Tree preservation orders (TPO)
Important trees are protected by Tree Preservation Orders, which means that only in exceptional cases can works to a tree take place.
What are tree preservation orders and how do they affect me?
Important and significant trees are protected by tree preservation orders. tree preservation orders can be placed on individual trees, trees in hedgerows, groups of trees, areas of landscape containing significant trees or whole woodlands. Trees are awarded TPO status based on a range of criteria, but primarily it is for the contribution that a tree or group of trees makes to its surroundings and environment.
Trees within conservation areas are also protected
If you wish to undertake works to trees within a conservation area which are not covered by a tree preservation order you must give the council six weeks written notice. This applies to works to any trees within the conservation area that have a stem over 75mm in diameter measured at 1.5 metres above ground level. Notification to undertake work to a tree within a conservation area must be made in writing either via the planning portal or in writing using the planning application form or in a letter which gives similar information as required to complete the form.
What is the purpose of a tree preservation order?
Orders are made in order to protect trees that contribute to the public’s appreciation and enjoyment of the countryside. This is particularly important where trees are in immediate danger.
Tree preservation orders make it unlawful to wilfully damage or destroy a tree, cut it down, uproot it, top it or lop it, or affect its roots, without the consent of South Gloucestershire Council. Penalties for infringements can be up to £20,000 on a summary conviction, or on indictment be liable to an unlimited fine. In determining the amount of the fine, the court would take into account of the actual, or likely, financial benefit arising from the offence. For other offences you could be fined up to £2,500.
You will normally have to plant a replacement tree if the tree was cut down or destroyed.
How can I check if a tree has a preservation order placed on it?
Please contact 01454 868004 where staff will be able to help you.
The owner of a tree subject to TPO is responsible for its maintenance, as is the case if a tree is not subject to TPO. However before any work is undertaken to a tree with a TPO, even minor works such as pruning, you must obtain consent from us before carrying out any work.
If you live next to a property with a tree designated with a TPO then you cannot undertake any work to that tree, even if part of it crosses your boundary, without consent from us and permission from the landowner.
What can I do if I believe a tree is worthy of preservation and under threat?
We will consider requests for new Tree Preservation Orders. Requests should be submitted by email to NaturalEnvironment@southglos.gov.uk and should include a photograph of the tree(s); a location plan clearly marking the tree(s) and a brief description of the trees, explaining why they are felt to merit protection, and what the threat is to them. Please be aware that trees cannot be protected where planning permission has been granted, and only trees meeting the specific quality criteria can be protected. Whilst the council we will endeavour to respond within 15 days to requests where a tree is under threat, this will depend on resources being available and no guarantee can be given that all requests will be assessed within that timescale.
How do I find out who owns a tree?
The owner of the land on which a tree is rooted is the owner of that tree. If a tree is on the boundary of two properties the deeds to those properties should be referenced to establish the property boundaries. The tree is within the property which contains the majority of the stump. If the tree is on land of unknown ownership, it may be necessary to consult the land registry which is the government department that keeps records of land ownership, use this link to go to the Land Registry website
How do I get a copy of a TPO?
A copy of a TPO can be obtained from South Gloucestershire Records, there is a fee of £27.50 plus printing costs, please telephone 01454 863123 or e-mail Records@southglos.gov.uk for further details.
Will the council inspect/prune my tree?
We do not conduct inspections of trees for private residents or supply a tree pruning service. We have a list of local contractors and consultants who can assist you. A list is also obtainable from the directory compiled by the Arboricultural Association. The council or the association cannot be held responsible for the advice or actions of any companies who are listed.
What should you do before undertaking tree work?
You should find out if a tree you intend to do work to is covered by a TPO. If you undertake work to a tree with a TPO, without checking to see if it is covered, then you are still liable for prosecution. If the tree does have a TPO then you must submit a tree works application for any works to it, including pruning. Application forms for permission to undertake works are obtained from the national planning portal website or copies may be downloaded.
All applications must include:
(a) the particulars specified in the form;
(b) be accompanied, whether electronically or otherwise, by:
(i) a plan which identifies the tree or trees to which the application relates;
(ii) such information as is necessary to specify the work for which consent is sought;
(iii) a statement of the applicant’s reasons for making the application; and
(iv) if appropriate evidence describing any structural damage to property or in relation to tree health or safety, as applicable.
Your responsibilities, penalties and the law
You have an obligation under the occupiers liability act to provide a duty of care for any tree within your ownership. If a tree has been designated with a TPO it is still your responsibility and you may not wilfully damage or destroy it, top or lop it, cut it down or uproot it, nor may you ask someone else to do it for you. You are responsible for any works that occur to a protected tree regardless of whether you undertake the work or not, and the TPO also prohibits causing or permitting such works.
You must not undertake work to a protected tree or a tree in a conservation area without prior consent from us. If a tree/group of trees/woodland forms part of a development, again you will need permission from the local authority.
Failure to comply with the requirements of a TPO can incur a penalty of up to £20,000.
