Guidance

Do I need a marine licence?

This detailed guidance was withdrawn on 2 October 2014

content updated

Guidance on activities that may require a marine licence

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is responsible for marine licensing in English inshore and offshore waters and for Welsh and Northern Ireland offshore waters.

Inshore waters include any area which is submerged at mean high water spring tide. They also include the waters of every estuary, river or channel where the tide flows at mean high water spring tide. Even waters in areas which are closed permanently or intermittently by a lock or other artificial means against the regular action of the tide are included, where seawater flows into or out from the area.

Offshore waters include the territorial sea , exclusive economic zone and the UK sector of the continental shelf. It also includes the bed and subsoil of the sea within those areas.

Some activities require a marine licence even when they are carried on elsewhere in the world.

Please be aware that the guidance provided on this page is indicative only, and may not cover every activity which may require a licence. You may wish to seek expert advice before proceeding with any activity.

You can apply for a marine licence online. You can also find out more information about how applications are assessed and the fast-track and accelerated licensing processes. Some activities may be exempt from requiring a marine licence. Please read the relevant section on you activity below to see whether an exemtion may apply.

Activities that may need a marine licence

There are six categories of activities that may need a licence. These generally require a licence although there are exemptions which apply in some situations. More information on the exemptions is given in the specific guidance on each activity below. These are:

Construction, alteration or improvement of any works

Constructing, altering or improving any works:

  • in or over the sea
  • on or under the sea bed

This includes the construction of wind farms, sea walls, jetties, bridges and ports. It also includes the maintenance of these works where it is an alteration or improvement to the works.

There are some exemptions to be aware of concerning coastal defences, emergency flood defences and harbour works. If an exemption applies then a marine licence would not be required.

Many construction activities also require other consents. Works taking place partly on land often require planning permission from the local planning authority. If there is a discharge of some kind an environmental permit from the Environment Agency may be needed. For port developments this may include a harbour order, MMO is responsible for these. Offshore energy generating stations may also require some other consents from MMO.

Dredging

Any form of dredging (eg trailing-suction hoppers, plough and water injection) and including:

  • where material is not removed from the sea or sea bed
  • using any device to move material (whether or not suspended in water) from one part of the sea or sea bed to another part

Dredging for all purposes, including:

Sample analysis may be needed to support a dredging licence application.

Deposit of any substance or object

Depositing any substance or object either in the sea or on or under the sea bed from a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, marine structure, floating container or a structure on land which has the purpose of depositing solids in the sea.

If the deposit is being made from a British vessel, aircraft or marine structure then it may require a marine licence even if this takes place elsewhere in the world.

This includes disposal of waste. This is tightly regulated and few types of waste are permitted to be disposed of to sea.

It also includes the burial at sea of human remains.

Exemptions include the placement of markers and buoys, scientific instruments, tracers and deposits in the course of aggregate dredging.

Incineration of any substance or object

Incinerating any substance or object on any vehicle, vessel, marine structure or floating container. If the incineration is on a British vessel or marine structure then this activity may need a licence even if this takes place elsewhere in the world.

In this context, incinerate means the combustion of a substance or object for the purpose of its thermal destruction.

Removal of any substance or object

Using a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, marine structure or floating container to remove any substance or object from the sea bed.

Exemptions include:

MMO has also published guidance clarifying the licensing requirements for materials taken from wrecks by hand and for the washing of slipways.

Scuttling of any vessel or floating container

If the scuttling is controlled from a British vessel, aircraft or marine structure then this activity may need a licence even if this takes place elsewhere in the world.

Coast protection works

Maintaining coast protection works does not require a licence when carried out by, or on behalf of, the Environment Agency or a coast protection authority, provided the activity is carried out within the existing boundaries of the works being maintained.

This exemption does not apply to beach replenishment, a licence may be needed for this.

Some maintenance activities may also be suitable for fast-track processing.

Flood emergencies

Activities carried out by or on behalf of the Environment Agency for emergency works in response to any flood or the imminent risk of flooding do not require a licence. However, they do still require approval from MMO.

In these situations you should contact us without delay to seek approval. You can contact the MMO by email at marine.consents@marinemanagement.org.uk or telephone on 0300 123 1032

Harbour works

Deposit, removal and works activities do not require a licence where they are carried out by, or on behalf of, a harbour authority for the purpose of maintaining any harbour works. This is subject to the condition that the activity is carried out within the existing boundary of the works being maintained.

Some maintenance activities may also be suitable for fast-track processing.

Navigational dredging can be divided into two categories:

  • Capital dredging is generally undertaken to create or deepen navigational channels, berths or trenches or to remove material unsuitable for the foundation of a construction project. It involves the removal of consolidated sediments.

  • Maintenance dredging is undertaken to keep channels, berths and other areas at their designed depths. It involves removing recently accumulated sediments such as mud, sand and gravel. To be classed as maintenance dredging the activity must take place where:

    • the level of the seabed to be achieved by the dredging proposed is not lower than it has been at any time during the past 10 years, and

    • there is evidence that dredging has previously been undertaken to that level (or lower) during that period.

