Implementing the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003: Updating environmental standards for the water environment

Closed 11 Dec 2020

Opened 23 Oct 2020

Published responses

View submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response.


Environmental standards form the foundation of a risk-based approach to River Basin Management Planning. In 2014, prior to the publication of the second River Basin Management Plans, Scottish Ministers directed the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to apply a range of environmental standards in protecting, improving and assessing the condition of the water environment.

Updating environmental standards in the light of improved scientific understanding is important. It helps ensure we protect the water environment without imposing unnecessary constraints on development. It also enables us to refine our understanding of where the water environment is under pressure and the scale of environmental improvements we would need to achieve good ecological quality.

We are proposing to introduce a small number of changes to the 2014 standards and assessment methods, based on the latest scientific understanding of aquatic ecosystems, and taking account of the evidence gained from using the existing standards and environmental monitoring programmes from across the UK. 

Our proposed updates are as follows: 

  • river fish statistical methodology update
  • river phytobenthos assessment method update
  • loch fish new eDNA assessment method
  • loch morphology: bank protection assessment method update
  • introduction of spatial standards for fish barrier assessment
  • new nitrogen standards for lochs
  • invasive non-native species list updates
  • river flow standards changes:
    • artificially increased flows in high hydrological status waterbodies
    • short term abstraction in good hydrological status waterbodies

Why we are consulting

We are seeking views on our proposals for new or updated environmental standards for Scotland’s water environment, and updates to some of the assessment methods used for deriving such standards. Scottish Ministers intend to direct the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to apply these proposed standards and assessment methods in River Basin Management Planning and to guide action to protect Scotland’s water environment.

Read the consultation paper. 

What happens next

Following this consultation Scottish Ministers will take into account the views expressed in making their decision to direct the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (“SEPA”) to apply these proposed standards and assessment methods in River Basin Management Planning and to guide action to protect Scotland’s water environment. A breakdown of responses and how they were addressed will be published.


  • Environment and Climate Change