In this article we take a look at how provisions of the Act of 13 October 1995, Hunting Law (henceforth “Hunting Law”) may affect the legal standing of a property and the uses that its owner (or perpetual usufruct holder) can make of it.

I.  Hunting district

Under Hunting Law, a hunting district is a continuous land area at least 3,000 hectares in size on which conditions exist for the conduct of hunting. In special cases, though, where justified by considerations of rational hunting economy and by terrain conditions, and subject to the consent of the competent minister in charge of the environment, hunting districts smaller than 3,000 hectares may be established.

Depending on the type of land, hunting districts are divided into two categories: forest and non-forest. A forest hunting district is a hunting district where at least 40% of the total area is covered by forest. A non-forest hunting district is a hunting district where less than 40% of the total area is covered by forest.

The Hunting Law lists several types of land that cannot be included in a hunting district. These are e.g. national parks and nature reserves (with some exceptions); areas that are within the limits of a city (again with exceptions); and properties containing buildings, plants, or facilities used for social, religious, industrial, trading, storage, transport, or other economic purposes, as well as structures of a historic or special nature.

In each voivodship, the division into hunting districts, and the assignment of each hunting district to a quality class (from “very good” to “very poor”), as well as any changes to the boundaries or the quality-class assignment of hunting districts, are laid down in a resolution passed by the voivodship assembly (sejmik). The resolution is drafted by the voivodship marshal (the head of the voivodship government), following consultation with a specially-appointed advisory committee that includes: representatives of the voivodship government; representatives of regional directorates of State Forests; representatives of local branches of the Polish Hunting Association (PZL); and representatives of the agricultural chamber.

II. Rights of the property owner

The owners (or perpetual usufruct holders) of all properties that, under a draft resolution on hunting districts prepared by the marshal, are included in a hunting district, are entitled to submit comments to the resolution’s draft text as part of a mandatory public consultation. They may request that their property be excluded from the district. In such cases, the marshal has to consider whether the specific nature of the property, or of the activity being conducted on it, may make it difficult to pursue hunting on it, as well as whether the activity being conducted on the property would be significantly restricted or rendered impossible as a result of its inclusion in a hunting district. The final draft resolution submitted by the marshal to the assembly includes, as an enclosure, a list of all comments that were rejected during the consultation. The assembly may still decide to accept them, in which case the process is repeated to the extent necessary.

If the inclusion of a property in a hunting district significantly restricts its previous use (or the use of its part), or makes it impossible, the owner (or perpetual usufruct holder) is entitled to compensation. It should be remembered, however, that the claim for such compensation has to be made within three years of the resolution coming into effect.

Importantly, too, the owner (or perpetual usufruct holder) of a property included in a hunting district, as long as they are a natural person, are entitled to prohibit hunting on their property. A written statement to this effect has to be made in front of the county governor, or starosta, who certifies the authenticity of the owner’s signature. It is a personal right that expires only when the owner dies. PZL has no power to object to, nor any other way of challenging, such a statement. But the owner is free to revoke it at any time.

Hunting districts are in most cases operated by local branches of PZL under lease agreements concluded with starostas or regional directors of State Forests. The lease agreement is concluded for a definite term of at least 10 years. There are circumstances in which the agreement is automatically terminated, notably when the local branch of PZL is dissolved. The lessor is entitled to terminate the agreement without notice in two cases: 1) following consultation with PZL or upon its request, or upon the request of the agricultural chamber, in the event of unjustified failure by the lessee to fulfill at least 80% of the annual hunting plan (in terms of the number of big game animals to be acquired) during three consecutive hunting years; or 2) upon the request of PZL, in the event of a negative assessment by PZL of the lessee’s performance following a PZL audit.

To recapitulate, hunters in Poland, associated in local PZL branches and supported by PZL, engage in their activities in a regulated manner within the boundaries of clearly delineated hunting districts. The owners (and perpetual usufruct holders) of properties that lie within hunting districts have legal tools at their disposal, both to challenge their property’s inclusion in a hunting district (comments to the draft resolution of the voivodship assembly) and, should this fail, to prohibit hunting on their property.   

By Jan Akimenkow, trainee attorney at law
Originally published in PMR Construction Insight: Poland, No. 3 (276), March 2024