Question: I have a large sycamore tree in my garden and I have been informed that it is protected by a preservation order. One of the branches has been damaged and is hanging off. Can I cut it off, or do I need to go to the local council for permission?
© Merrily Harpur
Answer: The issuing of a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) makes it an offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or destroy any protected tree without prior permission from the local authority.
However, works to a protected tree which is dead, dying or dangerous are exempt from the usual need for such permission. Even so, unless the matter is urgent, e.g. a branch is about to fall through the roof of the house, you should still give the council a week's notice before you take any action. This ensures that the council knows what you are doing, thereby avoiding potential prosecution if the council thinks the works are not actually necessary.
If you cut down, uproot or damage a protected tree or carry out works such as lopping or topping which could be likely to seriously damage or destroy the tree, then there are fines on summary conviction of up to £20,000, or unlimited fines on indictment. Other offences concerning protected trees could incur fines of up to £2,500. If you are unsure whether a tree is subject to a TPO then you should check the Local Land Charges Register, which can be inspected at your council offices.
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Katharine is a solicitor and director at Pitmans Solicitors (www.pitmans.com).