HL Deb 16 March 1981 vol 418 cc646-8WA
Lord Melchett

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In respect of each of the eight sites of special scientific interest at Blar nam Faoileag, Loch More Bog, Knockfin Heights, Dirlot Gorge, Blar Geal, Glutt Loch, Newlands of Geise and Bad nam Bo near Thurso in Scotland,

(1) whether the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) inspected each of the sites before they notified the local planning authority that the sites were of special scientific interest, and, if so, how many such inspections were carried out in which years, and whether such inspections were carried out with or without the landowner's permission;

(2) what was the scientific basis for the selection of each of these sites;

(3) whether the NCC informed the owner of the land affected of their intention to so notify prior to that notification, and whether the owner was given any opportunity to comment on the NCC's intention;

(4) whether the NCC are aware of any proposed forestry or agricultural or other operations which, if carried out, would seriously damage or destroy the scientific interest of any of these sites; and

(5) what representations the NCC has received from other national or international organisations or individuals about the need to protect these sites.

The Earl of Avon

1. The notified sites were inspected by NCC prior to notification at the following times:

Blar nam Faoileag 1968 2 inspections
Knockfin Heights 1968 1 inspection
Dirlot Gorge 1973 1 inspection

The following sites have not yet been notified but were inspected by NCC at the following times:

Loch More Bog 1968 1 inspection
1970 1 inspection
1979 1 inspection
Blar Geal 1979 1 inspection
Glutt Loch 1969 1 inspection
Newlands of Geise 1979 1 inspection
Bad nam Bo 1975 1 inspection

The landowner's permission was obtained for each of these inspections except in the case of Blar Geal and Newlands of Geise, where the landowner could not at the time be identified.

2. Selection of the sites was carried out on the basis of the criteria set out in A Nature Conservation Review. Each site is an important example of its type and forms part of a representative series covering the full range of habitat types in Great Britain.

Blur Dunn Faoileag is an internationally important site and the best example in Britain of patterned watershed blanket-bog, with characteristic plant communities, invertebrates and birds, in a relatively natural condition.

Loch More Bog is an example of a valleyside bog with a surface pattern of linear pools and ridges. The site has a high proportion of characteristic plant species and is largely unaffected by drainage or muirburn.

Knockfin Heights contains botanical, ornithological and geomorphological interest. The surface terrain is unique in Great Britain.

Dirlot Gorge is one of the most species-rich of the remaining fragments of natural woodland, which is very sparse in Caithness. Many of the species present are uncommon north of the Great Glen and rare in Caithness, while the scrubland is a feature virtually absent from the interior of the region.

Blar Geal is a gently sloping blanket mire with plant communities characteristic of its climatic type. Its interest is greatly enhanced by a network of poor-fen soligenous flushes which dissect its surface.

Glutt Loch is an exceptionally large lochan whose physical structure, water clarity, unusually high acidity and apparent absence of calcium are all distinctive features. The associated flora and fauna are thus of particular interest.

Newlands of Geise is a small but particularly rich valley mire showing the full range of fen communities typical of the climate and geology of the area. The combination of vegetation types is unusual in Great Britain.

Bad Dann Bo is a wetland area consisting of blanket mire, streams and lochs. The wide variety of habitat supports a representative range of plant communities found only in Caithness.

3. Notification of Blar nam Faoileag and Knockfin Heights did not take place until the owner had been informed of the proposal to notify and given an opportunity to comment. The same procedure was followed in the case of Dirlot Gorge, but after notification had taken place NCC proved to have been misinformed on the identity of the owner, with whom contact has subsequently been made.

The owner has been apprised of and invited to comment on the proposals to notify Loch More Bog, Blar Geal, Glutt Loch, Newlands of Geise and Bad nam Bo.

4. The NCC are aware of afforestation and hill drainage proposals affecting part of Blar nam Faoileag which, if carried out, would seriously damage the scientific interest of the site.

5. Representations have been made to the NCC about the need to protect Blar nam Faoileag by:

  1. (i) H. E. Wright, Director and Professor of Geology, Ecology and Botany of the University of Minnesota;
  2. (ii) Professor Rauno Ruuhijärvi, University of Helsinki, Chairman of the Finnish Nature Conservation Society and the Mire Protection Group of the International Peat Society;
  3. (iii) Professor Seppo Durola, University of Oulu, Finland Member of the Nordic Council of Ecology;
  4. (iv) Professor Yrjp Vasari, FRSA, University of Oulu, Finland;
  5. (v) Conference on the Conservation of Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat held at Cagliari, Italy on 24th-29th November 1980.
  6. (vi) A number of local naturalists in Caithness.