The Scottish Soil Framework

This framework is aimed at government policy leads, delivery partners, environmental and business NGOs, research organisations and other key stakeholders with an interest.


Land Use and Management

A.1 The way soil is used and managed influences the quality of land, water and air environments as well as biodiversity. Although only approximately 25% of Scotland's soils are cultivated, most of Scotland's land cover is under some form of agricultural or forestry management. Agricultural and forestry land use has considerable potential to affect soil erosion, soil organic matter, habitats and biodiversity depending on the type of farming as well as the nature of the soil and weather conditions, vegetative cover and land management practices.

A.2 The 2003 Common Agriculture Policy reform decoupled agricultural support from production, with increase emphasis on rural development, environmental benefit, animal health and welfare and food safety. Farmers now receive Single Farm Payments provided they meet cross-compliance requirements which include Statutory Management Requirements as well as Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions ( GAEC), which include a number of soil protection measures (table A.1).

Table A.1 Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions ( GAEC) relating to soil

Soil erosion


Post-harvest management of land


Wind erosion


Soil capping


Erosion caused by livestock


Maintenance of functional field drainage systems


Muirburn Code

Soil organic matter


Arable crop rotation standards


Arable stubble management

Soil structure


Appropriate machinery use

A.3 Land managers may also qualify for payments in recognition of work done to deliver additional public benefits such as environmental enhancement, better recreational access or improved animal health and welfare. Scotland has pioneered the concept of Rural Development Contracts to deliver different types of payment and this is further developed in the Scotland Rural Development Programme for 2007-2013. A number of the measures encouraged through Rural Development Contracts have positive implications for air, land and water. Specific measures for soils include testing soil, nutrient planning, creating wetlands, converting arable land to grassland and leaving uncultivated buffer strips alongside watercourses to minimise diffuse pollution of water and to retain eroded soil in the field. It is also important to note that many measures will have cross-cutting benefits for a number of environmental concerns, e.g. measures put in place to combat diffuse pollution may also benefit climate change mitigation and soils, as they often focus on reduction of erosion and surface water run-off and minimising fertiliser loss. Equally, measures aiming to protect and enhance peatlands for biodiversity or conservation reasons, will ultimately have benefits in climate change mitigation, and in protecting Scotland's peat resource.

A.4 The Prevention of Environmental Pollution from Agricultural Activity ( PEPFAA) Code ( 20) provides practical guidance to help farmers minimise the risk of pollution and comply with CAP requirements. The 4 Point Plan ( 21) and Farm Soils Plan ( 22) provide straightforward guidance for land managers on ways to minimise pollution and benefit businesses through good soil management.

A.5 The UK Forestry Standard ( 23) ( UKFS) and its supporting guidelines sets out the framework for sustainable management of all forests and woodland in the UK. These documents are currently undergoing comprehensive review. This review will draw out more clearly the legal obligations of forest managers and the management standards expected as part of good forestry practice. The revised Standard will also identify woodland management practices that can contribute to tackling the impacts of climate change. The updated Forests & Soils Guidelines will identify the importance of forest soils and outlines good practice requirements to protect and enhance forest soils through sustainable forest management practices considering its interactions with water, biodiversity, and air quality.

A.6 The UKFS underpins the Scottish Forestry Strategy (2006) ( SFS) which sets out a strategic framework for the long-term development of forestry in Scotland. The SFS is supported by annual implementation plans which identify smart targets to help deliver the SFS. These documents recognise the importance of protecting and enhancing Scotland's soils resource and outlines the key actions that the forest industry and its partners need to take achieve this.

A.7 Sewage sludge use in agriculture is governed by the Sewage Sludge Directive (86/278/ EEC) which has been transposed into national legislation through the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989 (as amended in 1990), complemented by a Code of Practice for Agricultural Use of Sewage Sludge 1996. It seeks to encourage the use of sewage sludge in agriculture and to regulate its use in such a way as to prevent harmful effects on soil, vegetation, animals and man.

A.8 The Scottish Government strongly supports recovery of organic materials to land, rather than disposal. It envisages that recovery to land will continue to be a vital route for recovery of waste: indeed, to reach our target of 70% recycling and composting of municipal waste by 2025 it is clear that a great deal more compost, in particular, will have to be used in future. It is important to realise, however, that wastes are only a small fraction of organic materials going to land. Some 90% of all organic material going to land in Scotland is livestock manure and slurry, used in accordance with good agricultural practice.

Water Quality & Flooding

A.9 The Water Framework Directive (2001/60/ EEC) has introduced the most important changes to Scottish legislation protecting the water environment since 1974 when the Control of Pollution Act was passed. It has extended environmental protection for point and diffuse sources of pollution as well as impacts associated with water abstractions, dams and engineering work.

