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Seabed ownership and rights

Ownership of the seabed and sovereign rights

The seabed to 12 nautical miles is largely owned by the Crown and managed on its behalf by the Crown Estate Commissioners as is much of the foreshore. The remainder is in a mixture of public and private ownership.

Beyond the 12 nautical mile limit the seabed is ownerless but various government bodies have sovereign rights over marine resources to the edge of the continental shelf and the 200 nautical mile limit (the exclusive economic zone). The Department for Energy and Climate Change have responsibility for oil and gas, and the Crown Estate for offshore wind.

Under s 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 public bodies such as the Crown Estate have a duty to have regard for the conservation of biodiversity in exercising their functions, which would include exercising their ownership function.

The ownership of the UK’s marine fishing rights has not been confirmed by statute but under the common law is regarded as owned by the Crown on behalf of the public.

Legislation

United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea II

The Crown Estate Act 1961

The Continental Shelf Act 1964

The Territorial Sea Act 1987

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006

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