ELEVEN DISTILLERIES on the River Spey – the most famous whisky waterway on the planet – have achieved a world first for Scotch whisky with prestigious certification for how they manage precious water resources.

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

The Spey is one of Scotland’s longest rivers and is famous for its whisky and fishing, with 50% of all Scotch distilled on the Spey. The entire river is protected under European legislation as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in recognition of its importance for the protection of biodiversity such as wildlife species, including the Atlantic salmon.

“Core Level” certification has been given to the Diageo Spey Catchment Group which includes: Auchroisk, Benrinnes, Cardhu, Cragganmore, Dailuaine, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glen Spey, Knockando, and Mortlach distilleries.

To gain the certification, the distilleries engaged with local communities and stakeholders to initiate projects across the Spey designed to care for water use and improve water efficiency, as well protect against climate-related impacts by improving water balance sustainability.

This included engagement with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), Spey Catchment Initiative, Spey Fishery Board, Scottish Canoe Association, Spirit of the Spey and others during the certification process.

Work with RSPB to restore peatland at Abernethy Nature Reserve, in the Cairngorm National Park, is just one recent example of Diageo’s efforts, 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 whisky production after a heatwave caused them to run out of water.

Ewan Andrew, Diageo’s chief sustainability officer, 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.

“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.”