Fines for walking in private forests must stop, say French MPs

A law introduced in February allows landowners to fine anyone walking through their forests - opponents say it criminalises access to nature

Around 75% of France’s forests are privately owned
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Two MPs are calling for the abolition of a law that fines the public for entering private forest, saying it is wrong to criminalise access to nature.

Since February, anyone walking on private rural and forestry land, which accounts for 75% of France’s forests, can, in theory, be fined up to €750 after the introduction of the Privacy Act.

It sought to limit the fencing of natural areas, which affects wild animals’ wellbeing.

However, some landowners have used the law, dubbed by critics the “privatisation of natural spaces”, as a way to protect their property by preventing people accessing their land.

Law used to ban people from land in nature reserve

Since the act was passed, activists have been fined for entering a private plot of forest in the Alpes de Haute-Provence, and Isère landowner Marquis Bruno de Quinsonas-Oudinot used the law to ban what he dubbed “disrespectful onlookers” from setting foot on his land in the Chartreuse Mountains nature reserve.

The Marquis said he was protecting his flora and fauna, claiming a “flood of attacks”.

Read more: Explainer: the rules for collecting wood from forests in France?

Ecologist MPs Jérémie Iordanoff and Lisa Belluco have tabled a bill to repeal the Privacy Act which they say criminalises access to nature.

They also plan to propose a second bill to explore improving access, including urging local authorities to maintain rural paths for the public.

“We don’t want to put landowners in a difficult position,” Vienne MP Ms Belluco, 35, told The Connexion.

“We understand that they also have their own imperatives, and they need people to respect their properties.

“But access to nature, to green spaces in general, is absolutely essential for so many reasons.”

Rural pathways at risk

France’s rural pathways are at risk of being lost by being sold or illegally fenced off, an organisation has claimed.

Codever, which lobbies to maintain spaces for outdoor leisure activities, said land consolidation to create farms, roads or railways, and local residents illegally fencing off public paths were contributing to their disappearance.

Read more: Call for action over disappearance of rural footpaths in France

“It happens everywhere, unfortunately,” said Codever director Charles Péot.

“These rural pathways are very important because they’re part of our heritage, a bit like historic monuments.

“They are essential if you want to enjoy walking in all its forms. A whole host of nature sports and walkers need these trails.”

Mr Péot said Codever wants to change legislation to better protect rural pathways.

He also encouraged people to use them as much as possible to prevent nature reclaiming the paths, as well as help volunteers to maintain them.

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