Legal constraints on tree surgeons

February 5, 2011 1 By Richard

There are many regulations that control what tree surgeons can and cannot do. Working at height regulstions, health and safety at work act, lifting operation and lifting equipment regulations (LOLER) are only a few. Most of these regulations will be met by your tree surgeon without you noticing, unless they are cowboys. For example, tree surgeons (arborists) must wear chainsaw trousers and chainsaw boots, so if your tree surgeon turns up in jeans and trainers I would turn them away and seek a professional.

However, there are areas of the law, particularly planning legislation, which a tree surgeon may discus with you. In the worst case it could prevent your arborist from working on your tree.

Tree Preservation Orders – TPOs

A TPO can be placed on a tree or group of trees to protect them from felling, uprooting or any other wilful damage without the permission of the Local Planning Authority, who administer TPOs. A TPO can be placed on a tree for a number of reasons. It may be an ancient tree, a tree with nice form, a tree of local importance, a tree on a development site e.t.c.
Normally a tree officer from the local authority can place a TPO on a tree with immediate effect and will notify the owners in writing, the owners can appeal but they only have a certain time period to do so.

I have a tree with a TPO, what can i do?

You cannot do anything to a tree with a TPO without first contacting you local planning department. You will have to put the request in writing and the Local Planning Authority will respond and let you know if the proposed work can be conducted. If they decide the work cannot be conducted they normally let you know what would be acceptable. If you request permission to remove the tree they will probably refuse permission but may give permission for a 10% reduction for example. All good arborists are aware of TPOs and will check if your tree has a TPO before they commence work. If you tree has a TPO they will also handle the application to conduct the required work on your behalf whilst keeping you updated. Of course this all takes time so please allow for this when you first contact your arborist.
The fines for wilful damage to a tree with a TPO are great. You, and your tree surgeon could be fined £20,000 per tree and you could be made to replant another tree in same area, as close to the original tree as possible.


There are exemptions where you do not need to get permission from the Local Planning Authority.

  • Dead, dangerous or dying trees can be removed without permission but the onus is on the person who authorises the work to prove the tree was dead, dangerous or dying. Normally a qualified arborist makes a detailed report before the tree is removed.
  • Where work upon a tree is needed to make way for a development which has received full planning permission from the Local Planning Authority.
  • Work which has been approved by the Forestry Commision under a felling licence

Conservation Areas

A conservation area is usually applied to an urban area and is designed to preserve or enhance an area with special architectural or historic value. A conservation area preserves many things (shop fronts, building materials, street furniture e.t.c.) including trees. If you live in a conservation area you must notify the Local Planning Authority of the intended works. They then have 6 weeks to respond. Within that period they may visit the location and place a TPO on any tree(s) they wish to protect. This will then prevent you from conducting the work, but they are likely to talk to you and discuss alternatives. If they do not respond within 6 weeks you can carry on with the works, but only the work you notified the Local Planning Authority about, no more.

Further Reading