Even with the recommendation of the Assembly of the Republic, the deadline for forest owners and producers to clear forests and land remains fixed on May 15th. In case of non-compliance, the fines are heavy.
Although the Assembly of the Republic issued a resolution, through which it recommended to the Government to extend the deadline for cleaning forests and land, in 2021, to May 31, so far the Government has not given in and has maintained the deadline of 15 of May. Contacted, the organization Portugal Chama reported that there are no indications that the deadline will change. The National Association of Forestry, Agricultural and Environmental Companies (ANEFA) warns, in turn, that many Portuguese are experiencing financial difficulties, which can compromise the expenses inherent to cleaning. In addition, the weak financial situation will be aggravated by the fines that will start to arise.
If the owners do not clean the woods and land by the 15th of May, the municipal councils can replace the owners in this task, guaranteeing that the necessary work is carried out and being able to charge the owners for the missing cleaning. Owners are obliged to allow access to their land by these municipal teams.
Owners, tenants, usufructuaries and entities that hold land next to buildings located in rural areas are primarily responsible for cleaning, even if they do not own the buildings. Land clearing means:
cutting herbs, shrubs, weeds, among other plant materials, in a strip with a width of not less than 50 meters around buildings located in rural or forest areas;
cutting tree branches up to 4 meters above the ground;
spacing of 4 meters between trees (10 meters in the case of pines or eucalyptus, as they are highly flammable species);
cutting trees and shrubs less than 5 meters from the building.
But clearing land does not mean eliminating all vegetation. In addition, it implies respect for legally protected species, such as the cork oak or the holm oak, among others. In the particular case of these trees, they can only be cut with authorization from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF). Trees of public interest also need special protection (eg some olive trees due to their age), but these are indicated by an identification plate.
If forest owners and producers have not cleaned their land within the deadline, it should be the municipal councils to replace those who do not comply and do so. In case of non-compliance, the fines are heavy. Currently, they vary between €280 and €10,000 in the case of a natural person.
Chambers penalized if they do not inspect or clean
In the event of non-compliance with the new deadline by those responsible, the cleaning is the responsibility of the municipal council. Municipal councils can be penalized if they do not comply with their inspection obligations and if they do not ensure cleaning in the place of the offending owners. In the event of municipal non-compliance, 20% of the twelfths of the transfers from the Financial Equilibrium Fund are retained.
In order to be able to manage non-compliance and contact the owners, the municipal councils have access to the tax data of the buildings and the identification of the owners and their tax domicile, as well as the information contained in the Balcão Único do Prédio database. If the owners do not clean the surrounding land and woods, the councils must notify them and inform them of the procedures that follow. In this notification, the municipalities inform the owners that the council will clean the land, entering the areas to be cleaned and, if necessary, resorting to the security forces. If the whereabouts of those responsible is unknown and it is impossible to notify them by any other means, you can use a public notice posted on the site and on the municipal council’s website for a period of 5 days. If the owner does not respond, after 5 days, the chamber starts cleaning.
The notification also includes information about the obligation to pay the cleaning costs to the council, borne by those responsible. If there is a lack of payment, a tax enforcement process will be initiated for the enforced collection of amounts.
The detection of cases of non-compliance must be reported to the competent authorities, especially the GNR and the City Council. In addition to traditional channels, complaints can be made by telephone (808200520) or through an electronic form. In case of fire, call 112.