Whyte & Mackay fined over Cromarty Firth pollution
Whisky distillers Whyte and Mackay has been fined £9,000 for leaking up to 20,000 litres of oil from one of its plants into the Cromarty Firth.
The firm pled guilty to polluting the waters, an important habitat for birds.
The spillage of 'fusel oil', a flammable by-product of the distillation process, occurred at the Invergordon distillery in Easter Ross last August.
The offence is a contravention of Water Environment regulations.
The Cromarty Firth, a large estuary within the Moray Firth, has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Ramsar site on account of the intertidal habitats, as well as its breeding and non breeding birds.
It supports breeding osprey and common tern and, in winter, whooper swan, bar-tailed godwit and greylag goose.Sensitive site
The leak from an oil storage tank and bund was discovered by officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
Craig Harris, Head of the Crown Office's wildlife and environment crime unit, said: "This was entirely preventable, industry must ensure the proper maintenance of their systems to ensure they meet their environmental obligations."
He added: "The discharge was made to an internationally important and sensitive site.
"Whilst the environmental impact was thankfully minimal in this instance, that was purely down to good fortune, there could have been grave consequences if the leak had gone undetected or if it had occurred during the breeding season."