Some dredging activities may be suitable for an accelerated licensing process.

Sample analysis may be needed to support an application for a navigational dredging licence.

Low-volume dredging

A licence may not be needed for low-volume dredging undertaken to conserve or maintain the navigation of an area of the sea where the following conditions are met:

  • Notice of the intention to undertake the dredging activity is given to the MMO before the activity begins. Information on how to provide this notice can be found on the Make a marine licence application page.

  • The dredging activity may only be carried out at a site and depth where in the preceding 10 years another dredging activity has been carried out

  • No more than 1,500 cubic metres of material may be dredged as a result of the proposed dredging activity and any other dredging activities carried out in the preceding year

  • 500 cubic metres or less of material may be dredged

  • The dredging activity must not cause, or be likely to cause, obstruction or danger to navigation

  • The dredging activity must not prevent or be likely to prevent any environmental objectives for that body of water as set out in the relevant river basin management plan, or cause environmental damage

  • The dredging activity must not be likely (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects) to have a significant effect on a European or Ramsar site, or be capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of a marine conservation zone or any ecological or geomorphological process on which those features are dependent.

Dredging by harbour authorities

Dredging by or on behalf of a harbour authority may not need a marine licence if the work:

  • reclaims land, manages waters and waterways, mitigates the effects of floods or droughts, or prevents floods
  • is authorised by a local act or harbour order and takes place inside surface waters
  • dredges non-hazardous sediments – see Annex III of the EU Waste Framework Directive

Maintenance dredge protocol

Dredging activities need to be assessed for potential impacts on marine protected areas such as European and Ramsar sites. The Maintenance Dredging Protocol for England (MDP) seeks to improve the assessment process for licence applications by the production of baseline documents, which are explained below.

A baseline document should bring together all relevant, readily available, current and historical data on dredging activities. This helps authorities assess maintenance dredging activities and identify any likely significant effect, taking into account in-combination effects of dredging proposals. It must analyse the potential effects (if any) that dredging activities could have on the features of the European sites.

If you would like to discuss the potential for producing a baseline document for your area please contact us either by email at marine.consents@marinemanagement.org.uk or telephone on 0300 123 1032

Aggregate dredging

Dredging to extract aggregates – sand, gravel, and other marine minerals – from the English seabed needs a marine licence and a separate permission from the landowner.

The Crown Estate owns most of the seabed, but in some cases a local council, harbour authority or private land owner may own some areas near the shore.

MMO will check that the landowner has agreed to the extraction activity. Once the licence has been granted, the licence holder will enter into a production agreement with the landowner that usually includes any marine licence conditions determined by the MMO as part of the production agreement.

Extracting aggregates usually requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA). Licences are issued for a specific quantity of material to be extracted and for a specific duration, usually 15 years.

Regional environmental assessments

The marine aggregate industry has voluntarily produced marine aggregate regional environmental assessments (MAREAs) in the Humber, Anglian, Thames and South Coast regions. This is to allow licence applications and EIAs for specific sites to be considered in a regional context and ensure regional sustainability of aggregate extraction.

MAREAs:

  • provide a regional baseline for a number of marine aggregate sites
  • help to evaluate potential cumulative effects of existing and future dredging operations.

Regional environmental characterisation surveys

Regional environmental characterisation (REC) surveys have also been carried out in the same regions. Each survey collected high quality data on:

  • seabed habitats
  • biological communities
  • potential historic environment assets.

Clearance dredging

Dredging to clear silt from outfalls or culverts will usually require a licence but may be suitable for fast-track licensing.

Sample analysis may be needed to support an application for a clearance dredging licence.

Disposing of waste to sea

Disposing of most wastes or other matter at sea is prohibited by the OSPAR Convention.

Only the following types of waste may be disposed at sea, based on a detailed assessment of risks and a licence from the MMO:

  • dredged material
  • inert materials of natural origin
  • fish waste – including shellfish and any part of a fish

No waste should be disposed of at sea if there is a safe alternative. You must make every effort to re-use, recycle, or use other recovery methods for dealing with waste. Disposal should only be a last option.

Sample analysis may be needed to support an application for a disposal licence.

When deciding whether to grant a disposal licence, MMO applies the waste hierarchy from the Waste Framework Directive which specifies the order of preference for how waste should be dealt with:

  • prevention - can include not carrying out an activity and the refusal of a marine licence
  • re-use – finding an alternative, beneficial use for waste material
  • recycling - can include making high grade products from waste material
  • other recovery - can include treatment to alter the physical nature of the waste material
  • disposal at sea is the last resort.

See Guidance on applying the waste hierarchy

Disposal sites

You must propose an area where the disposal is to take place. You can either propose a site that has been authorised for dredge disposal or an entirely new site. Approving a new disposal site takes place in line with any marine plans or the Marine Policy Statement (MPS).

You must provide sufficient information for MMO to assess the proposal. MMO will decide if the material is suitable for sea disposal and whether the area proposed is appropriate.

