Marine licensing - marine habitat restoration projects: supplementary guidance

Advice on marine licensing requirements, including information required to support applications relevant for Scottish marine habitat restoration projects.

Marine habitat restoration projects could include works to construct European native oyster (Ostrea edulis) beds, the deposit of stock oysters or seagrass seed, and the creation or expansion of saltmarshes, seagrass meadows or mudflats habitat through deposit of substances or objects or the construction of works. 

The Marine Directorate – Licensing Operations Team (MD-LOT) regulates ‘licensable marine activities’ under Part 4 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 on behalf of the Scottish Ministers (Licensing Authority). This guidance supplements the marine licensing guidance. The granting of a marine licence does not absolve the licensee from having to obtain other authorisations and consents.

Marine licensing requirements 

Section 21 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 lists ‘licensable marine activities’. A marine licence is required to do any of the following activities (list is not exhaustive):

  • deposit any substance or object within the Scottish marine area, either in the sea or on or under the seabed, from a vehicle, vessel, aircraft or marine structure, a container floating in the sea, or a structure on land constructed or adapted wholly or mainly for the purpose of depositing solids in the sea
  • construct, alter or improve any works within the Scottish marine area either in or over the sea, or on or under the seabed
  • use a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, marine structure or floating container to remove any substance or object from the seabed within the Scottish marine area

Habitat restoration projects will require a marine licence if they involve licensable marine activities. For example, a marine licence will be required if any of the following activities are carried out (list is not exhaustive):

  • material (e.g. dredged material or sand) is deposited in the sea to create new habitat or land
  • works are constructed, e.g. artificial reef is created using cultch or land is reclaimed and engineered
  • vehicles or vessels are used to place bags or cages (for example) to the seafloor (a marine licence exemption may apply to deposit of certain objects during propagation or cultivation of shellfish if specific conditions are met)
  • objects, such as oysters, are placed in the sea from a vehicle or vessel
  • a diver places objects such as oysters in the sea or on the seabed, where the objects were carried to the area of deposit below mean high water springs by a vehicle or vessel
  • any material required for a habitat restoration project (e.g. sand or sediment) is removed from the seabed

For example, activities that do not require a marine licence, but may require authorisations from other departments or agencies, include (list is not exhaustive):

  • collecting wild oysters by hand
  • hand planting seagrass
  • placing objects, such as oysters or seagrass, in the sea by hand (not from a vehicle or vessel, and not using a vehicle or vessel to carry the objects to the area of deposit below mean high water springs). For example, a diver enters the water from the shore and places the objects in the sea.

If prospective applicants are unclear about the marine licensing requirements for their project, they are encouraged to contact MD-LOT at an early stage to confirm whether or not a marine licence is required.

Supporting information to be provided with the marine licence application

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 provides that the Licensing Authority may require an applicant to supply such information and produce such articles, as in its opinion may be necessary to enable it to determine an application for a marine licence. The specific information required to support a marine licence application depends on the specifics of the particular proposal. The following documents are required to be included with any marine licence application for habitat restoration projects:

Biosecurity plan

This describes measures to prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species, particularly those which are invasive and might significantly affect the marine environment, should be developed in line with best practice and cover the location, installation methods and operational practices. Consideration should also be given to the source of the stock of the species, to ensure only local species are used and they are compatible with the receiving environment, and do not introduce disease or non-native species. Applicants should also demonstrate that harvesting the seed species does not adversely affect any donor population. Applicants should consider the following guidance:

The biosecurity plan should also include periodic review of the biosecurity measures during the licensed period of the project to take account new biosecurity risks and best practice measures. Applicants may wish to approach the NatureScot for advice. If any invasive or non-native species are sighted (including Pacific oysters that may be present in the translocated native oyster stock), these should be reported to the Scottish Government Marine Directorate for analysis and further advice. If any animal by-products, like shells, are used, the proposal must be in line with the animal by-product guidance and regulations.

Navigational risk assessment 

This considers the marine navigational risk associated with the project and presence of the introduced species or habitat, as well as impacts upon other legitimate users of the sea, such as recreational sea users, fishing and other marine traffic. The assessment should be project specific and proportional to the scale of the proposal. Applicants may wish to approach the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for advice.

Site layout plan 

This must show the entire spatial extent of the project initially and when fully established and a clear map showing where the project is to be located.

Monitoring plan

This covers both the success of the project and its effects on the environment. The plan must demonstrate how the applicant will evidence the survival and establishment of the species or habitat in the receiving environment and include details of the monitoring methods and frequency.

Relevant marine policies

Applicants should describe how their project meets any relevant plans or policies, in particular they should consider Scotland’s National Marine Plan.

Pre-application consultation requirements 

Provisions of the Marine Licensing (Pre-application Consultation) (Scotland) Regulations 2013 may be applicable to habitat restoration applications. These regulations are applicable where the area of the site where construction of eg. artificial reef exceeds 1,000 square metres, or if the area of new land reclaimed for habitat restoration purposes by placing material on the seabed exceeds 10,000 square metres. The Pre-application Consultation process is a minimum 12-week process and must be completed by the applicant before applying for a marine licence. Applicants should review the Pre-Application Consultation guidance on the Marine Directorate website. 

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) 

If the habitat restoration projects involve land reclamation, coastal work to combat erosion or maritime works capable of altering the coast, an EIA may be required. Prospective applicant may wish to seek an EIA Screening Opinion from MD-LOT to determine if an EIA is required. Guidance on EIA can be found on the Marine Directorate website. 

Relevant publications

External guidance

Relevant legislation


Contact details can be found on the Marine environment: licensing and consenting requirements page.

Back to top