In French law, the ownership of the ground includes what lies under the ground. However we should distinguish between ownership of the underground itself, and ownership of its products such as minerals. These come under mining law. An underground cave therefore belongs to the owner of the land above it. In other words, the owner of a plot of land possesses the volume contained in an inverted cone with his land at the base and the centre of the earth at its point. A cave may therefore belong to several owners, and exploiting it has to be subject to a commercial agreement (real-estate investment company, limited company etc.).
There is not at present any specific law for the protection of the underground world and the natural and cultural heritage it contains. There are however a range of complementary laws covering them.
Under the French ministry of works.
> Law of 2 May 1930 on the protection of natural monuments and sites.Under the French ministry of the environment
> Law of 10 July 1976 on nature protection Under the French ministry of culture
> Law of 31 December 1913 on the protection of historic monuments
> Law of 27 September 1941, confirmed the order of 13 September 1947 on the regulation of archaeological digs.
> Law of 15 July 1980 on the protection of public collections against vandalism
> Law of 26 October 1994 on the protection of the archaeological heritage
So a cave with concretions and wall paintings may be protected as a site (law of 1930), a nature reserve (law of 1976), a historic monument (law of 1913) and an archaeological site (law of 1941 and 1980)
In terms of French law, a cave is a property but not an edifice. Unlike a church or a chateau, an underground monument does not therefore have a protected area in terms of ancient lights. The surroundings of a cave can therefore be developed in various ways and total protection requires the ownership of the surface property.
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