Maintaining good soil quality is crucial to the Scottish environment and economy. As Scotland’s environmental regulator, we play an important role in protecting, maintaining and improving our soils. We do this in a number of ways:
Regulation is one of the key mechanisms we can use to protect land.
We are responsible for setting standards in environmental licences that protect and help improve land quality and the services that land provides. For example, we regulate the application of many industrial waste materials to land by ensuring they are only applied where there is agricultural benefit or ecological improvement.
We carry out inspections of industrial and agricultural activities to identify any issues that may lead to land pollution, and we will take appropriate action (if required) to prevent further issues arising.
We also implement new legislation and offer guidance to Scottish industry to help them comply with environmental law. Additionally, much of the water and air regulations we enforce also (indirectly) offer protection to land.
Not all activities that can potentially damage land are covered by legislation; some activities are subject to guidelines and codes of practice. By offering advice and guidance, we aim to develop and promote good practice to enhance the protection of land.
Promoting good practice through dialogue with land managers is a key way in which we aim to improve the protection of land and its biodiversity. We have carried out a variety of initiatives, including national awareness-raising campaigns on diffuse pollution, working with farmers in priority catchments, trial catchment projects, demonstration farms and delivery of on-site advice to ensure that good practice is adopted.
We have a statutory duty to report on the general state of the environment, which includes ‘land’ under the Environment Act 1995. This involves assembling environmental data, making environmental information available to the public and advising on the state of the environment (to include state of soils and contaminated land) and on measures for its protection and enhancement.
Where there is a significant risk of soils being damaged by regulated activities, we undertake soil sampling to assess the impact that these activities have on the soil and the likelihood of wider environmental harm being caused as a result.
As a statutory consultee in the planning system, we provide advice and make representations to influence forward planning and development control decisions on land, making sure that development does not take place in environmentally sensitive locations.
We may also respond on sustainable design principles (e.g. sustainable urban drainage systems), climate change, soil quality protection and renewable energy development (peatland protection), which can all affect land and its biodiversity.
We also provide advice to the Scottish Government on any land-related work, taking account of emerging European policy, published strategies and directives.
We work with many land-based organisations, including the Scottish Government, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, to ensure that good practice is adopted within the parameters of rural development and sustainable land management. We also work with local authorities to help bring contaminated land back into use.
We are also continually trying to improve our understanding of the land environment, which involves understanding environmental risks to land and the ecosystem services that the land provides to help prioritise efforts internally and across Scotland. Research and development as a part of collaborative partnerships is helping us to address these gaps.