Trees and hedgerows are are vital habitats for wildlife, providing many different species with shelter and food. They also form an important part of our landscapes, offering valuable benefits for recreation, wellbeing and natural flood management.
Trees need management – for safety, habitat improvements or simply to ensure their continued good health. But this needs to be done responsibly, ideally at the right time of year and most importantly, legally.
Before anyone can cut down trees, they may need to get a felling licence from the Forestry Commission – and it is an offence to fell trees without a licence where one would have been required. For more information on this, we recommend consulting the Forestry Commission publication Tree Felling: Getting Permission
There are some circumstances where a felling licence isn’t needed:
- felling trees in gardens, churchyards or a public open space
- felling trees with a diameter less than 8cm (the width of baked bean can) at a height of 1.3m on the main stem
- felling trees to prevent the spread of a quarantine pest or disease, as required under a Statutory Plant Health Notice
- up to 5 cubic metres of timber (a stack of timber the size of a small car) may be felled each calendar quarter without a felling licence.
If you have concerns about tree felling, have ruled out the above exemptions and suspect anyone of cutting down trees without permission, then you should report the incident to the Forestry Commission.
Bird nesting season and protected species
Bird nesting season takes place from March to August each year. This can depend on the weather and some birds do nest outside of this period, so it is always advisable to conduct a check of hedgerows or trees prior to any work to ensure no nest is present. Although it is not always illegal to fell during the bird nesting season or when protected species are present, precautions must be taken by law. Before starting any tree felling, you should carefully assess the risks from the proposed work and how felling will impact on resident wildlife populations and associated habitats. If you are at all unsure about this, we recommend seeking the advice of an ecologist as early morning surveys may be required.
However felling of trees does not just affect birds. Bats also roost in trees, and they are protected from disturbance by law. Unlike birds, bats use the same roost year after year, so the roost is protected all the time, even if the bats are not in it. Bats can often roost at the top of trees, which would require an aerial inspection to confirm the roost. If you are in any doubt as to whether protected species may be present, further advice should be sought from a qualified ecologist. Our environmental consultancy Wildscapes offer these services.
Before any tree felling, you should carefully assess the risks and how the work will impact on resident wildlife populations and associated habitats. You must ensure protected species are not intentionally harmed or killed, that their nests or dwellings are not damaged or destroyed and that the habitat is safeguarded from permanent and lasting damage.
Work to trees or hedgerows can take place at any time of year – but it is an offence to intentionally damage or destroy an active nest of a wild bird under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. If this occurs, it should be reported to the police as it is a criminal offence. For more information about reporting wildlife crime, click here. For clarity, if the nest is inactive or if regular garden birds are observed perching, feeding or resting in the tree, this would not be illegal.
Tree Preservation Orders
Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) are made by the local planning authority (LPA), usually a local council, under the Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation) (England) Regulations 2012. They protect specific trees and areas of woodland of high amenity value from deliberate damage and destruction. You should contact your LPA to find out if these designations apply to the trees you want to fell, and discuss if there are any issues in felling them. If you wish to fell a tree or trees that are protected by a TPO, and an exception from the need for a felling licence does apply – for example, because you are carrying out works on a garden tree – then you will not
need a felling licence. However, you are still likely to need to apply for permission from the LPA to fell protected trees. In either case, we strongly recommend you consult the statutory guidance from the Forestry Commission.
For more information about our work on planning issues, click here.
If you have any concerns about illegal tree felling and would like to get in touch, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0114 263 4335.