To avoid breaking the law, landowners need to be aware of key statutory requirements when considering any works to trees- and take appropriate action. This section tells you about felling licences, wildlife law, Tree Preservation Orders and other statutory requirements such as obtaining consent to work on a public highway.
Movement of felled ash
There is no restriction on the movement of felled ash. The Forestry Commission’s Research pages has more information. You are not legally required to take any particular action if you own infected ash trees, unless you are served with a Statutory Plant Health Notice. This is unlikely.
- Prior to any tree surgery or forestry works commencing on live trees or tree parts there are a series of checks that should be undertaken either by the land owner or their appointed contractor.
- Is the volume of timber to be felled sufficient to require a felling licence?
- Are the trees protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or arise within a Conservation Area?
- Is there a need to work on the Public Highway?
- Could the tree work or felling affect protected wildlife species and habitats?
- Is the tree within or near an environmentally sensitive site such as a designated SSSI or heritage asset?
Do you need a felling licence?
A felling licence is required by law if you plan to fell more than 5m³ of timber in one calendar quarter. If you are selling the wood – for logs, for example – then you can only fell 2m³ in a calendar quarter. This applies to trees in hedges as well as woodlands. Everyone involved in the felling of trees, the owner, agent and timber merchant or contractor must ensure that a licence has been issued before any felling is carried out, unless they are certain that one of the exemptions apply, such as felling a dangerous tree where there is an imminent risk of serious harm and urgent work is needed to remove the risk. If there’s no license or other valid permission, or if the wrong trees are felled, anyone involved can be prosecuted. See Forestry Commission Guidance for more information about felling licenses.
A tree may be protected by a Tree Preservation Order or may benefit from protection if located in a Conservation Area.
For more information and how to apply for consent, visit Apply to work on a tree that’s protected – GOV.UK
Working on a highway
It is a legal offence to wilfully obstruct a public highway. Seek advice from the Local Highways Authority webpages:
Seek advice from your Local Highways Authority.
Wildlife and the law
- Don’t fell if you don’t have to.
- Check trees for active bird nests or bat breeding or roosting sites, or other special species, well before undertaking any works.
- Ensure works comply with protected species requirements.
- Where safe to do so, keep deadwood both standing and fallen.
- Remove any causes of stress e.g. root damage, compaction, cultivation or over-shading.
All bats and birds are protected by law. Diseased ash trees may support these protected species. Ancient trees, or those with hollows, holes or splits, may contain bat roosts, or bird nests. Destroying active birds’ nests is likely to be an offence (and some birds are additionally protected from disturbance when nesting, e.g. barn owls). Disturbing and destroying bat roosting places (breeding and wintering) is an offence, often even when the bats are not present at the time of the works. Advice on which species are protected and in what ways can be found here, on birds and their nests here, and on bats and their roosts here.
For birds, work on trees should be timed as far as possible for outside the bird breeding season. This will vary according to the individual species and weather conditions but generally encompasses the months March to August inclusive. However, some species, for example rooks, will be nesting in February, and if barn owls are nesting in trees (uncommon in Devon), they could still have active nests into autumn. While emergency works necessary for public safety reasons will take priority, anyone carrying out such works that result in the destruction of any active nests needs to be able to demonstrate that their actions were legal (see Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), Part I, 4 (2) (c)).
For bats, if emergency situations arise where urgent tree works are necessary due to confirmed and overriding public health and safety risks, and the potential for bats is high or actively present, Natural England should first be contacted for further advice. The Bat Conservation Trust and Natural England provide advice and information on bat protection and licences.
Ash trees may also provide habitat for species that are recognised priorities for conservation action (listed under Section 41 of the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act). See Key Facts for details.
Management of trees supporting protected or special species
It is important that trees proposed for felling or tree surgery are assessed to check if they harbour, or are likely to support wildlife protected by law. If they do, then specialist advice should be sought.
In general ash trees should be retained where possible and for as long as possible. However where trees are growing in places where they pose a high risk to the public, to livestock, to properties or to cables, such as alongside roads or beside buildings, they should be surveyed for special wildlife well in advance of felling, while they are still safe enough to inspect and there is sufficient time to take action to minimise harmful effects on wildlife.
Decaying ash wood is of great value to many species of insects, in particular within rot holes and in standing trees, but also that lying on the ground. So please keep don’t fell dead or dying trees unless they pose a significant safety risk, and don’t burn or otherwise dispose of rotting wood on the ground. If it’s in the way, move it to a shady humid place where it can finish decomposing naturally.
For further information please see the Forum’s Advice note: A guide to protecting species and habitats when dealing with Ash Dieback
Other environmental sensitivities
If the tree is within a Site of Special Scientific Interest, see advice by Natural England.
If the tree is within a designated heritage asset such as a Scheduled Monument, Registered historic park and garden, or in the curtilage of a Listed Building, see advice by Historic England.