Marine dredged sand and gravel is principally used by the construction industry, with marine resources providing 22% of overall sand and gravel demand in the UK. Marine aggregate production also contributes to our balance of payments through the export of concrete aggregates to our European neighbours, and through beach nourishment helps to defend our coastline.
The contribution of marine dredged sand and gravel resources as part of the wider portfolio of construction aggregate supply is growing in importance. Where local primary aggregates are constrained, either because resources are not geologically present or because existing resources have become depleted, alternative sources of supply have to be found.
Economies of scale allow marine aggregate supplies to play an important role using a fleet of highly specialised dredgers to load sand and gravel from licensed areas located around the coast of England and Wales. A single dredger can transport between 2,000 -10,000 tonnes over considerable distances for delivery to wharves in coastal towns and cities, close to where construction aggregates are needed. Along the River Thames alone, 8 million tonnes of marine sand and gravel were delivered to support construction activity during 2019 – equivalent to over 1,100 lorry loads every day.
Marine dredged sand and gravel also provide a strategic role in supplying large scale coast defence and beach replenishment projects – over 30 million tonnes being used for this purpose since the mid 1990’s. With the growing threats posed by sea level rise and increased storminess, the use of marine sand and gravel to protect vulnerable communities and infrastructure around our coast will become increasingly important.
In 2019, 1079 km2 of seabed was licensed for marine aggregate extraction in British waters, of which 105 km2 was dredged. This represents just 0.12% and 0.01% of the total UK continental shelf area (867,000km2) respectively.
Marine aggregate extraction is closely regulated to protect the environment. Expert studies are undertaken to help inform licence decisions and permission will be refused if there is any concern about impacts on the coastline or any other environmental or economic interests.
The interests of the MPA's marine aggregate producers are represented by a constituent body of MPA, the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association (BMAPA). Its website is available at www.bmapa.org.
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The BMAPA Sustainable Development report which presents marine aggregate market and performance data from 2018, details the contribution of marine sand and gravel resources to the overall demand for construction aggregate across England and Wales. The slight increases in landings reported for marine supplies alongside the majority of other sources of construction aggregate, coincide with low levels of growth reported across the economy as a whole.
The Crown Estate and the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association (BMAPA) have published the 23rd annual 'Area Involved' report, which details changes in the extent of the seabed area licensed and dredged for marine aggregates during 2020.
The Mineral Products Association (MPA) is the trade association for the aggregates, asphalt, cement, concrete, dimension stone, lime, mortar and silica sand industries.