RSPB Scotland Trainee Ecologist, David Freeman, on his first trip to Forsinard Flows.

A trip to the far north

The Flow country of Scotland is one of the most important and dynamic landscapes in the world, its deep peats have built up over thousands of years locking away masses of carbon and preserving forests from ages past. The Lochs and Lochans that collect on the peat form a strange patterned landscape that reflects the metallic greys and crystal blues of the Highland sky. This majestic landscape has long been high on my agenda to visit.

When the opportunity to spend a month volunteering at Forsinard arose, I leapt at the chance. Forsinard Flows is a reserve that covers huge areas of this landscape stretching from the Caithness/Sutherland boarder in the east to loch Druim a’ chliabhain in the west. I arrived at the reserve on a clear and crisp February night. Immediately I was struck by the scale of the landscape. The vast undulating moorlands and the horizons of snow-capped peaks combine to make one of the most spectacular landscapes in the UK.

The next morning after a brief introduction to the other volunteers and staff, we headed out to undertake some essential habitat management tasks. During this first day I was amazed by how peaceful the surrounding landscape is. I was also surprised at the abundance of wildlife present. Even though it was still early in the year there was still plenty to see. Routinely we would stumble across herds of red deer (Cervus elaphus) on the open moorland. Amongst the pines the bright orange of male crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) could often be glimpsed flitting about in the higher branches. Of particular interest to me was the rich carpet of mosses, like the rich burgundy of Sphagnum capillifolium, the bog pools edged with the shining gold of Sphagnum pulchrum and the ever present glossy green creep of Hylocomium splendens. However, the highlight of that first day has to have been a nocturnal visit from a highly inquisitive pine marten (Martes martes). I was certainly pleased to be calling this Landscape home for the next 4 weeks.     

Photos 1 & 2 by Eleanor Bentall. Photo 3 by Karl Stevens.