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Environmental liability regulations

These regulations require operators to take preventative measures where there is an imminent threat of environmental damage, and to remediate any environmental damage caused by their activities.

If you have been, or think you are likely to be, affected by an environmental damage incident, or otherwise have sufficient interest, please contact us on our pollution hotline number: 0800 80 70 60.

Any third party requests for action will need to be followed up by a written request to the relevant local officer.

The regulations apply only to significant environmental damage or an imminent threat of significant environmental damage. They do not replace any existing laws, therefore ordinary day-to-day activities or incidents should continue to be dealt with under existing legislation.

Definitions of environmental damage

The regulations identify three categories of environmental damage: land damage, water damage and habitats and protected species damage.

  • Land damage - any land contamination creating a significant risk to human health.
  • Water damage - any damage causing: deterioration of the ecological status or potential of a body of surface water; the chemical or quantitative status of a body of groundwater or the environmental status of marine waters.
  • Habitats and species damage - any damage to protected species and natural habitats if it has significant adverse effects on reaching or maintaining the favourable conservation status of the protected species or natural habitat.

More information on species and habitats are available in:

Competent authorities

We are the competent authority for land damage and non-marine water damage. Marine Scotland is the competent authority for marine water damage.  Marine Scotland and NatureScot are the competent authorities for damage to habitats and protected species.


If you or your activities have caused or threaten to cause environmental damage you must:

  • take steps to prevent the damage or further damage occurring;
  • notify the relevant competent authority.

Contact your nearest SEPA office for more advice and guidance or visit NetRegs  for more information on preventing environmental damage and your responsibilities under the regulations.


The Offshore Safety Directive, containing an amendment to the ELD (extension of the scope of damage to marine waters), was adopted in June 2013. The Directive was transposed in Scotland by the Environmental Liability (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2015. 

On the basis of the national reports submitted in 2013 by the Member States to the Commission and of other relevant information, the Commission published a report (COM/2016/0204) and a REFIT evaluation on the experience gained in the application of the directive. This report evaluated the directive and included a review of it.  The Commission developed a Multi-Annual Work Programme (2017-2020) in response to the REFIT evaluation.

The regulations were amended in 2019.

Useful links