Description of the area covered
Caithness and Sutherland is a very diverse
area in both landscape and wildlife terms. This immense
variability reflects the complex underlying geology ranging from
the generally flat landscapes of Caithness on Old Red Sandstones
(flagstone) to the Lewisian gneiss ‘cnoc And lochan’ scenery
of the west coast with it’s Torridonian sandstone/quartzite
mountains. Much of central Sutherland is composed of rocks of the
Moine series (Moine schists), named after A’Mhoine near Tongue
where these rocks were first described. The climate shows strong
variation from the mild oceanic west with high rainfall to the
drier, more continental, east coast. The range of wildlife and
habitats found here is equally diverse with virtually all northern
plant and animal communities represented from coastal to mountain
zones. many of the habitats and species found in Caithness and
Sutherland are of national and international importance.
The low intensity management of land for
crofting, farming and sporting purposes has helped maintain the
natural heritage interest and created the characteristic
landscapes we see today.
Caithness and Sutherland contain a wealth
of prehistoric and later settlement sites. Many are well preserved
and form an irreplaceable archive for understanding the past.
Archaeological sites are particularly dense and well preserved in
some localities, for instance, the Strath of Kildonan and
Surface area: 7650 km2
Population density: 5 inhabitants/km2 –
one of the least densely populated areas of Europe.
142 Sites of Special Scientific Interest
(SSSI) including 8 National Nature Reserves (NNR), covering
approximately 215, 468 hectares (2,155 km2).
19 sites of international importance and
either designated or proposed under Natura 2000 network as Special
Protection Areas (SPA), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and
/or Ramsar sites.
The Peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland
candidate SAC has been proposed by the UK Government as a World
Heritage Site and covers an area of some 143,539 hectares (1435 km2).
4 National Scenic Areas covering 101,700
hectares (1017 km2).
Almost 28% of the surface area of Caithness
and Sutherland is covered by SSSI designations and 13% by National
There are over 1200 sites of historic
importance in Caithness and Sutherland, these include: 564
Scheduled Ancient Monuments, 649 Listed Buildings (of historic and
architectural interest) and currently, 6 Gardens and Designed
Unique or outstanding natural
The Peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland
– one of Europe’s largest areas of active blanket bog and now
proposed as a World Heritage Site. Essentially unchanged for over
4,000 years this is one of Britain’s most ancient landscapes and
home to a wide range of breeding peatland birds such as
Greenshank, golden plover, red-throated and black-throated divers
and several species of birds of prey.
Outstanding breeding seabird colonies of
national and international importance e.g. North Caithness Cliffs
Special Protection Area (SPA), East Caithness Cliffs SPA, Cape
Wrath SPA and Handa Island SPA with the largest breeding colonies
of guillemots and razorbills in Britain.
Internationally important populations of
waders and wildfowl over winter on the sheltered shores of E
Sutherland and important numbers of Ospreys use these same areas
for feeding during the breeding season.
Nationally and internationally important
habitats include those of the high hills found at unusually low
altitudes in the extreme north, and the northernmost woodland
fragments, with both pine and oak woods reaching their northern
limits in the area. The limestone areas of north and west
Sutherland are also of outstanding importance for a number of
A number of uncommon or rare plant species,
e.g. The Lapland Reed – Caithness has the only site plant in the
world – and Primula Scotica, the Scottish Primrose, an
endemic species found only in Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland.
Nationally and internationally important
geological sites demonstrating both the history of the earth’s
formation over the last 2800 million years and evolution of life.
Unique or outstanding cultural
The well preserved and irreplaceable
prehistoric and later settlement sites in Caithness and Sutherland
for instance, Mid Clyth and Achavanich in Caithness and Learable
Burial cairns: including
Cairn of Get, Camster Cairns and Loch Yarrows in Caithness. There
are also very good examples in Sutherland.
throughout Caithness And Sutherland.
to Caithness and Sutherland and may have been used to house
Forts and castles: the
cliff coastline of Caithness provides spectacular sites for forts
and castles, particularly Castle Sinclair and Girnigoe, Old Keiss
and Old Wick in Caithness. Interesting sites in Sutherland include
Dun Varrich, Ardvrek Castle and Skelbo House. The latter is an
unusual semi-fortified, prestigious farmhouse – very rare in the
Dunrobin Castle is
one of the oldest inhabited castles in Scotland. It is of
considerable architectural interest and forms the centerpiece to
an impressive formal garden and designed landscape which
effectively (if not formally) culminates in the statue to the
first Duke of Sutherland on Ben Bhraggie.
Pre-Clearance settlements: The
Sutherland Clearances have a special place in Scottish history and
the creation of the national identity. The remains of
pre-Clearance settlements may be found throughout Sutherland but
are particularly prevalent in Strathnaver and the Strath of
Kildonan. Sites such as Rossal and Bad in Loskin in upper
Strathnaver are of considerable historical importance through
their association with Patrick Sellar and the events which led to
his trail in 1816. Clearance settlements are also found in parts
of Caithness, for instance at Badbea.
Fishing villages, harbours and fishing
stations: show the impact of the
herring industry not only at Wick but at small ports around the
whole coast for example at Dunbeath, Lybster, Keiss and Whaligoe
in Caithness and Embo, Helmsdale, Talmine, Skullomie and Rispond
19th Century Sutherland Estate
development: The transformation of
Sutherland estate in the 19th century saw the
construction of a range of impressive farm steadings. This
continued through the Sutherland reclamations of the 1870s and
1880s particularly in Assynt, Lairg and Kildonan. This even
included the building of concrete farm steadings – a very
unusual feature. From the mid 19th century there
developed a Sutherland Estate style of architecture which may not
only be seen in a whole range of estate and public buildings but
in vernacular buildings as well.
Vernacular heritage: The
use of Caithness flagstones for roofs and fences makes a strong
visual impact. Relic crofting landscapes demonstrating the
deliberate congestion created by resettlement policies pursued in
conjunction with the Sutherland Clearances are to be found
particularly in north and west Sutherland and the more marginal
areas of east Sutherland.
Tourism is the single most important
industry in Highlands, generating approximately £373 million in
holiday trips and £200 million in day trips per annum. It
accounts for some 13,000 full time jobs in the area.
Tourism in Caithness and Sutherland has
developed at a lesser rate than other areas of the Highlands,
although it is not less important in economic terms. The main
agencies involved in tourism developments recognised a need to
better co-ordinate the provision of support for tourism, and so
two area Tourism Strategies have recently been brought together
(one for Caithness, one for Sutherland). These Strategies are, in
effect, the start of an innovative "contract" between
agencies and industry. A total of 84 Objectives are contained
within the two plans, with each Objective having a series of
specific actions (164 actions across the two areas).
For the first time the tourism industry in
the north has an agreed direction. Its implementation will be
closely watched by other areas, as Caithness and Sutherland lead
the way in this field. The lead body for tourism in the Highlands
of Scotland Tourist Board (HOST) whose Mission Statement is:
"To promote and develop the Highlands
of Scotland as a world class tourist destination. Through
excellence in visitor servicing, marketing and professional
support for our industry".
Area 1806 sq.km
Main Towns Thurso, Wick