Environmental Liability Directive

Under this European directive, operators whose actions threaten to cause or cause actual environmental damage must take preventive measures and will be held liable for remediating the damage.

The Environmental Liability Directive (ELD) puts into practice the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Its aim is to encourage operators to take greater care to prevent damage in the first place, by following a precautionary approach.

Environmental liability applies as well as any prosecution for criminal offences.

The ELD was adopted in 2004. In Scotland, it takes effect through the Environmental Liability (Scotland) Regulations 2009.

The Environmental Liability Regulations require an operator to:

  • take preventive action where there is an imminent threat of environmental damage
  • notify the relevant competent authority of the imminent threat of, or actual, environmental damage
  • remedy any environmental damage that it has caused

Environmental damage

Environmental damage means damage to:

You can download lists of all relevant European habitats and species known to occur in Scotland:

Environmental liability applies wherever such habitats or species are damaged.

A habitat or species is said to be damaged when an operation affects either its:

  • favourable conservation status
  • its ability to maintain or recover to favourable conservation status

Our role

Scotland’s three competent authorities in relation to the ELD are:

  • NatureScot
  • Marine Scotland
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)

NatureScot must investigate any plausible report of possible environmental damage to European habitats and species.

We’ll also help Marine Scotland and SEPA to investigate cases where European habitats and species may be affected.

If we find evidence of environmental damage, we will require the relevant operator(s) to:

  • avoid further damage to the conservation status of the habitat and/or species
  • remedy damage already done

Report environmental damage

Anyone can report environmental damage to the relevant competent authority. Any plausible case must be investigated.

To report environmental damage to European habitats or species contact your local NatureScot office.

Last updated: