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Is It Legal To Cut Down A Tree On Your Property

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  • tree law, is it legal to cut down a tree, property law, tree regualtions
  • Posted date:
  • 02-01-2022
Is It Legal To Cut Down A Tree On Your Property

Is it legal to cut down a tree on your property? This article looks at legal questions about cutting a tree down on your property.

Can I cut down a tree on my property?

Although you may believe that trees on your property are your own to do with as you please, there are sometimes more hoops to jump through than you realise. If a neighbouring tree enters your property and you want to cut back the branches, you should check that you have the legal right to do so.

Your local planning authority (LPA) regularly establish a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) to protect individual trees, groups of trees or entire woodlands and nature reserves. If a tree preservation order protects trees on your property, you require permission before any felling work can begin.

If you have legal permission to cut down a tree on your property and know that you own the land and tree, you will still benefit from hiring professional help and not doing it yourself. Managing trees and trimming branches in your private garden can be a dangerous task, resulting in bodily injury and damage to nearby trees and wildlife if you do not complete it correctly. 

Keep reading this article as we explain further what legal grounds you have for cutting, felling, pruning and trimming trees in your garden and on your property. 

Felling a tree in your garden

Tree surgery is no joke and should be taken seriously, as tree surgeons have to receive a license and carry years of experience to complete work. 

If you want to fell a tree in your garden for safety or aesthetic reasons, there are preservation laws you must abide by before you begin sawing and chopping, and you may even require a felling licence.

A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) exists to protect specific trees, and sometimes a tree belongs to the local planning authorities and not you. If a tree offers aesthetic or practical benefits to the public, even when in your garden, it could fall under a TPO and therefore, you will need permission. 

You should always check with your local planning authority before starting felling work, as they will inform you of any protected trees in your area and if your intended work affects other TPOs. 

Many tree species are protected by these conditions, and undertaking works without seeking more information can lead to trouble and an offence. 

Is It Legal To Cut Down A Tree On Your Property?

This also extends to tenants in a rented property, as you will have to ask the landlord for permission. Of course, if you own your home, you don't need further permission. In other situations, you will require approval if the tree belongs to the tree preservation order or exists in a conservation area.

You should be careful when felling a tree, even if you own the land and the tree, as any damage or bodily injury caused becomes your liability. If you harm the general public while trying to trim a tree that overhangs a walkway or a fallen branch enters your neighbours garden, and you damage their plants or shed or injure one of them, you are responsible.

The Right of Light Act of 1959 does give homeowners some right to prune, trim and cut trees where natural sunlight has become blocked. If your property or a neighbouring property has received daylight over the last 20+ years but is now becoming blocked by the growth of a tree, you can appeal with your local council and planning authority to receive work from a tree surgeon to rectify this. Professional tree surgeons are trained to perform work on felling trees, ensuring no further damage is caused to the tree trunk or nesting birds and will work to protect trees at all costs.

Planning Permission Cutting A Tree Down

Planning Permission

Believe it or not, you require planning permission to conduct many services with trees. The Theft Act of 1968, for example, makes picking fruit and flowers from trees and bushes that you do not own or are not on your property a legal offence. Of course, many neighbours will not take legal action but are entitled to ask for their fruit back if you're caught taking it.

The local planning authority at your council will control what trees are protected under the tree preservation orders. This means that no cutting, pruning, uprooting, topping, lopping or destruction can occur without planning permission. Contact your relevant government department if you have queries about the intended job and want further information on felling licence conditions.

Building regulations

All properties have building regulations attached to them, which affects the foundations, so you may have to abide by them if your tree or garden work involves that. Otherwise, no work associated with trees or hedges has to abide by building regulations.

Most felling work requires a license regardless, but you would be exempt due to your location, type of tree work, diameter and volume of the tree and other permissions already in place. You should always check with the local council beforehand. 

Building regulations Cutting A Tree Down

Overhanging branches and tree roots

Where neighbouring branches are present on your property, you can trim and cut these back to the border (i.e. the fence, hedge or other dividing points), but you must return these branches, fruit or general foliage to the neighbour if they request due to the Theft Act. 

You can do the same for tree roots that begin to work their way onto your land, but you will benefit from hiring a professional tree surgeon or arborist to complete this work safely and efficiently for you.

Removing trees is different and should only be done as a last resort. If trees growing over the fence disturb your private gardens, you should aim to resolve this in the most environmentally friendly way possible. There could be unforeseen amenity value that you don't realise for your property by the tree's existence. 

Tree Felling Licences

If you intend to fell a tree outside of your private property or garden, you will need to acquire a Tree Felling Licence. 

This includes areas owned by the local council, such as walkways, pavements, community areas, public gardens and more. You must discuss all conditions with the local planning authority regarding the Tree Preservation Order, and they will then issue you with a licence.

If you believe that a license will need to be acquired for your proposed works, you should contact the Forestry Commission via email or post for a paper application. This written order can be taken to your local council for approval. 

What Happens If I Don't Have A License?

If you do not receive consent to complete any felling, topping, lopping or uprooting of a tree, you are subject to receive a fine, as this is a criminal offence. Any tree protected by the Tree Preservation Order means you cannot cut down or wilfully destroy it.

This fine can quickly become an unlimited fine and be used to balance the financial loss caused by removing that tree, so it could easily be up to £20,000 and more. Depending on where you are, this value could be twice as much as the trees, so you should always seek out permission beforehand.

On top of that value to be decided between the local authority, you are likely to be fined up to £2,500 for the serious offences of a contravention of a protected tree under the Tree Preservation Order. 

You may have to replace protected trees throughout the conservation area and be prosecuted for felling without the proper licenses. If you are found to have felled illegally, this will make acquiring future documentation for cutting down trees from the Forestry Commission much harder, so you would be wise to abide by the law and obtain permission.

Tree Felling Alternatives

Any tree surgeon will tell you that preserving the tree's life is the top priority and felling a tree should be the last option you pursue. 

In situations where the tree's health is no longer strong enough to support itself or is at risk of damaging other nearby trees or the public, felling is the only option available. 

You should receive a professional inspection before you jump to felling, though, as pruning and pollarding could remove any dangerous branches, remove infections and keep the tree alive longer. 

Tree Felling Alternatives

You should always replant what you have cut down, and the recommended ratio is 3:1 for every felled tree. Cut down trees protected by TPOs will need replacing regardless, so you should be aware of this.

If you require further tree services, please reach out to our team of qualified tree surgeons today, and we will happily advise you on the best course of action. 

We offer tree felling,  tree removals in Northampton, Milton Keynes and Bedford.

Are you looking for tree surgery in Northampton, Milton Keynes or Bedford? Get in touch with our experienced tree expert today to discus any of the tree services below.