Factsheet for Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands

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Country: United Kingdom

Central coordinates: 58.33333333o [58o 19' 59" North], -3.93333333o [3o 55' 59" West]

Administrative region: Scotland North Highland (Caithness)

Area: 142900 ha

Altitude: 0 - 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.

Management guidance notes
This IPA corresponds to the entire peatland area of Caithness & Sutherland. The ‘core area’ is the Caithness & Sutherland Peatlands Special Area of Conservation, with an area of 143,538.7ha. However, the importance of the IPA partly comes from its extensiveness, representing an estimated 4% of the global blanket bog habitat, hence the much wider ‘zone of opportunity’ of the IPA, all of which in places supports the habitat (and potentially the species) for which the IPA was identified. Water bodies on or within the peatland mesotope are also included. The core area includes 1 National Nature Reserve, 2 NGO reserves and at least parts of 43 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Also Munsary Peatlands NR is owned and managed by Plantlife International.

The NNR and NGO reserves within the IPA have their own management plans. There are management statements for the SSSIs and a non-statutory 2005-2015 Management Strategy for the Caithness & Sutherland Peatlands, corresponding to the area of the IPA.