Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Regulating the Sea: a socio-legal analysis of English Marine Protected Areas

Margherita Pieraccini

Marine biodiversity loss is one of the biggest and most urgent environmental problems the planet is facing. Despite global and national policy calls for marine conservation and the development of legal instruments in recent years, marine conservation regulation in England has been understudied. The main reason for writing this book was to fill this academic gap, providing a socio-legal commentary on marine protected areas regulation in England. I called it ‘Regulating the Sea’ as the analysis does not stop at the legal text but also concerns non-legal techniques to manage the environment. 

The book adopts a socio-legal approach, and this is evidenced by: 1) the book’s interdisciplinarity, bridging law and regulation scholarship with theoretical insights from geography, politics, and sociology, 2) the focus on law in books as well as the law in practice, 3) a law in context analysis demonstrating how the law is imbricated in a complex and dynamic political, ecological and societal context. The methods reflect the socio-legal approach, merging desk-based legal research with empirical work, primarily in the form of semi-structured interviews conducted with sea users, regulators, and conservation bodies over many years at the national and local levels. Interviews have been very important in uncovering silenced voices in processes of decision-making, in understanding better the logic behind certain regulatory interventions and people’s perception of conservation law, and in complementing doctrinal analysis.   

The legal focus is on the key statute on the marine environment-The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009– as well as the Habitats Regulations, as amended, which transpose EU Nature Directives (Habitats and Birds) into English law. These instruments are the central ones for the establishment and management of marine protected areas in English seas, namely Marine Conservation Zones, Special Areas of Conservation, and Special Protection Areas.

The book is structured around four main themes that cover key debates in regulatory theory and environmental social sciences. The first theme is space. Theoretically, it draws on interdisciplinary work on commons and commoning, which provides key analytical lenses for the study of marine protected areas regulation in subsequent chapters. The point of the first part of the book is to think about marine protected areas not only as spatial tools for the conservation of biodiversity but also as place-making tools and institutional sites for the social organisation of space and to provide a critical map of the current regulatory seascape around marine protected areas. The second theme is rationality, as many regulatory interventions define themselves as rational. The book takes a critical approach to how rational these interventions are, studying risk-based approaches to fisheries management in marine protected areas and cost-benefit analysis in impact assessments. The third theme is democracy. Theoretically, it draws on selected deliberative democratic theories to critically analyse the opening up of decision-making in the field of marine protected areas regulation in England. This part asks which voices are heard and which are silenced in the marine political community due to dominant cultural discourses and institutional practices. The final theme is adaptation. Theoretically, it draws on law and geography literature by discussing the continuous production and reproduction of socio-legal systems and the role of the more-than-human in supporting or destabilising boundaries legally created. Adaptation efforts are discussed both about climate change and political change, focussing on Brexit as the most crucial political issue affecting the future of conservation law. Overall, the book provides critical reflections on current legal and regulatory structures on marine conservation, containing valuable insights for academics interested in environmental social sciences and law as well as for regulators tasked with meeting ambitious conservation targets.

Regulating the Sea by Margherita Pieraccini

About The Author

Margherita Pieraccini

Margherita Pieraccini is Professor at the University of Bristol Law School. She has been researching in the field of environmental law and socio-legal studies for over ten years, f...

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