Throughout history, humans have worked in tandem with our natural environment to create what we call ours. Scotland is no exception, and this is especially true in producing its eponymous scotch whiskey.
Scotch requires pure, clean water. And this has come directly from the various beautiful coastal firths in the surrounding areas. However, over the years, the various natural creatures, specifically oysters, that have contributed to the filtering of the water have been disappearing.
Bottom trawling has become standard in the fishing industry, damaging oyster beds. As heavy equipment is dragged over sensitive habitats, it damages these habitats and the species that depend on them. Immobile species and those too slow to escape are collateral losses. But new developments in the research of oysters and regenerating their populations have shown that their preservation in the firths is directly linked to improved water quality and the marine environment’s biodiversity.
Oysters have long been an important, cheap source of protein in Scotland for centuries. However, oysters are on the edge of extinction in the region as bottom trawling has become the primary way to harvest fin fish species. Since the 1800s, oyster populations have declined by 85%, leading to a collapse of the marine environment in the areas where they are no longer present. This has also led to a degradation of the water quality in the area, as oysters are natural water filters.
Glenmorangie Distillery knows this all too well, the importance of clean, pure water for our bodies and their scotch. This is why they are funding Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) in collaboration with Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society. Researchers with DEEP went to nearby Loch Ryan, home to one of the last oyster fisheries in Scotland, to predict what the results of reintroducing oysters in Dornoch Firth would result in.
The fishery is unusual because it uses a rotating harvesting system, in which they harvest only specific areas, then let them regenerate for six years before harvesting again. The researchers studied three plots, each having been harvested one, three, and six years prior. They found that marine biodiversity significantly increased according to how long that plot had been left unharvested.
Naomi Kennon, the lead author and Ph.D. researcher in restorative ecology at Heriot-Watt, says: “The findings from our research in Loch Ryan are extremely exciting, demonstrating that biodiversity will probably double over a decade once oyster restoration projects are complete. This means the population of species will increase in a balanced way.” This research has led to a plan in which 4 million oysters will be reintroduced into Dornoch Firth, bringing stability to the marine ecosystem and cleaning the water for nearby residents and the distilleries which rely on it for the creation of their famous whiskey.
Saving the environment seems, for many, to be an unfeasibly large task, but when you break down each problem piece by piece, it becomes obvious that our actions can have an outstanding impact on what we want to achieve.
DEEP shows us that it is possible to bring harmony back to our natural world, but it is in our best interest to do so as well. It’s easy to fall into the trap of apathy and complacency, but it is unacceptable as we still have time to make the changes we want to see in the world. Helping nature helps us because, since time immemorial, we are not separate from nature. We are not defending and regenerating nature; we are nature defending and regenerating itself.