This page is currently being updated to reflect Scotland's fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4). NPF4 was adopted in February 2023. It replaces National Planning Framework 3 and Scottish Planning Policy referred to below. 

Soil in the planning system - why do we care?

The purpose of planning is to manage the development and use of land in the long term public interest. Soil is a key part of our environment and is effectively a non-renewable resource. Soil degradation can have major implications not just for soils and the benefits they provide but also for air and water quality as well as our climate, biodiversity and economy. Proper consideration of soils through the planning system is needed to make sure that soils can deliver essential functions vital for the sustainability of Scotland’s environment and economy.

The National Planning Framework (NPF) and Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) recognise soil as a physical asset and highlight the need to manage our finite soil resource by maintaining and improving its condition.

SPP aims to achieve the right development in the right place and identifies the need to consider the implications of development on soil quality as one of its guiding principles. It also states that the planning system should seek to protect soils from damage such as erosion or compaction.

Find out more about Scotland's planning system on the Scottish Government Planning webpages.

Soil, development planning and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

Development plans can play a major role in achieving Scottish Government’s objectives of sustainably managed soils in Scotland. The consideration of soil issues through SEA, plan preparation and review will help guide development activities in a way that avoids or limits damage to soils and soil functions while providing a range of benefits for people and the environment.

Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) requires development plans to set out a spatial framework identifying areas most appropriate for onshore wind farms as a guide for developers and communities. These must consider the effects of development on areas of carbon rich soils, deep peat and priority peatland habitat.

The effects of public plans and strategies on the environment are considered through Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). This includes taking account of their impact on soil. You can find out more about SEA in the Scottish Government’s SEA webpages. You can find out more about how to take account of soil in SEA in SEPA's Guidance on consideration of soil in Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Soil, development management and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Any proposal that includes physical development or changes in land use or land management will affect soil and could have consequences for the wider environment, society and the economy. The consideration of soil as part of the development management and EIA process will help identify appropriate mitigation to minimise soil degradation and maintain soil quality.

The need to consider the implications of development management on peat and other carbon rich soils is specifically recognised in Scottish Planning Policy (SPP). In particular, proposals for energy infrastructure developments should assess impacts on peat and other carbon rich soils using the carbon calculator where relevant.

NatureScot has developed guidance to help provide consistent advice on carbon-rich soils, deep peat and priority peatland habitat in development management.  

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) looks at the impacts of major projects on the environment and makes sure that they are fully investigated, understood and taken into account before decisions are made on whether they should proceed.

EIA screening and scoping procedures, as well as the assessment process itself, should consider the effects of developments on soil. This should include the impacts on soil during construction, operation and decommissioning. EIA should use available soil information to assess the extent of resources, but this should also be complemented by more detailed field observations to assess the impact of the development and work out options for restoration or mitigation.

You can find out more about the assessment of impacts on soils in A handbook on environmental impact assessment (Appendix 4)

Accessing soil maps

Whether you are interested in development planning or making an initial assessment of a specific site, there are a range of soil related maps where you can find useful background data and information.

However, for assessing the likely impact of a specific development on a particular site you will more than likely need to carry out a more detailed site investigation.

Useful links


Development planning and SEA

Development management and EIA


This page was last updated on 24 Jul 2019

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