Last updated:

13th December 2023

Tree work and the law

Trees can be protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or if they are growing within a Conservation Area. The following outlines your responsibilities under the law and the criminal consequences of not following this advice. It also gives links to specialist advice, including advice on the felling of groups of trees and woodland, on ways to avoid harm to bats and nesting birds. 

You can check to see if a particular tree is protected (either by a TPO or by a surrounding conservation area) and view the TPO document on this Protected Tree Map.

Tree Preservation Orders 

A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) is made where the Council considers it “expedient in the interests of amenity to make provision for the preservation of trees”. A TPO may be made to protect trees, groups of trees, or woodlands.  

A TPO prohibits the cutting down, uprooting, topping, lopping, wilful damage, or destruction of trees, without the written consent of the Local Authority. There are a number of exemptions from the requirement to obtain this written consent, including work to dead trees or branches, and works that are urgently necessary to remove an immediate risk of serious harm. 

Criminal Offences and Unlimited Fines 

It is a criminal offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or destroy any TPO tree (or any tree over 75mm diameter in a Conservation Area). It is also an offence to cause or permit such acts. In serious cases, where the perpetrator is convicted in the Crown Court, there is no limit to the fine that may be imposed. 

Duty to Replace Felled TPO Trees 

Landowners have an automatic duty to replace any tree subject to a TPO that is felled. This is the case whether the removal was authorised or not, and even if it was removed because it was dead or dangerous. 

Trees in Conservation Areas 

Conservation Areas are designated by the Local Planning Authority to preserve and enhance areas of special architectural or historical interest. The law recognises that trees contribute to the character of Conservation Areas and so protects them. 

Anyone proposing works to a tree in a Conservation Area must notify the Council in writing six weeks in advance of the proposed date of the works. (No notification is required for trees with a diameter under 75mm measured at 1.5m above ground level.) The Council may then consider whether to make a TPO to further protect the tree. 

The protection, exemptions and penalties for Conservation Area trees not subject to a TPO are similar to those for TPO trees, although there is no automatic duty to replace trees felled or those that have died. 

Trees protected by planning conditions 

Often trees on development sites will be protected and retained by special conditions attached to planning permissions. To carry out works to such trees it may be necessary to apply to the Council’s planning department to vary the condition/s. 

Planning Enquiries:  

Link to Planning Portal online planning application form

Considerations when Planning Tree Works 

Ask a Tree or Arboricultural Specialist for Advice 

The law on trees, woodlands and their wildlife is complex. The Arboricultural Association have produced a helpful leaflet on this subject which is available on their website. However, in most circumstances it is still advisable to consult a specialist arboricultural consultant or tree surgeon before carrying out tree works. You can find some useful sites below.   

Don't Disturb Wildlife 

It is essential to schedule non-urgent tree work to avoid disturbing any nesting birds or roosting bats. 

  • Bird nesting/breeding season is from 1 March to 31 July. (Depending on seasonal temperatures, some birds do continue breeding into August and September.) 

  • Where there is a likelihood of roosting bats, seek advice from a licensed bat specialist and if appropriate, get the relevant licence/s before you carry out any major tree work or hedge cutting. 

If you think that nesting birds or bat roosts have been disturbed, please report it to the police on 0845 8 505 505. To find out more about tree works, wildlife and the law: 

Felling Woodland or Groups of Trees not protected by a TPO 

A Felling Licence is normally required for the felling of more than a few trees or some woodland even if they aren’t protected by a TPO. Whether or not you need a license depends on the volume of timber felled on each occasion and you should seek the advice of the Forestry Commission if you are unsure. An application should be made to the Forestry Commission, who can refuse a licence if the felling operations are not in the interests of good forestry. Felling trees without a licence, where one would have been required, is an offence.  

For more advice, please contact the Forestry Commission here.


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