Article published May 17, 2023 (edited to clarify rules on obligations, June 6, 2023)
MPs in France have voted to introduce tougher fines for people who do not clear the ground around their homes in areas that have a risk of forest fires.
The fines apply to people who do not carry out débroussaillement, a term for the clearing of vegetation and large trees around your home. It translates as ‘strimming’ or ‘cutting back’.
This is mandatory in certain parts of France as a way to reduce the risk of forest fires and must follow certain rules to be considered effective.
MPs voted on Tuesday (May 16) to make fines harsher, despite some opposition MPs calling instead for more prevention and awareness.
Fines will rise from €30 to €50 per metre square of land requiring débroussaillement, in a bid to limit the spread of wildfires in areas considered to be at risk.
Dominique Faure, France’s minister for local and regional government, speaking in favour of harsher fines, said: “We must not leave anything to chance, and make sure people know just how crucial [débroussaillement] is.”
‘Enter into dialogue’
However, MP Catherine Couturier, who was against the increased fines, said: “We already have penal and financial sanctions in law. It’s better to enter into dialogue rather than moving straight to sanctions.”
She called for MPs to not increase bills for “small-time owners”.
MP Thibault Bazin added: “The challenge is really to share information. A small number of owners aren’t aware of this legal obligation.”
MPs also voted in favour of an article to limit the risk of fires around Seveso sites (high-security storage sites for dangerous industrial chemicals).
However, the chamber rejected the idea to use drones to police areas that require débroussaillement.
MPs also rejected a proposal to give more tax credits to owners who have spent money on measures to clear their land (you can already claim money back if you hire a professional to help you clear).
What are the débroussaillement obligations?
Firstly, you need to know if your property is in an area with a legal requirement to do this work. See below for more information and/or ask your mairie or see its website, if in doubt.
Within these areas, the rules state that if your property (including land/garden/house...) is located fewer than 200m from a wood or forest then the work has to be done.
- Owners in rural areas are required to clear the land of excess vegetation for at least 50m around their houses or other constructions on their land. This even includes areas that the homeowner does not own, such as adjoining fields (the owner cannot prevent you accessing the area to do this work, but if he or she does refuse, it is their responsibility). The area can be more than 50m if this is specified in rules set by the local prefecture or mairie
- Even owners in urban areas are required to take part. Depending on the local rules, the obligation in this case may relate to clearance around constructions or simply clearance of your land, regardless of constructions on it.
- Even if you are a tenant, you may be required to take part, except if your tenancy contract states that the property owner is responsible for doing so.
- The obligations extend to clearance alongside roads or tracks leading to your property, at least 10m on either side of the road/track
Vegetation, including excess grass, dead leaves, tree stumps, dead branches, shrubs, and live branches that extend from tree to tree, must all be cleared or cut back. You can use a strimmer or garden shears.
Waste should then be taken to a public rubbish tip, compacted into compost, or used for firewood (and stored securely). Burning it outside is banned.
If some of the area needing to be cleared is owned by a neighbour, you should ask them – through a lettre recommandée avec accusé de réception – for permission to go onto their land to cut back their vegetation.
If they refuse, the operation becomes their responsibility and you should inform your mairie.
Where in France is débroussaillement mandatory?
The French regions that require it at a departmental level are:
However, other areas that have forests or woods at risk may also require it. You can check which areas specifically require débroussaillement on this government map here (or below).
Can I get any help towards the cost?
It is possible to hire a professional to carry out débroussaillage for you. You can find help by typing ‘débroussaillage’ and the name of your department or commune into a search engine.
If you have paid someone else to carry out the work, you can benefit from a tax credit of up to 50% of the cost of the clearing up to a limit of €3,000 per year per household. Therefore, you could get up to €1,500 back.
What are the fines for not doing so?
If you are required to cut back vegetation around your home and ignore the rules, your local mairie can serve you a formal notice period in which you must complete the work and can impose a fine of up to €100 for each day that you fail to do so.
The mairie can also hand you an administrative fine of up to €30 per m² not cleared (rising to €50 now, after MPs’ vote on Tuesday).
You also risk a penal fine of up to €750, or €1,500 for a housing development.
In addition, if your failure to clear away vegetation has meant that a wildfire has been able to spread and damage another person’s property, you could be sentenced to a year in prison and a €15,000 fine.
If it is your property that has been damaged, your insurer can impose an additional excess of up to €5,000.