Tree Preservation Orders

A tree preservation order (TPO) prohibits the removal or cutting down of trees. TPOs are usually applied to individual trees.

A TPO is an order made by a local planning authority (London Boroughs, district or unitary councils and sometimes county councils) which in general makes it an offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy a tree without the planning authority’s permission.

TPOs are used to protect trees which make a significant impact on their local surroundings. This is particularly important where trees are
in immediate danger. Any type of tree can be protected by an order, including hedgerow trees, but not hedges, bushes or shrubs. The
order can cover anything from a single tree to woodlands.

Details of TPOs are available for inspection at the local planning authority’s offices. Details may also be available online. An official search of the local land charges register can also be made before you purchase a property. This should reveal the existence of a tree preservation order (or whether your property is in a conservation area).

Work cannot be carried out on a protected tree without permission. The local authority maintains a full register of applications and
decisions that is open to the public.

If you have identified trees that you think should be protected, you can contact your local planning authority giving details of the trees,
and the reasons why you think the trees should be protected.

However, if the Forestry Commission has given aid under a forestry grant scheme, a tree preservation order can only be made with the
Commission’s permission.

When the local planning authority makes an order, it comes into force immediately and remains in force for up to six months initially. When
such an order is made, the local planning authority writes to the owner and other interested parties, enclosing a copy of the order.
Objections to an order as well as support for an order can be expressed in writing, and should be sent to the local planning
authority within the period they allow (usually 28 days) saying why and giving details of the relevant trees. The planning authority will
take these comments into account when it decides whether to confirm the order. When the authority confirms the order it can modify it, for
example by excluding some of the trees.

Once an order has been made, the owner remains responsible for the trees, their condition and any damage they may cause. But the
planning authority’s permission is required before carrying out work on them, unless they are dying, dead or dangerous. The planning
authority may be able to offer appropriate help and advice on how the trees should be managed.

Whether or not a tree preservation order is in force, owners must first apply to the Forestry Commission for a felling licence if they want to cut down trees containing more than five cubic metres of wood in any calendar quarter. There are exceptions to this rule which are set out in the Forestry Act 1967 and Regulations made under that Act. For example, you do not need a licence for felling trees in gardens. If a
licence is required and the trees are covered by a tree preservation order, the Forestry Commission will deal with your application in
consultation with the local planning authority. Where the Commission proposes to grant a licence it will first give notice to the local planning authority. In such cases the planning authority has the right to object to the proposal and if it does so the application will be referred for decision to the First Secretary of State for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Applicants should note
that the Commission almost always requires felled areas to be restocked and does not normally grant licenses to change woodland
to agricultural use.

If the owner of a protected tree wants to do some work on it, and it is not covered by a felling licence, they should write to the local planning authority to seek permission, specifying the tree affected, what work they want to do and why. It is important that this request specifies the work required clearly, especially pruning operations. The request should be accompanied by a clear explanation of why they believe the work is required and evidence to support the request, for instance, a professional report on the health of the tree, or in cases of alleged subsidence a professional report on ground movement at the site.

Owners may find it helpful to consult a tree surgeon to clarify what they need to do. The Arboricultural Association has a list of approved
tree surgery contractors.

Some situations are exempt from the need to seek planning authority permission. These include:

  • cutting down trees in accordance with one of the Forestry Commission’s grant schemes, or where the Commission has granted a felling licence;
  • cutting down or cutting back a tree:

    – which is dying, dead, dangerous,

    – in line with an obligation under an Act of Parliament,

    – at the request of certain organisations specified in the order,

    – which is directly in the way of development that is about to start for which detailed planning permission has been granted,

    – in a commercial orchard, or pruning fruit trees in accordance with good horticultural practice,

    – to prevent or control a legal nuisance (owners may find it helpful to check first with a solicitor).

Even in situations where the owner does not require the planning authority’s or Forestry Commission’s permission, it is advisable for
them to inform the planning authority of any work they intend to carry out. Except in an emergency it is advisable to give the local planning authority at least five days’ notice before they cut down a protected tree which is dying, dead or dangerous. This is in their own interests since they could be prosecuted if the authority thinks that they have carried out unauthorised work. It could also decide that they do not have to plant a replacement tree.

A replacement tree has to be planted if a protected tree is cut down or destroyed:

  • in breach of an order;
  • except in the case of woodland, because the tree is dying, dead or dangerous;
  • if the planning authority gives permission to cut down a protected tree but makes replanting a condition of its consent;
  • in most cases where the Forestry Commission grants a felling licence.

Local planning authorities have legal powers to ensure that owners plant a replacement tree when required. If a protected tree is deliberately destroyed or damaged in a way likely to destroy it, the person responsible could be fined up to £20,000 if convicted in the magistrates’ court. In determining the amount of the fine, the court will take account of any financial benefit arising from the offence. For other related the person fined up to £2,500.

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