The Water Environment Fund

WEF logoThe water environment in Scotland is an intrinsic part of our landscape and a vital asset. It provides habitats to support wildlife and ecosystems and resources for our tourism, recreation, agricultural and energy industries.

However, over the years, Scotland’s water environment has been affected by a variety of physical pressures, with the result that many rivers, lochs, wetlands and coastlines have been adversely affected.

Greener Scotland logoThe Scottish Government provides an annual grant - the Water Environment Fund (WEF) - to improve the physical condition of water bodies that have been damaged by historical activities. This includes financial support for the removal or easement of redundant structures that are barriers to fish migration, and projects to restore natural river shape and function (morphology). This fund is administered by SEPA. 

How the fund works

Projects will only be awarded funding from the Water Environment Fund if they help Scotland achieve river basin management planning (RBMP) objectives. The RBMPs provide an assessment of the condition of Scotland’s water environment and identify where our efforts for protection and improvement must be targeted.

Within the RBMPs, priorities have been identified where available funding will be focused. You can find out more about these priorities under priorities for restoration.

SEPA will use the Water Environment Fund to:

  • directly commission restoration work: We will directly commission options appraisals, designs and groundworks for eligible fish barriers and river channel restoration in line with RBMP priorities;
  • provide a grant of assistance: In some circumstances a grant of assistance to a third party may be appropriate. For example, partnership projects with local authorities for river channel restoration;
  • compensation: Compensation may be provided for land owners/managers for income forgone due to giving over productive land to river restoration.

If you plan to take forward a restoration project on an RBMP priority, please contact us at restoration.proposals@sepa.org.uk to find out if you are eligible for funds.

Please note that any use of WEF funding must comply with State aid rules.

Project eligibility

Redundant structures that are a barrier to fish migration

The provision of fish migration at any existing impoundment (e.g. weirs and dams) is the responsibility of the structure owner(s) under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (‘CAR’). However, WEF funds may be available under certain circumstances to help owners of those structures that are redundant and no longer have an economic use. The owner remains responsible for any future maintenance liability for retained structures.

WEF funding is potentially available for redundant structures such as old weirs and dams that are:

  • an identified priority;
  • no longer in active use;
  • not a commercial asset of the current owner, including dormant or ‘mothballed' assets.

Although work to remove or ease redundant structures that are owned by a local authority is not eligible for WEF funding, the Scottish Government may provide up to 75% of the engineering costs to improve fish passage. SEPA will assess the project objectives, appraise funding requirements, and monitor progress on these projects.

WEF funds are not available for the maintenance of redundant structures.

River Channel Restoration Projects with Local Authorities

SEPA will work in partnership with Local Authorities to deliver river channel restoration, using the Water Environment Fund to contribute to partnership projects for:

  • an identified priority;
  • urban areas where the channel improvement work provides wider benefits (such as natural flood management, access and recreational opportunities);
  • rural areas where the work provides natural flood management.

Compensation Scheme

Compensation may be provided for land owners/managers for income forgone due to giving over productive land to river restoration both (a) during works and (b) following restoration of a river which results in the reduction of productive land. These payments are made available under European Union Guidelines for State aid in the agricultural and forestry sectors and in rural areas 2014 to 2020 2014/C 204/01and the SEPA River Restoration Compensation Scheme (SA.43178) . Further information can be found under River restoration compensation scheme.

Invasive non-native species (INNS)

River restoration work now focuses on the RBMP priorities that have the greatest environmental benefit. This means that funding from WEF will no longer be available for applications to eradicate invasive non-native species (INNS). We will continue to fund existing commitments but no further funding awards will be made.

Priorities for restoration

The RBMPs set out an ambitious programme for the removal of fish barriers and restoration of rivers across Scotland. This was based on assumptions about the availability of resources and funding over the period of 2015 to 2021.

Current funding levels have meant that we have had to prioritise the amount of environmental improvement each project will deliver. This includes the length of accessible river opened up to fish from removal of barriers to migration, and the achievement of good ecological condition in historically modified rivers.

We are working with partners to continue to actively explore other mechanisms or sources of funding for improving rivers and removing barriers to fish.

Waterbodies prioritised for restoration are listed below. More information on the individual rivers that are prioritised can also be found on the Water Environment Hub.

