Leading whisky makers Whyte and Mackay have been fined £9000 after they admitted leaking nearly 20,000 litres of oil from their plant into the Cromarty Firth.
The Cromarty Firth is an internationally important habitat for birds including ospreys, whooper swans and greylag geese.
The firm pleaded guilty to the offence at Tain Sheriff Court on Monday.
The spillage of the oil occurred at the Whyte and Mackay Invergordon plant, near Dalmore, in August 2011 and was discovered by officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).
Officers said that the oil spill could have been avoided had “adequate monitoring and maintenance” of the storage tank taken place.
The Cromarty Firth, a large estuary within the Moray Firth, supports nationally important numbers of breeding osprey and common tern and, in the winter, of whooper swan, bar-tailed godwit and greylag goose.
Craig Harris, head of the Wildlife and Environment Crime Unit at the Crown Office, said: “The discharge was made to an internationally important and sensitive site.
“There could have been grave consequences if the leak had gone undetected or if it had occurred during the breeding season.”
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