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LONGER READ : Invergordon man leading outreach work on Glenmorangie Distillery and Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) to restore native oyster reefs

By Hector MacKenzie

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Tom Bannerman DEEP information officer.
Tom Bannerman DEEP information officer.

OUTREACH work and dedicated tours at a world-famous Easter Ross distillery are shedding fresh light on a trailblazing project on the Dornoch Firth.

The Glenmorangie Distillery and Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Scotland have joined forces to bring back marine outreach and education on the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP).

DEEP seeks to restore long lost native oyster reefs to improve water quality in the Dornoch Firth working in tandem with the distillery’s anaerobic digestion plant.

DEEP information officer Tom Bannerman will offer the distillery’s visitors a tour of the inshore coastal area adjacent to the project.

Mr Bannerman will provide a full background and overview of current activity, its partners and its overall ambitions for the project. This will be in addition to the distillery tours people come far and wide to experience at Glenmorangie.

Mr Bannerman, who is already part of the local community, having grown up in Invergordon, is currently captaining the regional rugby team Ross Sutherland. He will also be engaging with local schools and community groups to offer educational talks and activities, beach cleans and events through the summer months and up until October.

DEEP is a partnership between The Glenmorangie Company, the Marine Conservation Society and Heriot-Watt University. The aim is to restore oyster reefs in the Dornoch Firth which had become extinct a century ago. This makes the water cleaner, improves marine biodiversity in the local area, and stores carbon. To date 30,000 oysters have been restored, with a plan to reach 200,000 oysters by 2024 and four million within five years.

Annette Mackenzie, Glenmorangie Distillery visitor centre manager, Hamish Torrie, Glenmorangie CSR communications director, Kirsty Crawford, volunteer and community engagement manager, Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society and Tom Bannerman, DEEP information officer.
Annette Mackenzie, Glenmorangie Distillery visitor centre manager, Hamish Torrie, Glenmorangie CSR communications director, Kirsty Crawford, volunteer and community engagement manager, Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society and Tom Bannerman, DEEP information officer.

The reef works in tandem with the distillery’s anaerobic digestion plant. This investment to clean its wastewater and generate biogas now contributes 15 per cent of the energy it needs to run the distillery and reduces its use of natural gas.

Hamish Torrie, Glenmorangie’s CSR communications director, said: “The seasonal DEEP information officer role was first introduced in 2016 and, having had to pause this during the pandemic, we’re now very pleased to welcome Tom to the team at Glenmorangie this summer. Tom’s tour is an extension to our visitors' distillery tours, sharing the great work being done as part of DEEP, a pioneering environmental project. He’ll also be getting out in the local community to bring DEEP to life through educational talks, run fun initiatives and beach cleans.

“Glenmorangie is dedicated to protecting and improving our beautiful surroundings on the Dornoch Firth which have been our home for nearly 180 years. And we couldn’t do all this without our partners MCS and Heriot-Watt University – it is a truly collaborative effort.”

Kirsty Crawford, volunteer and community engagement manager Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “It’s wonderful to have an MCS presence back at the distillery to highlight this pioneering project. This role involves speaking to thousands of distillery visitors over the busy season, educating and enthusing them about the aims of our marine work and working with the local community to promote our goals of a cleaner, better protected and healthier ocean.

"So far Tom has provided a host of outreach activities from beach cleans, to wildlife surveys and education sessions. We look forward to the future of our partnership as the project continues to expand.”

Did you know...?

* Glenmorangie Distillery was founded in 1843 and is renowned as a pioneer in its field, uniting tradition with innovation.

* DEEP is the first attempt to restore the European oyster to a protected area where it has become extinct. It is a ground-breaking partnership between Glenmorangie, which has provided seed funding, Heriot-Watt University through research and field work led by Professor Bill Sanderson, and the Marine Conservation Society.

* The project’s first phase, led by Professor Sanderson, trawled archaeological records, ancient literature and fisheries records, then sampled shell material, to show that oysters had existed in the Dornoch Firth up to 10,000 years ago – and that reintroducing them was feasible.

* Oysters are renowned for their abilities to filter water. Thus, within a decade, it is thought that the established reefs, together with Glenmorangie’s anaerobic digestion plant, will account for 100 per cent of the organic material in the water that the distillery releases into the Firth.

* The Dornoch Firth, on the banks of which Glenmorangie Distillery is located, is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and an internationally important Special Area of Conservation, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and 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.

* The native European oyster is thought to have thrived in the Dornoch Firth for around 8000 years, until being decimated by overfishing in the 19th century – as was commonplace for oyster populations around the world. Today it is all but extinct in the wild. Oysters bring many benefits to the marine environment. They filter water as they feed, soaking up nitrogen and improving water quality. Furthermore, oysters create microhabitats for other marine life, which increases an area’s biodiversity.

* The Marine Conservation Society (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 sand banks of the Firth.

* Glenmorangie says its treatment plant is part of its long-term commitment to protecting and improving the beautiful surroundings in which its distillery will always be rooted. It states: "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.

"Within a few years, established oyster reefs will account for the remaining five 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."

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