Environment activist: protecting green spaces will be more difficult

Photo: archive of Radio Prague

As of July 1st, a new regulation on the protection of greenery will make it easier for people to chop down trees in their own gardens and backyards. The new regulation has been welcomes by thousands of house owners who previously had to ask for permission to fell trees on their own premises and by city hall officials who will now have much less paperwork to deal with. However green activists are ringing alarm bells and warning that the regulation plays into the hands of developers.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
For years people who wanted to chop down a tree on their premises had to request permission from their local town hall. Now they have the freedom to make their own decision. Unless the given tree is covered by a preservation order, the owner of the premises has a free reign to do as they will. Many house owners are cheering. Miloš Pilar has had the trees he wants to remove marked out for some time:

“We’re glad we can get on with what we need to do. We’ have been waiting since the spring for the new regulation to come into force so that we do not need to ask for permission.”

The “looser” regulation has also been welcomed by town hall officials who in the past had to deal with thousands of requests from house owners every year. Miroslav Míča from the Pardubice town hall says the new regulation will help them focus on law enforcement in conservation areas where it really matters.

“It is not easy to say now whether it will cut the amount of paperwork by a half or more but it will definitely alleviate the burden for us. We can now spend more time on conservation areas and trees covered by a preservation order.”

Advocates of the change say that house owners should have the right to do as they will on their own property and that people are unlikely to abuse the regulation. Moreover they point out that people who were determined to fell a tree or trees on their property in the past found a way to by-pass the old regulation, either by ignoring it or, even worse, by damaging a tree so badly it had to be felled.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Jan Linhart, a local environment activist, says he’s not worried about individuals abusing the regulation but about developers doing so.

“My worst fear is that developers and tricksters will claim that their property is in fact a private garden. All it would take is for them to fence round the property, fell trees and then remove the fence. “

Friends of the Earth activist Vojtěch Kotecký says that while the definition of “private garden” in the new regulation is fairly vague, there is little danger of house owners abusing it since most people protect greenery in their own gardens and back-yards. He says the real risk here is for public property since small and medium sized trees will get no protection at all.

“The main problem of the new regulation is that it says that the felling of trees with a trunk- circumference of under 80 cm will not be regulated at all. This effectively means that many medium-sized trees in streets and city parks can be chopped down without any regulation and that’s a major problem since it will allow the authorities and developers to fell trees in streets and parks that people love without needing any kind of permission to do so. The original draft of this legislation proposed that the threshold for trees that could be chopped down without any regulation should be 60 cm and experts recommended that the Environment Ministry change that to 40 cm but the minister did the exact opposite and increased the threshold to 80 cm which effectively leaves unprotected lots of trees in streets, city parks and other important public places.”

Vojtěch Kotecký,  photo: Ondřej Vrtiška
So your fear is that this may be abused by developers and local authorities rather than by individuals in their own gardens and backyards?

“Yes, a good example of this is that the law does not provide any protection for so-called replacement trees. Under Czech law whenever you cut trees in public places because of development projects you must replace them with new trees elsewhere. The problem is that the new regulation does not provide any protection for those “replacement” trees and obviously it will take decades before they reach an age at which they will be protected.”

Do you feel that, in this country, town halls and city halls do not do enough to protect green spaces and that very often entrepreneurial interests win out over the environment?

“This is what people in many Czech towns, cities and communities complain about, that their town councils, their councilors and public officials do not protect the green spaces that are important for their everyday lives. “

Would it not help if the public showed greater initiative?

“Well, people do take action. They do call on their public officials to protect green spaces, the problem is that the new regulation will make their lives much more difficult because it effectively deregulates the felling of many important trees and parks in our cities, towns and villages.”

Photo: Kristýna Maková
So this new regulation will be a step back, as you see it?

“Yes, it definitely will. The government is effectively giving up on the protection of many important green spaces and it is a pity that it does not protect sites and trees that people love and that are an important part of their lives.”