Diffuse pollution success in the Eye catchment

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Recording data on a map, beside a river

Land managers in Scotland are being recognised for the positive changes they are making to their working practices; the results have seen water pollution compliance rates move from 32% to 84%. Compliance with diffuse pollution rules protects water quality from land use activities.

Following the implementation of diffuse pollution priority catchments in 2010, our officers walked 14 catchments, mapping potential pollution risks, introducing land managers to the General Binding Rules (GBR’s) for agricultural activities, and providing advice and guidance on action, funding and support for mitigating identified risks.

At the time of the first visits, compliance across Scotland following the first visits was at a worrying 32% with activities such as livestock poaching and cultivation showing how current practices needed reviewed and amended. Compliance is the minimum we expect of everyone.  Where there is non-compliance our experience is that most of those we regulate respond to our advice and guidance and come into compliance. Many are also increasingly recognising the value of compliance and good environmental practice in delivering outcomes not just for the environment but for their business and the communities they operate in.  This is reflected in One Planet Prosperity – Our Regulatory Strategy. Our officers had initial discussions and provided feedback to land managers at the end of each visit, which was then followed-up with detailed maps and advice letters to all land managers that had issues.

Watercourse protected from cattle poaching by fencing

Water protected from poaching by fencing

Dr Stephen Field, Land Unit Manager at SEPA, has worked on priority catchments since their inception in 2010. He says: “Initial revisits to some of the farms that originally presented with issues, saw compliance soar to an encouraging 84%. Many land managers took our advice, seeking government and/or other funding for implementing the changes  needed on the ground. This was encouraging and provided our staff with examples to take to other land managers and catchments that had concerns that making the changes required by the GBR’s were costly and time consuming.

“The significant factor was that this change in land use activity was made without using enforcement action. Co-operation between our staff and the farming communities drove the changes, rather than the threat of financial punishment.

SEPA staff are due to carry out further revisits to keep rolling out GBR compliance, with the intention of increasing the 84% compliance to nearer 100%.

“Unfortunately,” continues Dr Field, “not all land managers had taken action when we followed up with them and we are now implementing third visits. There is now a real risk we will be using fixed monetary penalties if compliance with the relevant GBR’s has not yet been reached.”

Fixed monetary penalties are an enforcement tool available to SEPA. They are one of a number of new enforcement tools. SEPA recognises the responsibility that comes with the use of these new powers and is taking a phased approach to implementation.

Dr Field concludes: “We prefer to work with land managers constructively but where there is consistent failure to comply, we now have the tools to take action and we won’t hesitate to issue the £600 penalty.”

Third visits are beginning in the Ugie and South Esk catchments from end of February 2017, with all land managers affected being sent notice of our visit in advance.

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