December 2020

Diffuse Pollution – Getting It Right

This month’s instalment of our series highlighting our new Diffuse Pollution Training is guest written for us by John Gorman of SEPA. John has reflected on his years as a regulator to help us ‘Get it Right First Time’.

  • ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ is a phrase that can apply to many areas of forestry operations from planning, ground preparation and planting through to felling, transportation, roadworks and restocking.

From an environmental point of view, this phrase could easily apply to chemicals, fertilisers, oil stores and silty water runoff entering our rivers and lochs. The extra expense spent trying to fix a problem could be at least nine times more than that incurred in the up front planning operations to minimise the risk of causing pollution.

The difference between doing a good job, perfectly planned, managed, and executed, with positive lines of communication ensuring maximum confidence and protected company reputation is exactly the standard we must aim for. The consequences of getting this wrong can be negative publicity, lack of trust, big fines or compensation claims and huge loss of reputation for all parties involved.

So how do you get it right?

Spend time before operations commence by checking your work site and beyond for sensitivities to the operations. Plan in control measures including experienced operators – those who have diffuse pollution training and are aware of good forestry practice.

‘Forewarned is forearmed’. If you know about something before work starts you can be prepared for it. Before work starts, and certainly before the pre-commencement meeting, consider the need to discuss the operations with neighbours to properties in relation to private water supplies or public water suppliers or other parties within the catchment such as fisheries.

For high risk felling operations (think steep slopes, lack of brash, spring-lines, clay soils). Where work on site presents particular challenges both management and contractors may need to consider engaging with the regulator (SEPA, NRW or Environment Agency) to discuss the planning and execution of the forestry or harvesting operations, to lower the pollution risk to acceptable levels. For example, old drains which lead directly to watercourses may have to be blocked or diverted to prevent direct runoff connections; oversized settlement lagoons may have to be installed at key terminal points to reduce silty water runoff.

The pre-commencement meeting should be used to confirm that hazards and constraints are addressed and to agree the control measures (think silt traps, use of vegetated areas to discharge silty water into, stopping drains discharging directly to watercourses) and also to confirm whose role and responsibility it is to monitor and manage them. At this stage, always agree to maintain good communications between the whole team – very often incidents are made worse by poor communication.

Evidence of recognising an issue and taking steps to take it into account is reasonable. Think: is it in the public interest to take a reasonable person to court? It is not. However, getting it right also entails maintaining good site records which may include a Diffuse Pollution Risk Assessment, and a Diffuse Pollution or Water Management Plan.

Over and above this, monitor work progress through photographs and site diaries. Your first line of defence is demonstrating that the site is assessed, planned, communicated, and monitored.

Scottish Water has developed a useful fact sheet guide for working near public water supplies:

The Know the Rules Booklet version 2 also has a useful guidance section:

John Gorman

Senior Environmental Officer