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What is the law surrounding Tree Preservation Orders?

View profile for Helen Porter
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Barely a day goes by without a local newspaper recording the infringement of a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). 

These are often accompanied by protestations from the accused claiming they had no idea that a TPO was in place and, more frequently, detailing the fines imposed against them (which can be as high as £20,000). Helen Porter, Partner in our Litigation and Dispute Resolution team, clarifies the position on TPOs as well as offering advice to landowners and developers.

What is a TPO and how do I know if one is in place?

It is not necessarily the case that simply because a tree or woodland is on your property, you can do as you will with it. Before undertaking any works, you should check with your local planning authority for TPOs. While you might see a particular species of tree as unimportant or a pest, legislation dictates that any type of tree can be the subject of a TPO.

There is no species of tree that is automatically protected by a TPO. Should you be found guilty of undertaking unauthorised works on a preserved tree, you can face significant financial fines and even the possibility of imprisonment.

What does a Tree Preservation Order prohibit?

A TPO is usually made by a Local Planning Authority (usually the local council) to protect specific trees or a particular woodland from deliberate damage and destruction. A tree or woodland that is the subject of a TPO is legally protected against particular works, including:

  • Felling
  • Topping
  • Lopping
  • Uprooting
  • Wilful damage
  • Wilful destruction.

Applying to Work on a Tree

Before starting work on a tree on your property, the first step is to contact your local planning authority to ascertain whether it is under the protection of a TPO.  If a tree is protected by a TPO, you will need to get permission from the Local Planning Authority to carry out maintenance works or remove such trees. This will initiate a consultation process under which objections can be submitted to the council in respect of the works proposed.

Hiring the services of a qualified tree surgeon to determine what work is required would be recommended.  They can assist you to build an understanding of how the work will be carried out, should permission be granted.

Should you be buying a property and want to see whether there are TPOs in place on any of the trees on the grounds, you can ask to undertake an official search of the Local Land Charges Register. This service can routinely be provided by our residential conveyancing department at Warner Goodman LLP.

Conservation Areas

The issue becomes slightly more complicated for work in a Conservation Area.  While a tree might be part of a Conservation Area, it isn’t necessarily protected by a TPO.  Again, the correct procedure is to contact your local planning authority.

For the authority to have enough time to consider whether the tree needs protecting, you must apply to them at least six weeks in advance of any works being undertaken. As part of your application, you must detail what works you intend to carry out and the reasons for doing so, which might include the tree presenting a risk to safety, the tree being dead or the tree preventing a development from taking place.

Advice for Developers

When it comes to trees affecting a proposed development, you must still apply for permission to cut down or work on trees, regardless of whether you have outline planning permission or, in the case of developments such as conservatories or extensions, the development does not need planning permission.

In essence, if there is a TPO in play, you will need expressed permission from the local planning authority, before you can even consider working on a tree.  Failure to seek that permission can result in hefty fines.

While trees can present problems for developers and homeowners, Tree Preservation Orders are used to ensure that our woodlands and rare tree species are protected and can be enjoyed by generations to come.  If you have questions about trees or woodland on your land, or you would like more information on Tree Preservation Orders, you can contact Helen on 023 8071 7425 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.