A Legal Foundation for Environmental Protection

Module titleA Legal Foundation for Environmental Protection
Module codeLAW1016C
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Mrs Kate Holtaway (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

In this module you will be introduced to law in the context of the environment and how important the legal process is in its protection. The module seeks to provide you with an overview of how the law has evolved to provide protection for the environment in its own right where its origins were largely historic concerns for public health.


You will develop empathy for the different stakeholders in environmental issues. We will consider pathways to reconcile competing interests in an attempt to strike a balance between developmental or industrial progress and the need to protect our environment.


You are not expected to have any legal knowledge or experience and the module is therefore ideal for students on an interdisciplinary pathway, as well as being a compulsory element of the Environmental Science degree. The module is designed as an essential foundation for those seeking employment following graduation in an environmental field where a working knowledge of law and policy will be assumed. It also provides an excellent foundation for further legal study. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of this module is to introduce you to the challenges that we face in environmental law and the difficulties associated with balancing different values and interests that people, businesses and nations have in decisions that affect their environment. Planning decisions permit development that can impact our ecosystems, and they limit development to prevent harm. Businesses, industry, the economy, our ecosystems and ultimately our planet are all impacted by decisions that are made on a local, national and global basis to permit or prevent development, and this module will introduce you to the systems and procedures that facilitate these controls.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. describe comprehensively the principles and foundations that underpin environmental law and policy on a local, national and global scale
  • 2. identify and understand the role and function of the judiciary and the main regulatory bodies involved in environmental protection and law making

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. relate theoretical perspectives to specific case scenarios
  • 4. synthesise information and recognise relevance and, with guidance, develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 5. begin, with guidance, to evaluate and articulate weaknesses in the arguments of others.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. retrieve and efficiently use primary and secondary library-based and electronic sources with minimum guidance
  • 7. make small-group presentations on a selected topic and defend an argument in seminar discussions and debate
  • 8. understand and reflect upon substantive and theoretical texts
  • 9. work independently and manage time efficiently and effectively in preparing coursework
  • 10. effectively interact with peers for small-group presentations and general discussion, modifying own position where appropriate

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module begins by considering the development of environmental concern over the last 60 years and how the law has responded.  The module looks at the scope of environmental law and its relevance to your studies. The module will then build on this introduction and will include the following topics:-


Part 1 -The challenges we face in Environmental Law – reflecting on our history. 

   Focuses on:

  • Evolution and origins of environmental law including responsive changes from developmental leaps in science and technology.
  • 1960’s developments in environmental protection becoming an objective in its own right.
  • Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth – how they created landmarks in changing policy.
  • Balancing of the needs of both the environment and individuals.
  • Indirect threats to the environment from the laws themselves.
  • Practicalities and difficulties associated with complying with environmental law and the ramifications for those who fail to comply.


Part 2 - Attitudes and the environment

  Focuses on:

  • Resolving attitudes of individuals and businesses towards environmental protection.
  • Effects of shifts in public opinion, lobbying groups and environmental protest on legislation.
  • Links between public concern and law and generally how people influence regulation.
  • Balances between law and regulation, that legislative measures conflict each other and how policy makers seek to reconcile these competing values.
  • The practice of principles and objectives such as - sustainable development, the precautionary approach and the ‘polluter pays’.
  • Concept of ‘risk’ in environmental decision-making, the probability of events/development causing harm to the environment or to human health and different perceptions of risk and the role of science and the media.


Part 3 - The Planning System

   Focuses on:

  • Introduction to town and country planning laws including environmental impacts from development (water/air pollution) and impacts on natural habitats.
  • How the UK planning system is not an environmental protection regime but can control development so to minimize environmental impact.
  • ‘The environment’ and ‘sustainable development’ are key in planning permission decisions and how conditions can be imposed for environmental reasons.
  • How the law seeks to reconcile the competing interests of progress in industry and economy, aesthetic appeal for landowners and the protection of the environment.


Part 4 - Environmental Assessment, Permitting and IPPC

   Focuses on:

  • Legal mechanisms of Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment, allowing decision makers to gather the information they require to establish the environmental impact of projects and development.
  • Importance of advance assessment on harmful activities and the duties that are imposed at individual to international level, prepare environmental impact reports/statements.
  • Environmental permitting, and integrated pollution prevention and control. 
  • International standards on environmental management - set by the International Organization for Standardization. Primarily ISO14001 - core set of standards that businesses need to meet to establish an environmental management system.


