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Frequently Asked Question for Marine Licensing

This guidance has been produced to provide a general over view of Marine Licensing to assist Applicants in understanding which activities require a Marine Licence and how their application is processed. It is intended to direct potential applicants to the legislation that may apply to their activities and advise on what they need to do.

In all cases it is advised that applicants should familiarise themselves with the legislation in the first instance.

A Marine Licence does not absolve you from applying for any other necessary consents or permissions that may be required prior to works being undertaken. 

When is a Marine Licence required?

A Marine Licence is required when any licensable activity as defined in section 66 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 is undertaken within the Marine licensable Area.

Which activities require a Marine Licence?

Section 66 (1) of the Marine and Coastal Access Act sets out the activities that need a licence.

In broad terms a Marine Licence is required if one or more of the activities are to be undertaken:

Any deposit or removal of material or substance, using a vehicle or vessel seaward of MHWS. Deposits or removals by hand are not marine licensable activities.

  • Construction, alteration or improvement works seaward of MHWS eg bridges and piers (including works hanging/suspended over the area seaward of MHWS and works beneath the sea bed eg, tunnels)
  • Scuttling vessels or floating containers
  • Dredging
  • Incineration of objects within the Marine Licensing area
  • Deposit and use of explosives

Which activities are exempt from the requirement for a Marine Licence?

Some activities may not require a Marine Licence and are defined as exempt

In the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, Part 4, Chapter 2, for example dredging and associated disposal authorised under local Acts or Harbour Orders – these need to be considered on a case by case basis.

Other activities that do not require a Marine Licence are identified in the Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) Order 2011.

The most common are listed below. Certain activities are only exempt if they satisfy certain criteria an example of this is provided below Harbour maintenance by

  • Harbour Authorities (within existing boundaries of the works)
  • Maintenance of coast protection by Coast Protection Authorities
  • Drainage and flood defence carried out by the Environment Agency / NRW (within existing boundaries of the works)
  • Deployment of scientific equipment – with restrictions
    If you believe that your activity is exempt, you should refer to the legislation and satisfy yourself that this is the case. Please ensure you advise marine licensing of the activity you are undertaking for us to complete a register of exempt activities at

What is the difference between maintenance and capital dredging?

Maintenance and capital dredging are defined as;

Maintenance - includes material recently deposited by sedimentation processes in harbour, estuary or sea areas 

Capital - includes geological material dredged from previously unexposed layers beneath the seabed and surficial material from areas not recently dredged ie within 10 years

Where is the Marine licensable Area?

The Welsh Marine licensable Area includes the Welsh inshore area and the Welsh offshore area. The Welsh inshore area extends seaward 12 nautical miles from Mean High Water Spring (MHWS) to the territorial limit. The Welsh offshore area extends beyond the territorial limit to include all areas of the sea in the Welsh Zone.

This area is defined in the Marine and Coastal Access Act as any area submerged at mean high water spring tide, and the waters of every estuary, river or channel, so far as the tide flows at mean high water spring tide. The licensable area also includes waters in any area which is closed, whether permanently or intermittently, by a lock or other artificial means against the regular action of the tide, but into which seawater is caused or permitted to flow, whether continuously or from time to time, and from which seawater is caused or permitted to flow, whether continuously or from time to time. Activities undertaken further than 12 nautical miles from MHWS, in Welsh Offshore waters are not authorised by the Marine Licensing Team in Natural Resources Wales, but are likely to require a Marine Licence from the Marine Management Organisation.

How do we define Mean High Water Springs (MHWS)?

The Marine Licensing Team do not define MHWS, but ask applicants to provide evidence if the exact line is in question.

Lines on OS maps can be used as a general guide but are not used definitively as MHWS moves so dramatically over time particularly following storm events.

One way to show MHWS is to use height data from the closest port and a ground level survey at the works site.

MHWS for primary ports are available here (along with conversion from local datum to AOD (above ordnance datum)):

There may be more local figures commercially available for MHWS around Wales which could provide a closer height. These are of course fine to use.

How do I apply for a Marine Licence?

Application forms should be completed and submitted for consideration with the appropriate application fee.

Marine Licence application forms can be found here.

There are four separate application forms. Marine Works, Marine Energy Works, Dredge and Disposal and Marine Minerals. Please ensure the correct application form is completed for that activity you wish to undertake. If your activity covers more than one application type complete each of the appropriate application forms and add the fees together.

How much do Marine Licence applications cost?

Please see the marine licensing fees and guidance page for information regarding our fees and charges.

How do I submit a Marine Licence application?

Your Marine Licence application form and relevant fee and all supporting documents should be submitted to the following address:

Permit Receipt Centre Natural Resources Wales 29 Newport Road Cambria House Cardiff CF24 0TP


Details of how to pay can be found at the following link:

How many copies are required?

If the application form and all supporting documents can be sent electronically in an email that is 10MB or smaller, we will accept the application by email. We will however require one hard copy of all application documents for our own review and record. If the application form and all supporting documents are too big to email, we usually need 16 copies of the marine licence application and supporting documents for consultation purposes. These can be either hard copies or CD copies. If CD copies are submitted, however, we will require one hard copy of all application documents for our own review and record. Please note that we cannot accept information provided on USB data sticks.

How are applications determined?

