SEPA produces new guidance to protect and improve our water environment

Posted: Tuesday 7th September 2010

New guidance on sediment management has been published by Scotland's environment watchdog to help provide clear and effective advice and improve the health of our water environment across the country.

The water environment in Scotland has fewer environmental problems than most other parts of the UK, with good water quality in many areas. However, a healthy water environment is about more than just how clean the water is, it also includes the impacts of our activities on the quantity of water and the natural form of beds, banks and shores.

One of a range of good practice guides, this document from the Scottish Environment Projection Agency (SEPA) has been created to help people determine whether sediment management really is necessary, suggest alternatives to sediment management. Where sediment management is required, it provides guidance on how to proceed with minimal impact on the water environment.

The guidance advises on demonstrating need, considering options, environmental mitigation, and applying for authorisation (where required)1. Anyone considering any type of engineering activity in rivers or lochs is strongly encouraged to use the guide to ensure they have considered all the environmental aspects required before undertaking any work.

Rivers, lochs and burns are constantly changing environments and understanding them is vital to sustainably managing them. Promoting good practice will enable people to minimise the impact of any engineering work on the water environment. It is available on SEPA's website.

Scott Crawford, SEPA's National Operations Water Unit Manager, said

"Historically, sediment management has been carried out for several reasons, including reducing flood risk and reducing bank erosion, but it is not always the best option and any work carried out needs to be carefully planned so that further problems are not caused in other areas. This guidance is designed to help people understand how the water environment changes over time naturally and what impact man made changes can have on other areas. It also provides alternatives to activities such as dredging.

"We are committed to ensuring our guidance is clear and effective, and we would encourage all those who use the guidance to provide comments using the feedback form in the document. This will help us ensure that we can continue to improve future editions by addressing the needs of the people who are using it."

Rivers naturally change over time. These changes shape the river to a particular size, which is usually large enough to contain floods. This also enables the creation of new habitats, vital for a healthy river ecology. Dredging a river, and altering this natural shape can increase the risk of flooding downstream and trigger river instability, leading to significant erosion of the bed and banks potentially impacting on land owners and water users both up and down stream.

Many important species rely on river sediments for survival. Sediment removal can affect habitats such as pools, riffles, gravel bars and beaches, leading to a reduction or loss in the number of plants and animals. Removing sediment can also indirectly damage plants, animals and habitats by altering river and loch processes. For example sediment removal may lead to a release of fine sediments that can smother fresh water pearl mussels and gravel habitats which are important for fish

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