What is diffuse pollution?
Diffuse pollution is the release of potential pollutants from a
range of activities that individually may have no effect on the
water environment, but at the scale of a catchment can have a
significant impact (ie reduction in water quality, decrease in
Diffuse sources of pollution include run-off from roads, houses
and commercial areas, run-off from farmland, and seepage into
groundwater from developed landscapes of all kinds.
Do the regulations apply to me?
If you undertake any of the following activities, you will
require some form of authorisation from SEPA under the Controlled
Activities Regulations (CAR):
- storage and application of fertilisers;
- keeping of livestock;
- cultivation of land;
- discharge of surface water run-off;
- construction and maintenance of waterbound roads and
- application of pesticide;
- operation of sheep dipping facilities.
Why do they have to be regulated?
Diffuse pollution from land use activities has a significant
impact on water quality. To achieve the objectives of the Water
Framework Directive (WFD), the quality of Scotland’s water
environment must be maintained and, where necessary, improved.
Rural diffuse pollution arises from land use activities such as
livestock grazing, cultivation of land to grow crops and from
forestry operations. Such activities can give rise to a release of
potential pollutants which individually may not have an impact but
together, at the scale of a river catchment, can impact on water
quality. The pressures and impacts from diffuse pollution are
described in the Significant Water Management Issues consultation
document and include eutrophication, loss of biodiversity, silting
of fish spawning grounds, and impacts on human health through
drinking water or bathing water pollution. The pollutants of
concern include the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, sediment,
pesticides, biodegradable substances, ammonia and
Levels of authorisation
The Controlled Activities Regulations allow for three levels of
What do I need to do?
- General binding rule (GBR): The diffuse
pollution GBRs provide a statutory baseline of good practice and
their implementation will help to improve water quality. You will
not have to contact SEPA or incur a charge, though you will have to
follow a set of rules.
- Registration: Not applicable.
- Licence: Not applicable.
(Please note: If at any point during the application process you
have a query, contact your local SEPA office).
- First refer to the pollution control chapter in the CAR Practical
Guide (519k) to see if your activity meets the
requirements for a diffuse pollution GBR.
- If your activity falls under a GBR you will not have to do
anything. If you require a registration or a licence, however, you
will need to apply under another regime. Use the menu on the left
to select another regime.
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