Millions of native oysters to return to Europe’s seas
Landmark European conference on Reef Restoration to be held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh
21st – 23rd May 2019
Established in Berlin two years ago, the second Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA) conference will be opened in Edinburgh today. The Glenmorangie Company, together with its partners including Scottish Natural Heritage are hosting the meeting where marine scientists, conservationists, administrators and oyster producers from across Europe will come together to develop a ‘blueprint’ for native oyster reef restoration – involving at least 15 European countries. The plans could eventually see millions of native oysters (Ostrea edulis) returned to the seas around Sweden, France, Germany, England, Wales, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Croatia, where they were wiped out by overfishing as much as a century ago.
Glenmorangie is dedicated to protecting and improving the beautiful Highland surroundings in which it has been rooted for 175 years. And, in a European first, the whisky company and its partners, Heriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society, have now begun restoring extinct native oyster reefs to the protected sea by its Distillery, through the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP).
Furthermore, thanks to the development of a sustainable native oyster supply chain in Scotland, supported by DEEP, the industry could be poised to take part in the supply of the native oysters needed for Europe’s planned restoration projects – and more in the future.
Forged in 2014, DEEP’s meticulous, research-led approach has already seen 20,000 oysters returned to the Dornoch Firth. It aims to establish a self-sustaining reef of four million oysters by 2025. Established reefs would improve water quality and biodiversity through regaining reef-like three dimensional structures on the seafloor and act in tandem with Glenmorangie’s anaerobic digestion plant, purifying the by-products of distillation – an environmental first for a Distillery.
Dr Bill Sanderson, DEEP’s Research Director and Associate Professor of Marine Biodiversity at Heriot-Watt, is chairing the NORA conference at The Royal Society Edinburgh. He said: “This is a game-changing moment for marine conservation. NORA’s pledge to bring back oyster reefs across Europe, opens the door to widespread restoration, with untold benefits for our seas. DEEP’s ground-breaking work in the Dornoch Firth proves that it is possible to return oysters to areas in which they have become extinct.”
Glenmorangie President and CEO Tom Moradpour said: “We are incredibly proud to be pioneering DEEP’s vital environmental work with our partners, not only protecting but enhancing Glenmorangie Distillery’s environment for future generations.”
Professor Henning von Nordheim, head of the marine conservation department in Germany’s Federal Conservation Agency BfN: “When we founded NORA in 2017 in Berlin, we gratefully realised the overwhelming support and eagerness of so many European partners to join this fascinating vision. There is a real chance to restore large areas of our over exploited marine ecosystems with native oysters, for the benefit of marine biodiversity and sea water purification all around Europe. In doing so we can learn a lot from each other at this gathering in Edinburgh.”
Scottish Government Minister for the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon said: “The Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) is a fantastic Scottish success story which will improve water quality and biodiversity in the Dornoch Firth.
“Glenmorangie, Heriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society can all be incredibly proud of this pioneering partnership and I look forward to the reef, and the clear benefits it will provide, being further established in the coming years.”
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About the Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA):
NORA is a European network working to re-establish the native European flat oyster as a key species in the North Sea and other European seas. Members include representatives of governmental agencies, science, non-governmental organisations, oyster growers and other private enterprises. The network was established in 2017, during the international workshop on oyster restoration in Berlin. Its second conference is twice the size of the first and is being held at The Royal Society of Edinburgh, 21-23 May 2019, hosted by Glenmorangie, Heriot-Watt and the Marine Conservation Society. It will be attended by experts from restoration projects in Sweden, France, Germany, England, Ireland the Belgium, Netherlands, Italy and Croatia. Conservationists from the U.S., N.Z. and Australia are also scheduled to attend. For more information on NORA and the other restoration projects go to www.noraeurope.eu
Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch Whisky originates in the Scottish Highlands where, at
the Glenmorangie Distillery, it is distilled in the tallest malt whisky stills in Scotland for a purer spirit, expertly matured in the finest oak casks for great depth, and perfected by the Men of Tain, who have passed their skills down the generations, often from father to son. These select craftsmen go to unseen lengths to ensure that Glenmorangie is made in the same unhurried, uncompromising way as it always has been. The Distillery was founded in 1843 and is renowned as a pioneer in its field, uniting tradition with innovation.
DEEP – The Timeline:
2014: Glenmorangie forges the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project with a vision of bringing oysters back to the Firth, where they are thought to have thrived for at least 8,000 years, until being destroyed by overfishing in the 19th century. This is the first attempt to restore the endangered native European oyster to a protected area where it has become extinct. DEEP is being delivered through a ground-breaking partnership between Glenmorangie, which provides seed funding, Heriot-Watt University through research and field work led by Dr Bill Sanderson, and the Marine Conservation Society, which delivers community engagement, communications support and advocacy.
2017: After proving that oysters had existed in the Dornoch Firth for millennia, researchers introduce the first 300 native European oysters to the water, from the UK’s only sizeable wild oyster population in Loch Ryan. They are carefully placed on two sites in the Dornoch Firth in ballasted bags, to confirm that they can flourish. Researchers are delighted to see a survival rate in line with their highest expectations – up to 86% in a year on one site. This paves the way for a feat never before attempted in Europe – recreating natural reefs.
