Property owners and tenants have an obligation to clear undergrowth in several regions of France. We look at the rules surrounding this, how they are enforced, what sanctions people face if they do not comply and what help you can get.
In the past 15 years, there have been on average 15,000 wildfires each year, 90% of which are of human origin.
However, 2022 was a particularly disastrous year, with a total of 19,821 fires burning 72,000ha across the country.
In response to this, greater means were put at firefighters’ disposal and the rules concerning undergrowth clearance were reinforced.
The effort paid off: in 2023 only 14,558ha were burned in 12.814 wildfires, despite another particularly hot and dry year.
“We had fires all summer,” Laurent, a firefighter in Gard, told The Connexion.
“But now we throw everything we have at them immediately. People don’t really hear about it though because it is deliberately underreported to prevent crazy people from starting fires to see us at work.”
A great deal of pressure has also been placed on property owners and people renting to clear the undergrowth near their homes.
What are the rules for clearing land?
The rules vary between regions. Certain regions are categorised as Zonage Informatif des Obligations légales de débroussaillement (OLD), or Mandatory land clearance areas. These regions are:
However, other forested areas may also require it. The areas that specifically require land clearance can be viewed on this map (or here):
People in these areas are required to clear the land of excess vegetation for at least 50m around their property and 10m on either side of roads or private access roads.
This includes areas that they do not own, such as adjoining fields. Landowners cannot prevent them from accessing the area to do this work and if they do refuse it is their responsibility to clear the undergrowth.
The local prefecture or mairie can require people to clear more than 50m at their discretion.
The rules also apply in urban areas.
Tenants are also obliged to clear the land unless their contract states otherwise.
What are the penalties for not clearing land?
There are several administrative and penal fines:
- The mairie can order people to clear undergrowth by sending a letter by recorded post. If this order is not immediately followed, communes can issue fines of €100 per day, up to a maximum €5,000.
- Communes can also issue fines of €50 per m² of undergrowth.
- Judges can issue a criminal fine of up to €1,500
- In case of a fire spreading due to uncleared undergrowth, property owners and tenants can face a €15,000 fine and one year in prison.
Following the fire in Saint-André (Pyrénées-Orientales) in August 2023, which destroyed 12 houses, the mayor of the commune said that he intended to press charges against people who had ignored his order to clear undergrowth.
However, ultimately he did not go ahead with this.
“The police are investigating and conducting interviews. Afterwards, they will send this information to the procurer who will decide what to do,” he told France Bleu in September.
How is land clearance monitored?
Mairies, firefighters, police and the Offices nationaux des forêts (ONF), or national forest registry, all have a role to play.
Mairies have a responsibility to ensure that undergrowth is cleared in their commune. While in theory a mairie can issue direct orders and fines, the case of Saint-André shows that this is not always the method used.
They can also call on the ONF to check forested areas in the commune.
Firefighters can use planes and drones to look for areas of undergrowth at risk of fire, and will contact the police or the marie to order people to clear their undergrowth.
How to clear undergrowth?
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. In theory, trees should not touch each other.
Waste should then be taken to a public rubbish tip, compacted into compost, or used as firewood and stored securely. Burning vegetation outside is banned.
Land clearance can be much easier in the winter months, when plants and trees are not growing.
You can hire people to do this work for you. The cost varies, but it will typically be between €0.40 to €0.80 per m².
In terms of the financial help, there are no direct grants available to pay for these services, however it is possible to obtain a tax credit of up to 50% if you pay an accredited firm, association or other body with official Services à la personne accreditation.
This applies within a maximum ceiling of up to €5,000 per tax household, per year for which you can claim a tax credit for petits travaux de jardinage (gardening, including undergrowth clearance).