Urban channel restoration
 Tollcross  Burn (Glasgow)
 Levern Water (East Renfrewshire)
 Lyne Burn (Fife)
 Boghead Burn Bathgate (West Lothian)
 Garrell Burn (North Lanarkshire)

 Glazert Water/Finglen Burn (East Dunbartonshire)

Rural channel restoration
Upper Nith (Sanquhar-New Cumnock)
Crichope Linn (Dumfries and Galloway)
Melgund Burn (Forfar)
River Nairn (Aberarder)
Fish barrier restoration projects
Almond barriers – 7 weirs (West Lothian and Edinburgh)
Tyne barriers – 4 weirs (East Lothian)
Lyne Burn – 1 weir (Fife)
Kirk Burn – 1 weir (East Dunbartonshire)
Garrell Burn – 1 weir (North Lanarkshire)
Abhainn Gleann Leireag – 1 weir (Assynt)
Bluther Burn – 1 weir (Fife)
Shevrock Burn – 1 weir (Abderdeenshire)
Dall Burn – 1 weir (Perth and Kinross)
Pow Water – 1 weir (Dumfries and Galloway)
River Gryfe – 1 weir (Renfrewshire)
Marr Burn – 1 weir (Dumfries and Galloway)
Burn of Laxobigging – 1 weir (Shetland)
Water of Glencalvie – 1 weir (Kyle of Sutherland)
River Leven – 1 weir (Fife)
Vinny Water – 1 weir (Angus)
Motray Water – 1 weir (Fife)
Youlie/Bronie Burn – 1 weir (Aberdeenshire)
Fithie Burn – 1 weir (Angus)
River Eden – 1 weir (Perth and Kinross)
Levern Water – 1 weir (East Renfrewshire)

SEPA river restoration compensation scheme

The scheme aims to encourage participation in river restoration projects by providing compensation for changes to land use from restoring natural river processes and habitats. The scheme is now open to land managers and will provide compensation for arable and grassland converted to the natural river corridor as part of a river restoration project. Projects must deliver a significant improvement to the physical condition of a watercourse to be considered for compensation. This will be determined by SEPA.

About the scheme:

Who is eligible? A land manager undertaking an agricultural activity.
What land is eligible?
  • Agricultural land that has been productive for at least three out of the last five years.
  • Where land is part of a restoration project that aims to significantly improve the physical condition of a water course.
Financial support coverage Income forgone relating to land taken out of productive use during the construction phase of a restoration project or once the works has completed.
Payment Payment will be upon completion of the restoration project. 100% of eligible costs for compensation will be paid as a lump sum.
Reversal of restoration works Restoring natural river movement will result in a permanent change to the adjacent land use. The land manager will be required to enter into a legal contract that takes the land out of productive use. Reversal of works will be subject to SEPA water environment legislation regulations for controlled activities.

Full details of the scheme can be found in the guidance for applicants. The application for river restoration compensation scheme form (WAT-APP-REG-06) should be completed and returned to SEPA.

The legal basis for the compensation scheme is the Environment Act 1995, Section 37 as read with Section 47. The scheme has been approved through the European Commission as compatible with State aid guidelines and is published on the Scottish Government website as SA.43178.

For more information on the SEPA River restoration compensation scheme please contact us at: restoration.proposals@sepa.org.uk

Case studies

The Water Environment Fund has provided funding to projects that aim to help restore Scotland’s catchments from the source, through rivers, lochs and floodplains, into estuaries and out to sea. Examples the Fund has supported are shown below.

  • Fish barrier removal, Pluscarden, Fraserburgh           

Pluscarden

  • River restoration, Rottal Burn, Angus

Rottal Burn

  • Removal of the Creamery Weir, Twynholm, Dumfries and Galloway

Creamery Weir Twynholm

State aid requirements

State aid

State aid is a European Commission term that refers to forms of public assistance, given to undertakings on a discretionary basis, which has the potential to distort competition and affect trade between Member States of the European Union.

All funding provided must comply with State aid rules. There are two aspects of Water Environment Funding that are European Union approved schemes: funding for infrastructure improvements on agricultural land and the SEPA river restoration compensation scheme.

Funding for infrastructure improvements on agricultural land

Funding will only be awarded to infrastructure improvements on agricultural land when required as part of a river restoration or removal of a fish barrier project. These payments are made available under Commission Regulation (EU) No 702/2014 , Water Environment Fund SA. 41329. Further guidance on State aid is also available.

Contact us

For more information about the Water Environment Fund, project eligibility and potential funding, you can get in touch by emailing us at restoration.proposals@sepa.org.uk