The 'Guardian of the Source' protecting the purity of Scotland's spring water

Alex Haken, for 365 days a year, is in charge of the heather-clad hillside from where the majority of Scotland’s mineral water is drawn from deep underneath.

Alex Haken, the 'Guardian of the Source' at Highland Spring. PIC: Contributed.
Alex Haken, the 'Guardian of the Source' at Highland Spring. PIC: Contributed.

As keeper of 2,500-acres in the Ochils owned by Highland Spring, he is known as ‘Guardian of the Source’ who safeguards the land from pollution and pesticides to protect the water’s purity.

“We are on the hills 365 days a year fiercely protecting our land to ensure our water is as pure as it can be,” Mr Haken said.

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The Highland Spring that we buy off the shelves is rain that fell on the hill some 15 to 30 years before, with the water locked deep between basalt rock and a layer of sandstone.

It is drawn to the surface through 11 deep source bore holes dotted over the hillside and dispatched to the company’s plant at Blackford in Perthshire through stainless steel pipes.

What comes off the hill is exactly what ends up in the bottles with 500 milliion litres of Highland Spring sold last year. But sometimes, Mr Haken just takes a slurp off the hill for good measure.

The water that ends up in the bottles accounts for just three percent of the annual rainfall on the north side of the Ochils.

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Mr Haken said: "We have 40 years of rainfall data– we know it is certainly wetter.

"In the summer when you are outside, people think this is the best job in the world, but you do work in basically six months of continuous rain. But all my team do love being out on the hillside

“It sounds really easy saying we do nothing to our hillside, but there is a lot goes into keeping the water pure and keeping the land pristine.

" There are no farms on the land, no houses, no herbicides. Hillwalkers and dog walkers do come onto the hill but they can do no harm.”

Mr Haken said he could identify Highland Spring in a blind taste test, such is his knowledge of the water.

Mr Haken added: “Scotland is very volcanic when compared to England and the rocks here are very hard so our water doesn’t pick up many minerals. In England, the water can be more chalky, for example but here we have a very crisp and clear taste.”

Highland Spring is owned by Mahdi Altajir, 88, a former UAE ambassador to the UK who is Scotland's fifth-richest man with an estimated fortune of £1.6bn.

Several pieces of research indicate that the bottled water industry is in a precarious position given concerns over plastic pollution and the impact the pandemic and lockdown has had on our daily lives.

The company, which employs 400 people at four sites in Scotland and another in Wales, announced it would be cutting around 30 jobs given the impact of the health crisis.

Meanwhile, to address environmental concerns, the firm introduced an eco bottle, which is made from 100% recycled plastic, apart from the label and the cap, for some of its ranges.

The company has also been building a new rail freight centre at Blackford plant with it predicted that switching transportation from road to rail will phase out around 8,000 truck journeys a year.

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