You must apply for permission except under the following circumstances
1) Cutting down any tree under a forestry dedication covenant or a plan of operations approved by the forestry authority, or where the forestry authority has granted a felling licence.
2) Cutting down or cutting back a tree:
- which is dying, dead or dangerous, or
- where there is an obligation under an act of parliament, or at the request of a certain government department that is about to start for which detailed planning permission has been granted, or
- which is a fruit tree cultivated for fruit production, or
- to prevent or control a nuisance in the legal sense (you may find it helpful to check first with a solicitor).
If you are in any doubt, check with the council first on 01454 868004. Even if permission is not required you must inform us that you are undertaking the work.
Except in an emergency you should give us at least five days’ notice before you cut down a protected tree which is dying, dead or dangerous. This can be done on line by filling in this form link here giving the location of the tree, the reasons why you need to do the work and ideally attaching a photograph of the tree. Or you can contact us on 01454 868004 making it clear that you are formally giving the council 5 days notice of your intention to carry out tree works and the reasons for doing so.
This is in your interests – you could be prosecuted if we think you have carried out unauthorised work. We could also decide that you do not have to plant a replacement tree. You must remember, however, that you will remain responsible for your trees and any damage they may cause.
In addition to the restrictions imposed by planning law, trees to be felled may require a felling licence. If you intend to fell any tree or trees that will amount to over 5 cubic metres of timber you may require permission from the forestry commission. This doesn’t apply to trees within gardens. For further information see GOV UK.
Planting replacement trees
You will have to replant a replacement tree:
if you cut down or destroy a protected tree:
- in breach of an order, or
- except in the case of woodland, because the tree is dying, dead or dangerous, unless the planning authority says you need not, or
- if you are given permission to cut down a protected tree but replanting is a condition of its consent,
- or if you own protected woodland and permission is given to cut down trees, except where this is for thinning, making way for approved development,
- or the replanting requirement has been waived by the secretary of state.
Local planning authorities have legal powers to ensure that you plant a replacement tree when required. The original tree preservation order will normally apply to any replacement trees.
My neighbour’s tree is overhanging my garden, can I prune it?
If the tree is subject to a TPO, in a conservation area or subject of a restrictive planning condition you will need to follow the procedures listed above to obtain the consent of the council to prune any part of the tree, overhanging or not. If the tree is not subject to any restrictions imposed by the council you have a right to prune overhanging parts of a tree back to the boundary of your property but not beyond. It is always advisable to be polite and to inform your neighbour of your intension’s to prune their trees and to agree the method of disposal of the prunings which are the property of the tree owner. You cannot enter your neighbour’s property without their permission to prune their trees. (The tree owner is not obliged to pay for, or undertake the pruning of limbs overhanging a third parties properties property.)
How are trees on development sites affected?
Trees on development sites can be protected by tree preservation orders or by conditions attached to the planning permission, or both. You do not need permission to undertake works to a protected tree where these are required as a result of the granting of planning permission however planning conditions may require you to replace protected trees where these have to be felled to enable the development to go ahead. Conditions will usually require you to protect trees from damage during the development.
If the development does not require planning permission (for example, putting up a garden shed you must apply to your local planning authority for permission under the tree preservation order in the normal way.
The making of a tree preservation order cannot prevent planning permission being granted. But a local planning authority will consider the risk to protected trees when deciding planning applications.
Once planning permission is granted, any felling may be carried out which is directly required to enable the development to go ahead, but only if development is about to start.
I have received a letter about a tree on my property being designated a TPO
South Gloucestershire Council has a legal obligation to notify landowners that a tree has been designated with a TPO, or if the TPO is being renewed. You have 28 days from the date of the order to raise an objection or to comment about the TPO. You may not undertake any unauthorised work to this tree without consent from the council, even in the time you have to make objections and comments.
I have received a letter about a tree that is not on my property
You will also be notified that an order has been made if it is on neighbouring land because the council has a legal obligation to advise neighbours on adjoining land that a tree is to be designated a TPO.
What should I do if I suspect that someone has undertaken works to a protected tree without permission?
Contact us and we will investigate the matter. If you wish it can be dealt with anonymously and the landowner will not be informed of your comments.
You can find out more about tree preservation orders in the following:
Town and country planning act 1990 (in particular sections 197-214 as amended)
The planning and compensation act 1991 (section 23)
Forestry act 1967 (as amended)
Statutory instruments numbered SI 1969 No. 17, SI 1975 No.148, SI 1979 Nos. 791 and 792, SI 1981 No. 14, SI 1985 Nos. 1572 and 1958, SI 1987 No. 632 and SI 1988 Nos. 963 and 970.
These are all available through HMSO and may be seen at some main libraries.
You may also find it helpful to send off for a copy of the forestry authority booklet tree felling – licences and permissions. Write to:
England National Office,
No. 620, Bristol Business Park,
Bristol BS16 1EJ
Tel: 0117 906 6000