IPA8240
Special Protection AreaCaithness and Sunderland Peatlandsprotected area overlaps with IPA142900
Site of Special Scientific InterestBen Hutigprotected area contained by IPA2680
Site of Special Scientific InterestA'Mhoineprotected area contained by IPA5972
Site of Special Scientific InterestDruim na Coibeprotected area contained by IPA1135
Site of Special Scientific InterestBen Loyalprotected area overlaps with IPA2688
Site of Special Scientific InterestLoch Meadie Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA6221
Site of Special Scientific InterestDruim Nam Badprotected area contained by IPA3107
Site of Special Scientific InterestWest Borgieprotected area contained by IPA2212
Site of Special Scientific InterestWest Strathnaverprotected area contained by IPA2697
Site of Special Scientific InterestSyre Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA3170
Site of Special Scientific InterestBad Na Gallaigprotected area contained by IPA4708
Site of Special Scientific InterestCnoc An Alaskieprotected area contained by IPA3734
Site of Special Scientific InterestStrath Duchallyprotected area contained by IPA1614
Site of Special Scientific InterestStrath an Loinprotected area contained by IPA2332
Site of Special Scientific InterestGrudie Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA4786
Site of Special Scientific InterestLochan Buidhe Miresprotected area contained by IPA4130
Site of Special Scientific InterestSkelpick Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA2028
Site of Special Scientific InterestStrathy Bogsprotected area contained by IPA909
Site of Special Scientific InterestLon a'Chuilprotected area contained by IPA3730
Site of Special Scientific InterestMallartprotected area contained by IPA562
Site of Special Scientific InterestTruderscaigprotected area contained by IPA1074
Site of Special Scientific InterestSkinsdale Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA7069
Site of Special Scientific InterestCoir' an Eoinprotected area contained by IPA2543
Site of Special Scientific InterestBadanloch Bogsprotected area contained by IPA390
Site of Special Scientific InterestBen Griamsprotected area overlaps with IPA7004
Site of Special Scientific InterestWest Halladaleprotected area contained by IPA8822
Site of Special Scientific InterestForsinard Bogsprotected area contained by IPA961
Site of Special Scientific InterestEast Halladaleprotected area contained by IPA8200
Site of Special Scientific InterestSletill Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA2154
Site of Special Scientific InterestRumsdale Peatlandsprotected area contained by IPA6155
Site of Special Scientific InterestKnockfin Heightsprotected area contained by IPA5235


TypeDescriptionYear startedYear finishes
OtherMunsary Peatland Management Plan 20002005
LIFE Nature (EU)The Peatlands of Caithness & Sutherland Management20052015
Habitat Action Plan (HAP)Blanket Bog Habitat Action Plan19992015
EU Agri-environment schemeScottish Rural Development Programme upland and pe20072013
Protected Area Management PlanNNR management plans
Protected Area Management PlanNGO-owned nature reserves within IPA area
Protected Area Management PlanSites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)
Species Management PlanSaxifraga hirculus


burning of vegetationmedium
forestry (afforestation)low
water (drainage)low
agricultural intensification/expansion (arable)low
extraction (peat)low
intrinsic species factors (slow growth, density)medium
development (industry)medium

 Conservation Issues Climate change is not included in the ‘threat list’ above because current projections for the north of Scotland suggest a general increase in average temperatures, wetter winters and drier summers, which should still be compatible with blanket bog. Domestic legislation seems to be adequate to protect the ‘core’ area of the IPA, although it is important that planning powers here are not weakened to encourage renewable energy developments. The IPA constitutes a major carbon store, and maintaining and restoring active peatland on the IPA will play a significant role in carbon capture. The sound management of the wider IPA should be based on principles established by the Peatlands Partnership in its 2005 strategy, which aim to “enhance and promote the special values of the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland, through the promotion of sustainable land management, the encouragement of sustainable community and economic development, and through co-ordinated action”. It is therefore important that the Peatland Partnership, or some similar grouping, should continue to be active and have enough resources to take forward the Peatland Strategy, as a champion for the wise management of the entire IPA.

Contact Information

ContactContact Type
Michael ScottSite report compiler