Oyster restoration project hits scientific milestone



Findings published from a global conference, co-hosted by Heriot-Watt University, have this week shared extensive knowledge on how to restore native European oyster habitats.

Published in a landmark Special Issue of Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, the ground-breaking compendium of articles detail, more than any publication before, the value that shellfish habitat brings to society. The work explores how to deal with oyster diseases as well as financing solutions required to restore native oysters to seas throughout Europe.

The findings originate from Edinburgh’s global meeting of the Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA), which was held in May 2019 and hosted in partnership between The Glenmorangie Company, Heriot-Watt University, The Marine Conservation Society, Nature Scot and Scottish Enterprise.

Marine scientists, conservationists, administrators and oyster producers from across Europe gathered to ‘Unlock the blueprint for oyster restoration’– involving at least 15 countries. Plans across Europe will see millions of native oysters (Ostrea edulis) returned to the seas around France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, UK and Spain, where they were wiped out by overfishing as long as a century ago.

The Special Issue of Aquatic Conservation will be released this week ahead of the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, beginning in 2021, which aims to give a sharp focus to ecosystem restoration, ‘mainstreaming’ it into policy and planning.

Dr Bill Sanderson, MASTS Reader in Marine Biodiversity at Heriot-Watt University, co-authored several research articles in the Special Issue and was the scientific chair for the global meeting held at The Royal Society Edinburgh.

Speaking about the publication, Dr Sanderson said: “This volume is a milestone for marine environmental restoration, containing state-of-the-art scientific evidence of, for example, the value of shellfish habitats to society; whether it’s their ability to store carbon, filter large volumes of seawater, or create habitats that are biodiversity hotspots.” 

Dr Philine zu Ermgassen, from the secretariat for the pan-European NORA, who also led the authorship on key articles in the Special Issue, noted: “The publication shows the way forward and identifies the top 40 most important questions that need to be answered to make oyster restoration a reality across its former range.”

Professor John Baxter, lead editor of the Special Issue added: “From predicting the dispersal of larval from restoration sites, dealing with oyster diseases or financing solutions, this compendium of scientific articles is a very significant moment that will propel restoration activities across Europe.”

Operations Director of The Glenmorangie Company, Dr Peter Nelson, commented: “We are incredibly proud to be helping to pioneer this vital environmental work with our partners and NORA, it is all part of our strategy, through our Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) project, to protect and enhance the environment at the Glenmorangie Distillery on the Dornoch Firth, as part of making the Distillery sustainable for future generations.”

Dr David Donnan, Marine Sustainability Manager at NatureScot said, “We are pleased to welcome the publication of this Special Edition. It captures the tremendous knowledge and experience brought to the NORA conference in Edinburgh and will makes a significant contribution to the successful conservation of the native oyster, here in Scotland and throughout Europe.” 

DEEP – The Timeline:

In a European first, The Glenmorangie 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).

Forged in 2014, DEEP’s meticulous, research-led approach has seen 12,000 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.

The Special Issue of Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems is now available to read on Wiley Online Library:



Annie Pugh