Can You Cut Down Trees In Your Garden?

Published: 11/04/2019

It may seem like a simple fix - your back garden is looking a little unruly, the view is blocked or there simply isn’t enough afternoon light, so you cut down a few trees. Problem solved, right?

As it turns out, it’s not always easy. A recent story in the news has reinforced the importance of checking out the rules regarding the removal of trees before you start hacking away with those garden shears.

Businessman fined £12K for cutting down trees

Samuel Wilson, 40, has been ordered by the courts to pay back almost £40,000, after he cut down branches of a tree in his back garden, reportedly to create more light following the addition of a balcony to the master bedroom of his £1 million property in Canford Cliffs in Poole, Dorset.

The £40K included legal costs and a £1,200 fine issued by the council, in addition to the amount Mr Wilson’s act (cutting down the tree branches to create more light to be enjoyed on his new balcony) would have approximately added to the value of his home. According to council surveyors, the estimated value added was somewhere between £21,750 and £30,000.

The 42 ft tall mature oak tree Mr Wilson partially cut down was protected by a tree preservation order. In order to prune it or cut it down legally, he would have needed to ask for permission from his local authority, Poole Borough Council. The Council would have consulted on the matter and come to a decision.  

As he did not seek permission, and was reported by a neighbour to the Council, the issue was taken to Bournemouth Crown Court, where the judge clearly remained on the local authority’s side.

Mr Wilson’s case is the first ever in the UK where somebody has been dealt with under Proceeds of Crime Act for a case involving damaging a tree to improve light.

The Proceeds of Crime Act aims to stop people from benefiting or profiting from crime, in the way Mr Wilson could have (increasing the value of his property) by destroying a protected tree.

What do we learn from this case?

Well, it’s quite simple really. Put down the garden shears! Before chopping, pruning or removing, check and double check the rules regarding the removal of trees. It’s better to be safe than sorry and the case of Mr Wilson goes to show that nobody is above the law (and that councils - rightly so - really like their trees!). Trees are important for a number of reasons - they provide a refuge for wildlife, add to the landscape; aid the environment; and create biodiversity hotspots. There are much bigger issues at play then simply whether your garden looks neat and tidy and how much light you receive.

The rules

According to the Woodland Trust, cutting down, uprooting or wilfully destroying a tree that is subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), is in a conservation area, or is over 5 cubic metres in volume is an offence if permission has not been granted, as is topping, lopping or wilfully damaging a tree in a way that is likely to permanently damage or destroy it.

Tree protection orders

A TPO is an order made by a local council to protect specific trees, groups of trees, or whole woodland areas. The impact of its loss on the local environment, its size and form, rarity, cultural or historic value, contribution to landscape, and other factors such as nature conservation and climate change are all considered before a TPO is put in place.

When moving into a new property, it is always best to check with your local council to see if there are any TPO trees on it. If there are, it is your responsibility as the landowner (not the council’s) to ensure the tree is safe and kept in good condition.  Once a TPO is in place it is the landowner, rather than the local planning authority, that is responsible for the safety and condition of the tree and any potential damage it may cause.

If you would like to manage or fell a TPO tree, you must submit an application with your local planning authority. Contact the council in your area for more information.

Conservation areas

It’s also worth checking with your local planning authority whether your property is in a conservation area.

Conservation areas can be designated where there is special architectural or historic interest. This includes the character or appearance of buildings, landscape and public areas that are of special interest.

There may be special rules in place, if your property is in one of these special areas, and you’ll need to consult the council before carrying out any work.

Who are GWlegal?

GWlegal are a property solicitors based in Liverpool, specialising in buying or selling, remortgage, declaration of trust, bridging and buy-to-let landlords.

If you have a legal matter you wish to discuss don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can call us on 0345 373 3737 email us with your question.

Who are GWlegal? We’re a national firm with local values.

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Content correct at time of publication.

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