Collecting firewood from forests is regulated in France, so it is not always easy to keep your fireplace or stove stocked for winter. We look at how you can gather firewood legally and how to purchase it if you cannot.
You should anticipate the winter months as early as possible, and be aware of the rules if you want to gather wood from a public or a private forest.
Three-quarters of the woods and forests in France are owned privately, with an estimated 3.5 million owners, according to the National Centre for Forest Ownership. The remainder are owned by the state and local authorities.
While entering a private forest is not a criminal offence like trespassing, collecting wood there can be classified as theft.
In public forests, it is forbidden to collect wood, including kindling and branches. Foresters actually leave much of this dead wood there to enrich the soil.
How can you gather wood?
You can gather wood under a practice dating back to the Middle Ages known as affouage, in which a landowner grants locals the right to collect firewood from their forests. This is still the only legal way to gather wood from French forests.
To do this, first you must sign up to a register, which can be done either through your mairie or the National Forestry Office (ONF).
Each year, the ONF earmarks which areas of forest can be used as communal forest, and the municipal council decides which of these areas to designate for affouage.
The affouage area is divided into lots, with each section allocated to a resident chosen at random from the register.
Those selected must then make a small payment (taxe d’affouage) to the municipality based on the volume of wood in cubic metres (or stères) that you can collect from the lot.
It is always far cheaper to pay this tax than to buy the same volume of wood from a shop.
Once you have acquired the lot and paid the tax, you can start gathering wood and chopping down trees.
The trees to cut should be indicated by markings left by the ONF. It is your responsibility to transport the wood for storage.
Fresh wood acquired in this way needs to dry out, sometimes for over a year, before being effective fuel.
Finding a supplier
Firewood in France is measured in a 1m³ unit called a stère. The price of a stère can range between €50 and €130 depending on the type and quality of wood.
If you are not interested in collecting wood from a local forest, there are plenty of suppliers in France.
Many big supermarkets in France sell firewood during the winter or, if you live in a rural area, your local bar tabac is a good place to ask.
Your mairie may have a list of firewood suppliers in the area.
The classified sections in local newspapers also carry adverts for firewood listed under bois de chauffage.