You will need to provide site characterisation information to propose a new site. This is usually in the form of a site characterisation report that:

  • assesses the need for a new site
  • identifies suitable areas
  • assesses requirements of the dredged material characteristics
  • evaluates potential adverse effects
  • compares candidate disposal sites.

The report should also consider site selection and summarise any consultations.

If a site is designated as a result of your licence application and characterisation report, you do not have exclusive use of that site. A licence may be granted to other operators to use the same site.

Markers and buoys

Depositing or removing a marker or a buoy may be suitable for fast-track processing.

The deposit or removal of a marker does not require a licence provided the following conditions are met:

  • Notice of the intention to carry out the activity must be given to MMO before the activity is carried out. Information on how to provide this notice can be found on the Make a marine licence application page.

  • Where a marker is to be deposited, it is removed from the sea and seabed within 28 days

  • The activity must not cause, or be likely to cause, obstruction or danger to navigation

  • The activity must not be likely (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects) to have a significant effect on a European or Ramsar site, or be capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of a marine conservation zone or any ecological or geomorphological process on which those features are dependent.

Samples and investigations

Grab-samples, vibrocores, boreholes and other types of intrusive sampling may require a licence. Some of these may be suitable for fast-track processing.

Geophysical surveys such as side-scan sonar and multibeam do not require a licence.

A licence is also not required for taking a small sample of any material for testing or analysis provided the following conditions are met:

  • Notice of the intention to carry out the activity must be given to MMO before the activity is carried out. Information on how to provide this notice can be found on the Make a marine licence application page.

  • The volume of material to be removed must not exceed 1 cubic metre

  • The removal activity must not cause, or be likely to cause, obstruction or danger to navigation

  • Removal activity must not be likely (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects) to have a significant effect on a European or Ramsar site, or being capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of a marine conservation zone or any ecological or geomorphological process on which those features are dependent.

Burials at sea

A licence is required for the burial of human remains at sea. However, this may be suitable for fast-track processing provided certain criteria are met.

Information on burials at sea can be found on the Get a licence for a burial at sea in England page.

Accidental deposits

A licence is not required to remove an object which has been accidentally deposited on the seabed provided the following conditions are met:

  • Notice of the intention to carry on the activity must be given to MMO before the activity is carried out.Information on how to provide this notice can be found on the Make a marine licence application page.

  • The removal activity must be commenced within the period of 12 months beginning on the day on which the deposit was made on the seabed

  • The removal activity must not cause, or be likely to cause, an obstruction or danger to navigation

  • The removal activity must not be likely (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects) to have a significant effect on a European or Ramsar site, or being capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of a marine conservation zone or any ecological or geomorphological process on which those features are dependent.

Some removal activities may also be suitable for []fast-track processing](https://www.gov.uk/fast-track-and-accelerated-licensing).

Diving activities

If you are removing something from the seabed by hand during a dive you will not require a marine licence.

If you are using a vehicle, vessel, marine structure or floating container to remove an object or move sediment on the seabed you may require a marine licence.

For example, if you remove a rock by hand from the seabed to a vessel, you would not need a licence, but if you use a hoist or winch attached to a vessel, you do need a licence.

You must also comply with other legislation, such as the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.

Minor removals are usually eligible for fast track processing.

Washing slipways

You do not need a marine licence for the washing of slipways. However, you may require an environmental permit for discharging into surface water or ground water

Obstructions or dangers to navigation

There is an exemption for the removal of anything causing or likely to cause obstruction or danger to navigation where the removal is carried out by a:

  • harbour authority
  • lighthouse authority
  • conservancy authority
  • person having statutory powers to maintain a canal or inland navigation

Some removal activities may also be suitable for fast-track processing.

Litter, seaweed and dead animals

Removing litter, seaweed or dead animals from beaches by or on behalf of a local authority does not require a licence provided the following conditions are met:

  • Where a dead animal is to be removed, notice of the intention to carry out the activity must be given to the MMO beforehand. Information on how to provide this notice can be found on the Make a marine licence application page.

  • The removal of litter, seaweed or dead animals must not be likely (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects) to have a significant effect on a European or Ramsar site, or being capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of a marine conservation zone or any ecological or geomorphological process on which those features are dependent

Some removal activities may also be suitable for fast-track processing.

Oil and gas and carbon capture and storage

If you are exploring for, or producing, oil and gas you do not need a licence if you are:

  • searching for and getting petroleum
  • constructing or maintaining an energy pipeline
  • establishing or maintaining an offshore energy installation
  • unloading, storing and recovering gas
  • storing carbon dioxide

These activities are regulated under the Petroleum Act 1998

Activities within the UK marine area that require a permit under the Offshore Chemicals Regulations 2002 and the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Oil Pollution Prevention and Control) Regulations 2005 are exempt from requiring a marine licence.

Contact information

Marine Licensing Team

0300 123 1032

marine.consents@marinemanagement.org.uk