‘Silver linings’ feels a strange term to use in these times. Nevertheless, there is one that really sticks out – the nation is well and truly embracing the natural world.

With the current lockdown restrictions, more and more people are choosing to visit their local green spaces, whether that’s a wood, country park or a ramble around the fields. It’s wonderful to see the public so warmly appreciating these places.

Unfortunately, it appears that the lockdown is possibly being used to hide nefarious deeds. Of late we and the Forestry Commission have seen an increase in reports of illegal felling of trees and woods. Perhaps it’s simply a case that more people are out and about in green spaces and noticing felling works more, or perhaps some people genuinely are taking advantage of the lockdown and reduced scrutiny. In any case we want to get to the bottom of it while providing you with some advice on what to do if you think you’ve come across a tree or woodland area that you believe may have been unlawfully felled. Read on to find out more.

Tree Preservation Orders

Often simply referred to as a TPO, this protection is given to a specific tree, group of trees or whole woodland by local planning authorities as a means of preventing deliberate damage or destruction.

This might include felling, lopping, uprooting or other forms of wilful damage. Anyone hoping to fell a tree or wood protected by a TPO will first need to seek permission from their local planning authority (LPA) or face the threat of prosecution and costly fines.

If you come across a felled tree or wood, then you should contact the tree officer at your local LPA and enquire whether a TPO was present. If not, then the tree officer should be able to take appropriate action.

Felling Licences

When a landowner is looking to cut down trees, it may be the case that they require a felling licence from the right forestry authority to do so.

There are some exemptions to when a felling licence is needed and other matters to consider, all of which can be found via a useful guide on the gov.uk website.

If you suspect that someone has illegally felled an area of woodland without the appropriate permissions then you should report the incident to the Forestry Commission in England, Scottish Forestry and Natural Resources Wales, who can prosecute parties involved and issue restocking notices where trees have been wrongly felled. The above links direct you to all the info you need on this!

Wildlife crime

If you come across felled trees or woods you might be rightfully concerned about potential impacts on wildlife, particularly nesting birds.

Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, it's an offence to:

  • intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird
  • take or destroy their eggs or nest
  • damage a nest, while that nest is in use or being built.

The responsibility of investigating wildlife crime falls to the Police, with all forces across the UK having a Wildlife Crime Unit. The RSPB has information on how to report wildlife crimes.

Planning enforcement

Local planning authorities will typically have a planning enforcement team, whose responsibility it is to investigate breaches of planning law.

If you suspect a landowner has felled trees and erected a development without permission, or undertaken work outside of given permissions, then contact your LPA and report the incident to them. They may be able to issue a temporary stop notice and take further action against the guilty party.

High Speed 2 felling woods

All of the above leads us on to one of the hottest topics in the movement to protect woodland from destruction: HS2.

Works are currently underway along the Phase 1 section of HS2, the bit between London and Birmingham. This spring has seen the very first ancient woods being chopped down in Warwickshire. It is devastating to see these works happening at all, never mind them happening at the most inappropriate time of year possible.

While we are limited in what we can do on the ground at the moment, please be reassured that we're working tirelessly behind the scenes to push the Government to monitor the works of HS2’s contractors and investigate any breaches and wildlife crimes. 

How you can help

The illegal felling of woods and trees is completely wrong, particularly at this time of year when it’s likely to have devastating impacts on wildlife.

In normal circumstances, it’s very difficult for us to do much on a case-by-case basis, so it’s even more difficult for us in these current circumstances.

This is where you, our supporters, can help us. We need your help to determine whether we’re looking at a larger issue that has come about as a result of the current lockdown and limits on government bodies to monitor and investigate illegal felling and wildlife crimes.

We’re compiling an evidence base of felling cases so we can raise this at a higher level and make sure the Government takes appropriate action. So if you’ve seen any potential illegal felling then get in contact with us at campaigning@woodlandtrust.org.uk with the following information:

  • where the felling has taken place
  • details about what has been felled
  • when the felling happened
  • photos of the felling (ideally before and after).

Together we will continue to fight for the protection of ancient woods, whether the threat is from development or illegal felling!

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Together we can stand up for the environment and safeguard the UK's woodland heritage for our future. 

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