A.10 Protection of soils is closely linked to the protection and improvement of Scotland's water environment. The presence of suspended sediments and turbidity, through soil erosion, in watercourses can seriously diminish water quality and can damage aquatic life, including salmon spawning grounds. Soil from farmland is often rich in nutrients such as phosphates (P compounds), which when released into the aquatic environment may contribute to the eutrophication of waters.

A.11 The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2005 ( CAR), as amended, now provide controls to protect banksides from erosion through the use of General Binding Rules ( GBRs). The Water Environment (Diffuse Pollution) (Scotland) Regulations (2008), which have amended CAR, apply to rural land use activities; these aim to protect surface waters including wetlands and groundwater from the effects of diffuse pollution.

A.12 Under CAR discharges (run-off) from new developments both during and following construction, will generally be required to be drained by a Sustainable Drainage System ( SUDS). The main driver for this provision is the control of diffuse pollution. SUDS are designed to slow flows and remove pollutants; and attenuation should minimise run-off losses and can thus facilitate the settling of soil.

A.13 The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill will modernise the flood risk management system in Scotland. The Bill will shift the emphasis to a catchment focused approached to managing flood risk and clarify the roles and responsibilities to create a fully integrated approach to flood management. The Bill will also transpose the EC Floods Directive which came into force in December 2007. There is a strong interrelation between soil deterioration and the increased number of extreme floods as soils sealing, soil compaction and capping exacerbates flooding as the capability of soils to absorb water decreases and water runs off more quickly. Appropriate soil management therefore is a central plank for the development of a sustainable approach to flood risk management.

Conservation & Biodiversity & Geodiversity

A.14 The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy It's In Your Hands ( 24) presents a 25 year vision and framework for action to protect Scotland's biodiversity. Delivery of the strategy includes a focus on maintaining healthy and productive ecosystems, developing actions to sustain and support the complex web of conditions and organisms that contribute to productive soils.

A.15 Around 15% of Scotland is covered by national and international conservation designations, which include National Scenic Areas, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves, Biosphere Reserves and Natura 2000, Ramsar and World Heritage Sites. When National Parks and local designations such as Local Landscape Areas ( LLAs) and Local Nature Conservation Areas ( LNCAs) are added, over ΒΌ of Scotland is under some level of protection for its natural heritage, biodiversity or landscape and geodiversity values. Although soil itself is often not directly protected under such designations, management agreements and operations often offer soil protection in order to protect and enhance the biodiversity, geodiversity and landform value of the sites.


A.16 Due to the transboundary nature of airborne pollutants which can cause acidification & eutrophication, the best means of tackling the problem is through concerted action across Europe. The main policy tools to reduce soil acidification and eutrophication are the National Emission Ceilings Directive ( NECD, 2001/81/ EC) and the Protocols under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe ( UNECE) Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

A.17 The NECD sets ceilings for each Member State for emissions within their boundaries of: sulphur dioxide (SO 2); nitrogen oxides (NO x), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia (NH 3). These 4 pollutants are primarily responsible for acidification, eutrophication, and ground-level ozone. The UK's main policies and measures for achieving the air quality obligations for health and ecosystems are set out in the Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Both national and European measures will contribute to reducing the emissions of pollutants which, when deposited, lead to soil acidification and eutrophication.

A.18 The Contaminated Land Regime, established under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 places a duty on local authorities, as the primary regulators, to carry out inspections for the purpose of identifying contaminated land within their areas and to take action to secure its remediation. Contaminated land is land which appears to the enforcing authority to be in such a condition that there is a significant risk of harm to human health or the wider environment. The main objective of the Contaminated Land Regime is to provide an improved system for the identification and remediation of land where contamination is causing, or is likely to cause, such risks, assessed in the context of the current use and circumstances of the land. In this way the regime plays an important role in cleaning up historically contaminated soils, but it is not designed to prevent new contamination. There are a range of other measures specifically aimed at achieving this, most significantly Pollution Prevention and Control ( PPC) and Waste Management Licensing, which are regulated by SEPA. SEPA's other responsibilities in relation to contaminated land consist of duties to act as the enforcing authority, securing remediation of land which is designated as a special site. SEPA also maintain a public register of special sites, and publishes a national report of the state of contaminated land.

Cultural Heritage

A.19 The Scottish Historic Environment Policy ) SHEP( published by Historic Scotland states that the historic environment encompasses built heritage features (ancient monuments, archaeological sites and landscapes, historic buildings, townscapes, parks, gardens and designed landscapes, as well as marine heritage) and the context or setting in which they sit, and the patterns of past use, in landscapes and within the soil, and also in our towns, villages and streets.

A.20 Present policies for the historic environment in Scotland address soil as the neutral matrix in which artefacts and environmental evidence are embedded, over and into which buildings and sites are constructed, and which in time comes to seal sites which have been destroyed or have decayed. However, the preferred approach for important archaeological sites and deposits is "preserve in situ", which generally accords well with soil conservation objectives.

