Portugal’s National Republican Guard (GNR) police force has fined the country’s Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF) for the first time ever, for failing to clear a plot of scrubland in Leiria.

The GNR is charged with policing rural areas in Portugal; commanders from the Leiria brigade said eight situations of undergrowth not being satisfactorily managed in the National Forest of Leiria were reported on 25 September last year, via the dedicated SOS Environment phone line.

After looking into the complaints and visiting the area between 9 October and 6 November, eight formal investigations were opened, the GNR unit said.

The Leiria forest, which is predominately pines, was ravaged by fires last year in one of the worst such incidents in the country’s history.

The ICNF is the governmental body responsible for the framing and implementing policy relating to nature and forests, including the management of protected areas and state-managed national, municipal and communal forests in mainland Portugal.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 fires have been recorded in rural Portugal so far this year, with the largest number in the northern districts of Porto and Vila Real, civil defence officials told Lusa News Agency late last week.

According to the National Civil Protection Authority (ANPC), there have been 2,045 rural fires in mainland Portugal since 1 January 2019.

That includes Porto district, with 266, followed by Vila Real (260), Viseu (242), Braga (241), Viana do Castelo (190), Aveiro (136) and Lisbon (132), the ANPC said.

The districts with fewest rural fires were Portalegre (17) and Évora (21), it added.

There were 88 fires in Leiria district, 82 in Santarém, 74 in Guarda, 59 in Faro, 67 in Bragança, 57 in Coimbra, 42 in Beja and 34 in Castelo Branco, according to the ANPC.