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Environmental Law

Environmental Law (9th edn)

Stuart Bell, Donald McGillivray, Ole Pedersen, Emma Lees, and Elen Stokes
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date: 22 March 2023

p. 35611. Private law and environmental protectionlocked

p. 35611. Private law and environmental protectionlocked

  • Stuart Bell, Stuart BellProfessor of Law and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of York
  • Donald McGillivray, Donald McGillivrayProfessor of Environmental Law, University of Sussex
  • Ole W. Pedersen, Ole W. PedersenReader in Environmental Law, Newcastle University
  • Emma LeesEmma LeesUniversity Lecturer in Environmental and Property Law, University of Cambridge
  •  and Elen StokesElen StokesProfessorial Research Fellow in Law, University of Birmingham


This chapter focuses on the torts—or civil wrongs—traditionally relied on in environmental litigation: private and public nuisance, trespass, negligence, and the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher. It discusses and outlines statutory nuisance and various instances of statutory civil liability, some of which go beyond providing remedies for individuals and provide for wider environmental clean-up. Traditionally, private law has attempted to serve the function of controlling environmental damage. However, the chapter shows that the similarity is often superficial; the essential characteristic of private law is to regulate relationships between individuals by the balancing of individual interests. It concludes by briefly considering the EU Environmental Liability Directive, which has some similarities with private law remedies but is primarily an administrative mechanism for environmental remediation in defined situations.

Updated in this version

Note: An update has been made available on the Online Resource Centre (June 2017).

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