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SEPA’s main role is to make sure that the environment and human health are protected, that we use our natural resources and services as sustainably as possible, and to contribute to sustainable economic growth. SEPA implements Scottish, UK and European legislation, issuing licences to industry in order to control pollution and prevent environmental damage. We also publish a wide range of environmental information and advise Scottish Ministers, regulated operators, industry and the public on environmental best practice

Legal text

SEPA was established by the Environment Act 1995 and was initially accountable to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Scotland Act 1998 created the Scottish Parliament to which environmental matters were devolved. We are now accountable to the Scottish Parliament via Scottish Ministers. SEPA is a non-departmental public body (NDPB). We began work in April 1996, providing Scotland for the first time with a national environment protection service. We brought together functions previously carried out by approximately 64 different public bodies.

Our operational context and priorities are agreed with Scottish Ministers and are set out in a number of documents published and reviewed regularly by the Scottish Government.


As Scotland’s environment watchdog, SEPA aims to protect the environment and human health by being an excellent environmental regulator and an effective and influential authority on the environment, limiting climate change and preparing Scotland for a sustainable future.

Our Corporate Plan for 2012-2017 explains our vision and strategic direction over the next five years, based on achieving four outcomes:


    • Scotland’s environment is protected and improving
    • Scotland’s environment is understood and SEPA is a respected and influential authority
    • Scotland is preparing for a sustainable future and is taking steps to tackle climate change
    • SEPA is a high performance organisation.

Each year we also publish an Annual Operating Plan providing greater detail about the specific activities we will be carrying out and detailed indicators of how well we are performing.

We will review the Corporate Plan every two years to ensure that we are still focusing on where we can most effectively protect and improve Scotland’s environment, and that we are still working in a way which provides the best possible value.

Based on a sound understanding of environmental trends and priorities along with national and international law and obligations, SEPA’s work aligns with the National Performance Framework and Scottish Government’s objective of sustainable economic growth.

Budget and number of staff

SEPA’s total expenditure for the financial year 2012–2013 is forecasted to be £71.8million (c.€90.48million) (and £3.2million (c.€4.03million) capital costs. We receive c.52% directly from the Scottish Government as grant-in-aid. Around 47% of our income comes from charges paid to us by licence holders; we have a statutory duty that requires us to recover our costs in this way, reflecting the government’s commitment to the ‘polluter pays’ principle. The remaining income (£820,000 (c.€1.03million)) comes from, for example, the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for transfrontier shipment of waste work, and other small sources of income. Further information is provided in our Annual Operating Plan.

SEPA employs around 1140 staff (full time equivalents) in a wide range of occupations and specialisms in 25 offices across Scotland.

Areas of responsibility

Under various regulations we issue licences and consents to control pollution from, for example, sewage works, waste management facilities, farms, major industrial sites and nuclear facilities. Briefly, SEPA regulates/inspects:

  • activities that may pollute water (groundwater, freshwaters, estuarine and marine waters)
    • activities that may pollute air
    • storage, transport and disposal of waste
    • contaminated land sites.

We also implement regulations covering the keeping, use, accumulation and disposal of radioactive substances to ensure that public exposures to ionising radiation do not exceed the 1 millisievert per year dose limit set by international organisations.

SEPA's other responsibilities include:

    • sampling and monitoring, and reporting on Scotland’s air, land and water environments
    • measuring water quantity and flow
    • data interpretation and analysis (we report on the state of Scotland’s environment in publications, on our website and on the Scotland’s  Environment website)
    • flood risk management, maintaining a flood warning system and providing flood risk maps
    • Preparing for regulation of reservoir safety
    • helping Scotland move towards a zero waste society (SEPA works in partnership with Zero Waste Scotland to deliver the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Plan, which sets the path towards recycling 70% of all waste in Scotland by 2025)
    • investigating environmental crimes and preparing cases for prosecution
    • responding to pollution incidents and major emergencies/incident response, including delivering an airborne hazards incident response system for Scotland providing capability for SEPA, Health Protection Scotland and other agencies to carry out high quality public health risk assessments based on monitoring and modelling at the time of an incident
    • Civil Contingencies Act
    • controlling, with the Health and Safety Executive, the risk of major accidents at industrial sites
    • operating the Scottish Radioactive Incident Monitoring Network
    • administration of the Emissions Trading Scheme in Scotland
    • ‘horizon-scanning’, looking ahead to anticipate impact of new challenges, legislation and issues on the organisation; we have expertise on global issues such as sustainable development and climate change research.

From 2015 SEPA is also to undertake the role of collecting the replacement for Landfill Tax in Scotland (a Scottish tax to be set by the Scottish Parliament to take the place of the UK Landfill Tax).

SEPA also works with many other organisations to help protect and improve the environment. We enable business and industry to:

    • understand their environmental responsibilities
    • benefit from good practice
    • comply with environmental legislation
    • realise the many economic benefits of good environmental practice.

We work in partnership with:

    • other public bodies in Scotland to deliver joined-up public services and to contribute to economic success through sustainable economic growth:
      • Environmental & clean technologies
      • Encourage/support innovation
      • Facilitate development
      • Efficient processes
    • the Police, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the UK Borders Agency, to address the problem of environmental crime. We are increasingly taking a ‘problem-solving’ approach, analysing data from within SEPA and partner organisations to identify the causes of environmental harms, and then focusing our resources on tackling the most significant problems
    • the public, private and voluntary sectors to deliver environmental improvements and meet carbon targets
    • our sister environment agencies in the UK, Ireland and across Europe to share knowledge and expertise
    • EU institutions to understand and influence EU policies and legislation via Networks such as Scotland Europa, European Network of Heads of Environment Protection Agencies; and IMPEL (EU Network for Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law).

Other functions provide support in communications, education and awareness raising, facilitating public participation, human resources, finance and corporate services.

Organisational structure and governance

SEPA is governed by the Agency Board. The Board is appointed by Scottish Ministers and comprises a chairman and ten members, including the Chief Executive. The Board is responsible for establishing SEPA’s overall strategic direction within the policy and resources framework agreed with Scottish Ministers. It monitors the organisation’s performance, and ensures that SEPA has sound environmental policies and observes high standards of corporate governance.

The Chief Executive reports to the Board and is the Accountable Officer for SEPA. The Agency Management Team is collectively responsible for the operation of the organisation. To see SEPA’s structure as at August 2012 please click on the Top Level Organogram on the Agency Management Team website.

Additional information

Useful resources that are available on the SEPA website (www.sepa.org.uk) include:

    • Our Annual reports and SEPA’s performance website – SEPA Performs – which not only gives details of SEPA’s structure and reports but also gives a quarterly update of how we are performing against our key performance targets 

See: Scottish Environment Protection Agency: Publications

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Type Title Restrictions Owner Modification date and time File size Edit
GeoPoint SEPA David Egilson 29/11/2011, 19:25