Protected Trees: Do I Need Permission to Prune or Remove my Trees?

Do I need permission to cut my own trees?

This is a common question in arboriculture, both commercial and private clients often ask me if permission is required to prune or remove trees which are within their own land. During my time managing a commercial tree surgery in the south east of England my answer was always, initially, another question: 

Do you definitely own the trees?

It may seem obvious, but the first question by anyone seeking to remove trees should be: are these trees truly within my ownership? If not, permission must be sought as a first action from the land owner and this is regardless of whether or not the trees are protected. In addition, local authority permission, if already granted, does not supersede the permission of the land owner.

If trees are within your ownership then it is necessary to investigate if trees are afforded legal protection in the form of a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or if the tree or trees in question are located within a conservation area. This is achieved, depending on where you are in England, by contacting your local authority planning department normally at district, borough or city levels. 

What is a TPO? Surely my permission is needed to place TPOs on my trees?

TPOs or Tree Preservation Orders form legal protection for trees, individually or in groups enabled by the Town and Country Planning act, (1990). Designation and management is in the hands of local authority in most cases, however in some instances, such as the South Downs National Park, a dedicated organisation closely linked to local authority planning departments manages tree related designation.

Although you should be notified as part of the placement, by the local authority, of a Tree Preservation Order on trees within your ownership, your permission is not required. Ultimately, the decision to protect trees lies with the local authority planning department or tree officer however, anyone can notify the local authority of the existance of worthy trees. 

Conservation areas

Conservation area designation is primarily concerned with the management and preservation of the build environment, firstly from an historical perspective but also looking forward to the future to ensure that any development that occurs is in-keeping with the character or theme of a town or area. Trees are afforded protection, however conservation area 'protection' of trees is not necessarily legal protection in the same sense as TPOs discussed above.

Gaining permission

Once you know who owns or manages the trees in question and you have discovered that the tree or trees are protected either by TPOs or as part of conservation area designation, it's time to contact the local authority to gain permission.

Normally, at this stage, your chosen arboricultural contractor would take this forward as part of your agreement with them to carry out the works but this is not always the case. Anyone can place a request with their local authority to prune or remove protected trees however, as part of the process, appropriate justification must be provided either in the form of evidence such as a tree condition survey or other justification presented in an appropriate manner, usually by a competent industry professional. It is important to note that the local authority will be looking for good reasoning for works to protected tree and sadly, for many clients, light and leaf drop are not adequate justifications for tree works as pruning trees in the longer term often increases the intensity of leaf drop.

There are undoubtedly situations where all these lines blur somewhat, especially regarding land ownership. In instances where anything but the most accurate conclusions can be drawn, professional advice from an arboriculturalist or your local authority is advised.