Dredging (including aggregate dredging)
The carrying out of any form of dredging, whether or not involving the removal of material, requires a marine licence.
Dredging is a broad term and includes the use of any device to move any material from one part of the sea or sea bed to another part. This includes dredging for any purpose, for example, creating new channels or berths, maintaining existing channels or aggregate dredging for commercial supply. This also includes all types of dredging, for example, suction dredging, water injection dredging or sea bed levelling.
We will require you to take samples of the material to be dredged which we will assess for contamination. Sample analysis will be used as part of a weight of evidence approach to assess the dredged material. Action levels are used in conjunction with a range of other assessment methods to make management decisions on whether the dredged material is suitable for sea disposal, including:
- historical data and knowledge regarding the dredging site
- the material's physical characteristics
- the disposal site characteristics and other relevant data
Dredging was not a licensable activity before the start of the marine licensing system on 6 April 2011. Initially there was a transitional period of one year from 6 April 2011 during which a dredging operation did not require a marine licence, provided the dredging operation:
- would not have fallen within section 34 of the Coast Protection Act 1949
- would not have required a licence under Part 2 of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1984
- is not excluded from this exemption by an order made by the Secretary of State
The UK Government decided to extend the transition period for low-risk maintenance dredging activities for a further 2 years until 6 April 2014, for English waters – see the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (Transitional Provisions) Order 2012. Read more about the extension of the transitional period on the Defra website.
Those dredging operations that will require a licence under the order are those:
- likely to have a significant effect on a European marine site
- likely to adversely affect the ecological status of a water body under the Water Framework Directive
- to be carried out as part of a project which requires assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive
Read the Navigational Dredging Operational Guidance (PDF 165 KB) and accompanying Water Framework Directive water body information table (Excel 53 KB).
The MMO’s online application system is currently being updated to include additional supporting information requirements that the MMO will need to properly assess applications for navigational dredging activities. While the system is under development, the MMO requires applicants to include some additional dredging information through the existing online application. The additional information required should be uploaded to the supporting information section of the online application. Please note that dredging applications that do not include all the necessary information or do not include copies of relevant documents may be rejected.
Additional information required
- A detailed description of the dredging methodology that covers the purpose of the dredging, the type of dredger or dredge plant to be used, the working hours, the duration of the dredge, how the disposal of material will be managed and special measures applied to the dredging.
- A dredge plan or zoning of the dredge area (if applicable).
- A labelled map or chart of the dredge area.
- A pre-dredge survey showing the boundary of the dredge area, dredge depth(s), the existing bed levels and side slopes (a post dredge survey will be required upon completion).
- The history of dredging at the site(s) that provides how long dredging has been ongoing in terms of years and frequency of campaigns, quantities of material dredged a year and campaign, how long dredging has been carried out in its current form, details of any significant changes to the dredge area or dredge depths in the past 10 years or changes to methodology.
- Any current or previous licences applied to the dredging, including local harbour authority, Coast Protection Act 1949, consent under Environment Agency byelaws or a marine licence.
- Details of any previous conditions applied to a licence or consent, dredging restrictions, pollution incidents or ways in which the dredging is managed to avoid impacts to the environment or to users. If there is raw data from the mitigation measures imposed on previous licences then this should be uploaded along with the application.
- Copies of sediment quality analysis.
- For capital dredging, trial pits or site investigation works may have been carried out. You must provide interpretation of the results of these surveys.
The MMO will decide whether maintenance dredging applications with a volume between 500 and 3,000 cubic metres a campaign, and fewer than 10,000 cubic metres a year can be processed under a new accelerated licensing process, developed to license relatively small-scale ongoing dredging activities.
Activities that that fall within this threshold will be licensed through an accelerated process provided they can demonstrate that the:
- dredging is ongoing and has been carried out in the same way for at least 3 years
- campaigns are separated by at least 1 month
- evidence on the quality of the sediment is provided
- the project is assessed as part of a maintenance dredging baseline document or another form of assessment agreed with Natural England of likely impacts
Read more information about the accelerated process.
Dredging by a harbour authority
There is an exemption for dredging done by or on behalf of a harbour authority which is authorised by a local act of Parliament or harbour order.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA) introduced a new marine licensing system which came into effect on 6 April 2011. This new licensing system will contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the marine environment, and is designed to be customer focused, streamlined, accountable and transparent. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO), as the lead competent authority, needs to consider the following in determining applications:
- the need to prevent interference with legitimate uses of the sea
- the need to protect the environment
- the need to protect human health
- such matters as the licensing authority thinks relevant.
The MMO regulates the extraction of marine aggregates from the seabed under the MCAA and the Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007 (MWR) as amended in 2011.
The size of the UK aggregates industry
Marine aggregates are required predominately for construction purposes, for use in concrete products. Marine supplies contribute around 20 per cent of the sand and gravel demand in England and Wales, and 29 per cent of the 20 million tonnes produced in 2008 was exported also for use as construction aggregate. To minimise transport costs, marine aggregates are normally landed at specialised wharves strategically located close to the point of demand. In 2008, the landed value was £116 million with a gross value added (GVA) of £54 million. Processing and concrete sales associated with marine aggregates represent a further £303 million. Marine aggregates also support beach nourishment requirements, and can provide large volumes of contract fill material in support of major infrastructure projects.
Over half of the total production by weight in England comes from the East Inshore and East Offshore marine plan areas which accounts for 77 per cent of the licensed area. A further third is produced in the South plan areas and smaller contributions from the South East, South West and North West areas. A breakdown of production by regional area is produced annually by The Crown Estate and the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association (BMAPA) and gives detailed descriptions of activity and output.
Location of reserves is key to where aggregates can be extracted. Wherever possible, sources near to the demand will be used and particularly in England this is true of most sites. For example, extraction from the Humber area provides the only source of marine-dredged aggregates for the North East of England. Material for beach replenishment is usually sourced locally to ensure a similar sediment type and to reduce transport costs. As coastal erosion becomes more acute this demand will increase. However, a combination of market demand and resource suitability (following 50 years of production) means that resources can be transported a considerable distance.
Marine aggregates play a key role in the portfolio of national construction aggregate supply, supporting the delivery of various government policies, including beach nourishment projects around the country (such as providing coastal defences), the regeneration of Thames Gateway and the 2012 London Olympic Games. Significant tonnages have also been used in major construction projects including the Channel Tunnel and associated Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Felixstowe Port, Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Thames Barrier. The coastal location of many of these developments means that the aggregates sector is able to supply large volumes of construction aggregate and fill material in a sustainable manner.
Aggregate dredging activity is regulated by the MMO in English waters. It has evolved over time to ensure that any activity does not result in adverse effects to the receiving environment which could result in impacts to a wide range of receptors including water quality, fisheries, the natural and the historic environment.
MCAA marine licence applications for aggregate dredging are now subject to consideration and determination by the MMO, which will also consider whether an environmental impact assessment needs to be carried out under the Marine Works (EIA) Regulations 2007 (as amended).
The MMO are an enabling regulator and our decision-making is informed by technical expertise, impartiality and a broad understanding of the social, environmental and economic needs of the various, often competing, interests around our shores. We ensure the five key principles of regulation (transparency, accountability, proportionality, consistency and a targeted approach) are the cornerstone of our organisation.
The MMO together with support from our advisors are working closely with industry to ensure applications for marine licences are processed in a streamlined and transparent manner. We are committed to being open and transparent and collaborate with industry, organisations and the public, providing opportunities to engage with us and understand our decisions.
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