2018: Scientists lay tonnes of cleaned waste shell from the scallop and mussel industry in two locations on the seabed to form reefs. The shell material helps to stabilise the sediment and allow the oysters to grow on top, mimicking their natural habitat. Meanwhile, the oysters are prepared for the water. Grown by suppliers across Scotland, each one is held behind a biosecurity firewall at Heriot-Watt University, thoroughly checked and cleaned – its shell scrubbed and sterilised, with purified sea water passed through the inside – before being sent to the Firth. In October, the researchers begin placing the first of 20,000 oysters on the reefs.
2021: Based on a successful outcome of this 20,000 oyster trial, scientists will increase their numbers to 200,000.
2025: By now, the population should have been built up to four million, spread over 40 hectares. At this stage, scientists believe they will have introduced sufficient numbers of oysters to create self-sustaining reefs, finally replicating those which existed in the Firth until they were fished out in the 1800s.
DEEP’s environmental benefits:
Oyster reefs are among the most endangered marine habitats on Earth – and the success of DEEP promises many benefits to the marine environment in the Dornoch Firth. Oysters create microhabitats for other marine life, increasing an area’s biodiversity. They also filter water as they feed, soaking up nitrogen and improving the water quality (one oyster can filter up to 200 litres of water a day). Together with Glenmorangie’s anaerobic digestion plant, established reefs would help account for 100 per cent of the organic material in the water that the Distillery releases into the Firth.
The Scottish oyster industry:
The Scottish oyster industry has benefited hugely from DEEP’s demand for the native European oyster. Recognising the need for a sustainable supply chain to aid restoration efforts in the Dornoch Firth, Glenmorangie and its partners have formed close working relationships with UK oyster growers, [Oban, Stranraer, Cairndow, Orkney, Wester Ross, Nairn, Bellshill, Kirkcudbright, Peterhead, Invergordon, Cumbria, Shetland] supporting them to develop their businesses. It is hoped that the industry could position itself to supply 50 million oysters needed for all Europe’s existing reef restoration projects. In the longer term, the industry could go on to supply further restoration projects and perhaps, one day, restaurants across the world.
The Dornoch Firth:
The Dornoch Firth, on the banks of which Glenmorangie Distillery is located, is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, an internationally important Special Area of Conservation, and a Special Protection Area. Conditions are today regarded as favourable for marine life in the Firth. DEEP aims to improve water quality and biodiversity even further.
Glenmorangie’s anaerobic digestion plant:
Glenmorangie’s treatment plant is part of its long-term commitment to protecting and improving the beautiful surroundings in which its Distillery will always be rooted. Glenmorangie has always been fully compliant with Scottish Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for the chemical oxygen demand (COD – a measure of organic compounds in water) of the water it releases into the Dornoch Firth. But inspired to increase its sustainability even further, Glenmorangie began to build an anaerobic digestion plant in 2015. This unique plant, opened in 2017, treats the Distillery’s pot ale (the solids which remain after primary distillation), spent lees (residue from the spirit distillation) and washing water (the waste water used when cleaning the mash tun and washbacks). The plant reduces the COD of the water that Glenmorangie releases into the Dornoch Firth by 95 per cent. When oyster reefs are well-established in the Firth, it is believed that they will account for the remaining 5 per cent – ensuring that Glenmorangie’s nutrient-rich outflow is entirely accounted for. The plant’s other by-products are a copper-rich sludge and biogas. The biogas is used to create steam which helps power the Distillery, reducing Glenmorangie’s reliance on fossil fuels by 15 per cent. Meanwhile, the sludge, which contains copper from Glenmorangie’s signature stills – the tallest in Scotland – is passed to local barley farmers. It helps to reduce their reliance on fertilisers for land which is naturally copper deficient.
Heriot-Watt is a specialist university, globally minded and calibrated to the needs of society. A leading technological and business university, renowned for innovation in business, engineering, design and the physical, social and life sciences, Heriot-Watt defines its presence on the international stage in areas of world importance and value. Its communities of scholars come from across the world and are leaders in ideas and solutions; delivering innovation and educational excellence, the University is ranked in the top 10 for Research Impact in the UK. With roots in Scotland and a truly international reach, Heriot-Watt is a leader in transnational education and a powerful driver and engine of the economy, transforming people and the world. Within the University’s Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology, Dr Bill Sanderson’s work concentrates on the marine biodiversity research needed to support sensitive management and sustainable development, often concentrating on species and habitats of high nature-conservation importance, such as biogenic reefs.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS):
The MCS is the UK’s leading charity for the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife. MCS champions a vision of sustainable fisheries, abundant marine life and clean seas and beaches for the enjoyment of all. As part of DEEP, Glenmorangie has funded a part-time role at the Distillery for an MCS information officer. The post-holder, in place for six months every year, engages visitors with the work of MCS, runs beach cleans, education workshops, and encourages wildlife watching, including the wading birds and seals that sun themselves on the Firth’s sand banks. MCS has a dedicated Scotland conservation programme based at its Edinburgh office that was established in 2000.
Scottish Natural Heritage:
Scottish Natural Heritage is the government’s adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Our role is to help people understand, value and enjoy Scotland’s nature now and in the future. For more information, visit our website at www.nature.scot or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nature_scot
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The Glenmorangie Company advocates responsible drinking and suggests that drinkers savour Glenmorangie whiskies in moderation and in line with recommended daily guidelines for alcohol consumption.