Scottish farmers are set to benefit from new dredging rules, which will help reduce the risk of fields becoming flooded.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has unveiled a new registration category, which will allow farmers and landowners to apply to dredge already straightened watercourses up to five metres in width.

The new licence can be acquired online for £77 and authorisations will be granted after 30 days, as opposed to four months, which was previously the case.

NFU Scotland vice president Allan Bowie said the new arrangement would benefit thousands of Scottish farmers whose fields had lain under water for months, and in some cases, years.

“Farmers have struggled acutely in recent years as rainfall has been unusually high. Additionally, they have often been fearful of carrying out what would, in fact, be legitimate works to clear out watercourses in case they breach cross-compliance rules, thereby incurring heavy fines,” said Mr Bowie.

Previous dredging rules had been too restrictive and costly, and farmers’ fear of breaching cross-compliances rules meant a great deal of ditch clearing and general maintenance had not taken place in recent years, he added.

“Farmers have struggled acutely in recent years as rainfall has been unusually high. Additionally, they have often been fearful of carrying out what would, in fact, be legitimate works to clear out watercourses in case they breach cross-compliance rules, thereby incurring heavy fines.”
Allan Bowie

“Farmers should be aware that this new relaxation relates specifically to previously straightened watercourses, however, farmers whose ditches, burns and rivers have not been straightened and are facing flooding and drainage problems, should still contact SEPA to see what options are open to them,” said Mr Bowie.

Farmers are not required to apply to SEPA to authorise the following activities:

  • Removal of in-stream or bankside vegetation
  • Removal of in-stream debris or rubbish
  • Construction of new drains and ditches, where no watercourse previously existed
  • Construction and maintenance of road drains
  • Dredging already straightened ditches, less than one metre wide, subject to good practice being followed.

In addition to the new dredging licence, for waterways up to five metres in width, farmers are being encouraged to co-operate with their neighbours when applying for a licence to dredge more natural rivers.

A successful example is the River Ae in Dumfries where SEPA has issued the first catchment scale licence for sediment management.

NFU Scotland and SEPA are holding a series of meetings across Scotland in March to explain the new rules to farmers. All meetings start at 19:30 with tea and coffee beforehand.

  • Monday 4 March – Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness
  • Tuesday 5 March – Lochter Activity Centre, Oldmeldrum
  • Tuesday 12 March – Huntingtower Hotel, near Perth
  • Wednesday 13 March – Douglas Arms, Castle Douglas
  • Monday 18 March – Western House Hotel, Ayr
  • Tuesday 19 March – The Lodge, Carfraemill
  • Monday 25 March – Ardshiel Hotel, Campbeltown

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