French MPs have voted in favour of the imposition of a €135 fine for any walkers who enter privately owned woods and other private rural spaces around France.
The change, which is conditional on the presence of a sign to show the land is private, was added as an amendment to a law about rural enclosures in general and passed by MPs on January 25.
The senator who originally brought this law had proposed a €1,500 fine.
This could, in theory, affect around 75% of France’s woodland as the majority of this land is privately owned - although most does not currently have signs to show this.
In some areas of France, such as the Morvan region in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in eastern France, that figure is even higher with over 85% of woodland being privately owned.
Environmental campaigners have claimed it means it will now be “impossible” to walk freely in many areas without breaking the law.
Currently most private land is not indicated as such, which makes it difficult to know if land is publicly or privately owned.
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Exceptions for hunters, changes to enclosures
However, this change will not apply to hunters who will still be permitted to traverse private land when hunting.
The amendment was added as part of a law aimed at improving rules surrounding rural enclosures. Many enclosures have been built at the borders of private land and prevent animals as well as people from crossing into (or out of) the territory to the detriment of the wildlife. There are also often enclosures used by hunters to contain animals to a certain area.
The construction of these enclosures has contributed to a “dramatic fall” in biodiversity in rural France, according to the online media La Voix Rurale.
Enclosures built in the last 30 years must now provide an adequate path for wild animals to move through and not be trapped.
Read more: Franco-British man shot by hunter: anger over ‘lenient’ sentence
Environmentalist groups concerned
The law is not without controversy as some believe it will be used to target environmentalist groups and volunteers.
It is unlikely that every breach of the law will be discovered and fines issued due to the scale of the territory it covers and the relative scarcity of forest warden activity in France.
Environmentalists groups fear the new law places them under increased scrutiny, and will prevent them from engaging in activities such as anti-deforestation campaigns.
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