Rural Law

Last year SEPA announced a crackdown on the practice of burning agricultural waste on farms.

This crackdown is one of four key compliance risks that farmers should be aware of when running their businesses.

  • Since 1 January 2019, SEPA has enforced its ban on burning and burying certain types of agricultural waste on farms. This change in approach impacts in two ways:
  1. Materials such as plastics, metal, food waste, paper, cardboard and glass have to be disposed of, off-site. If they are not, SEPA may investigate. To demonstrate compliance, steps should be taken to arrange for farm waste to be recycled, recovered or disposed of. The message from SEPA is clear – recycling, via engaging with a specialist contractor wherever possible, is a key priority. SEPA recommends working with other farmers and crofters to arrange a central collection point.
  2. Certain materials such as brash and hedge trimmings can still be burned, but only if an exemption has been registered with SEPA and the burning does not cause pollution or harm to human health.
  • Depositing controlled waste on land without a waste management licence remains a key offence and one for which several farmers have been prosecuted in the past. Again, the message from SEPA is clear – a waste management licence is vital to compliance.
  • Activities that risk pollution, such as the spraying of chemicals and the discharge of water run-off to the water environment, remain heavily regulated.
  • Dredging requires a SEPA authorisation and failure to have that in place before carrying out works is an offence. Dredging covers clearing the bed of a harbour, river, ditch or other area of water by scooping out mud, weeds, and rubbish. It is commonly used by farmers as a method of sediment management.

Investigations may lead to SEPA imposed fixed monetary penalties. In the worst case scenario, they can lead to reports to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service with the potential for criminal prosecution.  However, all of this can be avoided if you take your environmental responsibilities seriously.

Pro-actively engaging with SEPA around the necessary authorisations, permits and licences will help demonstrate compliance and limit the risk of an investigation. Early and responsible engagement may also avoid the cost and potential damage of a regulatory inspection. In the event that you and your business are the subject of scrutiny, legal advice should be taken at the earliest opportunity.

This blog was co-authored by Paul Marshall and Ramsay Hall.

This article first appeared in Farming North.

Paul Marshall