Trees can be protected in different ways depending on age, size, location and risk of development. Whether you’re interested in an unusual tree, concerned about one where you live, or checking restrictions before starting building work, our simple guide covers the essentials. Discover the different methods of protection, how to check what’s already in place and what you can do to protect trees that are important to you.

Types of tree protection

Tree Preservation Orders (TPO)

These orders are made and managed by local authorities. They protect individual trees, groups of trees or woods that are of particular value to local communities.

TPOs prohibit felling and damage to trees without the written consent of the local planning authority. They are no longer valid if removing the tree is part of an approved planning application.

Conservation Areas

Conservation Areas protect places of historic and architectural value. These are also designated by local planning authorities. Removing trees in a Conservation Area requires permission from the relevant authority, subject to certain exclusions.

Quick fact

The Ancient Tree Inventory holds records for more than 180,000 trees.

Planning policies

Trees and woods are recognised in planning policies throughout the UK for their benefits to people and nature. Planning applications should include details of any trees affected by the proposed development. All trees should be evaluated by an arboricultural consultant according to the current British Standard BS5837 (2012). This aims to reduce the impact of development on trees.

Even if a planning application doesn’t indicate tree removal, any trees being kept should adhere to the British Standard. This includes adequate above-ground spacing and root protection.

Veteran and ancient trees and woods

Ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees need special considerations. In 2018, the Trust successfully lobbied the Government to change English policy so that development affecting these habitats can only go ahead in wholly exceptional circumstances.

In England and Wales, planning policy instructs developers to consult the Ancient Tree Inventory.  This prompts them to reduce the impact of development on any ancient or veteran trees.

Proposals involving ancient trees and woods will often need to go beyond the current British Standard to avoid harm, particularly around root protection area.

Explore our resources for planners.

Felling licence requirements

Tree felling is a legally controlled activity and a licence is usually needed if the tree, or a group of trees, is over 5 cubic metres. Check the Forestry Commission website for exemptions.

Explore more

How can I find out if a tree is protected?

Local authority maps

Some local authorities have maps you can check to see if a tree or wood has a TPO or is in a Conservation Area. If no map or list is available, or if there is any doubt, speak to your local authority’s tree officer or equivalent.

Government maps

Other sources include sites designated on a national or even international basis. These designations may not specifically protect individual trees, but the trees may benefit from the measures that protect the whole site.

Each devolved government has its own maps and lists, such as Magic Maps, produced by DEFRA for England.

National designations include:

  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), protected under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Internationally designated sites include Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA), which are protected under the Habitat and Birds Directives. While not specifically protected under the EU Directives, Ramsar sites have equal protection in UK law.

Inventories for ancient woods and ancient trees

Ancient woods and ancient and veteran trees have a degree of protection through planning policy. That means it’s worth checking the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI) and Ancient Tree Inventory (ATI).

The AWI is a map of all the areas of ancient woodland currently designated by the statutory nature conservation bodies. Each nation has its own inventory:

  • England: maintained by Natural England - we’re working together to update the current inventory
  • Scotland: maintained by Scottish Natural Heritage
  • Wales: maintained by Natural Resources Wales
  • Northern Ireland: compiled by the Woodland Trust.

The ATI is a map of the oldest and most important ancient and veteran trees in the UK. It doesn’t include every tree – it’s a living database and we rely on volunteers and members of the public adding to it. Identifying where these special trees are takes us a step closer to giving them the care and protection they need. We can only campaign for the trees we know about.

What can I do to protect a tree?

Apply for a Tree Preservation Order

If you are interested in placing a TPO on a tree or wood in your area, contact the council and ask to speak to the tree officer or equivalent. They’ll let you know the next steps. If your application is successful, the TPO can be confirmed, modified or terminated at any time during the first six months. If no objections are received after six months, the TPO becomes permanent.

A TPO doesn’t mean everlasting protection. It can be removed if a tree is dead, dying or dangerous, or if an approved planning application requires removal of the tree.

Campaign in your community

Local communities taking action is the most effective way to protect woods and trees. You can make a difference to woods and trees near you. If you’ve a case in mind already, make a start with our resources to help you defend the local woods and trees you love. They include tips on:

  • objecting to a planning application
  • arranging a community meeting
  • setting up a local group
  • reporting a threat to ancient woods or trees.

Add it to the Ancient Tree Inventory

The ATI holds records of the UK’s ancient, veteran and notable trees. We know thousands more are out there and we need your help to find out where they are.

Become a recorder for the Ancient Tree Inventory

We can only protect the ancient and veteran trees we know about.

Get involved today

Learn more about ancient trees