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Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham opens a new centre for volunteering and research in the Flow Country

Date: 11 Aug 2017

A new volunteering and research centre was opened today (Mon 7 Aug) by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in Scotland, Roseanna Cunningham, as part of her visit to the Peatlands Partnership in Forsinard, Sutherland.

The Flows Field Centre is one of the key outputs of the Partnership’s £10.6 million Flows to the Future Project and is situated on RSPB’s Forsinard Flows National Nature Reserve. The Field Centre, which cost around £2 million, is situated in the heart of The Flow Country and was completed in the autumn of 2016 by a local Caithness based building firm.

Roseanna Cunningham inspecting sphagnum moss - Credit SNHAfter a tour of the Field Centre and a chance to meet members of the Peatlands Partnership members, staff, and volunteers working on the RSPB Forsinard Flows reserve, Ms Cunningham explained:

“I’m delighted to be here to officially open this new, state-of-the-art centre, which should allow for further research, and therefore greater understanding of how we can best preserve these vital peatlands, and ensure it has a long term sustainable future. The centre will also provide a much needed base for increasing the numbers of volunteers carrying out important conservation work in this area.

"It’s been great to visit the Partnership and meet in person members of staff and volunteers whose enthusiasm and experience are vital to the project’s aims. I’m sure they are all very excited to have the use of this new facility, which will allow them to build on the excellent work they already do in educating the public on the importance of these peatlands in tackling climate change.

"All of us have a responsibility to make sure that this fascinating land, with its rich biodiversity and traditional culture, remains healthy, actively storing carbon and providing sustainable economic benefits for local people”.

Welcoming Ms Cunningham, Peatlands Partnership Chairman, Professor Stuart Gibb of the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, Caithness, explained:

Blanket bog is a rare habitat, yet 15% of the global resource lies in Scotland, and much of the best preserved lies within the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that this amazing area is on the UK’s Tentative List of possible World Heritage Sites.  

"The Flows to the Future Project is playing a pivotal role in ensuring the precious natural environments of the Flow Country are preserved and restored. Not only are the Flow Country, and other peatlands in Scotland, important for our nature and wildlife; they also provide vital ecosystem services for people. They store more carbon than any other land-based ecosystem, making them a vital defence against the effects of climate change. Peatlands are a valuable resource for the people of today and for future generations.

"We are all delighted to welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform here today to have an opportunity to show her what we are all doing to help study, restore, manage and promote the wonders of the Flow Country.

The new Field Centre, which also serves as the Reserve Office for RSPB (Scotland) who are the lead partners in the Flows to the Future Project, will allow for a significant increase in volunteering opportunities both on the RSPB’s reserve and elsewhere in Caithness and Sutherland. It provides accommodation for short-term and long-term volunteers as well as providing accommodation for visiting groups of up to 16 people.

The Centre also helps support the establishment of a peatland science centre of excellence at the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, through the provision of a small laboratory and accommodation for students to do research into the role of peatlands as a carbon store and on peatland restoration and biodiversity. This will help develop links with a number of universities around the world to further research and international collaboration.

The Heritage Lottery Fund is the largest individual funder of the Flows to the Future project contributing over £4 million. 

Also welcoming Ms Cunningham to Forsinard was Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland, who said:  

 “The Flow Country is an area of exceptional natural heritage merit. Over 8,000 years of the history of plants, weather and people lie preserved in its layers of peat. Yet this living landscape is as important to our future as it is to our heritage. Thanks to players of the National Lottery, we welcome this Centre of Excellence which, through the dedicated work of staff and volunteers, will make an important contribution to the global climate change agenda.”

In formally declaring the Flows Field Centre open, Ms Cunningham acknowledged the continuing work of the Peatlands Partnership and RSPB in protecting and restoring significant areas of The Flow Country as well as delivering sustainable economic benefits through the creation of high quality visitor facilities across Sutherland and Caithness. 

“You have come a long way from the EU LIFE projects of over 10 years ago” Ms Cunningham said. “The legacy and economic benefits that the current Flows to the Future project will deliver is another excellent step on the way to fulfilling our ambition to see the Flow Country inscribed as a UNECSO World Heritage Site.”