Built/Engineered Development

A.21 The re-use of brownfield land is promoted in a number of National Planning Policies as well as in the development plans prepared by planning authorities. Nevertheless some development on green field sites is unavoidable if Scotland is to meet the demand for development, especially housing, taking into account the need for sustainable economic growth.

A.22 The planning system also provides significant protection to the soil resource through policies aimed at preventing inappropriate development in a wide range of areas, including:

  • parks, open spaces and playing fields;
  • regional parks;
  • green belts ;
  • areas designated nationally for their natural heritage value (including Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Parks and National Scenic Areas)
  • areas designated locally for their natural heritage value (including areas of great landscape value and local nature reserves).

A.23 Planning also controls development in residential gardens and other private open spaces, and is a major means of delivering sustainable urban drainage systems ( SUDS).

Environmental Assessment

A.24 Two of the main instruments used by the planning system to identify whether a proposal is likely to have significant environmental effects on soil are:

a. Environmental Impact Assessments ( EIA), which is for specified individual projects.

b. Strategic Environmental Assessments ( SEA), which is normally used for higher level public plans, programmes and strategies, (e.g. planning authorities' development plans).

EIA and SEA are also applicable to projects, plans and strategies outwith the planning system.

A.25 The Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 ensures that all public plans, programmes and strategies that are likely to have significant environmental effects, if implemented, are subject to environmental assessment. The findings of that assessment must be outlined to the public within a consultation, along with any measures to prevent, reduce and as fully as possible offset significant adverse effects and to consider reasonable alternatives, where relevant. Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) legislation ( 25) ensures greater consideration of the environment in the preparation of plans, programmes and strategies, thereby gaining the opportunity to minimise unforeseen environmental impacts.

A.26 In both types of assessment, the likely impacts on soils are a consideration. As consultation is at the heart of SEA, it ensures that those that are affected by, likely to be affected by or having an interest in a plan, programme or strategy, are provided with an opportunity to have a meaningful and transparent input into the decision making process.

Climate Change

A.27 The then Scottish Executive's response to climate change, Scotland's Climate Change Programme Changing Our Ways ( 26) was published in March 2006. The programme recognised the important role soils play in the context of climate change, both in relation to mitigation and adaptation. A new programme will be required to deliver the more ambitious objectives proposed for inclusion in a Scottish Climate Change Bill that was introduced to the Scottish Parliament at the end of 2008.

A.28 The Climate Change (Scotland) Bill ( 15) aims to create a long-term framework for the current and successive administrations in Scotland to ensure that emissions will be reduced by 80% by 2050. Whilst it is not intended to allocate sector specific targets for reducing emissions, it is intended that the Bill will assist in realising the mitigation potential for all sectors, including emissions from soils. Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Framework will identify strategic principles and priority actions as a means of providing leadership, guidance and consistency of approach to government and non-government decision-makers. The Framework will also identify roles and responsibilities for public and private decision makers across Scotland and outline the levels of risk being applied to manage climate change. The Framework was issued in draft for consultation in 2008, and re-drafted for further consultation in April 2009. A final Adaptation Framework will be published in autumn 2009. Because of the complex interactions between soils and climate as set out in Chapter 5, the above climate change policies all recognise that protecting soils is an important way of combating climate change.

A.29 It is becoming increasingly recognised that the world's forest sector can help tackle climate change through six simple measures: protecting what we already have; reducing deforestation; restoring forest cover; using wood for energy; replacing other materials with wood; and planning to adapt to our changing climate. The Forestry Commission Scotland Climate Change Action Plan 2008-2010 describes the actions FCS will implement to increase the response and contribution of Scottish Forestry to the challenges of climate change. It focuses on what needs to be done both as early actions and to increase preparedness.


A.30 Strategic soils research is funded by the Scottish Government as part of its long-term research programme on environment, land use and rural stewardship which runs over 5 years to 2010 ( b). Part of this programme focuses on "Protecting the Nation's Soils", and comprises two inter-related approaches (Figure A.1) addressing assessment and management of the soil resource of Scotland. The programme is expected to provide the following overall outcomes:

  • Up-dated status of quality and trends in Scotland's soil resource
  • Improved understanding of cycling of greenhouse gases and feedbacks to drivers of climate change
  • New tools and methods to assess soil quality, including its biodiversity
  • Maps showing which areas of soils are under threat
  • Evaluations of socio-economic value of soil and implications of threats to it.

A.31 In addition Scottish Government funds specific projects to provide evidence in the short term on important aspects like carbon release from peaty soils under various climate and land use scenarios. Similarly, Scotland is connecting with soil research agendas at UK and European level.

A.32 Research outcomes will make an important contribution to our understanding of fundamental soil processes and will provide vital evidence for policy development.

Figure A.1 Scottish Government strategic research. Objective 8: Protecting the Nation's soils. Work Packages 3.2 and 3.3 ( ).

Figure A.1 Scottish Government strategic research



Telephone: 0131 244 7250

Post: Scottish Government
Environmental Quality Division
Area: 1-D (North)
Victoria Quay

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