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Sublittoral Sands and Gravels

Sublittoral sands and gravels are the most common habitats found below the lower tidal limit around the coasts of the UK. They occur in a wide range of environments, from sheltered enclosed bays and estuaries to exposed open coast. The particle structure of the habitats ranges from mainly sand, through various combinations of sand and gravel, to mainly gravel.

Sublittoral sand and gravels support a diversity of marine life including molluscs, polychaete worms, starfish, crustaceans and fish such as plaice and sandeel. They are also important feeding grounds for tern species.

Current status

This habitat is found throughout the UK coastline and forms the substrate down most of the Region’s coast.


  • Sand and gravel habitats are subject to a variety of anthropogenic factors including aggregate dredging activities, physical disturbance by fishing and potential affects of pollutants from rivers.
  • Fishing may alter the trophic interactions within these habitats by removing predators and competitors. 
  • Disturbances such as the construction of marinas and slipways, the widening and dredging of channels, laying of pipes and cables and the construction of sea defences can alter tidal flow regimes. This can cause a change in the way marine sediments are laid down and alter the sediment structure.

Opportunities for protection and enhancement 

  • The scheme of management, ‘Managing the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast European Marine Site’, for the Berwickshire and North Northumberland Coast SAC should provide a framework in which the sublittoral sand and gravels in the north of the region can be protected.
  • Ensuring that Shoreline Management Plans take proper account of the value of sublittoral sand and gravels would help to protect this habitat.
  • Operations that take place below mean low tide require a licence from DEFRA.