Part 5 - Legal mechanics for the non-lawyer

   Focuses on:

  • Production of primary UK legislation and International legislation (in particular EC law) and how these legislative measures work together.
  • Role the courts have to play in both translating legislation and developing laws
  • Critical look at the practice of statutes and the difficulties courts have in applying legislation.
  • How the judiciary tends to take a non-interventionist approach when applying the law on a national level and how greater understanding of purpose behind environmental legislative measures has increased confidence at EU level in interpreting legislation practically.


Part 6 - The Administration (builds on Part 3)

    Focuses on:

  • Relevant departments of government and the role of the Royal Commission,
  • Environment Agency/Natural England - Advisory bodies to the government on certain matters. Also the non-government agencies role – Greenpeace/The National Trust etc.
  • The practical role of local authorities on issues like the collection and disposal of waste, town and country planning and contaminated land. 

The place the courts have amongst the vast array of legal infrastructure.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 24Interactive lectures: Core content will be delivered during interactive lectures where guidance will be given for further reading
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 6Problem solving workshops: Workshops will consolidate the reading and give students a chance to practice their skills by application of the principles to problem scenarios
Guided Independent Study120Independent Study


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Workshops will provide students with opportunities for formative feedback throughout the module.3 x 2 hour workshops1-10Peer and lecturer feedback and guidance
There will be a mid-term test to check progress on key themes and concepts. 25 short answer questions 1-8, 8Answers will be given by the tutor and discussed to check understanding
A draft of Part 1 of the portfolio may be handed in between weeks 4 and 5 which will be marked and returned to students with written feedback. 500 words1-6, 8-9with written feedback to aid progression to the completion of the portfolio

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Directed individual presentation in a debate setting (students will role-play and represent the position of a stakeholder at a public hearing.)2015 minute presentation of debate (followed by 10 minutes of questions from peers and tutor)1-8, 10Oral feedback following debate from peers and lecturer
Written counter-argument to the position taken during the debate (which should include an opinion on the stakeholders most likely to disagree with this position and why.)301000 words1-6, 8-10Written feedback directly linking the content of the work to the marking criteria
A five-part critical Learning Portfolio covering 4 selected topics from the module. The learning portfolio should be critical and evaluative of the issues, concepts, readings and values addressed on the module. The word limit is 2500 and should include the following elements: An introduction where you provide some background about your experiences on the module so far and your initial thoughts about the relevance of environmental law to environmental science (250 words). A series of four themes you draw from your learning on the module, which should be directly related to the topics studied. For each one you should reflect on your initial responses to the topic, critically explore the reading you undertook and comment on how your views have developed (500 words for each part). Please note that for each topic covered on the module indicative themes/ questions that might be addressed will be provided as guidance. A conclusion, in which you draw the sections of your portfolio together and reflect on your learning during the module (250 words). 50500 word per part (2500 words)1-6, 8-9Written feedback directly linking the content of the work to the marking criteria


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Debate and counter-argument.Essay (1500 words) worth 50% replicating the ideas considered in the original assessment1-6, 8-10August/September Reassessment period
PortfolioPortfolio to be re-submitted worth 50%1-6, 8-9August/September Reassessment period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessment will be by means of a replacement piece of work to be submitted during the August/September reassessment period referral / deferral period equivalent to the failed element of the original assessment.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Bell and McGillivray, Environmental Law (7th Edition, 2008)

Wolf and Stanley on Environmental Law, Wolf, F & Stanley, N (2011) Taylor & Francis

Finch and Fafinski, Legal Skills, OUP (2nd Edition, 2009).  Copies can be found in the library.  The textbook explains how to find legal resources from statutes to cases and how to write law essays and exams.

Kramer, EC Environmental Law, Sweet and Maxwell (2006)

Connie, Bradney & Burton, English Legal System in Context (2007), OUP, Oxford

Partington, M, Introduction to the English Legal System (2008) OUP Oxford

Nicolasde Sadeleer, Environmental Principles (2005), OUP Oxford

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Law, policy, administration, legal, attitudes, environment, Planning, assessment, permitting, legal mechanics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


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