Agriculture and the environment


Pesticides are used to ensure a plentiful supply of food is produced by farmers at a reasonable price all year round. 

Farmers use pesticides to protect crops from insect pests, weeds and fungal disease while they are growing and prevent rats, mice, flies and other insects from contaminating stored foods. 

Pesticide regulations and Brexit

While it is the position of the Scottish Government that Scotland is better off remaining in the EU, preparations are underway for the UK’s exit from the EU. 

The four UK administrations have been working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to ensure new regulations are similar to those in place before Brexit to protect human health and the environment and to provide stability for businesses and consumers.  

The rules will be different depending on how the UK leaves the EU. The guidance below will help you prepare for each scenario:  

HSE will continue to operate as the UK’s regulator in both deal and no deal scenarios.

Pesticide approval process

The European Commission is responsible for the approval of active substances for use in pesticides in European Union Member States. Approval is only given after a rigorous lengthy assessment and scrutiny process which involves the European Food Safety Authority, Member States and scientific experts.

When an active substance is approved in Europe, companies can apply to the regulatory authority within each Member State, which in the UK is the Chemicals Regulation Division (CRD) of the Health and Safety Executive, for permission to place their product on the market.

The CRD maintains a number of databases on pesticide products for use in the UK, including information on current professional and amateur products.

Code of practice for using plant protection products in Scotland

The code of practice reflects our policy to reduce to the lowest possible level the effect of pesticide use on people, wildlife, plants and the environment while making sure pests, diseases, and weeds are effectively controlled. It is due to be updated to take account of new pesticide legislation.

Cross compliance

As a condition of receiving support payments, land managers have to comply with a range of requirements known as cross compliance. The correct use of pesticides is part of cross compliance and breaches of the requirements could result in payments being reduced. Detailed information is available from Rural Payments and Services.

Scotland’s Pesticide Survey Unit

Information on the use of pesticides in Scotland is collected and published annually by the Pesticide Survey Unit at SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture)

Pesticides and the water environment

The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (CAR) place controls on the storage of pesticides and their use in the proximity of the water environment. Full guidance on the rules within CAR can be found on the Farming and Water Scotland website.


The Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012 implement The Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive 2009/128/EC.

The directive includes a number of new provisions aimed at reducing risks and impacts on human health and the environment, and to improve controls on distribution and use. These include:

  • a Pesticides: UK National Action Plan
  • compulsory testing of application equipment
  • provision of training for, and arrangements for the certification of operators, advisors and distributors
  • a ban (subject to limited exceptions) on aerial spraying
  • provisions to protect water, public spaces and conservation areas
  • the minimisation of risks from handling, storage and disposal
  • and the promotion of low input regimes

Grandfather rights - certificate of competence

A former exemption in UK law, commonly known as grandfather rights, meant that anyone born before 31 December 1964 could use pesticides which have been authorised for professional use either on their own or their employer’s land, without having to hold a certificate of competence.

Since November 2015 this exemption was removed and it is now an offence for anyone to purchase pesticides authorised for professional use unless they have ensured that the intended end user of the pesticide product has a certificate of competence. All users must comply with the rules in The Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012. If professional users of pesticides do not have a certificate, they will need to get one to be able to continue to use them as part of their job.

Existing certificates of competence will remain valid under the new legislation. Anyone who already has one of the existing certificates need not do anything new.

Aerial spraying

Aerial spraying is used where there are no viable alternatives, or where there are clear advantages for human health and the environment from aerial spraying compared to using land-based pesticide application equipment. Only pesticides approved for aerial spraying can be used.

For example, aerial spraying is used to control bracken, which unless controlled is often invasive and can replace heather moorlands and rich grassland habitats.

Guidance relating to the aerial application of pesticides came into effect in July 2012 as a result of changes to pesticide legislation. The objective of the changes was to minimise the hazards and risks to health and the environment from the use of pesticides. 

Detailed information on the requirement to complete an application plan and obtain a permit from the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) before aerial spraying can take place is available on the aerial spraying permit arrangements page of CRD’s website.

Integrated pest management

Integrated pest management (IPM) is a whole farm approach to managing the land, maximising the efficiency of production whilst minimising negative effects on the environment. Reduced reliance on pesticides can be achieved by minimising pest, weed and disease risks through:

  • tailored and efficient use of chemical inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides
  • appropriate cultural controls such as crop rotations and the use of resistant varieties
  • physical and mechanical controls including the use of nets, mulches and mechanical weeding
  • enhancement of wildlife habitats to encourage biodiversity and beneficial organisms that provide biological control
  • monitoring of crops for pests, weeds and diseases and the use of forecasts and thresholds for treatment

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan has been has been reviewed for 2021 and is now hosted by the Plant Health Centre.  The aim is to help Scottish farmers meet their legal obligation to take reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment when using pesticides.  Completing an IPM plan will help the landowner/contractor to make the best possible and most sustainable use of all available methods for controlling pests, weeds and diseases.

Amenity forum

The Amenity forum is the independent body bringing together professional organisations with an involvement in weed, pest and disease control in the amenity horticulture sector. The organisation was formed as a key action to support the UK Voluntary Initiative, an industry-led project agreed with Government, with a primary aim to promote and encourage proper and responsible use of pesticides and integrated methods to control pests, weeds and diseases.

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