Law and The Environment

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Veerle Heyvaert


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BSc in Environment and Development, BSc in Environmental Policy with Economics, BSc in International Relations and LLB in Laws. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The aim of this course is to study and understand how law can be used as a tool to pursue environmental goals and to think critically about law’s contribution to local and global environmental protection.


I.  General features of environmental law in the UK:

The introductory sessions examine how we understand ‘the value of the environment’ as an object of legal protection, and how environmental law evolved through time. We review international and EU law as important sources of environmental law in the UK, and consider the impacts of Brexit. We study the notions of ‘risk’ and ‘precaution’ as key concepts of environmental regulation, and examine how the relationship between Parliament, the Government and the Environment Agency affects the effectiveness of environmental laws and rules in the UK.

II.  Controlling space

This section reviews legal strategies for environmental protection through the management of the built environment, parks and nature. It covers planning law, environmental impact assessment, and nature conservation law.

III.  Controlling climate change

Seminars on climate change examine international law and the politics of climate change, different regulatory strategies to respond to the climate change challenge, and climate change litigation.

IV.  Controlling enterprise

Section IV looks at how environmental harm can be prevented or limited by regulating heavily polluting industries, by targeting particular products (such as dangerous chemicals), or by focusing on particular activities (such as international trade). We examine how environmental regulation aims to balance between restricting hazardous activities on the one hand, and fostering free enterprise on the other, and review the court’s role in adjusting this balance.

V.  Remedying environmental harm

The final section examines the role of both case law and regulation in the remediation of environmental harm, paying attention to clean-up of contaminated land, common law and human rights based approaches to compensation, and legal responses to international environmental disasters


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year some or all of this teaching will be delivered through recorded online lectures and a mix of both in-person and online classes to accommodate students who are unable to physically be on campus.  This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to write a formative essay; answer a problem set in writing; and participate in a mock exam.

Indicative reading

There is no set book that covers the entire course, however, several sessions use Bell, McGillivray, Pedersen et. al, Environmental Law (9th edition, Oxford University Press, 2017). A detailed reading list is provided for each seminar. Materials that are not sourced from Bell, McGillivray & Pedersen are made available on Moodle. 

A good alternative source is Fisher, Lange & Scotford, Environmental Law. Text, Cases and Materials (OUP, 2013). Useful introductory books include: Lazarus, The Making of Environmental Law, 2004; Holder & Lee, Environmental Protection, Law & Policy, 2007; R Carson, Silent Spring, 1962; R Eckersley, Environmentalism and Political Theory,1992.


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.
Essay (50%, 4000 words).

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2019/20: 23

Average class size 2019/20: 24

Capped 2019/20: Yes (24)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills