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If you intend to carry out any activity which may affect Scotland’s water environment, you must abide by regulations and, if necessary, obtain an authorisation to proceed.


Activities such as discharges to the water environment, abstractions, and physical works in rivers and lochs can threaten the water environment and the animals and people that rely on it.

This section explains the regulations that protect Scotland’s water environment, what kind of permissions you will need and information on any charges that may apply.

What water regulations apply in Scotland?

The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 – more commonly known as the Controlled Activity Regulations (CAR) – and their further amendments of 2013, 2017, and 2021 apply regulatory controls over activities which may affect Scotland’s water environment.

This legislation arose from the European Community (EC)’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) becoming law in Scotland as the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 (WEWS Act).

The regulations cover rivers, lochs, transitional waters (estuaries), coastal waters groundwater, and groundwater dependant wetlands.

More detailed information can be found in our Introduction to regulations and our CAR practical guide.

What activities do the regulations cover?

The following activities are included within the scope of CAR:

How does SEPA implement the regulations?

Under CAR, we risk assess proposed activities before granting, if appropriate, an authorisation.

The type of authorisation required depends on the environmental risk of the proposed activity. There are three levels of control:

  • General Binding Rules (GBRs) provide statutory controls over certain low risk activities
  • Registration is intended to cover low risk activities which cumulatively pose a risk to the water environment
  • A licence is needed if site-specific controls are required, particularly if constraints upon the activity are to be imposed

More detailed information can be found in our Introduction to Regulations and our CAR Practical Guide.

How do I find out if I need authorisation and apply?

1. Find out if the proposed activity is subject to regulation

Before progressing with an activity or making an application, we strongly advise that you contact us in the first instance to discuss.

Read the relevant chapter in our CAR Practical Guide to discover whether or not your activity is subject to regulation, before visiting the section of our website which deals with your specific activity.

If your activity falls under a GBR – and you can comply with the rules – you will not have to do anything, except ensure compliance with the rules.

If, however, you require a registration or a licence, you will need to apply to us. Applications for registrations can be made online or by post, but applications for licences must be made by post. Our CAR Licence Applicant Guidance provides guidance and information on the licence application process.

2. Determine the cost of your application

Our charging scheme guidance will advise on the estimated cost the application and to find out whether a subsistence (annual) fee applies.

Some activities are exempt from charges – a full list of all activities that do not require a charge in Annex II can be found in our charging scheme guidance.

3. Complete your application form before returning it to us by post or online

Visit the section of our website which deals with your specific activity to find out more information, applying online or accessing the relevant application forms:

We have 30 days to assess an application for registration and four months for a licence.

During this time, we can ask for more information from the applicant and request that they make provision for public consultation and feedback. If this is necessary, the response time period is paused.

If you already hold an authorisation, you can also apply to vary the conditions of your authorisation, or transfer or surrender your licence.

Charging schemes

We are required by law to recover the costs of regulation and associated environmental monitoring through charges.

Application charges and subsistence (annual) fees are based on the level of environmental risk they present. This then dictates the levels of assessment, inspection and monitoring that we carry out.

Broadly speaking, charges and fees recover approximately half of our costs, with the remainder provided by the Scottish Government. About 60% of the money raised through charging is used to monitor the environment, and to check whether regulated activities are having an impact, while the remaining 40% supports our regulatory activities (inspection and enforcement).

Our CAR charging scheme contains more information about charges and how they are calculated and applied.

Compliance with regulations

How we assess compliance with authorisation requirement is determined by our compliance assessment scheme.

Operators are expected to uphold the conditions of their registration or licence and we have powers to take enforcement action or withdraw your authorisation if you fail to meet its conditions.

If you do not agree with the conditions and requirements imposed by a CAR authorisation or notice, you can make an appeal directly to the Scottish Government.

Help, advice and more information

If you require any further help or advice or information about CAR at any stage, please contact us.