Planning and development – guidance

Marine Licensing: sediment analysis and sample plans

Details of sediment and sample analysis for marine licence applications.

Details of sediment and sample analysis for marine licence applications and requirements for minor removal activities

Sampling and sediment analysis

You must submit results of sediment sample analysis to the MMO along with a marine licence application where applicable.

Before you apply for a licence, specific analysis requirements for chemical and physical determinands (something being tested for) and an associated sampling plan will need to be agreed by MMO.

Biological testing may be required where physical and chemical analysis is considered insufficient. If biological testing is necessary, advice will be provided.

Laboratories should see the guidance on physical and chemical determinands for sampling and sediment analysis

Submit data

You must use the results template to submit sediment analysis data in support of a marine licence application.

Sampling results template

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Your results should be a single report. Laboratories must also provide chain of custody evidence in support of the analysis results to prove samples have been handled and stored correctly. Storage requirements for samples are detailed in this guidance.

MMO will return any incomplete submissions to you and this may delay the marine licence application process.

Use existing data

You may use existing analytical data on the physical and chemical properties of sediments during an application. The information must be reliable and collected within 3 calendar years of your valid marine licence application being received and accepted by MMO. You should engage with MMO at the earliest opportunity to establish suitability and relevance of existing data for use before relying on existing data.

MMO requires evidence that the data complies with storage, analysis and quality control requirements. You must provide full information on the original analysis of samples using laboratory capability statements and laboratory methodological statements if the data was collected outside the marine licensing process.

Laboratory capability

MMO must ensure that sediment analysis data submitted to support an application are consistent and comparable between separate applications and to the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science’s action levels. These are currently used by MMO to decide how suitable it is to dispose of dredged sediments at sea.

You must make sure that sediment analysis is performed by a competent laboratory.

A laboratory may choose to sub-contract analysis of samples for specific determinands to alternative laboratories. Any sub-contracted laboratories must also meet the same requirements.

Laboratories must submit a laboratory capability statement confirming they meet minimum standards before you apply for your licence. This is so the laboratory’s capability can be validated.

Laboratory capability statement

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The capability statement includes:

  • being ISO/IEC 17025 accredited
  • for particle size analysis, successfully participating in the National Marine Biological Analytical Quality Control (NMBAQC) Particle Analysis Size ring test
  • for chemical analysis, successfully participating twice a year in QUASIMEME (Quality Assurance of Information for Marine Environmental Monitoring in Europe) over a minimum of 2 years

Laboratories are encouraged to engage with MMO before you apply to validate the capability statement.

Laboratories that have been validated to undertake sediment analysis to inform marine licence applications can be found in the table below, alongside the determinands they have been validated to analyse.

Table 1 – Laboratories validated by MMO for sediment analysis to inform marine licence applications and validated determinands

  • Yes - Determindand validated
  • No - Determindand unvalidated
  Cefas National Laboratory Service – Environment Agency
Inorganics (inc. Trace Metals) Yes Yes
Organotins (Tributyltin and dibutylin) Yes Yes
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) Yes Yes
Total hydrocarbon content (THC) Yes Yes
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) Yes No
Organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) Yes No
Total Organic Carbon (TOC) Yes Yes
Particle Size Analysis (PSA) Yes Yes

Methodological requirements

There are certain restrictions on analytical methodologies that must be followed during sediment analysis. Laboratories must provide details of methodologies and quality control processes for the sample analyses they perform.

A laboratory must submit a methodological statement for particle size analysis and for each group of, or individual, determinands where methods differ. The statement or statements must be submitted before you apply for your licence. This is so the laboratory’s methods can be validated.

Methodological statement

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The laboratory must detail performance characteristics of the methods within the methodological statement and must meet the minimum performance requirements described below.

Laboratories can use methods other than those specified, but must demonstrate fitness for purpose within the methodological statement. Sediment analysis outputs must be comparable with those obtained using the methods detailed here.

MMO must validate methodologies not previously accepted or changes to previously accepted methodologies before analysis outputs are accepted in support of an application.

Laboratories are encouraged to engage with MMO to agree appropriate methodologies before you apply. MMO may request extra documentation to support the application. This may include but is not limited to:

  • audit reports and improvement actions from UK Accreditation Service surveillance visits
  • chemical reference material control charts
  • instrumental reports for each sample including calibration curves
  • full raw data from the analysis including procedural blanks or blank reagent results

MMO may charge for validating the method and this may extend the length of the decision-making process for any application.

London Protocol and OSPAR

The UK is signed up to the London Protocol and OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, both of which address preventing marine pollution from disposal at sea.

MMO licenses disposing of dredged materials at sea and uses guidelines produced by OSPAR to regulate this activity. A marine licence to dispose of dredged materials to sea requires the sediments to be characterised to allow the potential adverse environmental effects of disposing of the material to be considered.

The OSPAR guidelines recommend a tiered approach to assess the sediments if sufficient information is not already available from existing sources. The assessments required will depend upon the specific details of the proposed activities, although characterisation of a standard set of physical and chemical determinands within the sediments is often necessary.

Suitability of material

Marine licence application chemical analysis results are assessed against the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) action levels and geological background levels. The action levels are used to determine the contaminant loading of the material and it’s suitability for disposal at sea.

Current Cefas action levels are provided in the table below:

Contaminant or compound Action Level 1 (mg/kg dry weight (ppm)) Action Level 2 (mg/kg dry weight (ppm))
Arsenic 20 100
Mercury 0.3 3
Cadmium 0.4 5
Chromium 40 400
Copper 40 400
Nickel 20 200
Lead 50 500
Zinc 130 800
Organotins (TBT, DBT, MBT) 0.1 1
PCBs – sum of ICES 7 0.01 None
PCBs – sum of 25 congeners 0.02 0.2
PAHs 0.1 None
DDT *0.001  
Dieldrin *0.005  

These levels were set in 1994.

Contact information

Marine Licensing Team

0300 123 1032

marine.consents@marinemanagement.org.uk