Would you like to be able to ban the public from entering your forest? Then life in France is your future. Or would you like to let your cattle graze where they like? Buy a few hectares, for example in Estonia. Such and other possibilities are offered by various countries across Europe through their legal anchoring of private forest ownership. However, it is the differences in property rights that can be an obstacle to the development of pan-European policies that are interested in increasing resilience to environmental change. How would you compare these rights? It is not an easy task to grasp individual legal systems. However, this task was undertaken by a team composed of experts from many countries, including Mgr. Ing. Michal Hrib, Ph.D., and doc. Ing. Vilém Jarský, Ph.D., from the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences. Using the Index of Freedom of the Private Forest Owner, it was possible to compare the competences of individual European countries.
The experts proceeded from five categories of rights and restrictions of private owners of commercial forests. These include the already mentioned right to ban access to one's forest, the right to use all forest products or the right to manage forests according to one's own. Indicators of these rights, i.e. specific elements such as the possibility to plan management independently, were evaluated by experts using an extensive questionnaire. Owners' restrictions were then expressed in terms of the degree of freedom that private individuals have in each of the legal categories.
Imagine being denied access to your own forest. A terrible idea, isn't it? Fortunately, such bans do not apply to any of the countries surveyed. They are most pronounced as restrictions on entry during hunting days in Wallonia (Belgium). Another of the basic rights is the possibility to decide on the amount of timber harvested. These decisions are entirely self-directed by private owners in Finland and the Netherlands. Conversely, in Hungary, Poland or Slovenia, for example, the level of extraction is entirely determined by mandatory economic plans. Various restrictions also apply to the right to harvest in one's own forest. In Romania, a forester can cut a maximum of 20 m3, in Slovakia a special license is required and in Greece the owners are even obliged to outsource logging to a specialized company. As in our country, private individuals in all other countries, except Wallonia, Portugal and Catalonia, must afforest the land after final logging. There are also different approaches of states, where in 12 cases foresters receive a financial contribution or can apply for a grant, while in the remaining 15 countries such support is not at all or is almost unavailable.
And what about the gifts of the forest? Czechs, as passionate mushroom pickers, would certainly frown if the maximum number of collected mushrooms were limited in our country, as is the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Croatia. On the contrary, our game managers might like it in Wallonia, where game belongs to hunting clubs, or in Latvia, where private forest owners can decide who can hunt on their land.
Finally, we come to the newly created index, which, together with the categories of rights, made it possible to compare the competences of individual countries. The calculation of the index is based on the ratio of the values ??of the indicators of freedom in the individual categories of rights and the number of indicators. The results range from 38.4 for Macedonia (the lowest degree of freedom) to 84.7 in the Netherlands (the highest degree of freedom), with an average of 63. With a value of 58.9, the Czech Republic is one of the countries with less freedom in the area, which is related to our political past. Among other things, the index pointed to greater freedom in decision-making by foresters from countries with Western politics compared to owners from former socialist countries.
As can be seen, the law on private forest ownership is not uniform at all in Europe. The creators of the new rules must therefore take into account the differences across the regions so that the new policies can work both at this and international level. They surely do not have it simple, but fortunately there is a certain benevolence in the question of the specific interpretation of the restrictions and procedures introduced. Each country can thus adjust or relax the new rules or use them to gradually change existing customs and traditions.
Nichiforel, L. et al. (2018). How private are Europe’s private forests? A comparative property rights analysis. Land Use Policy, vol. 76, pp. 535-552.
Mgr. Ing. Michal Hrib, Ph.D. and doc. Ing. Vilém Jarský, Ph.D.
Dr. Hrib and Associate Professor Jarský work as teachers at the Department of Forestry and Wood Economics. In the field of science, they are involved in many sectors, from economics to law, to forestry as such.
Prepared by: Lucie Hambálková