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Marine historic environment

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

This Act sets out a requirement for a national marine plan and establishes the Welsh Ministers as the marine planning authority for Wales. The Act also puts in place a marine licencing regime for many activities. The impact of any proposed activity on the marine historic environment will be one of a range of factors taken into account when an application for a marine licence is considered.

A draft of the Welsh National Marine Plan was the subject of a public consultation in 2018. It is now being considered in light of responses.

A number of pieces of legislation provide protection for individual historic assets in the marine environment.

The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973

This Act protects wrecks below mean high water from interference by unauthorised persons. Section 1 provides protection for wrecks thought to be historically, archaeologically or artistically important, or for any objects contained (or formerly contained) therein. Six sites in Welsh waters have been designated under section 1 of the 1973 Act:

  • The Smalls Viking wreck site, Pembrokeshire
  • The Mary, Skerries, Anglesey
  • Pwll Fanog wreck, Menai Strait, Anglesey
  • Tal y Bont wreck, Barmouth, Gwynedd
  • The Diamond, Barmouth, Gwynedd
  • Resurgam submarine, Rhyl, Denbighshire

You will need a licence from Cadw to dive or undertake any activities on any of these sites.

Section 2 of the 1973 provides protection for wrecks that are deemed dangerous because of their contents. A strict exclusion policy is operated with a prohibited area maintained around these wrecks.

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979

This Act, as amended by the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016, provides for the scheduling of any thing or group of things that evidences past human activity. Underwater sites within the 12-nautical-mile limit of territorial waters can be scheduled, as can those up to and above high water.

You can dive on a scheduled underwater site, but you cannot disturb it without scheduled monument consent.

The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986

This Act makes it an offence to interfere with the wreckage of any crashed, sunken or stranded military aircraft or designated vessel without a licence. The Ministry of Defence is responsible for the designation of an aircraft or vessel as a ‘protected place’ or ‘controlled site’.

An aircraft or vessel lost while on military service after 4 August 1914 may be designated a protected place. While you may freely dive on a protected place, any activity that would occasion physical disturbance requires a licence from the Ministry of Defence.

A controlled site, on the other hand, is a specifically designated area encompassing the remains of an aircraft or vessel lost within the last 200 years. All operations on a controlled site, including diving, require a licence from the Ministry of Defence.

The Merchant Shipping Act 1995

The 1995 requires that all wreck material, whether recovered from UK territorial waters or brought into the UK from outside, must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck. The receiver will try to find the owner of the material, or a museum home for any artefacts.

There are four main types of ‘wreck' in the UK.

Flotsam — goods lost from a sinking ship recoverable because they float.

Jetsam — goods deliberately thrown overboard (‘jettisoned’) to lighten the load of a ship in danger of sinking.

Lagan — goods cast overboard from a sinking ship recoverable because floats have been attached.

Derelict — goods or vessels abandoned at sea without hope of recovery.

Wreck may be:

  • Found in or on the sea
  • Washed ashore in tidal waters
  • Recovered from a wreck site.