Marine licences are determined in line with the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and other relevant legislation. When assessing Marine Licence applications, we must have regard for the need to:

  • Protect the environment
  • Protect human health
  • Prevent interference with legitimate uses of the sea
  • Other relevant matters

We must also take full account of any requirements on the applicant or the Marine Licensing Team under additional legislation such as:

  • Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (Habitats Regulation Assessment)
  • Ensure any activities licensed are compliant with the Water Framework Directive (WFD)
  • Environmental Impact Assessment under the Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007 (as amended)
  • Ensure any activities licensed are compliant with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Applications will also be determined in compliance with the UK Marine Policy Statement and other relevant policy such as Shoreline Management Plans and Interim Marine Aggregates Dredging Policy.

For certain applications involving the construction, alteration or improvement of works, we must consider the effects of the intended use of the works once complete. For example, in considering an application for a jetty extension that will enable access for bigger vessels, we must consider the effects that the bigger vessels will have on the environment. When an application for a marine licence is made, we consult with a range of organisations to seek advice on the impacts of the project and any mitigation measures or conditions that should be included within a licence to minimise potential impacts. Consultees vary depending on the type of application. More information can be found on our consultations page:

In most cases applicants are required to place a public notice of their proposals in a local newspaper. This notification will direct interested members of the public to a public building where the applicant must arrange for copies of the application and supporting documents to be available. The notice will also provide the public with contact details so that they can make any representations concerning the application to the Marine Licensing Team. In all cases, we must consider any representations we receive from anyone with an interest in the outcome of an application. The Marine Licensing Team will address all reasonable concerns and consider whether conditions can be included which will mitigate against any impacts of the proposed project. Following the determination of the Marine Licence a decision will be issued. Each month a list of all Marine Licence applications which have been received and those determined are published on our website.

What are the timescales for determining a Marine Licence Application?

There are no statutory timescales for determining Marine Licence applications. However, our service level agreements (SLA) for determination are:

  • Band 1 applications – 6 weeks for grab sampling, 10 weeks all other activities
  • Band 2 application – 4 months
  • Band 3 application - none, due to projects varied and complex nature determination can be significantly longer

The determination service level begins on receipt of a completed application including sampling results where required. Should any information be missing from the application or further information be needed to progress the application, the service level will not commence until this has been received.

We recommend that applications are made taking into account this service level and adding in contingency to ensure your works are not delayed should a licence be granted

How do I register the deployment of scientific equipment as an exempt activity?

Example of requirements to satisfy criteria for exemption

Scientific Equipment

Scientific Equipment may be exempt from the need for a Marine Licence under The Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) (Wales) Order 2011 Article 16.

To be able to register the activity as exempt from the need for a Marine Licence, the following criteria must be met:

-1 Must not cause or likely to cause obstruction or danger to navigation

-2 Must not interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea

-3 Must not have a significant effect on a protected site

You must provide the MLT with confirmation from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Trinity House that the deployment will not cause 1 or 2 listed above.

The relevant email addresses are:

The MLT will consult with internal colleagues on whether the activity is likely to have a significant effect on any designated conservation site.

If there are no navigational concerns and there is unlikely to be a significant effect on a designated site then NRW will register the activity as exempt.

Please be aware should the MCA, Trinity House or NRW have any concerns regarding the exemption, a Marine Licence may be required.

The Crown Estate should also be contacted to discuss the requirement for a Land Owners Consent at 

Who enforces the conditions of a Marine Licence

The Marine Licensing regime is enforced by Welsh Government, Marine and Fisheries Division. Should you wish to report an activity please contact:

Welsh Government
Suite 3
Cedar Court
Haven’s Head Business Park
Milford Haven Pembrokeshire
SA73 3LS

Tel: 01646 693412


What do I do if I want a copy of a Marine Licence?

Each month a list of all Marine Licence applications which have been received, and those determined are published on our website All documents and correspondence relating to a Marine Licence applications are stored on our internal Document Management Systems.

If you have any queries or would like more information on any Marine Licence application or determination please email

Are other permissions required if a Marine Licence has been granted?

A Marine Licence does not absolve you from applying for any other necessary consents or permissions that may be required prior to works being undertaken.

The following is not an exhaustive list and further advice should be sought from relevant bodies including the Local Planning Authority.

All intrusive works on the seabed within 12 nautical miles of the coast may require consent from The Crown Estate. E-mail for further information or clarification as to whether a small works consent is required. If consent is required, a short application form will need to be completed and the application will take up to four weeks to process.

If the location of the activity is within a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) or requires access via a SSSI then a permission from Natural Resources Wales should be sought. More information can be found here.

If you want to carry out works in, over, under or near a main river, or in a flood plain or flood defence (including a sea defence), you may need to apply for Flood Defence Consent. More information can be found here.

Certain species are European Protected Species (EPS) which include, but are not limited to whales, dolphins, porpoises, turtles, in marine Welsh waters. It is against the law to damage their breeding sites / resting places, or deliberately to capture, kill, injure or disturb an EPS without a licence. More information can be found here.

Terrestrial European Protected Species that may be affected by marine licensable activities (eg, pier and bridge repairs) include bats and otters. Further information can be found here.

Further information

If you are still unclear whether your activity requires a Marine Licence and you need to come to us for further guidance, please provide the following information with your query:

Details of the works to be undertaken, including:

  • Whether the works are seaward of Mean High Water Springs and in Welsh Territorial Waters? Please provide a map
  • Will vehicles or vessels be used to undertake the works?
  • Size and scale of the work?
  • Time of year the works are to be undertaken
  • Are the works within a designated site?
  • Have discussions been held with any other function of NRW previously? Who? When?
  • Description of the works, including method to be used
  • The Marine Licensing Team can be contacted at the following email address:

Links to other useful sites:

Wales Coastal Network (for SMPs)

Marine Management Organisation

Marine and Fisheries Officers via Welsh Government Website

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