Glenmorangie distillery to create native oyster reef

A whisky company is to create a native oyster reef near its Highland home to enhance marine biodiversity a century after oysters were fished to extinction

Kelp beds. Picture: PA
Kelp beds. Picture: PA

Glenmorangie said that its plan to recreate entire reefs in the Dornoch Firth is the first time this has been attempted anywhere in Europe.

Last year, the single malt whisky company and its partners in the project - Heriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society - placed 300 oysters in the area’s protected waters, to confirm the species could survive.

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They discovered that the oysters thrived, which has paved the way for the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) to recreate natural reefs.

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From this month, 20,000 oysters will be carefully placed on the first of these reefs, specially created from waste shell, to mimic their natural habitat.

The native oysters, all grown in the UK, painstakingly cleaned and checked for disease and unwanted “hitchhikers”, will be regularly monitored.

If the trial is successful, oyster numbers will be increased to 200,000 over three years.

Over five years, the population will be built up to four million and spread over 40 hectares, restoring the self-sustaining oyster reefs that existed in the Firth until they were fished out in the 19th century.

Hamish Torrie, Glenmorangie’s Corporate Social Responsibility director, said: “We are very excited to move DEEP to its next stage and have been hugely encouraged by the enthusiastic support that our meticulous, research-led approach has received from a wide range of Scottish Government agencies and native oyster growers - it is a truly collaborative effort.

“We are all very proud that in our 175th year, the distillery has such a pioneering environmental project right on its doorstep.”

Glenmorangie said that established reefs in the Firth will increase biodiversity and act in tandem with the distillery’s anaerobic digestion plant, to purify the surrounding seas of their distillation.

Dr Bill Sanderson, associate professor of Marine Biodiversity at Heriot-Watt, said: “This is the first time anyone has tried to recreate a natural European oyster habitat in a protected area.

“Working closely with Glenmorangie, we hope to create an outstanding environment for marine life in the Firth - and act as a driving force behind other oyster regeneration work across Europe.”

The project partners said that the success of DEEP would offer many benefits to the marine environment.

As well as helping to improve the water quality, native oysters also create microhabitats for other marine life, which increases an area’s biodiversity.

Oyster reefs are amongst the most endangered marine habitats on Earth - and scientists hope that the research conducted as part of DEEP might one day enable conservationists around the world to reintroduce the species to other areas where it has become extinct.