Marine licensing: general guidance

The list of licensable activities includes:

  • 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
  • Disposal 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
  • Installation of marine renewable energy devices
  • Discharge of sea lice treatments from wellboats
  • Deposit and or use of explosives
  • Incineration on vessels etc.
  • Licences to control seals
  • Licences to disturb European Protected Species

Marine licences are issued by the Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team (MS LOT). MS LOT provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all marine licence applications in Scottish waters. 

Marine licence applications contact information.

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.

Developers 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: some offshore installations, for example those used solely for supplying power for use offshore, are subject to exemption.

Developers considering any marine development are subject to a number of legislative and other 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, Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team is the single point of application and initial inquiry for all Section 36 and marine licence applications.

The Crown Estate owns 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 The Crown Estate to licence the generation of renewable energy and grant leases for development sites on the continental shelf within the REZ out to 200nm.

Regulatory body  Area of responsibility 
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy De-commissioning and safety zones
Marine Scotland Marine licensing under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009
Crown Estate Seabed leasing

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

Please note that the target duration for determination of a marine licence application is 14 weeks from an application being accepted. Target timelines for determining applications do not begin until the application fee is paid.

Dredging in the offshore region (to April 2014)

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (Transitional Provisions) Order 2012: The UK Government decided to extend the one year transition period for low risk maintenance dredging activities in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 for a further two years from 6 April 2012.

The Order applied in English waters and the Scottish Offshore Region, expiring on 6 April 2014.

Why was the order made: Prior to the introduction of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA), operators required a licence to dispose of dredged material, but did not require a licence for the dredging operation itself. The MCAA introduced new provisions which made dredging a licensable activity in its own right. However, a one year transition period to help operators adjust to the change, was included in the act.

The UK Government decided to increase this transitional period for a further two years to allow further time to review the licensing of dredging, explore the scope to exempt certain low risk activities and help prepare operators for implementation.

The Order does not apply to certain types of dredging, including activity that would normally require Environmental Impact Assessment, would have a significant effect on a European site or which may cause environmental damage.

It is extremely unlikely that any dredging captured by the order will take place in the Scottish Offshore Region prior to 6 April 2014.

Further information can be found on the UK Government website.

Section 36

In Scotland, applications to build and operate power 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 developments as well as modifications to existing developments. Applications below these thresholds are made to the relevant local planning authority.

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 developers, energy and planning policy, community interests and environmental considerations. Applications to Scottish Ministers for power stations need to be accompanied by an Environmental Statement which describes the effects the development is likely to have on the environment. The application and the environmental statement 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 comment 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 includes deemed planning permission and will authorise the developer to construct and begin operating the development within five years of the date of decision, subject to relevant conditions relating to environmental and other effects.

Further information:

Environmental impact assessment

Significant changes to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) Regulations come into force on the 16th May 2017. Links are provided below to the new regulations which are relevant to EIA projects where a marine licence and/or section 36 consent are required.

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. 

If you previously added a Proposed Activity Form in the old format (a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet sent by email to MS-LOT and JNCC) then you do not need to re-enter the proposed activity information.  When you get to the Close-out Report stage you should select the option to join an organisation and then select the appropriate organisation.  Once you have successfully joined this organisation you will be able to see the Proposed Activity forms that have been completed for that organisation, which allows you to submit the relevant Close-out Report at the relevant time.  

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.

Removal of Sediment - Scientific and Investigative Surveys

Under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (0-12 nm) and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (12-200 nm) a licence is required before carrying out removals from either the surface or sub-surface of the seabed. 

However, The Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) (Scottish Inshore and Offshore Regions) Amendment Order 2012 which came into force on 3 February 2012, exempts sediment sampling subject to certain conditions. This may include the use of benthic grabs and scientific corers to remove sediment samples from the seabed as part of scientific and/or investigative surveys under certain conditions. For exempt activities, a Marine Licence is not required, but Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team (MS-LOT) requires to be given notice, in writing, of the intention to carry out the activity, before it commences. 

For further information/advice on what constitutes a ‘marine licensable activity’, please contact the Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team: 

Email: ms.marinelicensing@gov.scot

Phone: +44 (0)1224 295579

Removal of beach sand

Extraction of sand and gravel from the foreshore leads to increased risk of coastal erosion and coastal flooding. As such, significant quantities of beach material should not be removed as it is part of our natural coastal defences.

In the first instance we urge people to contact the landowner to seek permission to remove sand from an area. In the event that people wish to receive guidance on the collection and use of beach sand then contact Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team.

Email: (office hours) ms.environmentalprotection@gov.scot  or (office hours) Spillresponse@marlab.ac.uk

Works Licences (Ports and Harbours)

The Requirement for a Works Licence (granted by certain Harbour or Port Authorities)

Any works which are to be carried out within Harbour and Port Limits may require a Works Licence in terms of the relevant local Harbour Order. Where applicable, the purpose of a Works Licence is to ensure that all relevant consultations have been carried out and that there are no adverse effects on the safety of navigation within the Harbour or Port area. It is the applicant's responsibility to comply with this requirement. The applicant should therefore contact the relevant Harbour or Port Authority to discuss whether a Works Licence is applicable, and if so, to make an application.

The Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team (MS-LOT) advise that, before any application for a Marine Licence to MS-LOT is made, the applicant should contact the relevant Harbour or Port Authority to seek advice. This will facilitate the effective and efficient processing of the Marine Licence application and, where applicable, will minimise duplication and/ or conflict in requirements between the Marine Licence and the Works Licence.

Please note that Works Licences may also be required for certain activities within other specific areas under the control of some Island Councils, such as Orkney and Shetland, and details may be obtained from the local authority.

Impact assesment tool

IMPACT is an online tool that has been produced by Aquatera on behalf of the Scottish Government as one of the outputs from the commissioned study – A Review of the Potential Impacts of Wave and Tidal Energy Development on Scotland’s Marine Ecological Environment (Aquatera, 2012).

IMPACT provides direct access to the outputs of this study in an easily searchable and accessible format.  This allows users to identify the potential key environmental impacts associated with wave and tidal energy developments and to access guidelines and recommendations for how best to assess, monitor and manage these impacts. 

The IMPACT Project:

A project team were appointed by the Scottish Government to undertake a study to identify the potential key issues associated with the development of wave and tidal energy on Scotland’s marine ecological environment.   

The main output of this work was a database which contains the results of an extensive assessment process.  This website provides a user friendly tool enabling users to query the database and to access the supporting information that was collated and used during the assessment.  

Alongside the database a set of recommendations were developed to provide guidance on the assessment, monitoring and management of potential key issues. 

This project has a number of current boundaries and limitations which are subject to constant review by the Project Steering Group.

Boundaries and limitations:

This initial project focuses on the potential impacts arising from the different technology types and support structures.  It does not include impacts associated with support vessel activity, subsea cables (export and interarray) and other infrastructure that may be required to support a marine energy project.  Impacts associated with accidental and unplanned events were also not considered during this process.

This project assessed the potential impacts on the marine ecological environment; not the physical or human environment.   

The assessment component of this study was undertaken during 2010-11 and therefore, due to the progress made over the past year in this fast-paced industry, some information may require updating.  The Scottish Government will soon undertake the first review process following which, the assessment results, recommendations and the website will be updated. 

The Project Team:

The team comprised of specialists in marine ecology, wave and tidal energy technology development, environmental impact assessment and monitoringfrom the following institutes/organisations:

The Project Steering Group:

The project was managed and guided throughout by the Project Steering Group which included:

It should be noted that the Project Steering Group along with a number of other external participants played a key role in this project.