News

SEPA's COVID-19 response
Published: 08 Jun 2020

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) have clarified that their focus during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be on "protecting our environment, our communities and our people."

Protecting Scotland's environment and communities

SEPA will help regulated businesses adjust to these extraordinary circumstances, which are constraining everyone's capacity and resources.

Efforts will be prioritised on those regulated sectors that are crucial to the functioning of society during this public health emergency, and will work with businesses from other sectors as much as possible.

Scotland's communities will be protected through vital flood forecasting and warning services.

Protecting people

SEPA are firmly focused on supporting the people of Scotland throughout the public health emergency and beyond.

The majority of their workforce have moved to working from home, but SEPA aim to continue to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment by:

  • attending significant environmental incidents;
  • focusing restricted field work on issues of highest environmental risk;
  • maintaining a gauging network to support the flood forecasting and warning system;
  • use new channels and means to support regulated businesses and monitor compliance.

Temporary Regulatory Position Statements

SEPA have published a series of temporary COVID-19 Regulatory Position Statements which deal with specific circumstances where they are relaxing normal regulatory requirements to avoid increasing risks to the environment or human health during the particular circumstances of COVID-19.

If you comply with their requirements, and all of your other environmental regulatory requirements, they will not normally take enforcement action against you.

The Statements published so far include:

Contact details

Any environmental incidents can still be reported by visiting: sepa.org.uk/report

SEPA's online enquiries form also remains operational: sepa.org.uk/contact/contact-us-by-email

A review led by former Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon is calling for the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas in English waters.

The review was commissioned in 2019 on World Ocean Day by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove, as part of the government's strategy to protect country's waters. The Highly Protected Marine Areas would allow greater recovery of the marine ecosystem, improve biodiversity and support the development of new habitats.

The "Blue Belt" already protects an area of 92,000 km2 of English seas, and the introduction of new Highly Protected Marine Areas would provide for greater protection through a "whole site approach" and only permitting certain activities within their boundaries, such as scuba diving, kayaking and vessel transit. 

Activities, such as fishing, construction and dredging would be prohibited in those areas as they can have a damaging effect on habitats or wildlife. The review claims that introduction of those areas would lead to a significant improvement of biodiversity by giving the marine life the best chance to recover and thrive.

The review suggests that these measures could provide many social and economic benefits, such as increased tourism and recreational activities as well as opportunities for scientific research and education. Any potential fishing restrictions in these areas could be counterbalanced by a stronger and more diverse marine life, which could benefit the fishing industry in long-term, by providing areas where sea life can develop and breed undisturbed.

The key recommendations by the review include:

  • introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) within the existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to allow for the full protection and recovery of marine ecosystems;
  • a "whole site approach" to protect all species and habitats within the HPMA boundaries;
  • potential sites should be identified on the basis of ecological principles; and
  • "blue carbon" habitats are identified for protection during the HPMA site selection process to help combat climate change.

Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper said: "I welcome the recommendations put forward by the Panel. This review is an important marker of how we can use highly protected areas to mitigate the impact of human activities on the ocean, and support its recovery to a more natural state.

"I thank the panel for their work and look forward to working with Defra as they consider how best to take forward the recommendations."

Friday 5 June is World Environment Day. This annual event is the United Nation's flagship day for raising awareness and promoting action for the environment.

The theme for this year is "Time for Nature", and is one that is believed to be particularly poignant in light of the current coronavirus pandemic.

Biodiversity is the cornerstone of all life on Earth, and this current pandemic has further highlighted the rate at which we are destroying biodiversity. It is estimated that around one billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur globally every year from diseases caused by coronaviruses. Further still around 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans have been transmitted to people by animals. With many scientists and environmentalists telling us that nature is sending us a clear message.

The actions of humans from intensified agriculture, encroachment on wildlife habitats, deforestation, and climate change, are all pushing nature beyond its limit. Scientists claim we need 1.6 Earths to meet the demands on nature humans inflict every year.

This unsustainable path we are on will lead to further damage to nature and biodiversity loss. In turn this will have a severe impact on the human race, leading to the collapse of food systems as well as an impact on health.

So this World Environment Day, the United Nation's wants to engage all of us, individuals, businesses and Governments, to come together and make real changes to protect nature and promote biodiversity worldwide.

This years event has been moved predominantly online due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there are plenty of ways for everyone to get involved and make a real difference.

The UN's World Environment Day website, provides links on everything you need to get started. Here you can find a schedule of events happening around the world, as well as hearing from different organisations, Governments and individuals sharing what action they have taken to promote this important cause. #ForNature is the main Twitter handle being used to promote this years event.

