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Do I need permission to remove a tree?

Even though a tree is in your garden or on your land, you may still require permission from the local council to fell it, in certain circumstances, you may even need permission to prune it.

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What are the specific criteria when permission is required?

  • The tree is covered by a TPO or Tree Preservation Order – your local council can confirm this
  • You live within a designated conservation area
  • The property is rented so you will require consent from the landlord and/or the owner
  • The tree is protected by a legal covenant, this should appear on the title deeds to the property and will usually involve a third party who will need to grant permission
  • The house is a new build on a development; new estates often have conditions attached to the property purchase which will prevent occupants removing trees for a specified number of years after the build


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What is a Tree Preservation Order?

A TPO prevents anyone from cutting down, topping, lopping or uprooting a tree or otherwise causing wilful damage or destruction without the express written consent of the local planning authority. TPOs are part of the law of planning which is why it may be necessary to seek consent if you are undertaking any hard landscaping in your garden and wish to remove one or more trees or if work on a new development involves felling or pruning protected trees.

If consent is applied for and granted then it can have conditions attached to it. No one particular species of tree is protected; a TPO can apply to any type of tree, it depends more on the location of the tree and is not necessarily connected to age, size or type. There are four different categories of TPO:-

  • Individual – applied to just one tree
  • Group – for a group of trees which individually may not be of importance but collectively are significant, for example, an amenity woodland or copse
  • Area – these are less common than they used to be but will cover a large wooded area
  • Woodland – a TPO which covers an entire wood regardless of the species and age of the trees

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The penalty for breaching a Tree Preservation Order

Breaching a TPO is punishable at law with a fine as laid out in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Interestingly, the penalty can affect both the landowner and the person who has undertaken the work. The fine can be anything up to £20,000 and the Court will also take into account any financial benefit which has been derived from removing the tree. The fine for working on the tree or lopping it without permission is usually much lower. If the case is serious – the felling of several protected trees – then it may be referred to Crown Court where the fine is unlimited.

There is also a duty to replace any protected tree that has been illegally removed and the original TPO is automatically transferred to the replacement regardless of the age or species. If the sapling dies or succumbs to disease then it will need to be replaced again under the terms of the order.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How quickly can I get permission to remove a tree if there is a TPO in place?

Usually, permission to carry out work under a TPO needs to be applied for around eight weeks in advance. The average time for trees in a Conservation Area is around six weeks. If the tree has fallen or has partially gone over due to high winds or storm damage then speak to the local authority as a matter of urgency. If the tree removal is due to disease or because of the encroachment of roots or branches near a property or just garden design, then a report from a tree surgeon may aid the application.

If I am applying for planning permission for refurbishment or development, do I need to make a separate application for the TPO?

Any application for planning permission will automatically include a TPO if there is one or more present on trees on the site, you do not need to apply twice.

Can a TPO be used retrospectively to prevent development or building works from going ahead?

Any mature trees will have been considered as part of the original planning application so it is unlikely an interested party or even a hostile neighbour will be able to use a TPO to prevent a project from going ahead.

Are there any other permissions to consider when felling a tree?

If you are doing work right up against the boundary with a neighbouring property including felling a tree then you may need to obtain the permission of your neighbour under the Party Wall Act 1996. This statute covers work on or adjacent to shared boundaries and is most commonly referred to when people are building extensions or converting lofts and they live in a terraced or semi-detached house. But the Party Wall Act can apply to any works you do on the boundary of your property including outside of the home. The Act is there to protect your neighbours from damage to their property and disruption to their life.

Can I fell a tree myself?

Small trees of less than five inches in diameter can be quite easily felled but anything larger is probably a job for a professional contractor or tree surgeon. The tree is felled and the stump dealt with separately, either by grinding out or complete removal using machinery depending on the site access, plans for the site and the landowner’s preference.

What happens to the wood once the tree has been felled?

It is important that site clearance is included as part of the quote. If you want to keep some of the wood for firewood then discuss this with the contractor. The wood will need to be sawn up into smaller logs and then stored and seasoned before it will burn.

For more information on applying to work on a protected tree and permissions for cutting trees in your own garden, see these articles from the government and the Woodland Trust.

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