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Do you require a licence to fell trees?

View profile for Brea Carney-Jones
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Do you require a licence to fell trees?

Believe it or not, tree felling is a legally controlled activity. The Forestry Act 1967 creates the legal framework for felling trees in England and Wales. It mandates that a felling licence is required to fell all “growing”, i.e. living, trees, unless an exemption applies. 

Everyone involved in the felling of trees, whether it is an owner felling trees themselves or employing others to do the work, such as an agent, timber merchant or contractor, must therefore ensure that a felling licence or other permission has been issued before any felling is carried out, or that one of the exceptions applies. Common exceptions include the following:

  • In any calendar quarter (e.g. January – March),  you may fell up to 5 cubic metres (m3) of growing trees on your property without a felling licence, as long as no more than 2m3 are sold;
  • Tree works involving tree surgery by way of lopping or topping, for example, pollarding;
  • Felling of a tree or trees necessary for the prevention of danger or the prevention or abatement of a nuisance;
  • Where the felling of trees is immediately required for the purpose of carrying out development authorised under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. In order to rely on this exception one of the following conditions must be met:
    • the trees must be explicitly identified in the planning consent as being permitted for removal; or
    • the trees must stand within the footprint of the proposed development; or
    • the removal of the trees must be necessary in order to carry out the proposed development (e.g. if they block an access route to which there is no alternative).

It is recommended that you contact your Forestry Commission area office if you are uncertain about whether any of these exceptions apply. It is also important to note that even if an exception does apply, in certain circumstances you may still need other permissions from other organisations before you begin felling trees.

If you intend to fell trees covered by one or more of the exceptions within the legislation, it is your responsibility to prove that an exception applies. You should gather evidence that shows a felling licence was not required before you start any felling, should a Forestry Commission investigator visit the site after the felling takes place. The evidence to be gathered will be specific to each felling site and the exception claimed. It is therefore important to seek specialist advice prior to any felling, to ensure that you are fully compliant with the legislation.

Should you require a felling licence, you can apply for this online using the Forestry Commission’s online service. All felling work must be carried out in accordance with the licence and any other permission issued, and must remain compliant with all other legislation and regulations affecting operations to fell trees.

It is important to note that any felling carried out without a felling licence is an offence, unless it is covered by an exception under the Forestry Act. If you have no felling licence or other permission to fell trees in place, or if the wrong trees are felled and no felling exception can be proved, everyone involved can be prosecuted.

The Forestry Commission investigate reports of unlicensed tree felling. This may result in enforcement action being taken to ensure tree or woodland cover is restored, and it may also involve seeking a prosecution of those involved. This can mean, on conviction, a fine. This can apply to each person involved in the felling of trees, for example the owner, agent, timber merchant or contractor.

Where the Forestry Commission are satisfied that the owner, lessee or tenant of the land has committed an offence, they also have the power to serve a Restocking Notice. This requires replacement trees to be planted or regenerated and then maintained to an acceptable standard for up to 10 years in order to reinstate woodland cover.

If you do not comply with the conditions of a felling licence or a Restocking Notice, then the Forestry Commission have the power to issue an Enforcement Notice requiring you to take action to meet the conditions in place. It is an offence not to comply with an Enforcement Notice and can result in an unlimited fine upon conviction.

There are therefore potential serious consequences for committing an offence under the Forestry Act so it is important that you seek specialist advice prior to the felling of any trees.

If you are facing an investigation by the Forestry Commission, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (‘DEFRA’), or any other environmental regulator, please feel free to contact our specialist regulatory lawyers on 0161 696 6250 to discuss how we can assist with your case.

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