Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Working close to water for construction sites

Prevent water pollution when working close to water

What you must do

Water pollution

If you pollute a watercourse, water body or groundwater, your environmental regulator can serve you with an 'anti pollution works notice'. This requires you to clean up the pollution that you have caused. This could lead to construction work on site being halted for a time.

You should place on drip trays static plant and equipment that operates near the water environment or drains. This will help to prevent water pollution from oil spills and leaks.

In Scotland any static plant or machinery used within 10m of any:

  • river
  • burn
  • canal
  • ditch
  • loch
  • wetland
  • coastal waters

must be placed on a suitable drip tray with a capacity equal to 110% of the capacity of the fuel tank that supplies the equipment. You must make sure that the equipment you use does not leak oil.

Empty drip trays regularly to make sure that they can contain any spills.

GPP5: Works and maintenance in or near water (Adobe PDF – 782KB)

Drip trays

In Northern Ireland you must have consent from the Rivers Agency before you place structures in any waterway that are likely to affect its drainage. Contact your local Rivers Agency office for further information.

Northern Ireland - Rivers Agency Area Offices

DAERA has produced a handbook is for landowners and people and organisations involved in carrying out activities that may alter the physical characteristics or flows of rivers and other waterbodies. The activities covered include dredging and substrate addition, removal of bankside vegetation, bed and bank reinforcements, flow manipulation and culverting.

DAERA: Surface Waters Alterations Handbook

Removal of vegetation

If your works require the removal of vegetation close to or on a riverbank:

In Northern Ireland , it is an offence to deposit any polluting matter, or anything which could impede the water's proper flow, into a watercourse. You should consult the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Rivers Agency if your work is near a watercourse.

In Scotland, it is an offence to allow any polluting matter or solid waste matter to enter a watercourse.

Invasive weeds such as Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed are commonly found on riverbanks. If these species are present in or around your working area, you will need to take additional precautions to avoid their spread and to protect the workforce.

Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and other invasive weeds

Further consent

In Northern Ireland you must have consent from the Rivers Agency before you place structures in any waterway that could affect its drainage. Contact your local Rivers Agency office for further information.

Northern Ireland Rivers Agency: Contact details

In Scotland, if you carry out building and engineering works that could significantly affect the water environment, you must either:

  • comply with certain general binding rules (GBRs) which apply to low-risk activities
  • register your activity with SEPA, or
  • get a licence from SEPA.

SEPA: Practical guide to the Water Environment Regulations (Adobe PDF - 540KB)

SEPA: Silt control while dredging 2015

Guidance for Pollution Prevention (GPP) 5 contains guidance on how you can avoid causing pollution during works and maintenance in or near water.

GPP5 Works and maintenance in or near water (Adobe PDF – 782KB)

Good practice

Noise and vibration

Noise and vibration from heavy machinery and construction activities such as pile driving can disrupt and disturb fish migrations and breeding. Extreme vibration can even kill fish. Noise and vibration can also disturb wildlife such as birds and otters, especially during the breeding season.

Under conservation legislation, including the Habitats Directive and the Environmental Liability Directive, if your activities kill or disturb protected species, or damage biodiversity you could be committing an offence.

If you are working close to a stream or river you should:

  • monitor and reduce vibration levels
  • use hydraulic or vibro-piling for smaller pile driving operations
  • schedule works for when fish migrations are not happening
  • use bubble curtains
  • leave intervals between noisy activities.

If you have any concerns about noise and vibration and its impact on wildlife, contact your environmental regulator.

Contact your environmental regulator

Further information

Oil storage

PPG 3 Use and design of oil separators in surface water drainage systems (Adobe PDF – 78.6KB)

DAERA: Surface Waters Alterations Handbook

In this guideline

Bunds for oil and chemical storage on construction sites

Controlling surface water runoff from works near water

Dealing with silty water from construction sites

Dewatering excavations on a construction site

Oil Separators for construction sites

Groundwater protection when drilling or boring on a construction site

Sediment control using tanks or silt ponds on construction sites

Slurry (liquid wastes) from construction sites

Wheel washing on construction sites

Working close to water for construction sites

Construction phase SuDS

Drip trays to prevent spills on site

Working close to water for demolition businesses

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