Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

River engineering - follow the rules to avoid a fixed monetary penalty

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

In Scotland, anyone planning to carry out engineering works in or near rivers and lochs must make sure the appropriate authorisations are in place with SEPA before work begins. Once authorised it’s important that the rules and licence conditions are followed to avoid a fixed monetary penalty (FMP).

Working in or near rivers and lochs - Know the rules (PDF - 797KB)

Engineering works requiring authorisation from SEPA include:

  • 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.

In recent years there has been great progress in relation to river engineering – there has been better engagement and partnership working between SEPA and water users, land managers and other partners to provide advice, support and guidance. However, unauthorised river engineering and GBR, registration or licence condition breaches remains a regulatory problem that must be tackled.


Because poor engineering adversely impacts in-stream and bankside habitats and species, can cause land loss and increased susceptibility to soil erosion and flooding, reducing the value of adjacent land and/or placing livestock at risk. Further, not complying with the rules creates an un-level playing field and penalises those that do follow the rules. If you’re paying for a registration or licence and complying with the conditions we want you to be confident that others are too.

To help solve the problem SEPA have launched a specific river engineering fixed monetary penalty (FMP) campaign. Those who undertake engineering work without the appropriate authorisation or who breach an authorisation condition could be liable for a £600 FMP.

Every day SEPA works to protect and enhance the environment, and environmental compliance is non-negotiable. SEPA hopes increased awareness of authorisation requirements and the new enforcement measures will help deter non-compliance.

Some of the common condition breaches seen frequently are:

  • Removing too much sediment from exposed gravel bars – this can destroy habitat and cause landowners further problems such as erosion, causing land loss or placing livestock at risk. It’s important you leave the edge of the bar intact.

Too much / inappropriate gravel removal

gravel removal

  • Over-dredging – when undertaking dredging works it is important not to scrape out the channel or overdeepen / widen channel. This causes further erosion and destabilisation of the banks.

Bad practice dredging

over dredging

  • Putting in the wrong type of bank protection – bank protection to address erosion can be undertaken as a GBR, registration or licence level activity, depending on the type of bank protection to be installed. There have been numerous instances when a registration for green bank protection has been obtained, but then the applicant puts in grey bank protection which is a licence-level activity. If bank erosion is an issue check out the new General Binding Rule 25 – bank protection using trees.

Bank protection

  • Poor culvert installation – installing pipes that are narrower than the river channel or which create a hydraulic step / drop at the entry and exit points of culverts can cause erosion or prevent fish passing up stream. Over-engineering around culverts including straightening / realignment of river channels up and downstream of the culvert.

Bad practice culvert installation

culvert installation

  • Failure to install appropriate pollution control measures – this can allow silt or oil pollution to occur. This can smother river beds and affect habitats.

  • Undertaking works outwith the engineering season – river engineering is generally a seasonal activity which can usually only take place when salmon, trout and other migratory species are not spawning or when young fish have left the river system. In practice this typically means a window of April/May to September/October, although local circumstances such as special areas of conservation can reduce that time period. Local fisheries trusts or SNH can advise on specific times. Come talk to us in the Autumn if you want to undertake work in the following Spring and we’ll do what we can to give you advice and process your application so it is ready for you when you need it.

Salmon (Credit: Mark Caunt, shutterstock.com)


SEPA is committed to helping land managers and contractors do the right thing and SEPA staff are available to talk through projects to ensure that everyone understands what is required before, during and after any works.

There is a wealth of advice and information available on SEPA’s website, including a range of good practice guides. Further, SEPA’s CAR Practical Guide has been designed to provide clear and practical advice to anyone carrying out an activity covered by the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (as amended), known as CAR. It helps you determine which level of authorisation you need to apply for, and how to do it, with an entire section on engineering works.

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