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Water engineering authorisations

We are now able to accept pre-application proposals, new applications, variations, transfers and surrenders.

We would strongly encourage pre-application enquiries prior to submitting applications.

What should you do now?

Email application forms along with supporting information to

Email pre-application proposal and supporting information to

Submit enquiries about General Binding Rules, existing authorised sites and maintenance via our online form: Contact us


Engineering works – including the removal of sediment (gravel, sand, silt) from rivers and lochs – can cause damage to the water environment.

The scope of engineering works authorised by the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (CAR) and their amendments applies to all engineering, building or other works in inland surface waters (including wetlands) and works in the vicinity of inland surface waters where those works pose a risk of significant adverse impact.

The easiest way to be compliant is by ensuring you are authorised and following the conditions of your authorisation. See our Know the rules quick guide. Speak to us – we’ll steer you to the right authorisation and help you understand the conditions. Additionally, good pre-application discussions can often:

a) save you money by helping you identify a solution which costs less to implement and costs less from an authorisation perspective; and

b) helps us to process your application more quickly when you submit it.

Why do engineering works have to be regulated?

Engineering works can damage habitat in rivers, lochs and wetlands, in turn affecting populations of invertebrates, plants, birds and mammals. Engineering works can also block the passage of migrating fish and damage spawning habitats during sensitive times. Some of the affected fish, such as salmon, are an important economic resource in many areas of Scotland. Engineering can also result in erosion of adjacent land.

When considering an application for authorisation under CAR, we will consider all of these issues and ensure that all impacts are minimised as far as practical.

Where potential impacts are significant, we will only allow authorisation where they are balanced by positive contributions the works make to the economy, society or the environment.

We do not assess flood risk as part of the CAR determination process.

Do the regulations apply to me?

The level of authorisation required is dependent on the effect that the activity will have on the water environment:

  • General binding rules (GBRs) – activities that are considered of low risk to the environment are covered by a GBR. You will not have to contact us or incur any charges, although you will have to follow a set of rules.
  • Registration – activities that pose a low individual risk, but may in combination adversely affect the environment, will need a registration, require you to apply to us and incur a fee. You will not, however, incur an annual subsistence charge.
  • Licence – activities that pose a moderate to high risk to the environment will either be a simple licence or – for activities that need a more complicated environmental assessment – a complex licence. A licence depends on the identification of a ‘responsible person’, who must ensure compliance with the conditions of the licence. In both cases, an application charge will apply and the activity may also be subject to an annual subsistence charge.

If your engineering works involve any of the following, you will require some form of authorisation from us:

  • the removal of sediment (gravel, sand, silt) from rivers, lochs and wetlands;
  • construction of bank protection, embankments or floodwalls;
  • construction of new bridges, fords and culverts;
  • any new structures built on the bed of a river, burn or loch;
  • river diversions and realignments;
  • restoration and enhancement works, including the removal of structures;
  • any other activity likely to pose a risk of significant adverse impact.

The following engineering works usually do not require authorisation:

  • maintenance of existing structures;
  • the removal or management of vegetation;
  • the removal or management of debris or trash – in particular the removal of debris from culverts and screens;
  • all works in wetlands which are not directly associated with a river, loch or artificial water body;
  • works in artificial drainage channels, including the construction and maintenance of road and field drains;
  • engineering works in coastal and transitional waters – these are regulated by Marine Scotland under the Food and Environment Protection Act (FEPA) 1985.

What do I need to do?

1. Find out if your activity requires authorisation

Read the relevant chapter in our CAR Practical Guide to discover whether or not your activity is subject to regulation:

2. Determine the cost of your application

Our charging scheme guidance will advise on the cost the application. Engineering activities will only be subject to annual subsistence fees where they fit the criteria of a large and complex project. You can enter the details of your activity into our charge calculator to determine your fee (please note that multiple activities are eligible for a reduced application fee, which the calculator determines)

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

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, request that they advertise their proposals publicly or make provision for public consultation and feedback. If this is necessary, it is likely that the determination time will increase beyond 30 days for a registration and four months for a licence.