There is a Practical Guide to World Environment Day 2020 that gives an overview of the importance of biodiversity and what you can do as an individual, group, business, city and Government can do to take action. 

Latest reports show that one million plant and animal species are facing extinction due to human actions. Every species plays a vital role within our ecosystem and the loss of species can have a devastating knock-on effect that throughout the ecosystem. There is also an intrinsic link to the global economy and biodiversity, with biodiversity services (including food, soil formation, air quality, climate change), are worth over $125 trillion a year.

However we can reverse the trends of biodiversity loss that we are spiralling towards, if we take action now to change our relationship with nature and become accountable in protecting it.

So make sure this year that you take action. You could make changes at home such as promoting wildlife in your garden through certain plants. You can talk to family and friends to raise awareness of the issue and let them know how they can get involved.

Tell your colleagues and management at work about World Environment Day and why change is needed. You could ask colleagues to propose initiatives that the company could back such as creating green spaces in the local community. You can choose to have those discussions with management to get the company to pledge an environmental objective to address the organisations impact on biodiversity, and come up with targets and an action plan to achieve them.

Whatever you do this World Environment Day, make it count.

How Cedrec is working to promote nature

Many of our staff will be engaging with various online sessions running on World Environment Day to increase knowledge and learn from what others are doing to make positive changes.

As a company one of the main impacts we have on the environment is emissions from travel, both to and from the office and travel to client's sites for consultancy work. Although travel emissions have disappeared entirely due to staff working from home and plans are afoot for consultancy site visits to be undertaken virtually in light of the coronavirus pandemic, we still have a commitment as a company to address our impacts.

Efforts are always being made to reduce our emissions in the first instance, from avoiding unnecessary travel, to taking more sustainable travel options, e.g. train journeys over car. But for those emissions we still generate across the year Cedrec offset these through a carbon offset programme.

Cedrec are a business member of a fellow North-East firm, Forest Carbon, who lead the way in voluntary carbon woodland creation in the UK. Last year we offset 25 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (over 100% of our emissions) through purchasing carbon credits to enable Forest Carbon to create woodlands, certified through the Woodland Carbon Code, across the UK. That equated to us offsetting over 100% of our emissions.

As well as offsetting our emissions, the creation of woodland helps to promote biodiversity, help to regulate water quality and supply in the area, and improves air quality.

Our Senior Consultant, Richard Clarke commented: ''Forest Carbon’s planting and offset scheme is a perfect match for Cedrec, helping us mitigate our unavoidable carbon emissions whilst at the same time positively investing, year on year, in high quality reforestation schemes here in the UK, delivering significant biodiversity gain. Carbon offsetting has a role to play in our long term plan to reduce our carbon emissions and we are delighted to be working with Forest Carbon to deliver these benefits.''

There are of course other organisations who offer carbon offsetting through woodland creation or other schemes, and they're a great way to help companies and individuals offset their emissions. However the importance of reducing and where possible eliminating the damage we undertake to biodiveristy or the emissions we are responsible for is always the best course of action to adopt where possible.

Homes England are undertaking research into how the country's housing targets could be met by modern methods of construction. The Government housing agency has an objective to improve construction productivity and encourage the uptake of modern construction methods.

They will monitor construction of around 1,500 homes across different sites in England over the course of several years. The study will look at the performance of different methods of construction over the long term to help provide in-depth data that can help inform decisions about emerging construction technologies.

A range of themes will be considered in the study, including:

  • build cost;
  • pace of build;
  • required skills;
  • safety performance;
  • snagging and defects;
  • construction wastage;
  • energy efficiency performance; and
  • performance post-occupancy.

Chief Executive of Homes England, Nick Walkley, commented: ''If we are to deliver homes at the scale, pace and quality the country needs, we have to seriously shake up how we build homes in England. This is at the very heart of our mission and it means embracing new technologies like modern methods of construction. Despite the impact of coronavirus being felt across the housebuilding sector, Homes England is open for business.''

''We can be certain that the demand for high-quality homes will remain and concerns about labour supply or quality will not go away. “Now more than ever, we recognise that more needs to be done to share learning and build confidence in modern methods of construction. This large-scale, long-term and in-depth research project will provide the sector with the critical evidence it needs to make informed decisions about modern methods of construction and deliver better homes faster.''

To coincide with the UK Government's COVID-19 guidance for transport operators and providers, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Department for Transport have published a letter to reassure drivers, and to remind businesses of their obligations to provide suitable toilet and hand washing facilities to drivers visiting their premises. 

