Scotland could lead the way on the restoration of Europe’s damaged or extinct oyster reefs.
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).
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.’