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Maintenance Dredging 

Although depositing spoil at sea has required a licence for many decades, the act of maintenance dredging itself became a licensable activity on 6 April 2014.

If your club or training centre plans to carry out maintenance/navigational dredging works, you may be required to apply for a marine licence from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). If your works are within a Harbour Authority’s jurisdiction, you will also need to get permission from them (even if you do not require a marine licence).  

Why do I need a licence?

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 made it a licensable activity to carry out any form of dredging, whether or not involving the removal of any material from the sea or sea bed. The Act defines dredging activities as "including any device to move any material (whether or not suspended in water) from any part of the sea or sea bed to another part".

The introduction of this Act made the operation of maintenance dredging licensable for the first time, however when the Act came into effect in 2011, it allowed a period of transition during which low-risk dredging operations did not require a marine licence. This transitional period ended on 6 April 2014 when the dredging activity became regulated by the MMO. This includes dredging by hydraulic, agitation and dispersal methods which were previously unregulated. 

Depending on the volume and regularity of your maintenance dredging activity, it may be exempt or eligible to go through the accelerated licensing process.

Some maintenance dredging is exempt

Maintenance dredging of not more than 500 cubic metres per campaign and no more than 1,500 cubic metres a year was made exempt in 2013. If your club’s dredging activity falls into this category, or can be altered to fit with these conditions, you will save yourself a lot of time and money. It is a Category 2 exempt activity and so requires notification to the MMO. 

The MMO requires operators to register exempt dredging activity by notifying them through the online Marine Case Management System. There is no associated fee and the maintenance dredging can then be undertaken without the need for a licence. You can read more about exempt activities on the RYA website. For further information about exemptions, visit the MMO website or speak to an MMO case officer about your works on 0300 123 1032.

Accelerated licences

Accelerated licenses can be obtained for navigational dredging projects with a volume between 500 cubic metres and 3,000 cubic metres for each campaign and less than 10,000 cubic metres a year where:

  • 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

The MMO aims to process accelerated licences within 20 working days of receiving a completed application.

Sediment Quality Samples

Dredging activities licensed through the accelerated licensing process will only require surface samples that are representative of the area to be dredged. As such, no pre-application consultation will be required.

The following number of samples will be required for analysis:

  • 1 surface sample representative of the area to be dredged – where the dredging volume is 500 cubic metres to 1,000 cubic metres per campaign and less than 10,000 cubic metres per annum
  • 2 surface samples representative of the area to be dredged – where the dredging volume is 1,000 cubic metres to 3,000 cubic metres per campaign and less than 10,000 cubic metres per annum

The MMO no longer requires sediment samples to be analysed by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas). Instead, applicants can have samples analysed by their laboratory of choice, as long as their methods are in line with MMO sediment analysis guidelines. Results will need to be submitted with the dredging application, along with a map indicating where the sample(s) were taken.

The MMO are introducing a ‘self-certification’ process which will outline minimum standards, methodology and data requirements which must be met by laboratories for physical and chemical sediment analysis data to be acceptable for submission as supporting information to any marine licence application. This applies to applications both for the disposal of dredged material to sea and for dredging-only activities.

Larger-scale navigational dredging

Navigational maintenance dredging of more than 10,000 cubic metres per annum, or which doesn’t meet any of the criteria listed above, will be subject to the full dredging licensing process.

Applications can be made for joint licences for dredging and disposal at sea and these licences can be issued for many years (typically 5-10 years). The MMO charge on an hourly basis for processing dredging applications so it is worth speaking to them early and doing as much pre-application work as possible. This should include formally approaching the Environment Agency and Natural England to to iron out any issues early and then get written copies of conditions to be met or letters of agreement. This will reduce the amount of time the MMO spends consulting and processing your licence, therefore reducing the overall cost of your dredging licence application.

For further information about marine licensing including dredging, visit the MMO website or speak to an MMO case officer about your works on 0300 123 1032. The first two hours of their advice on a project is not chargeable and you can also use this opportunity to get an estimate of the licence application fee.

Sediment Quality Samples

Dredging applications of this scale will require sampling and sediment analysis to support your marine licence application and should be carried out before you submit your application. The criteria for sediment sampling are detailed on the MMO website. The MMO encourages applicants to approach them prior to submitting an application for dredging so that a sampling plan can be agreed in advance of sampling works.

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