Cutting Down Trees – Everything You Need To Know

If you are planning on cutting down a tree, you need to know how to do this safely and legally. Here in the UK, there are certain laws and regulations protecting trees from being felled. So what are these laws for, and what are they protecting? 

Cutting down trees that are protected with a Tree Protection Order, grow in a conservation area, or are on land that you don’t own is an offence. In some cases, if a tree is over 5 cubic metres in size then you need a license to cut it down even if the tree sits on private property. This is to ensure that tree numbers are sustained and personal risk is minimised through government intervention. 

Find out everything you need to know about cutting down trees in the UK with Broadleaf Tree Surgery – expert tree surgeons based in Maidstone, Kent. 

What Trees Can Be Cut Down Without Permission – UK Law

Cutting down trees is often a last resort. The tree could present an issue to the safety of neighbours, cause light loss or even could become damaged due to wind or infection. At any rate, if a tree needs felling, it is in your best interest to understand your legal standings with that tree and understand the implications of cutting the tree down. 

Let’s review some common cases of tree felling here in the UK to see what your legal standing is and what actions you can take to make sure that your actions are covered legally. 

Can I Cut Down A Tree In My Garden?

If you want to fell a tree that is on your property, then you have some considerations to make before you make the first cut. These are: 

  • The size of the tree(s) in question
  • Is the trunk of your tree in a conservation area?
  • Is the tree subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO)?
  • Planning Conditions

As you can see, even if a tree is on your property, it is subject to UK laws. These laws can make the tree protected by being in a conservation area, or if it has been designated with a TPO by your local authority. If the tree meets either of these conditions then you need to get permission from your local authority before you conduct any active work on that tree. However, the Forestry Commission also takes the tree’s size into consideration. 

Cutting Down Trees by Size

The Forestry Commission – the government body responsible for UK trees – states that any growing tree(s) on your property can be felled without a felling license if the total wood cut from those trees is under 5m³. If the tree you plan on cutting down won’t yield this much timber once felled, you shouldn’t need a license to cut it down on your own property. That is if it also doesn’t meet any further restrictive conditions. 

Cutting Down Trees with a Tree Protection Order

If a tree has been issued a Point TPO then it will need to be authorised by your local Tree Officer – or a person with a similar authority – before any work begins on that tree. Likewise, if its trunk falls within an area known as an Area TPO, it will be covered by similar protective measures. To work on any tree with an Area TPO or Point TPO required authorisation from your Local Authority. 

Applying for such authorisation is relatively easy using the government portal, however, this work can be often carried out on your behalf by a qualified tree surgeon before work begins. 

Cutting Down Trees in a Conservation Area

Similarly, Conservation Areas are protected by your local authority. This can afford the tree some protection unless the tree is;

  • Within less than 75mm diameter or;
  • Within 100mm diameter, and felling the tree would benefit another tree in the Conservation Area. 

If you are looking at cutting down a tree in a conservation area and the tree isn’t protected by a TPO, then you might need to apply at least 6 weeks in advance in accordance with section 211 of the TPO bill

Section 211 of the Tree Preservation Order bill also says that, if you are cutting down a tree within a conservation area, another tree of the same species must be planted in its place. 

Can I Cut Down a Tree with Planning Permission?

If you are applying for planning permission for a building, and there is a tree that needs consideration, you ought to check if that tree is protected by a TPO or a Conservation Area.

Authorities have their own rules on planning permission, however, it should be worth understanding that a TPO overrides most planning permissions if the tree is still living.  This is stipulated in the Town and Country Planning Act (1990). If the tree has died or presents a risk to health by remaining in place, then the planning permission overrules the TPO. However, this will only be the case if the protected tree is known to be dead or hazardous. 

Assessing the health and safety of a tree is dangerous and should only be carried out by a trained professional. Here at Broadleaf Tree Surgery, we offer a service where we can assess the health benefits of trees for planning permission. If the tree is from the genus Ash, then checking the health of a tree on your property, with the intention of removing it, should be considered due to the recent outbreak of Ash Dieback in the UK. 

Consult a Professional Arborist

As a professional tree care company we perform local authority checks on each of our jobs, to ensure you and our company aren’t in breach of the law. Contact us today for advice and help with the removal of trees on your property. ​​

What Happens If I Cut Down A Protected Tree?

Those who carry out work without permission or damage a tree with a TPO or in a conservation area could be:

  • fined up to £20,000
  • served a notice to replace any protected trees that have been destroyed
  • prosecuted for felling without a licence (should your timber yield be above 5m³)
  • possibly summoned to The Crown Court and issued with an unlimited fine 

It’s important to note that fines for breaching felling licences can vary depending on the country and the offence committed. In Wales, the maximum fine can go up to £2,500 or twice the value of the trees, whichever is higher. In Scotland, the fine can go up to £5,000 per tree, and all involved in the felling can get a criminal record. However, in England and Northern Ireland, there is no specified maximum amount for the fine. 

If you suspect a tree has been felled illegally, contact your local planning authority or the relevant government department. 

Can I Cut Down a Tree If It Isn’t Protected By a TPO or Conservation Order?

In short – Yes, you can cut down a tree on your property that isn’t protected by a TPO or residing in a conservation area. 

A tree belongs to you if it grows on your property. It is, therefore, your responsibility to maintain the tree and its branches. This can cause problems with land borders as a tree’s canopy can grow onto other private or communal spaces. In these cases, who is responsible? 

If a tree on your property’s canopy overhangs onto someone else’s property, they can freely cut the part of the canopy that overhangs on their land, legally. What is more, it is still your responsibility to remove the trimmings from their property, once cut. 

Due to any tree growing on your property being yours legally, also means that any damage caused by that tree, its branches, and trimmings, are all legally your responsibility. Cutting down trees on your property can put you in a dangerous position.

Contact Broadleaf Tree Surgery to cut down your tree safely. 

Cutting Down Trees Safely With Broadleaf Tree Surgery

If you need assistance with cutting down trees safely and legally, you should always contact a professional tree surgeon to assess your situation. 

If the tree is large enough to present a risk during its felling, having that tree appropriately braced and secured for hazards below is imperative. 

It is important to get the guidance of a trained professional when removing any tree that might impose a hazard when being felled. Damage to roads, cars, houses or other people can result in hefty fines for the person responsible. The tools and equipment used by professional tree surgeons are designed to keep people safe and show due care when dealing with heavy objects at height. 

Broadleaf Tree Surgery is a fully qualified team based in Maidstone, Kent that offers full tree removal. Not only will we fully recycle all waste products that result in the removal, but we can also grind the stump, killing the tree completely. 


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