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Special Areas of Conservation

Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country Scotland
Unitary Authority Highlands and Islands
Centroid* NC866402
Latitude 58.33611111
Longitude -3.9375
SAC EU Code UK0013602
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 143561.47
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SAC

General site character

  • Inland water bodies (Standing water, Running water) (3%)
  • Bogs, Marshes, Water fringed vegetation, Fens (78.5%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (18%)
  • Dry grassland, Steppes (0.5%)

Download the Standard Data Form for this site (PDF <100kb)

Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands supports a range of high-quality freshwater loch habitats that include Oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters. The lochs are part of large, generally nutrient-poor, drainage systems which characterise this part of the northern Highlands. The site covers an area greater than 140,000 ha and includes several hundred freshwater lochs of which the larger are oligotrophic. The lochs are generally located within 7130 blanket bog and peatlands that sit on nutrient-poor rocks. The aquatic vegetation is dominated by a very narrow range of species typical of northern, upland, lochs but there is much local variation in their abundance. The most characteristic species are shoreweed Littorella uniflora, water lobelia Lobelia dortmanna, bulbous rush Juncus bulbosus, bog pondweed Potamogeton polygonifolius and alternate water-milfoil Myriophyllum alterniflorum. More mesotrophic lochs support a wider range of pondweed Potamogeton species; other species present include stoneworts Chara spp. and Nitella spp. and least bur-reed Sparganium natans. The margins of a few lochs support two nationally scarce plants; bog hair-grass Deschampsia setacea and marsh clubmoss Lycopodiella inundata. Other notable species include awlwort Subularia aquatica and water sedge Carex aquatilis. The range of aquatic invertebrates includes the nationally rare water beetle Oreodytes alpinus.

  • This site represents Natural dystrophic lakes and ponds on 7130 Blanket bogs in northern Scotland. The scale and diversity of the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland make them unique in Europe. They are three times larger than any other peat mass in the UK. Dystrophic waters are especially common in the Peatlands. Compared to most other blanket bog systems, at this site waterbodies account for a high proportion of the bog surface. Dystrophic water bodies here range in size from pools to medium-sized lochans. Surface patterns and pool complexes occur in a variety of forms, reflecting different climatic and hydrological conditions within the site.

  • 7130 Blanket bogs (* if active bog)  * Priority feature

    The scale and diversity of the Caithness and Sutherland peatlands in northern Scotland make them unique in Europe. They form the largest peat mass in the UK and are three times larger than any other peatland area in either Britain or Ireland. The site is important because of the considerable abundance of large (several square kilometres) continuous areas of Sphagnum carpets and hummocks, including Sphagnum fuscum, S. imbricatum and S. pulchrum, and for its numerous intact pool systems. Not only are these features usually rare and localised on other bog systems in the UK, but a very high proportion of this ground remains undisturbed. The vegetation is mainly cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix with Sphagnum papillosum as well as deergrass Trichophorum cespitosum and hare’s-tail cottongrass Eriophorum vaginatum blanket mire. Freshwater pools and lochans are an integral component of the mire expanse.

Annex I habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • 1355 Otter Lutra lutra

    This extensive site contains numerous lochs, lochans and extensive areas of headwaters of burns and rivers. There is extensive habitat suitable for otters Lutra lutra and this is reflected in the presence of a good population, representative of the northern mainland of Scotland.

  • 1528 Marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus

    Habitat occurrence description not yet available.

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

  • Not Applicable

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.