Its a legal requirement under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations SI 1992/3004 that businesses which make or receive deliveries ensure that drivers have easy and safe access to toilets and hand washing facilities to support their health and wellbeing whilst carrying out their important work, which supports the economy.

The full letter reads as follows:

"To whom it may concern,

Access to hygiene facilities for drivers

This letter has been produced by the Department for Transport and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to reassure drivers, and to remind businesses of their obligations under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, to provide suitable toilet and hand washing facilities to drivers visiting their premises.

Businesses which make or receive deliveries, should ensure that drivers have easy and safe access to toilets and hand washing facilities to support their health and wellbeing whilst carrying out their important work, which supports the economy.

Preventing access is against the law.

Regulations 20 and 21 state that suitable and sufficient sanitary conveniences and washing facilities shall be provided at readily accessible places and that hot and cold running water and soap must be available to use. Whilst this obligation for business is not new, ensuring that hygiene facilities are made available to visiting drivers is especially important during the current COVID-19 crisis, to avoid unwanted public health implications and to help tackle the spread of the virus, at a time when there are fewer locations operating with facilities that drivers can access.

HSE guidance states that drivers must have access to welfare facilities located in the premises they visit as part of their work. The responsibility in law to provide access rests with the person in control of the premises.

You can obtain more information on infection control by contacting:

Public Health England: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england
Public Health Wales: www.wales.nhs.uk
Health Protection Scotland: www.hps.scot.nhs.uk"

For more information, see:

Guidance has been issued on the NHS test and trace service, which explains how employers and businesses can play their part in slowing the spread of the virus, protecting the health and care system and saving lives.

What is NHS test and trace?

The NHS test and trace service forms a central part of the Government’s coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery strategy, which aims to help the nation return to normal as soon as possible for as many people as possible, in a way that is safe and protects the NHS and social care sector.

Once launched, the service will also play a vital role in providing an early warning if COVID-19 activity is increasing locally, regionally or nationally.

This information will then be used to inform the Government’s approach to stop the spread of the virus.

The NHS test and trace service:

  • provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus;
  • gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had;
  • alerts those contacts, where necessary, and notifies them they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus.

The role of employers

It is vital that employers play their part by:

  • making their workplaces as safe as possible;
  • encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation.

Although this may seem disruptive for businesses, it is less disruptive than an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace will be, and far less disruptive than periods in lockdown.

Employers must continue to follow health and safety workplace guidance for their sector such as:

  • making every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option;
  • where working from home isn’t possible, identifying sensible measures to control the risks in the workplace;
  • keeping the workplace clean, maintaining safe working separation, and preventing transmission through unnecessary touching of potentially contaminated surfaces.

The measures employers put in place to maintain social distancing will depend on their individual business circumstances, including their working environment, the size of the site and the number of workers.

Workplace risk

COVID-19 is a new risk that must be incorporated into workplace risk assessments. Employers must therefore carry out a new COVID-19 risk assessment if they have not already done so.

The NHS test and trace service supplements the risk mitigation measures taken by employers by identifying people who have had close recent contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus and advising them to self-isolate.

This will reduce the risk of a rise in infections among the general population.

Supporting employers with a workplace outbreak

If multiple cases of coronavirus appear in a workplace, an outbreak control team from either the local authority or Public Health England will, if necessary, be assigned to help the employer manage the outbreak.

Employers should seek advice from their local authority as a first step.

Supporting workers who need to self-isolate

Employers should support workers who need to self-isolate and must not ask them to attend the workplace.

They should continue to communicate with workers in self-isolation and provide support. This includes allowing people to work from home if they remain well and if it is practicable to do so. This might include finding alternative work that can be completed at home during the period of self-isolation.

If people can’t work from home, employers must ensure any self-isolating employee is receiving sick pay and give them the option to use their paid leave days if they prefer.

The NHS test and trace service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate.

Contact tracing: contact with co-workers

The NHS test and trace service will follow up with people who need to self-isolate because they have had close recent contact with someone, who might be a colleague, who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Guidance for workers

Workers who are self-isolating because they have symptoms of coronavirus or live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus, can get an isolation note through NHS111 online.

Anyone who is told to self-isolate should share the evidence provided by NHS test and trace to show that they have been told to self-isolate and explain to their employer that this means that they cannot come to work.

Workers must self-isolate whenever they receive a notification from the NHS test and trace service asking them to do so. If this happens on multiple occasions, they should consider how to better follow social distancing requirements.

Workers who think the contacts that have triggered these notifications are workplace contacts, should ask their employer to consider what further mitigating actions could be taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19, such as using screens to separate people or "cohorting" to reduce the number of people each person has contact with.

For more information, see the:


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