Do I need permission to cut down a tree in my garden?
Assistant campaigner - policy & advocacy
We advocate keeping all trees wherever possible, but we appreciate this isn't always possible, perhaps due to safety issues or damage to property. However, taking down a tree should always be considered as the last resort as it will have implications for both people and wildlife.
There are a number of ways to solve the issues caused by problematic trees. Here’s some guidance on the rules around felling trees in your garden and alternatives you can try before reaching for the axe.
Reasons you might want to fell a tree
Trees are felled for all sorts of reasons. They may be aesthetic, to reduce the impacts of leaves and seeds or from wildlife living in the trees, or more seriously, due to root growth causing subsidence in nearby buildings.
Sometimes, despite our reservations, felling a tree might be the best option. For example, if a tree has been damaged or diseased in such a way that its structure is at risk and could fall dangerously in a garden, on a house, on a road or path.
A tree with signs of disease, age or damage may not necessarily be a danger, however. After all, ancient trees show severe signs of ageing but may have a century or more of life left in them.
Consequences of cutting down a tree in your garden
Trees offer so many benefits to both people and wildlife so the loss of any tree will have negative impacts, even if they're not immediately obvious to us day to day.
Trees provide homes for wildlife. In fact, many species depend almost entirely on trees for shelter, safety, food and for reproduction. Our gardens have become a refuge for much of our wildlife as farmland no longer offers the resources they need. Many people seem to believe that when you take away a species’ home they will simply find somewhere new to live. But most wildlife require corridors, such as hedgerows or green space, to reach and find new areas where they can survive.
Increasingly, as we cut down more trees, woodland and other habitats, wildlife simply has nowhere else to go. This causes mass declines in their numbers.
The trees near our homes also provide oxygen, reduce air pollution, and provide shade from the sun and shelter from harsh weather. They absorb carbon emissions, stabilise soils and reduce flooding by storing water.
When we see or spend time around trees, often without us realising, they help us feel happier, less aggressive, less stressed and make us more productive. Perhaps the serenity you get from your garden won’t be quite the same without its trees.
Generally, people love trees and enjoy being surrounded by them, so good-sized trees in your garden will likely boost the financial value of your property too. When trees are felled without strong reason we all lose out on these many benefits.
Credit: Peter Dench / WTML
Alternatives to felling
If a tree is causing a serious problem, felling need not be the immediate answer. Pollarding and pruning can make a huge difference. For example, this can remove dangerous hanging branches or reduce the weight and impact of the tree in its setting. Talk to a tree advisor or consultant for advice on how to best manage a tree that might have become problematic.
Remember to always get a quality assured tree surgeon to carry out any major works to your tree to ensure the tree is not damaged or made unsightly, and to ensure the works carried out actually solve the problem! Head to the Arboricultural Association to find approved tree advisors and surgeons that could help.
Do I need permission to cut down a tree in my garden?
If the tree has a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) placed on it then you will need permission from the council to perform any works to the tree, whether that’s removing a branch or felling the tree.
A TPO is a written order created by a local planning authority such as a borough, district or unitary council or national park. The aim of a TPO is to give protection to trees that provide amenity value to the public. It is a criminal offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy a tree protected by a TPO, or to cause or permit such actions, without the authority’s permission. If the tree in your garden can be seen and therefore enjoyed by the public it could potentially have a TPO placed upon it. You can find out if the tree has a TPO by contacting the tree officer at your local council.
To request permission to perform tree works you will need to fill in an application form and submit it to the local authority. If you live in a Conservation Area, trees in your garden are still subject to the same rules as trees with TPOs, despite not necessarily having TPOs placed specifically on them. Planning permission will override TPOs if it is necessary for a tree with a TPO to be removed for the development to go ahead. It's also important to bear in mind that it is illegal to fell trees during breeding season as it could result in the destruction of nests.
If the tree does not have a TPO and is not in a Conservation Area then you do not require permission to fell a tree if it is in your garden. Outside of gardens, you might require a felling licence from the Forestry Commission. If you do plan to cut down your tree, please consider whether the above options will solve the issue before opting to fell it.
If you are in any doubt about the legalities of undertaking any works to a tree then look at getting in contact with your local council’s tree officer. Failing that, regional officers for the Forestry Commission may also be able to help advise you on the best way forward.
What to do once you have felled a tree
Due to the benefits all trees provide, any felled tree should be replaced by a ratio of at least 3 to 1 to help make up for the loss of the tree - though it’s likely the planted trees won’t be able to match the benefits the felled tree provided for many years.
If cutting down a tree with a TPO (if you’ve got permission), it will have to be replaced. If the original tree grew too big, consider planting smaller tree species in its place that won’t cause the same problems in the future.
You can buy trees to plant in your garden from our online shop. You could also put up bird boxes and feeders in your garden to help the wildlife that might now be at a loss without that tree.
How to keep your local trees
If there’s a tree that you know and love that could be at risk from being felled, ask the council to put an emergency TPO on it. This prevents the tree being cut down or tampered with whilst the council can investigate further. If you suspect that illegal felling has taken place then contact the Forestry Commission.
We offer support to communities fighting to protect their trees. If it’s a veteran or ancient tree we may be able to help, as trees of special age receive some protection under planning policy. Contact us at email@example.com.