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New report highlights marine aggregates sustainability

Hanson Thames

Latest BMAPA report sets out marine aggregates sustainable development data for 2020/2021

THE importance of construction materials sourced from the sea is highlighted in a new sustainability report from the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association (BMAPA).

The publication sets out the latest sustainable development data (2020/21) for the marine aggregates industry across seven priority areas, including resource use, climate change and energy, and the natural environment.

More than 20 million tonnes of sand and gravel were sourced from the seabed in 2021, with 14.3 million tonnes supplied to British construction for infrastructure, public and private buildings, and housing. Marine aggregates contribute more than 20% of the total sand and gravel needed for construction in England and Wales, meet one-third of primary aggregate demand in the South East and 50% of all primary aggregate used in central London.

A further 1.3 million tonnes were used for beach replenishment at locations along the south and east coast of England in 2021, and 4.3 million tonnes of British marine aggregates were delivered to Europe (France, Belgium and the Netherlands) for use in construction.

While marine aggregate production fell by 17.2% during 2020, the corresponding reductions in total fuel oil consumption and CO2 emissions reported by BMAPA operators were only around 9%. This reflects the fact that while a number of marine aggregate vessels were inactive in the second quarter of 2020, as the national economy responded to the effects of the global pandemic, they remained under power. Meanwhile, those that were active had to supply a wider range of markets, necessitating longer transport distances for the same volume of materials.

The annual BMAPA sustainable development report builds on the wider sustainable development reporting established by BMAPA's parent organization, the Mineral Products Association (MPA). The information reported is structured to align with the existing KPIs defined in the original BMAPA strategy document produced in 2006 using the seven MPA strategic priorities.

Mark Russell, the MPA’s executive director for planning, mineral resources and BMAPA, said: ‘At a time when there is spatial pressure arising from new off-shore activities such as renewable energy developments, coupled with the growing importance of marine protected areas and nature recovery more generally, it is more important than ever that the marine aggregates industry is able to demonstrate its sustainability credentials alongside its longstanding commitment to responsible operation.

‘The industry was not immune to the impacts of the pandemic, with the initial lockdown arrangements in 2020 resulting in a significant downturn in construction activity. However, when it did resume, aided by government recognizing construction and its supply chain as an ‘essential activity’, the pent-up demand meant production levels in many parts of the country – particularly London and the South East – rapidly returned.’

In a typical year approximately 0.01% of the 867,000 sq. km seabed around Britain’s coastline is dredged for sand and gravel. BMAPA and The Crown Estate, which is responsible for activities on the seabed around Britain, continue to report on the extent of licensed and dredged areas as part of their ‘Area Involved’ initiative, now in its 24th year.

Mr Russell continued: ‘What is significant is that the original UK Marine Policy Statement recognized the essential nature of marine aggregate supply, which is now reflected in the policies contained within adopted marine plans and the marine licensing decisions that they support. This has provided marine aggregates operators the confidence to make long-term multi-million-pound investments. For example, in the past two years we have seen two new state-of-the-art ships go into operation, as well as significant investment in marine wharf facilities.’

The ability to land large volumes of marine sand and gravel into coastal urban areas, close to the point of demand, often brings significant environmental benefits, with lower emissions per tonne of material landed compared with the equivalent land-sourced mineral once transport is taken into account, and the reduction of road miles and associated traffic congestion. However, the growing use of rail and river distribution is reinforcing the sustainable contribution these supplies can make to the overall supply of essential construction aggregates.

‘In addition, historically 20–30% of marine aggregate production from British waters has been exported to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, reflecting the fact that the marine aggregates resources in our neighbours’ coastal waters do not contain the coarse sands and gravels required to make concrete,’ said Mr Russell.

‘So, the ability for the British marine aggregates industry to maintain exports to customers on the near continent is important and, despite extra bureaucracy, indications suggest the export tonnages remained stable following formal departure from the EU at the end of 2020, making a contribution to the nations balance of payments.

‘Besides some significant short-term challenges facing the sector, arguably the greatest challenge for all of us is climate change. As well as the need to transition towards net zero, there is a growing recognition of the need for widescale adaptation to ensure that society, the economy, and our environment are prepared for the inevitable changes that will result,’ continued Mr Russell.

‘Alongside the risks posed by sea-level rise, the increased energy contained within a warming atmosphere is already resulting in more extreme weather events. The ongoing need to protect vulnerable coastlines and the communities, infrastructure, and environmental features they support, reinforces the strategic importance of marine aggregate resources.’

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