Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Engineering in the water environment

What you must do

When working in or near the water environment you must have the appropriate authorisation to carry out the activity and you must ensure that you know and follow the rules of the authorisation.

In Scotland, Certain engineering works can be carried without contacting SEPA. However, where relevant, you must comply with the General Binding Rules (GBRs) and you must ensure you do not cause pollution.

Removing sediments from watercourses

In Scotland, you do not need to contact SEPA if you’re removing sediments from within:

  • a field drain or completely man-made ditch
  • a small ditch that has been straightened in the past and has an average width of less than 1 metre measured at the bed – Comply with GBR 5 (and GBR 9)
  • 10 metres upstream of a weir – Comply with GBR 12 (and GBR 9)
  • 10 metres upstream or downstream of a closed culvert – Comply with GBR 13 (and GBR 9)
  • 5 metres of an outfall or intake – Comply with GBR 13 (and GBR 9)

For any other dredging works in rivers, burns and lochs you must contact SEPA for higher level authorisations – See SEPA: Authorisations

Removal of fallen trees, litter, debris and vegetation from watercourses

In Scotland, The removal of fallen trees, litter, debris and vegetation in or near watercourses can be carried out without contacting SEPA. However, vegetation removal from banks should be done in a way that minimises erosion.

Maintenance and repair of existing manmade structures

In Scotland, you do not need to contact SEPA when maintaining or repairing existing manmade structure, if you are:

  • using the same or equivalent type of materials it was constructed from, and
  • not changing the size shape or length of the structure

For any other works to existing banks, embankments or floodwalls you must contact SEPA for higher level authorisations – See SEPA: Authorisations

Note: You must comply with GBR 9 when operating machinery in or near water for purpose of maintaining existing manmade structure

Reinforcing or re-profiling of a new section of river bank

In Scotland, you do not need to contact SEPA for the following works:

  • Green bank reinforcement or re-profiling, where the length does not exceed 10m or channel width (whichever is greater) – Comply with GBR 8 (and GBR 9)
  • The placement of trees or parts of trees in a watercourse to protect eroding banks – Comply with GBR 25 (and GBR 9)

For any other works involving reinforcing or re-profiling river banks you must contact SEPA for higher level authorisations – See SEPA: Authorisations

Bridges and other types of crossing structures

In Scotland, you do not need to contact SEPA for the following works:

  • Minor bridges with no construction on the bed or banks of the watercourse – Comply with GBR 6 (and GBR 9)
  • Temporary bridges in rivers less than 5 metres wide – Comply with GBR 6 (and GBR 9)
  • Pipeline or cable crossings bored beneath the bed of inland surface waters – Comply with GBR 7 (and GBR 9)

For all other works involving bridges and other crossing structures you must contact SEPA for higher level authorisations – See SEPA: Authorisations

Placing or reinforcing structures in watercourses

In Scotland, placing boulders in watercourses can be carried out without contacting SEPA if the boulder placements occupy less than 10% of the channel width – Comply with GBR 14 (and GBR 9)

You must contact SEPA for higher level authorisations for:

  • all other works involving placing or reinforcing structures in watercourses
  • the removal of structures in watercourse

See SEPA: Authorisations

Channel modifications

Channel modification works include:

  • Diversions
  • Realignment
  • Flood by-pass channels
  • Culverting

In Scotland all works involving channel modification will require authorisation from SEPA - See SEPA: Authorisations

Further Information

SEPA: Engineering webpage

SEPA: CAR A Practical Guide (Adobe pdf)

SEPA: Know the rules poster (Adobe PDF)

GPP 5: Works and maintenance in or near water (Adobe PDF – 782KB)

Self-Assessment Checklist - Water

Additional resources

Environmental News Blog

  • My Year at NetRegs, A reflection on my time as an intern with the NetRegs team at SEPA. An overview of all the activities and projects I had the opportunity to participate in during my Bright Green Environmental Placement.

  • A day with Hydrology, SEPA's hydrometry unit is responsible for around 400 gauging stations and 350 rainfall monitoring sites. River gauging stations are important as they allow river levels to be monitored so flood events can be predicted and flood warnings sent out.

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Permits

NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms