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25 Nov 2016

Could you have a legal obligation to preserve the trees on your site?


Here, Hunton-based tree surgeon, Hunton Arborists, explains what a Tree Preservation Order is and what can be done if a TPO-protected tree is found on your self-build site.

Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) are orders placed on trees and hedgerows in England by local authorities. These prohibit anyone – including owners of the land and hence technically the tree – from doing any work without prior consent with very few exceptions. This does not mean work cannot be done, it just means you have to apply for permission. Once a tree works application is submitted, the council will make a decision, usually within four to six weeks. Three things can then happen from here: the work is permitted, the work is permitted with conditions or the work is refused. If permission is refused, the best course of action is to ascertain why by contacting your local tree officer. If this does not resolve it then a formal appeal can be made.

To carry out work on trees in conservation areas (CAs), the owner must inform the council of their intention six weeks prior to undertaking the work. The council will decide whether to raise an objection. They can apply for a TPO to be placed on a tree meaning any work carried out will be illegal. We advise that if the council has not returned a decision within six weeks, work should not commence until their position is ascertained. Appeals can be made in the same way as TPOs.


With both TPOs and CAs, the responsibility to check if there are any restrictions lies with the person carrying out the works. This applies even if you instruct a company to do the work for you. The contractor and the tree owner can be prosecuted. Reputable tree surgery companies will be well-versed in the rules around TPOs and CAs, but again any doubts should be raised with your local tree officer.

This article is for information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you ever have any doubts, you must raise them with the local authority before commencing any work.


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Tree Preservation Order guide

There are many questions that will play on self-builders' minds when it comes to TPOs, such as species protected and what the consequences are if you carry out work on a TPO-protected tree without permission. Here are a few of the facts.

Q: What is the purpose of a TPO?

A: TPOs protect trees that bring amenity benefit to an area – they are especially important where trees are under threat.

Q: What species are protected by TPOs?

A: All types of trees are TPO-protected, with the exception of bushes and shrubs. A TPO can protect anything from a single tree through to numerous trees within a defined area.

Q: How will I know when a TPO has been made?

A: Your local authority will alert those who may have the right to work on a tree – the homeowner, tenants and neighbours. Copies of recent TPOs are also available at local planning authorities' offices.

Q: Where does the responsibility lie for the maintenance of a TPO-protected tree?

A: Owners remain responsible for trees covered by TPOs – this includes the tree's condition and any damage they may cause. Again, the authority's permission will be required if any work was to be carried out.

Q: What are the consequences of carrying out work on a TPO-protected tree without permission?

A: If you deliberately destroy a TPO-protected tree, or damage a tree in a manner likely to destroy it, you could be viable for an unlimited fine. You can also be fined if you cause or permit such work. Other offences can lead to fines of up to £2500.


Wildlife watch

Here, Joanna Peacock, Lead Sustainability Consultant at award-winning sustainability consultancy Eight Associates, explains the potential of finding protected wildlife species in trees on your self-build plot.

Tree Preservation Orders will be at the top of your checklist when you’ve purchased your self-build plot. However, investigating the potential for protected wildlife species on site is also critical.

Certain wildlife – amphibians, reptiles, badgers, bats, birds, dormice, otters and water voles – is protected by legislation which makes it illegal to kill, injure, capture or disturb these species. Investigating the potential for a protected species, and conducting a habitat survey, is essential to gain planning consent.

Timing is critical; surveys can only gather sufficient evidence when the species are active and missing the survey window results in delays. The likelihood of a protected species affecting your project depends on the site’s habitat characteristics. For example, if there are existing buildings or trees, be aware of the potential for bats and breeding birds. Both modern and traditional buildings provide roosting opportunities similar to the crevice and tree-cavity spaces.

Work with a suitably qualified ecologist who follows all relevant good practice. When the survey results are known, they will help plan the next steps and a mitigation strategy if required.


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