Sweet Mountain Air -

Posted on November 19, 2019

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Sweet Mountain Air?

Environmental law masters graduate Eve Aycock in affiliation with M&P Legal summarises Manx environmental law and its role in protecting the Island’s natural surroundings.

The Isle of Man is a patchwork of biogeographical regions, from the heather-clad moors of Snaefell to the tempestuous shores encircling the Island. Its designation in 2016 as a UNESCO World Biosphere Region is demonstrative of the diversity and uniqueness of its natural environment. But the Island’s ostensibly pristine environment faces a range of threats including marine pollution, anthropogenic climate change, and invasive non-native species. Environmental law occupies a vital role in turning the tide on these environmental problems.

Environmental Law in the Isle of Man

Environmental law is not a self-contained regime; rather, the term simply denotes the corpus of public and private law relating to the environment. On the international plane, various multilateral environmental agreements are applicable to the Isle of Man, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora 1973 and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982. As to the Isle of Man’s domestic environmental legislation, it covers a range of fields such as:

  • wildlife protection and animal welfare;
  • environmental health;
  • land (agriculture, drainage, planning & conservation); and
  • energy and natural resources (minerals, petroleum, water, fisheries and the marine environment).

Much of the Manx environmental legislation is transposed from UK legislation; some of which was itself enacted in order to transpose European Union environmental legislation into the UK. In consequence, the Isle of Man has indirectly benefited from the robust environmental laws of the EU, despite not being a Member State of the supranational union.

The main piece of Manx legislation protecting the Island’s fauna and flora is the Wildlife Act 1990. Although the provisions of this Act predominantly mirror the wording of the England & Wales Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Manx Act is specially tailored to protect the Island’s peculiar biodiversity. For example, Section 9(4A) of the Wildlife Act 1990 extends the species protection provisions to marine fauna more prevalent in the Isle of Man than on the mainland, such as Basking Sharks. The Manx Act also expressly prohibits the re-introduction of non-native invasive species established in the wild on the Isle of Man, such as the Red-necked Wallaby – of which the Island has the largest population in the northern hemisphere. A further difference between the Wildlife Act 1990 and the equivalent act in England & Wales is that the Manx Act extends the offences to cover perpetrators acting recklessly as well as intentionally. This renders it less onerous to prove a violation of the Act’s prohibitions on killing or taking wild fauna and flora.

As to the animal welfare legislation in the Isle of Man, the most pertinent acts include the Animal Health Act 1996 and the Cruelty to Animals Act 1997. However, a conspicuous gap in the Manx legal framework for animals is that it lacks a legislative act equivalent to the UK Animal Welfare Act 2006. The enactment of a Manx act for animal welfare would help to consolidate the extant animal welfare laws in the Isle of Man, in addition to providing an opportunity for the Island to follow suit from recent developments in the UK, such as the ban on electric shock collars for cats and dogs. In April 2016, the Council of Ministers accepted a recommendation by the Select Committee on Animal Welfare to establish a Forum to assist in drafting an Animal Welfare Bill with the ultimate intention of introducing the legislation in the 2016/17 legislative year. This has not yet occurred and it is unclear whether the Animal Welfare Bill remains on the legislative agenda.

The Manx environmental health legislation encompasses three key acts: the Litter Act 1972; Public Health Act 1990; and Building Control Act 1991. The aim of the Litter Act 1972 is to abate littering on the Island and to this end, the Act stipulates the penalties for depositing litter in public spaces. The Public Health Act 1990 covers a range of topics, including nuisances and offensive trades, control of disease, and refuse disposal. Lastly, the Building Control Act 1991 empowers the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) to make regulations about building design, construction or demolition for various purposes including for environmental enhancement or protection, or for sustainable development.

The land legislation in the Isle of Man of relevance to the environment can be divided into three categories: agriculture, drainage, and planning & conservation. Firstly, there exists a multitude of legislative acts relating to agriculture, including the Agriculture and Rural Industries Act 1914; Forestry Act 1984; and Bees Act 1989. The issue of drainage is regulated by the Flood Risk Management Act 2013. Lastly, the planning & conservation legislation encompasses the Tree Preservation Act 1993; Town and Country Planning Act 1999; Trees and High Hedges Act 2005; and the Coastline Management Act 2005. A shortcoming in the Town and Country Planning Act 1999 is that it contains no obligation to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for developments posing a risk of significant harm to the environment. Instead the Town and Country Planning Act 1999 contains a requirement that a planning officer considers any local development plan and the Isle of Man Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan states that: “In cases where developments are likely to have significant environmental effects… by virtue of their nature, size or location, EIA’s will be required.” One may consider that including this requirement in primary legislation would strengthen its effect.

Concerning the Manx legislation relating to energy and natural resources, the Electricity Act 1996 is the main legislative act pertaining to energy in the Isle of Man, and contains provisions stressing the importance of promoting and improving the Island’s environment and the need to use renewable sources of energy. The Manx natural resources law covers minerals, petroleum, water, fisheries and the marine environment. Amongst the most environmentally oriented of the legislative acts relating to natural resources is the Marine Infrastructure Management Act 2016, which expressly provides that one of its purposes is to “ensure a sustainable approach to marine development within the territorial sea”. Furthermore, the Act requires all prospective applicants to perform an EIA prior to applying for marine infrastructure consent, regardless of the magnitude of the risk of environmental harm. This is particularly notable considering that in domestic and international law, the requirement to conduct an EIA is generally only triggered upon the existence of a risk of ‘significant’ harm to the environment posed by a development.

Whereas two of the main international climate change treaties have been extended to the Isle of Man (the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol), a major gap in the extant Manx environmental law is that it lacks an equivalent act to the UK Climate Change Act 2008, and the 2015 Paris Agreement has not yet been extended to the Isle of Man. However, following the 2019 DEFA public consultation into a climate change mitigation strategy for 2020-2030, the Chief Minister declared that a Climate Change Bill is to be introduced this legislative year. This Bill will aim to commit the Government to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, in accordance with the October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on global warming of 1.5°C.

In sum, the Manx legal framework for environmental protection encompasses a variety of fields ranging from laws promoting the conservation of wildlife to those regulating the use of energy and natural resources. Much of the Isle of Man’s environmental legislation mirrors equivalent acts in UK jurisdictions, albeit with alterations to suit the peculiarities of the Island’s biodiversity. But whilst a much overdue Manx Climate Change Bill is in the pipeline, there remain gaps in the Isle of Man’s environmental law: for instance, there is no act equivalent to the UK Animal Welfare Act 2006; and the Island is yet to implement legislation parallel to England’s 2017 EIA Regulations. Moreover, on the international level, the Isle of Man is yet to be bound by several key multilateral environmental agreements. For the Isle of Man’s biodiversity to have the freedom to flourish, the Manx environmental law must ensure that it receives adequate legal protection.

Eve Aycock has a Masters in Global Environment & Climate Change Law from Edinburgh University and a Bachelor of Law from Groningen University, Netherlands. She was assisted in this article by Advocate Michael Mudge of M&P Legal.

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