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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.

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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.

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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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‘Bad-tempered locals’: Vienna ranked the world’s ‘unfriendliest city’

Foreigners in Vienna say the city offers excellent health and transport benefits but has an exceptionally unfriendly population.

'Bad-tempered locals': Vienna ranked the world's 'unfriendliest city'

The Spanish port city of Valencia is the most popular city among international employees this year, followed by Dubai and Mexico City, according to the “Expat City Ranking 2022” by Internations, a network for people who live and work abroad.

The ranking is based on the annual Expat Insider study, in which almost 12,000 employees worldwide participated this year. The report offers insights into the quality of life, settling in, working, personal finances and the “Expat Basics” index, which covers digital infrastructure, administrative matters, housing and language.

Vienna ranks 27th out of 50 cities in this year’s ranking. Although it scores very well in terms of quality of life, many expats find it difficult to settle in and make friends in the Austrian capital.

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Vienna ranks last in the Ease of Settling In Index and also in the Local Friendliness Subcategory. 

Nearly half the respondents in the city (46 percent) say that people are unfriendly towards foreign residents (vs 18 percent globally), and 43 percent rate the general friendliness of the population negatively (vs 17 percent globally). 

An Australian immigrant told Internations they were unhappy with the seemingly “bad tempered locals”, while a survey respondent from the UK said they struggled to get along with the “conservative Austrians” in Vienna.

Unsurprisingly, more than half of the expats in Vienna (54 percent) find it challenging to make friends with the locals (vs 37 percent globally). Moreover, around one-third (32 percent) are unhappy with their social life (vs 26 percent globally), and 27 percent do not have a personal support system in Vienna (vs 24 percent globally). 

“I really dislike the grumpiness and the unfriendliness,” said an immigrant from Sweden.

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In the Quality of Life Index, Vienna snagged first place last year, but it reached only seventh place this year. In terms of administrative matters such as getting a visa for residence, Vienna is only 38th, and the federal capital also scores poorly for cashless payment options (42nd).

Where does Vienna shine?

The Austrian city ranked particularly well in categories including Travel and Transit (first place) and Health and Well-being (second place). International employees rated the availability, cost and quality of medical care as particularly good.

“I like how much you can do here and how easy it is to get around by public transport,” said an expat from the US. 

In addition, Vienna is not particularly expensive and ranks ninth worldwide in the personal finance index. 

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Vienna ranks 26th out of 50 cities in the Working Abroad Index. Sixty-eight percent of expats rate their job as secure, and two-thirds rate their work-life balance positively – compared to 59 percent and 62 percent globally. However, 23 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with their career opportunities, and a third feel that the corporate culture in Vienna lacks creativity and unconventional thinking.

In the “Expat Basics” index, international employees consider housing in Vienna particularly affordable (9th). In addition, eight out of ten find it easy to open a local bank account (vs 64 percent worldwide).