Trees – do you need permission to cut them down?
I am often asked if you need permission to cut down trees. In most cases you can, but whether you should is another matter. Trees are important to a lot of wildlife and habitats. Are silver birch trees protected in the UK? No they are not unless they are covered by a TPO or conservation area or one of the other reasons listed below. A TPO can affect one tree or a woodland.
You will need permission to fell or prune a tree in your garden or land if:
- It is covered by a tree preservation order – you will require permission from your local authority.
- It is within a designated conservation area – you are required to notify your local authority to get permission.
- It is within a SSSI or Site of Special Scientific Interest. Or ASSI in Northern Ireland.
- It is on a rented property – permission from the landlord is required and/or owner.
- It is protected by a legal covenant – permission is required from the person(s) benefiting from the covenant.
- It is within a property, which is part of a relatively new development (up to five years), and may be covered by conditions on the original planning permission – contact the Tree Officer at your local authority for more information.
- Not within your garden, orchard, churchyard, within inner London boroughs or public open space and is in excess of 5 m³ per calendar quarter of felling*.
*A felling licence is likely to be required from the Forestry Commission for felling if over 5 m³ per quarter, although private gardens and some commercial sites are normally exempt. Contact the Forestry Commission for further guidance and advice or visit their website www.forestry.gov.uk. It is recommended that a suitably qualified tree surgeon is employed to remove or prune any trees. They will make enquiries to establish if permission is required from the local authority. Finally consideration should be given to wildlife – removing trees during the breeding season could be problematic to birds and other wildlife so consider undertaking works during the winter.
Sites with a large numbers of trees
If you have a site, not within inner London or in a private garden, with a large number of trees you will probably require a licence from the Forestry Commission. In any calendar quarter, you may fell up to 5 m³ on your property without a licence as long as no more than two cubic metres are sold. If in doubt, check. Certain types of felling do not need permission from the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Act 1967, as amended, and related regulations gives these exceptions in full. The main categories for exceptions are listed below:
- Lopping and topping (which usually includes tree surgery, pruning and pollarding).
- Felling included in an approved dedication plan.
- Felling fruit trees, or trees growing in a garden, orchard, churchyard or designated public open space (eg. under the Commons Act 1899).
- Felling trees which, when measured at a height of 1.3 m from the ground: • have a diameter 8 cm or less; or • if thinnings, have a diameter of 10 cm or less; or • if coppice (ie. managed by cutting to promote multi-stemmed growth arising at or near ground level) or underwood, have a diameter of 15 cm or less.
- Felling trees immediately required for the purpose of carrying out development authorised by planning permission (granted under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) or for work carried out by certain providers of gas, electricity and water services and which is essential for the provision of these services or for carrying out permitted development rights.
- Felling necessary for the prevention of danger or the prevention or abatement of a nuisance (eg. which may involve threat of danger to a third party). This exemption will only apply if there is a real rather than a perceived danger. The Forestry Commission may be able to give you advice that would minimise the danger without felling the trees. You may be prosecuted for illegal felling if it is shown that the tree did not present a real or immediate danger.
- Felling necessary to prevent the spread of a quarantine pest or disease and done in accordance with a notice served by a Forestry Commission Plant Health Officer (under the Plant Health (Forestry) (Great Britain) Order 1993, as amended).
- The felling is done in compliance with any obligation imposed by or under an Act of Parliament.
See this leaflet from the Forestry Commission for more information.
As hedgerows are protected by law, if you wish to remove one in the countryside you must apply to your local authority under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997. Remember, you are required to give the local authority six weeks’ notice if you intend to remove the hedgerow and failure to do so is a criminal offence.
Tree surveys and assessment for planning
When you make a planning application, the form will ask whether there are any trees on the site or nearby that could be affected by the proposed works. If the answer is yes, the council will expect your application to be accompanied by a tree survey. If this shows that trees could be affected, then you’ll need an AIA (Arboricultural Impact Assessment). This additional survey identifies the trees – plus their size, age, species and quality – then rates them against criteria detailed in British Standard 5837:2005. The report also sets out the required root protection areas for the trees, which is based on their size and age. The likely impact of the works on the trees is then assessed and recommendations given as to which could reasonably be felled to facilitate the build and suitable measures to protect those remaining.
Page Updated: 9th March 2022
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