Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands IPA

Location: At the most north easterly tip of Scotland, between the coast and the A838.

Grid Reference: NC 860 398


Caithness & Sutherland Peatlands IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.

The key features of this IPA are:

  • One of the UK’s most important populations of Marsh saxifrage
  • The species richness of vascular plants in raised and blanket bogs
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Blanket bogs (extensive areas of peatland);
    Naturally acidic and low oxygen lakes and ponds;
    Nutrient poor lakes with sparse vegetation

  • About Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands

    Nearly a million acres of peat and boglands in Caithness and Sutherland make it the largest such habitat in Europe.

    Often referred to as ‘the Flow Country’, the area has one of the lowest population densities in Europe. Peat has been forming here for thousands of years and can reach five metres in depth. It forms a vast expanse of flat peatland, the surface of which is mostly a spongy, living layer of Sphagnum bog-moss. In many places this is punctuated by small peaty pools known in Gaelic as 'dubh lochans' - 'black lakes'.

    There are numerous larger lochs, some mainly peaty, but some with firmer, stony or sandy margins, and many streams of varying size and character drain the moorlands. The structurally diverse variety of peatland and freshwater habitats support a number of uncommon or rare plant species.

    The peat soil supports blanket bog vegetation dominated by carpets of sphagnum mosses, cotton-grasses and heather, with other widespread plants being cross-leaved heath and deer grass. Where the ground is not so waterlogged, other habitats occur.

    Wet heath is found on thinner, better drained peat or where management has caused the peat to dry out. This community has many of the same plants as blanket bog, but the bog mosses are less dominant, cotton-grass is absent and heather is more widespread. Also present are bog asphodel, sundews, deer grass and sedges such as slender sedge and bog sedge.

    The aquatic vegetation is dominated by a very narrow range of species typical of northern upland lochs. The most characteristic species are shoreweed, water lobelia, bulbous rush, bog pondweed and alternate water-milfoil. Lochs containing more nutrients support a wider range of pondweed, and other species present include stoneworts Chara spp. and Nitella spp. and least bur-reed.

    The margins of a few lochs support two nationally scarce plants; bog hair-grass and marsh clubmoss and other notable species including awlwort and water sedge.

    Image: Caithness and Sutherlands Peatlands IPA © Michael Scott/Plantlife