Amendment allows spending night on private plot

Pärnumaa rannaäär lookleb ligi 250 kilomeetril, kinnistute omanikud kindlustavad privaatsust teavitussiltidega. PHOTO: Ants Liigus

Up to now, sunrise to sunset was the limit for staying on unmarked private land. Not anymore, so feel free to spend the night. A ban on picking berries and mushrooms must be separately signified by owner.  

Since Friday, new everyman’s right is in force i.e. rules pursuant to which one behaves himself in a private field.

«The act was ratified in 2011, but it only enters into force today (August 1st – edit) as for it to be entered into force amendments were also needed in specific laws,» explained environmental ministry press rep Berit-Helena Lamp. According to the ministry, the new law will not mean much change, but will serve to clarify some more contentious situations such as use of shore paths.

The rule of thumb for those strolling along in the wild is: unless specifically prohibited by owner (like with a sign «Private Land» or «Stranger Don’t Enter»), proceed with all serenity. Still, while on private land one must consider the interests of owner, first and foremost avoiding damage to property and disturbing domestic peace.

While the earlier law forbade lingering on a private plot of land at night, the new act bans it not. On unmarked private land, it is allowed to put up a tent and go to sleep.

«Camping is allowed when there is no prohibiting sign. If one wishes to camp longer than 24 hours, permission needs to be asked from landowner,» explained Ms Lamp. Pursuant to the new law, before the tent is set up it must be considered that it is outside the viewing and hearing range of dwelling houses. On open terrain, there needs to be a minimum of 150 metres to the house. These requirements are not valid for official camping areas.

A bonfire may only be lit in a place prepared and marked for that. «Even with a place where fires have obviously been lit before, with no sign pointing it out as a special place for fires, then it is prohibited to light one,» said the spokesperson.

Also, if not separately prohibited by landowner, anyone may walk the woods picking mushrooms, berries, nuts, fallen branches and other wild products – but it is not allowed to break off branches from live trees or peel off bark.

For all, at least four metres of shore path needs to be secured; at navigable bodies of water, its width needs to be ten metres. 

Dog owners need to keep in mind that while on somebody else’s plot of land, the animal needs to ne on a leash – if not otherwise agreed with landowner. This will not concern service dogs doing on duty, and hunting dogs in hunting season.

All basic rights and obligations of those moving about in the wild are aggregated in the General Part of the Environmental Code Act. Earlier, a hiker had to go looking for these in law of Property Act, Water Act, Nature Conservation Act, Fishing Act etc. The aforementioned acts do specify special occasions like behaviour on protected areas, traffic on water, or while fishing. On the whole, General Part of the Environmental Code Act is a phenomenon absolutely new in Estonian legal order.

General Part of the Environmental Code Act *

§ 32. Stay on land owned by others

(1) Stay on plots of land owned by other people (hereinafter referred to as alien plot) is only allowed by permission of owner. 

(2) Permission to stay on alien plot is assumed if the owner has not restricted or marked the plot in a way revealing intent to restrict stay by aliens.

(3) While on alien plot, restrictions prescribed by law and legitimate requirements by owner need to be adhered to, while to maximally avoiding damage to environment.

(4) While on alien plot, interests of owner need to be considered, especially avoiding damage to property and disturbance of domestic peace.

§ 33. Use of road and trail on alien plot

(1) Public roads and private roads may be used by anyone to the extent prescribed in Roads Act and other acts.

(2) Roads not classified as civil engineering works (hereinafter trails) may be used to move on foot, by bicycle etc if not otherwise prescribed by law.  

(3) An owner may not prohibit use of private road on foot, by bicycle or in other such ways if the use is based on established usage and is not burdensome to him.

§ 38. Shore path

(1) Shore paths are edges of public water bodies, for use of the water body and stay, including moving about on shores.

(2) With navigable water bodies, the path shall be ten metres, with other water bodies four metres.

(4) Owner of the shore must allow use of shore path by everyone.

(5) Owner of shore may block off shore path by written agreement of local government or Agricultural Board and with substantiated reason such as herding cattle or drainage of land, but he will need to secure a way over or around the barrier to move along the path.  

* Unofficial translation by this newspaper