Apply for a licence or registration by post


Please use the table below to confirm that your engineering activity is suitable for registration:

Part Engineering activity


Sediment management in canals and lades


Sediment management within 10m of bridges


Sediment management in open culverts (where culverts are less than or equal to 2m wide)


Green bank reinforcement (less than or equal to 50m in length)


Bank re-profiling (less than or equal to 50m in length)


Bridge (no part of structure in bed less than or equal to 20m length of bank affected)


Bridging culvert (single track road, channel less than or equal to 2m wide)


Pipe/cable crossing (beneath bed by isolated open cut)


Bed reinforcement (less than or equal to 10m downstream of closed culvert using rip-rap)


Loch structures (total area less than or equal to 50m2)


Removal of sediment from individual and discrete areas of exposed sediment (such as gravel bars) within a length of river or burn not exceeding 1 kilometre.


Removal of sediment from the bed of a stretch of a river or burn that has all of the following characteristics:

  • an average width of greater than, or equal to, 1 metre and less than 5 metres as measured between the base of one bank and the other;
  • artificially straightened or canalised with the lines of its bank tops being parallel, or near parallel, throughout its length;
  • a bed surface layer that is entirely, or almost entirely, comprised of sediments with a diameter of less than 2 mm i.e. sands, silts and clay; and
  • except in flood flows, a smooth, un-rippled water surface for all, or nearly all of its length


Grey bank reinforcement ≤20m in length associated with an existing manmade structure

You need to complete our engineering registration form and return it to us either by email or by post to the SEPA Registry most closely located to the activity you are registering. Registry addresses are detailed on the form.

Making a change to an existing registration

Please complete the forms detailing a variation to an existing CAR registration and return it to us either by email or by post to the SEPA Registry address detailed on the form.


You will need to send an application either by email or by post if you require either a simple or a complex licence.

You need to complete two application forms:

  • A universal application form (Form A) which asks for general information about your activity or activities – our guidance will provide you with help and advice on completing the form
  • A specific application for engineering activities (Form E) which provides us with more detailed information about your activity or activities – our guidance will provide you with help and advice on completing the form
  • If your engineering works is part of a large infrastructure project then detailed design drawings will be required and could be referenced in licences. Please refer to SEPA Guidance on Principles of Engineering Drawings : Infrastructure Projects for further information.

Please complete the forms and return them to us by post to the SEPA Registry address detailed on the form.

Making a change to an existing licence

Exemptions and other consents

Environmental service

Engineering activities which meet the definition of ‘environmental service’ are exempt from charges. This applies in very specific cases.

If you believe this applies to your activity, we strongly recommend that you contact your local SEPA office to discuss before proceeding.

If you wish to register an activity that qualifies as an environmental service you must include information with your application which supports your claim for environmental service.

Protected Areas

If your engineering activity is to take place within, or is likely to affect, a designated area such as an SSSI, SAC or SPA or is likely to affect a protected species, then we may have to consult with Scottish Natural Heritage



Our guidance page provides details of guidance, supporting statements and good practice guides.

Compliance with regulations

Operators are expected to comply with the conditions of the GBR, registration or licence and we have powers to withdraw your authorisation if you fail to meet its conditions.

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

Further, if you undertake engineering works without an authorisation or if you breach the conditions of the authorisation you could face enforcement action. This can include warning letters, fixed monetary penalties, variable monetary penalties or, in the most serious cases, a report to the procurator fiscal. Details of penalties issued can be found on our website.

Biosecurity and non-native species

Guidance to prevent the introduction or spread of invasive non-native species when undertaking controlled activities PDF icon small (107kb)

Help, advice and more information

If you require any further help or advice at any stage during the application process, please contact us.