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Local Diageo-owned whisky distilleries recognised for efforts to protect River Spey

By Lorna Thompson

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A GROUP of 11 distilleries on the River Spey are the first in the world to achieve certification for efforts to manage precious water resources.

The Scotland-based Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), which sets a global benchmark for water sustainability, made the award to the 11 distilleries owned by Diageo ahead of the COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow this month.

The water stewardship work of the Diageo Spey Catchment Group, which includes Cardhu, Mortlach and Cragganmore, has seen it awarded the International Water Stewardship Standard (AWS Standard) certification.

To gain the certification, a team from Diageo engaged with local communities and stakeholders to initiate projects across the River Spey, designed to care for water use and improve water efficiency, as well as protect against climate-related impacts.

This included engagement with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Spey Catchment Initiative, Spey Fishery Board, Scottish Canoe Association, Spirit of the Spey, and others.

Diageo has also been working with the RSPB to restore peatland at Abernethy Nature Reserve, in the Cairngorms National Park, where water retention within the catchment was identified as a key issue for improvement for both biodiversity and business continuity.

In summer 2018, some Speyside distilleries were forced to halt production after a heatwave caused them to run out of water.

Cardhu Distillery at Knockando, one of 11 Diageo-owned distilleries awarded International Water Stewardship Standard certification as part of the Diageo Spey Catchment Group.
Cardhu Distillery at Knockando, one of 11 Diageo-owned distilleries awarded International Water Stewardship Standard certification as part of the Diageo Spey Catchment Group.

Ewan Andrew, chief sustainability officer at Diageo, said: "Water is an absolutely crucial ingredient of our whisky, but it is also a precious shared resource that is coming under increasing pressure in many parts of the world, including Scotland.

"We know how important it is that we protect the iconic River Spey that makes our whisky special.

"The certification of our Speyside distilleries recognises the efforts we have led in the catchment to ensure high quality and sustainable water stewardship, so that our natural landscape is preserved for everyone."

Some 50 per cent of all Scotch whisky is distilled on the Spey.

Adrian Sym, chief executive officer of AWS, said: "The Diageo Spey Catchment Group is the first group of distilleries globally to be certified to the AWS Standard, meaning they have shown a high level of water stewardship performance.

"Water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change.

"Diageo’s leadership will not only help safeguard one of Scotland’s most important exports, but it also serves as a model to other companies on the power of collective action as water availability becomes less predictable in many places."

Spey Fishery Board director Roger Knight said: "Collective action, such as that we have seen from Diageo working with its partners in the Spey Catchment Initiative, is going to become even more vital in the years ahead.

"Only by working together do we stand a chance of making the River Spey more resilient to the ravages of climate change and averting the climate emergency which confronts us all."

The Diageo Spey Catchment Group includes Auchroisk Distillery, Benrinnes Distillery, Cardhu Distillery, Cragganmore Distillery, Dailuaine Distillery, Dalwhinnie Distillery, Dufftown Distillery, Glendullan Distillery, Glen Spey Distillery, Knockando Distillery and Mortlach Distillery.

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