Marine licensing: general guidance

Marine licences are issued by the Marine Scotland - Licensing Operations Team (MS-LOT). MS-LOT is the regulator on behalf of Scottish Ministers for marine licence applications in the Scottish inshore region (between 0 and 12 nm) under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and in the Scottish offshore region (between 12 and 200 nm) under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Marine licence applications contact information

Examples of activities which require a marine licence

  • Removal of sediment
  • Deposits in the sea or on/under the seabed
  • Removal of substances and objects from the seabed
  • The act of dredging the seabed
  • Deposit of dredged material at sea
  • Construction projects (e.g. outfalls, slipways, jetties, breakwaters etc.)
  • Beach replenishment
  • Walkways/pontoons
  • Algal farms
  • Finfish and shellfish farms - potential hazards to navigation only
  • Submarine cables
  • Construction of offshore renewable generating stations
  • Discharge of sea lice treatments from wellboats
  • Deposit and or use of explosives

In addition to marine licences, MS-LOT is also responsible for issuing the following:

  • Licences to control seals
  • Licences to disturb European Protected Species
  • Licences to disturb basking sharks

Licences to disturb European Protected Species are granted under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 and the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. The activity to disturb basking sharks within the Scottish inshore region are licensed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

As well as a Marine Licence, a project may need other approvals or consents.

Applications and guidance

The Scottish coastline offers a huge wave and tidal energy resource with the potential to generate far more electricity than we currently need from wave and tidal energy sources. Some of the best resources are located off the northern and western coastlines and island areas with the world's first grid connected wave energy device producing power on the shoreline at Islay.

Scotland's abundant offshore wind resource also offers potential for offshore wind development: one proposal is already being developed in the Solway Firth and a deep water demonstrator project is operating in the Moray Firth, part-funded by the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government believes that wave and tidal energy will make a very important contribution towards meeting our future demand for electricity: that is why we have helped fund the construction of the European Marine Energy Centre on Orkney, a world class facility for the development, testing and accreditation of marine energy generation and delivery systems.

Those proposing the construction, extension or operation of a marine-based generating station within Scottish territorial waters or the Scottish Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) will require Scottish Ministers' consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989.

People considering any marine activity are subject to a number of legislative and regulatory requirements, including marine licensing under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (between 0 and 12 nm) or the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (between 12 and 200 nm). To simplify the process for applicants, the Marine Scotland - Licensing Operations Team (MS-LOT) administrates the application process for both Section 36 and marine licence applications.

Crown Estate Scotland manages virtually the entire seabed out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit, including the rights to explore and utilise the natural resources of the UK continental shelf. The Energy Act 2004 also vested rights to Crown Estate Scotland to lease the generation of renewable energy and grant leases for seabed on the continental shelf within the REZ out to 200nm.

Marine Scotland welcomes early inquiries from applicants to discuss potential renewable energy projects and encourages early dialogue with stakeholders. Should you wish to discuss a potential project or any other aspect of the offshore renewable consenting process, please get in touch with us.

Section 36

In Scotland, applications to construct, extend and operate generating stations within the marine environment are made to the Scottish Ministers for consent. Applications are considered by Scottish Ministers where they are in excess of 1 MW for offshore wind farms and generating stations wholly or mainly driven by water (such as hydroelectric, wave or tidal generating stations). Such applications cover new generating stations as well as modifications to existing ones.

Where applications fall to be decided by Scottish Ministers, the purpose of the energy consents decision making process is to allow a balance to be drawn between the interests of applicants, energy and planning policy, community interests and environmental considerations. Applications to Scottish Ministers for generating stations need to be accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment report which describes the effects the project is likely to have on the environment. The application and the EIA report are available locally for public inspection. The planning authority and public bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency are invited to make representations on the application. Their views, as well as other representations made to Ministers, are considered during the decision making process.

In circumstances where important issues are raised, Ministers can decide to hold a Public Local Inquiry before decisions are taken. Ministerial approval of a project can include deemed planning permission for certain onshore elements and will authorise the applicant to construct and begin operating the generating station within five years of the date of decision, subject to relevant conditions relating to environmental and other effects.

Environmental impact assessment

Certain projects require Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) under The Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 (as amended) (the EIA Regulations).  The EIA Regulations define EIA projects as works which are either schedule 1 works or schedule 2 works likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue of factors such as their nature, size or location.

An EIA is always required for schedule 1 works listed in the EIA Regulations. Schedule 2 works are of a type listed in column 1 of the table in schedule 2 of the EIA Regulations which exceed or meet any threshold or criteria in column 2 of the table or are located in a “sensitive area” such as a special area of conservation, special protection areas, a site of special scientific interest, marine protected area or a National Scenic Area. These schedule 2 works (which exceed the threshold or are in a sensitive area) must be screened to determine if an EIA is required for the project. If you consider that an EIA or screening might be required for your project, MS-LOT encourages you to contact us to discuss your project.

If a project is screened in to EIA then, although not mandatory, a scoping process should be followed to agree the scope of the EIA report to be submitted in support of an application. When an EIA report is submitted, this must be based on the scoping opinion.

The relevant EIA regulations are:

Noise registry

Defra and JNCC have developed the Marine Noise Registry (MNR) to record human activities in UK seas that produce loud, low to medium frequency (10Hz – 10kHz) impulsive noise.

Underwater noise from human activities can affect marine organisms from fish to marine mammals in a variety of ways, from masking sounds used to communicate and find food, to physical injury and even death. Understanding when and where noisy activities take place will help us define the baseline level for impulsive noise in UK waters and will inform research on the effects of noise, particularly on vulnerable species like cetaceans.

The MNR is a user-friendly data input space for industry and regulators. It collects estimated location and date data on noisy activities (during the planning stages). This data should be provided as a Proposed Activity Form in the MNR at the application stage of a licence application. Please note that applications will not be accepted until this has been completed. The MNR also collects the actual location and date data (after the activity has been completed). This data should be provided as a Close-out Report in the MNR following completion of the activity. Please note that any licensee with a marine licence granted subject to conditions specific to the MNR will need to complete the appropriate data submission to fulfil the MNR. 

Activities include impact pile driving, geophysical surveys (seismic, sub bottom profiling and multibeam echosounders), explosives and some acoustic deterrent devices. The MNR also collects, where available, source property data (in line with TG noise guidance) including frequency, maximum airgun volume, maximum hammer energy, TNT equivalent, sound pressure level and sound exposure level. Developing this Registry was a commitment made in the UK Marine Strategy.

Maps will be produced annually showing the spread of activities in ‘pulse block days’ (the number of days within a set period of time that impulsive noise has been generated within each UK oil and gas licensing block). These maps will be available from: https://data.gov.uk/. Data in the Registry are also fed into a Europe-wide registry through OSPAR (the Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North-East Atlantic).

If you have any questions regarding marine licensing then please contact ms.marinelicensing@gov.scot. You can also contact mnr@jncc.gov.uk for any questions and comments on the MNR.