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Environmental regulation and biodiversity

Protecting habitats, species and Scotland’s ecosystem services is an integral part of SEPA’s regulatory remit. All our regulatory decisions should take account of potential effects on biodiversity and opportunities for biodiversity enhancement. We are responsible for setting standards in environmental licences that protect and help improve the state of water, land and air and the services that ecosystems provide.

We issue environmental licences under a range of regulations, including the following:

SEPA’s Nature conservation procedure for environmental licensing

Our Nature conservation procedure for environmental licensing ensures that our statutory duties to protect designated features in nature conservation sites are incorporated into all environmental licensing regimes in a consistent and auditable manner. This procedure will be updated in line with the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014requirements.

In essence, the procedure guides us to:

  1. identify any designated nature conservation sites within the relevant activity-specific screening distance of the proposed activity;
  2. assess, for all designated sites identified, the likely impact of the proposed licensed activity;
  3. identify any conditions that may be required in order to grant permission;
  4. decide whether permission must be refused on the basis of adverse effects on the integrity of any Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protection Area (SPA), or damage to any Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) features;
  5. formally consult Scottish Natural Heritage at appropriate points in the process.

Opportunities to deliver biodiversity protection

  • The Water Framework Directive (WFD)

    The main piece of legislation which requires SEPA to protect and improve the water environment upon which freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity are dependent. The WFD requires restorative measures, including necessary changes to land use activities, to achieve good ecological status in surface waters.
  • The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (CAR) (the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2013).
    These regulations provide us with powers to control activities from rural land use which pose a risk to the water environment and, in so doing, protect land and soils. We use regulation to address diffuse pollution while delivering benefits for both freshwater and terrestrial biodiversity. We protect wetlands that derive their water from groundwater and surface water; we consider the impact on wetlands during our groundwater abstraction licensing and engineering licensing. We request that the Scottish Functional Wetland Typology should be used to inform a Phase 1 habitat survey, and the resulting survey maps should accompany the permit application wherever the activity proposed is likely to impact on wetland habitats.
  • Waste Management Licensing Regulations – We must ensure that application of exempt organic waste to land under the Waste Management Licensing Regulations will result in agricultural benefit or ecological improvement and not cause harm to the wider environment.

Future development

  • Nature Conservation Procedure
    As more data becomes available (e.g. Habitat Map of Scotland), we will be able to extend the application of the Nature Conservation Procedure to include assessment of impacts to priority habitats (those which are sensitive to activities that SEPA regulates) in the wider countryside, outside designated nature conservation sites.
  • Habitat impact assessment
    We are actively developing the evidence base to inform our habitat impact assessment and subsequent decision-making in environmental permitting.
  • SEPA air biomonitoring strategy
    Development of a SEPA air biomonitoring strategy and related monitoring programme is in progress; we continue to commission scientific research to improve our site-specific understanding of the impacts of air pollution on sensitive ecological receptors.