National scrub clearance project – many land owners can not be identified
On Friday, June 1st, the GNR are empowered to impose fines on property owners who have not cleared their land of scrub – if the owners can be identified.
The president of the National Federation of Forest Owners’ Associations agrees the work needs to be done to reduce the fire risk but, “much, much remains to be done,” mostly on land where the owners live far away or where nobody knows who the owners are.”
Vasco Campos says that “we always return to the problem of the Land Registry where often we cannot even identify the owners,” especially in the depopulated interiors of the North and Central regions.
The lack of ownership registration is an old problem that affects a large proportion of Portugal’s forested land and is one that successive governments have promised to solve but none have.
“Without knowing who the owners are, the situation is much more difficult. The problem of registration has to be reversed because it no longer makes sense in the C21st century that the State cannot identify owners of land,” said Campos.
The National Landowners Association also believes that in many cases it will be difficult to find landowners because even the threat of fines is not much use, as the Tax Authority has outdated information.
The president of this association, Antonio Frias Marques, says that the inheritance and legal division of land is expensive for people and often is never done so the State has no way of finding current owners of land that needs cleaning which may be worth very little.
The president of the National Association of Forestry, Agriculture and the Environment (ANEFA) points out that there are two realities for the land clearing exercise this year: near urban areas and the coast, much scrub has been cleaned and great progress has been made; in the Interior where there are few people, there are many more difficulties.
Pedro Serra Ramos says that much remained to be done but he does not believe in fines because he is convinced that the authorities are mainly concerned with alerting and informing people.
Ramos says the Interior regions present a problem as the clearing up operation this year has been expensive and the financial return is low, so it is difficult to see how in the future there will be money to keep doing the work, year after year.
Owners had a deadline of March 15th to clear their land and clean up their forested areas, particularly near houses, but the Government changed the law so that fines could not be imposed until May 31st.
The GNR already has warned around 800 people and return to see if the cleaning has been done. If it has not, fines can be issued in the €280 to €10,000 range.
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