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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

For more than a century, Austrian forests were private spaces and entry was forbidden for the general public. Here’s why and how Austria banned everyone from the forest.

Smoke - or is it fog? - in the Austrian forest. Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz on Unsplash
Why was the public banned from entering Austrian forests for over 100 years? Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz on Unsplash

For anyone that lives in Austria, a public ban on entry to an Austrian forest seems unimaginable.

In 1852 though, that is exactly what happened with the introduction of the Reich Forest Act. 

But why was the Act enforced in the first place? And how did the Austrian public finally regain the right to enter the forest?

Here’s what you need to know.

READ MORE: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

What was the Reich Forest Act?

The Reich Forest Act came into effect throughout the entire Austrian Empire on December 3rd 1852 and the law included a general ban on entering forests.

The reason for the Act was to protect forests from further damage after years of timber production and livestock grazing. The risk of flooding and avalanches were also heightened as a result of poor conditions in forests.

The main aims of the Act were to safeguard forests against clearing, ensure reforestation after harvesting, protection of forest stands (communities of trees), and special management on steep slopes, unstable ground and along riverbeds.

Not surprisingly, the strict rules worked and is part of the reason why Austria’s vast network of forests are so well maintained today.

But it meant forests became private spaces for 123 years – effectively banning the public from vast swaths of land across Austria.

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What happened in 1975?

In the decades after the Second World War, public interest in accessing forests started to grow, followed by political debate on the topic.

Then, on July 3rd 1975, the issue of opening up Austrian forests to the general public was discussed by the government during a National Council session. The result would be the Forest Act 1975.

Part of the argument – led by the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) – for ending the ban on entering forests was that Austria was a tourist country, and foreigners particularly liked to visit the Alpine Republic for its landscape.

It was also argued that only a small percentage of the Austrian population owned land and property, and so it was unfair to deny entry to forests on the basis of ownership.

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But forest owners and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) expressed concerns about changing the law, most notably regarding the liability of owners for maintenance and a responsibility for the health and safety of visitors.

As a compromise, the Forest Act was expanded to include the General Civil Code. 

This regulated responsibility for the condition of a forest path and paved the way for owners to receive subsidies for forest fire insurance. Forest visitors were also deemed liable for their own safety. 

Despite initial hesitations by forest owners and the ÖVP, the extra clauses managed to sooth the opposition and eventually the Forest Act was unanimously approved in the National Council. 

In a transcript of the National Council session, Oskar Weihs (SPÖ), the then Acting Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, said: “According to the new forest law, no one can be forbidden to enter and remain in the forest.”

Once again, Austrian forests were open to the public for recreation.

‘Waldeinsamkeit’ in Austria: Five peaceful forest walks near Vienna

What are the rules for entering a forest in Austria today?

Around 48 percent of Austria’s territory is covered by forests and in theory anyone can enter a forest at any time. There are a few rules though.

According to the Forest Act 1975, authorities can impose a ban on access to certain areas. For example, if trees are being cleared or maintenance work is taking place that could be a danger to people.

Access to reforestation areas can also be restricted until trees have reached 3 metres in height.

Plus, camping, biking (including mountain biking) and driving vehicles along forest paths is not allowed unless the owner has granted permission.

Additionally, the law states that information boards have to be put up in public areas in accordance with the Forest Marking Ordinance (Forstliche Kennzeichnungsverordnung) to inform visitors about any closures or rules.

Useful link

More information about the rules for entering an Austrian forest can be found at the Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism.

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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

Retiring to Austria to spend time in fresh alpine air is a dream for many people, but who is actually eligible to retire to the Alpine Republic? Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

People from all over the world can retire to Austria, but unlike some other European countries, Austria does not have a specific retirement visa.

Instead, it has a residence permit that can be applied for by people that don’t intend to work in Austria – like retirees.

This means anyone wanting to retire to Austria has to go through the standard immigration channels, with different rules for EU and non-EU citizens.

Here’s what you need to know about retirement in Austria and who is eligible to retire in the Alpine Republic.

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What are the rules for retiring to Austria as an EU citizen?

The process for citizens from EU and EEA countries to retire in Austria is relatively simple due to freedom of movement across the bloc.

There are a few rules though.

To stay in the Austria for longer than three months, retirees will need to be able to support themselves financially (e.g. through a pension) and have sufficient health insurance.

When it comes to accessing a pension from another EU member state, this is typically taken care of by an insurance provider in Austria who will deal with the approval process between the states. Access to public healthcare in Austria is also available to all EU/EEA citizens.

Currently the pension age in Austria is 60 for women and 65 for men. More information about pensions in Austria can be found on the European Commission website.

FOR MEMBERS: Five reasons to retire in Austria

What are the rules for retiring to Austria as a non-EU citizen?

According to immigration lawyer Patrick Kainz, the most popular visa route for non-EU retirees hoping to live out their golden years in Austria is to apply for a settlement permit. 

This is issued to people that do not intend to work in Austria and is referred to as “residence permit gainful employment excepted” (Niederlassungsbewilligung – ausgenommen Erwerbstätigkeit) by Austrian immigration.

Kainz said: “As the name suggests, it will allow you to live in Austria, however you do not get access to the Austrian job market.

“Austria even expects that you do not pursue gainful employment anywhere outside Austria – be it employed or self-employed – while you are holding this residence permit.”

To qualify for the settlement permit, applicants must prove they have sufficient funds, comprehensive health insurance and a place to live.

Proof of sufficient funds means applicants must have a regular monthly income from a pension, profits from enterprises abroad, income from assets, savings or company shares. 

The minimum amount is €1,030.49 for a single person, or €1,625.71 for married couples or those in a partnership. 

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There is also a limit on how many settlement permits are issued to retirees each year (at the beginning of the calendar year) – something that Kainz says could be a barrier.

Kainz said: “These residence permits with gainful employment excepted are in high demand in most of the regions Austria.

“Many regions, such as Vienna, have implemented a pre-registration procedure, with a strict deadline and only people who managed to get a spot during pre-registration will be entitled to file their application.

“For this reason, potential candidates should explore the options and requirements to be granted such a permit well in advance of actually planning to move.”

As well as proof of funds, third-country nationals have to provide evidence of basic German language skills at Level A1, in line with the Common European Framework of References for Languages. The diploma must be no older than one year when submitted with the application.

However, the application process will be entirely in German so for people that don’t have advanced German language skills, it’s best to hire an English-speaking immigration lawyer.

Additionally, Austria has a social security agreement with several non-EU states, including the UK, Canada and the USA. This allows some people to access their pension directly from Austria, depending on the agreement.

Again, it can be useful to find an English-speaking advisor to help with the bureaucratic part of accessing a pension in Austria if you don’t have strong German language skills.

After five years of living in Austria with a settlement permit, visa holders can then apply for permanent residence.

Want information on pensions? Then check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Useful vocabulary

Retirement – Ruhestand

Pension – Rente

Social insurance – Sozialversicherung

Health insurance – Krankenkasse

Settlement permit – Niederlassungsbewilligung

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