Scotland's environment

SEPA has a duty to monitor and report on the state of Scotland's environment and to use that scientific understanding to inform our independent regulation of activities that may affect its quality. We publish a wide range of environmental information and advise Ministers, partner bodies, regulated industry and the public on environmental issues. All our environmental reports and data can be accessed by following the links on the left hand side.

Through our network of four chemistry and seven biology laboratories, we conduct environmental testing and analysis to the highest standards of scientific excellence. We have more than 2,500 m2 of lab space, £12m worth of scientific equipment (excluding our hydrometric network), and a survey vessel with a fleet of smaller craft and several field vehicles.

Sampling

We employ experts in many fields of science, including hydrology, chemistry, ecology, algology, ecotoxicology, hydromorphology, hydrogeology, and oceanography. Our scientists analyse a wide range of samples collected from across Scotland's air, land and water environments. We test for more than 500 individual chemical parameters and the levels of 2,000 plants and animals in marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats. We also conduct analyses of solid waste arisings and audit check analyses of gaseous emissions to the atmosphere.

In a typical year, we collect around 50,000 samples and deliver 700,000 determinations in supporting SEPA's statutory monitoring (EC directives) and its general duty to assess and report on the state of Scotland's environment.

Monitoring

SEPA maintains and operates a network of 418 gauging stations and 515 rain gauges and provides a national flood warning and forecasting service. This allows us to provide detailed sustainable flood management and planning advice. SEPA holds over 30 years of hydrometric data for Scotland's rivers. These data are invaluable in characterising the long-term pressures on Scotland's environment, particularly in relation to the assessment and management of the consequences of climate change.

Our testing, analysis and interpretation covers a wide range of environments throughout Scotland, including contaminated land, fresh and saline waters, soils and sediments, sewage and industrial effluents, leachates, fauna and biota, and landfill gases.

SEPA operates a rigorous formal quality assurance system for its monitoring and assessment functions and, through this, delivers environmental measurements with a high level of robustness and credibility. Our Quality Assurance system is compliant with international standards ISO/IEC 17025, ISO 9001:2000, and ISO 14001, and is monitored and externally audited by UKAS and LRQA. We are accredited for 328 tests and, in some cases, have the only UKAS-accredited laboratory in the UK.

This section of our website contains our scientific reports and technical papers and includes more detailed information on our scientific operations.

Research

As an organisation established to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment and protect human health, it is essential that SEPA has a sound science and knowledge base. Such information helps us to deliver best value in our powers and duties and to inform the development of effective policies that contribute to better regulation and the Scottish Government’s goal of sustainable economic growth.

This means that we should implement environmental regulations in ways that do not impose unnecessary burdens on those we regulate and which are proportionate to the actual or potential harm to the environment. Our mandate for research and development activity is required by our founding legislation, The Environment Act 1995.

By continually improving our understanding and our decision-making processes, responses and interventions we can ensure that Scotland’s environmental capacity is managed sustainably, and help to maintain the wealth of benefits that a healthy and productive environment provides – including economic and social well-being. We need to inform and advise a range of stakeholders, with varied and sometimes conflicting interests, on environmental and human health risks, uncertainties, options and consequences.

To meet these needs we have to develop tools and techniques to help assess and predict environmental change, risks and impacts. We have to foster a culture of innovation and effective knowledge exchange, to be proactive in influencing policy and to integrate a wide range of socio-economic considerations, such as land-use and business needs etc into our core activities of environmental science and regulation.

We are in the process of updating our Research strategy 2008–2012 which defines our aims, needs and interests in research and development. We define “research” as the discovery of fundamental new knowledge and understanding and ”development” as the process by which new knowledge and understanding is applied. This strategy provides an overview of the principles we will apply in fulfilling those aims, and focuses on the key themes and priorities that will influence our research activity over the next four years.

We will consider the awarding of occasional, small-scale (generally less than £20 000) grants for scientific research and development through our Research Advisory Panel (RAP). RAP funds research projects that help deliver our Corporate Plan and priorities identified in our research strategy (currently being reviewed). 

Our current 2014-15 Research and Development programme is now available.

Every research project we carry out can be found on our website.

SEPA’s guidance and standard terms and conditions for small-scale scientific research and development grants can be obtained on request by contacting environmental.strategy@sepa.org.uk