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Marine Licences

Find out which activities need a marine licence, and gain an overview of the factors used to assess licence applications

What is a ‘licensable marine activity’?

Under the Marine and Coastal Access Act (MCAA) 2009 it is a licensable marine activity to:

  • Deposit any substance or object, in the sea or on or under the sea bed, from: 
    • Any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or marine structure
    • Any container floating in the sea
    • Any structure on land constructed or adapted wholly or mainly for the purpose of depositing solids in the sea
  • Construct, alter or improve any works either in or over the sea or on or under the sea bed
  • Use a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, marine structure or floating container to remove any substance or object from the sea bed
  • Carry out any form of dredging, whether or not involving the removal of any material from the sea or sea bed

These are the most common activities, but see section 66 of the Act for some of the more unusual activities requiring a licence.


Examples of licensable marine activities include:

  • Navigational dredging
  • Disposal of dredged material
  • Extraction of minerals by marine dredging
  • Any construction works that involve the placement or removal of material in the sea, such as the construction or alteration of harbours/jetties

What areas does ‘the sea’ include?

Under MCAA, ‘the sea’ includes:

  • Any area submerged at mean high water spring tide. This includes waters in any area:
    • That 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
  • The waters of every estuary, river or channel, as far as the tide flows at mean high water spring tide (MHWS)

If you are unsure whether a licence is needed, please contact us.

What factors do we consider when assessing a marine licence application?

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 to:

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

Please use the links below for more details on the above.

Additional considerations

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.

In all cases, we must consider any representations we receive from anyone with an interest in the outcome of an application. This includes comments received from consultees and the public.

A list of the main organisations consulted on applications can be found on our consultation page.


Some activities are exempt from needing a marine licence. These are set out in The Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) (Wales) Order 2011, which can be found via the link below. Applicants should contact us for advice on whether an exemption applies.

Applications for marine minerals dredging

The owners of the seabed around Wales issue commercial licences to extract marine minerals. The owners, including the Crown Estate and Swangrove Estate, will only issue a licence if Natural Resources Wales have granted a marine licence.

Decisions upon marine licence applications made to extract marine minerals must have regard to the Welsh Government Interim Marine Aggregates Dredging Policy, which can be found via the link below. Applicants are encouraged to review this in relation to their application.

Other consents

You should be aware that you may also require other consents for your activities before they can be carried out.

For example, all intrusive works on the seabed within 12 nautical miles of the coast are likely to require consent from the Crown Estate, along with some works outside 12 nautical miles. 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.

Contact us

If you have any queries you can contact the Marine Licensing Team at 

or telephone the Natural Resources Wales General Enquiries line on 0300 065 3000.

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