The Crown Estate owns the seabed around England, Wales, and Northern Ireland out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit, and the non-energy mineral resources out to the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) limit. As managers of this resource, The Crown Estate is responsible for awarding the commercial rights for marine aggregate resources through Production Agreements. The regulatory process that permits marine mineral resources to be extracted is administered by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) as the Regulator for England under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
The Solent lies in the South Coast marine dredging region. The South region has 15 production licences, operated by Aggregate Industries UK Ltd, CEMEX UK Marine Ltd, the Environment Agency, Hanson Aggregates Marine Ltd, Tarmac Marine Ltd, Volker Dredging Ltd and Westminster Gravels Ltd for sand and gravel, principally for use in the construction industry. During 2019, 3.3 million tonnes of construction aggregate were dredged from a permitted licensed tonnage of 7.1 million. Of the total marine aggregate dredged for construction from this region 82% was delivered to the South Coast (2.7 million tonnes).
The British Marine Aggregate Producers Association (BMAPA) is the representative trade body for the British marine aggregate industry and a member of the Solent Forum. Every year since 1998, BMAPA and The Crown Estate have jointly produced an annual report known as the Area Involved, which detailed changes in the area of seabed licensed and dredged at both national and regional scales.
BMAPA estimates suggest that between 3.2 and 3.8 billion tonnes of construction aggregates will be required by 2030 to support society’s ongoing need for homes, hospitals and schools, alongside the energy, water and transport infrastructure we rely upon. Marine aggregates already make a significant contribution to the ‘steady and adequate’ supply of these essential mineral resources, particularly at a regional scale. Of the 20 million tonnes of marine sand and gravel typically extracted from licensed areas around England and Wales each year, over half (c.11Mt) are landed in London and the South East of England. This is significant, given that one third of all GB construction activity takes place here, representing a value of some £50 billion per annum.
The UK marine aggregates industry is highly regulated, and coastal impacts are amongst a range of environmental issues that have to be thoroughly assessed before dredging is licensed by the Marine Management Organisation. Dredging of sand and gravel aggregates is only permitted to take place in precisely defined licence areas, if no significant environmental impacts are predicted. Once dredging is permitted, the environmental effects are continually monitored and reviewed throughout the lifetime of any licence. To ensure that dredging activity only takes place where it has been licensed, all dredging vessels operating in UK waters are required to have a “black box” electronic monitoring system that uses GPS positions to record their activities.