Tree Hugging: What is the law surrounding Tree Preservation Orders?

Barely a day goes by without a local newspaper recording the infringement of a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). These are often accompanied by protestations from the accused claiming they had no idea that a TPO was in place and, more frequently, detailing the fines imposed against them.

TPOs were introduced in 1947, giving local planning authorities the power to protect and preserve individual trees and woodlands. However, given the amount of prosecutions brought by local councils, it appears that this piece of legislation may not be fully understood by the public. So, what are the rules and regulations surrounding Tree Preservation Orders?

My Tree, My Land – My Decision?

If you have a tree or woodland on your property, you might assume that you can do as you will with it. However, this is not necessarily the case. Before undertaking any works, you should check with your local planning authority for TPOs. While you might see a particular species of tree as unimportant or a pest, legislation dictates that any type of tree can be the subject of a TPO.

It’s also worth knowing that there is no species of tree that is automatically protected by a TPO. However, should you be found guilty of undertaking unauthorised works on a preserved tree, you can face significant financial fines and even the possibility of imprisonment.

What does a TPO Prohibit?

A tree or woodland that is the subject of a TPO is legally protected against particular works, including:

  • Felling
  • Topping
  • Lopping
  • Uprooting
  • Wilful damage
  • Wilful destruction.

Applying to Work on a Tree

If you have a tree on your property that you wish to work on, the first step is to contact your local planning authority and find out whether it is under the protection of a TPO. Should you be buying a property and want to see whether there are TPOs in place on any of the trees on the grounds, you can ask to undertake an official search of the Local Land Charges Register.

It may also be worth hiring the services of a qualified tree surgeon to determine what work is required and to have a good understanding of how it will be carried out, should permission be granted.

Conservation Areas

The issue becomes slightly more complicated if you want to undertake work in a Conservation Area. While a tree might be part of a Conservation Area, it isn’t necessarily protected by a TPO. Again, the correct procedure is to contact your local planning authority.

However, for the authority to have enough time to consider whether the tree needs protecting, you must apply to them at least six weeks in advance of any works being undertaken. As part of your application, you must detail what works you intend to carry out and the reasons for doing so. Reasons might include:

  • The tree is presenting a risk to safety
  • The tree is dead
  • The tree is preventing a development from taking place

Advice for Developers

When it comes to trees affecting a proposed development, you must still apply for permission to cut down or work on trees, regardless of whether you have outline planning permission or, in the case of developments such as conservatories or extensions, the development does not need planning permission.

In essence, if there is a TPO in play, you will need expressed permission from the local planning authority, before you can even consider working on a tree. Failure to seek that permission can result in hefty fines.

While trees can present problems for developers and homeowners, Tree Preservation Orders are used to ensure that our woodlands and rare tree species are protected and can be enjoyed by generations to come.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.