The power of storytelling is harnessed in the campaign to secure Unesco World Heritage Site status for the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland.
To mark International Peatland Day on July 25, and as part of the Unesco bid, three creative scripts have been produced to capture the beauty and importance of the globally significant blanket bog.
The Flow Country Partnership – a collaboration between Highland Council, NatureScot, RSPB Scotland and Wildland Limited – aims to make the peatlands of the far north of Scotland the first World Heritage Site inscribed on purely natural criteria.
The Flow Country ecosystem stores some 400 million tonnes of carbon, more than all of the UK’s forests and woodlands combined, making it crucial in the fight against climate change. The interconnected basin landscape also supports an array of rare plants and birds in habitats that will be threatened without restoration and long-term protection.
If successful, the World Heritage Site nomination will secure international status for the bogs alongside natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef.
The stories were written by award-winning authors Janis Mackay and Ruth Thomas as well as Roxane Andersen, professor of peatland science at UHI and leading science authority on the Flow Country.
According to the partnership, “each took a very different approach to helping people understand the need to protect this area of land and the sense of peace and creativity it inspires.”
These are now available online, published ahead of International Peatland Day, at www.theflowcountry.org.uk/words-and-art
Ms. Mackay, a children’s author, conjures up the Bog-Girl of the Flow Country in an atmospheric tale about guardianship of unique bog wildlife. Ms. Thomas’s story, Above the Plain, is described as a subtle journey of self-awareness.
Professor Andersen turned to poetry to describe the “special blanket” knitted by plant spirits to keep the dragons below from awakening and wreaking havoc.
Steven Andrews, Project Coordinator for the Flow Country Partnership, said: “We saw the power of storytelling during our presentations at COP26. Being able to use stories to express the value and wonder of the Flow Country captures people’s imaginations and attention in ways that science alone cannot.
“As this is Scotland’s Year of Stories, it has felt like a really worthwhile project as part of the campaign to achieve World Heritage Site status and the stories we have are compelling. I think they will go a long way in helping people understand why protecting peatlands is so important.
Ms Thomas said: ‘As a writer I love to convey how people connect with where they are – even a place that is initially foreign to them, like the Flow Country was. for me before going there earlier this summer.
“Unusual settings tend to become more familiar the closer we look at them, just as a seemingly insignificant detail can be crucial to the well-being of a story and a landscape.
“It was the sudden appearance of a little lizard on the boardwalk while I was there that triggered all kinds of memories for me – as it does for the main character in my story – and changed a lot expectations about what Flow Country is, and why we need to protect it.
Ms Mackay said: ‘I was delighted to be asked to write a story, unfold and celebrate the Flow Country. Having lived in Caithness as a writer-in-residence for five years, finding there that the wide open and free spaces of the landscape in turn gave me the clarity and space to write novels, it was not hard to bring my imagination back to this wonderful place.
“As a storyteller and writer, I strongly believe in the power of imagination and see it as a gentle catalyst for change. When we imagine something, we can feel its truth and potential.
“When we imagine something – or somewhere – we can be moved to take action to support that place.
“Storytelling allows us to see inner images, to imagine, and the art form speaks to the heart.”