Protected trees

Trees can be protected in three ways; a tree may be subject to a tree preservation order (TPO), situated in a conservation area, or subject to conditions placed on planning permissions. These are explained further below.

Trees in a conservation area

Trees in conservation areas that are more than 7.5cm in stem diameter (measured at 1.5metres above ground) are protected under the provisions in section 211 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

If you are planning any works to a tree in a conservation area (TCA) you need to give the council six weeks' notice. You need to let us know in writing. We need to know what species of tree it is, where it is and what type of work is to be done. There is no charge to apply. Anyone can give notice of intent to carry out work to a protected tree. If the applicant is not the tree owner, and no objections are raised to the works being undertaken, it will be for the applicant to gain any necessary permission from the tree owner prior to carrying out the work. The local planning authority (LPA) cannot refuse consent for TCA notifications but may make a TPO to prevent the intended works. The decision cannot be appealed but any objections to the new TPO can be submitted to the LPA within 28 days of the TPO being served. An application for consent for works under a new TPO can be made at any time.

You can check if trees are located within a conservation area, using Find my nearest

Tree preservation orders (TPO)

Some trees are protected by a tree preservation order (TPO). TPOs are made by the local planning authority (LPA) to protect specific trees, groups of trees or woodlands, in the interests of public amenity. A TPO prohibits the cutting down, topping, lopping, uprooting, wilful damage or wilful destruction of trees without the LPA's written consent.  If you are planning any works to a tree with a TPO you need permission from the council. Carrying out work without permission when you need it, is against the law and could lead to prosecution. There is no charge to apply.

Anyone can apply for consent to carry out work to a protected tree. If the applicant is not the tree owner, and the LPA grants consent, it will be for the applicant to gain any necessary permission from the tree owner prior to carrying out the work. TPO applications that are refused or have conditions imposed that you do not agree with can be appealed within 28 days of the decision notice. Appeals are dealt with independently by the Planning Inspectorate.

You can check if trees are protected by a TPO by visiting Find my nearest

To apply to carry out work on a tree with a TPO:

You can request a tree to be protected by a tree preservation order by contacting our planning team on planning.technical@westsuffolk.gov.uk giving details of the trees (including species, number of trees and location), and the reasons why you think the tree(s) should be protected. Our arboricultural officer will inspect the tree(s) and undertake an assessment to see if it qualifies for protection under a TPO.

Typical factors included in an amenity assessment:

  • public visibility
  • size and form
  • future potential as an amenity
  • rarity, cultural or historic value
  • contribution to, and relationship with, the landscape
  • and contribution to the character or appearance of a conservation area.

It should be demonstrated that there is a risk of the tree(s) being felled, pruned or damaged which would have a significant negative impact on the local environment and public amenity. However, an immediate threat is not a strict requirement for a new s to be made and can be done so as a precautionary measure.

Once served, a new TPO comes into effect immediately and will continue for six months or until confirmed. The LPA will notify the owner and other interested parties, allowing 28 days for written representations objecting to or expressing support for the TPO. Any objections should give clear reasons and state the relevant tree(s). The LPA will make a decision whether or not to confirm the Order within six months, any duly made representations will be taken into consideration in the process.

Copies of existing TPOs can be provided on payment of £12 (per copy, inclusive of VAT); requests should be sent to land.charges@westsuffolk.gov.uk. Once a request has been received details of how to make a BACs payment will be provided.

Planning conditions

When granting planning permission for development, the LPA has a duty to ensure, whenever appropriate, that planning conditions are used to provide for tree preservation and planting. Planning permission may require existing or newly planted trees to be retained as a condition, even if they are not protected by a TPO or in a conservation area.

You can check to see if a tree is protected by condition by looking at the property’s planning history through our online planning application (Public Access) system.

Pre-application advice for works to or the felling of protected trees

We are unable to offer a formal pre-application service for TPO applications and TCA notifications due to the high volume of applications that we process. If you require professional advice prior to submitting an application, we suggest discussing the matter with a qualified arborist or arboriculturalist who will be able to provide guidance on current industry best practice.

Compensation claims

All landowners are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure that foreseeable injury or damage is not caused by trees in their care whether or not they are covered by a TPO, are in a conservation area or are covered by a planning condition. Landowners are best advised to have their trees routinely inspected by a competent person.

In certain circumstances, compensation may be payable by the LPA for loss or damage which results from the authority refusing consent for a TPO application or granting consent with conditions. If injury or damage is caused in the 12 months following the decision, there are limited compensation provisions. You are advised to take your own independent legal advice in such cases. 

Dead and dangerous protected trees

The formal TPO application and TCA notification process is not required for trees that are dead or dangerous. Written notice must be given to the authority five working days prior to cutting down or carrying out work on a dead or dangerous tree subject to a TPO or situated in a conservation area. The written ‘five day notice’ should be sent to planning.technical@westsuffolk.gov.uk and must include a location plan identifying the tree(s) and details relating to the reasons for the proposed works. Photographs of the tree(s) are also helpful.

Our arboricultural officer will normally make a site visit to check that the tree is dead or dangerous and confirm if the works may proceed. A ‘dangerous’ tree must pose an immediate risk of causing injury or harm to meet the criteria for works under a five day notice. There is a legal duty to plant a replacement tree under these circumstances.

If the work is urgently necessary because there is an immediate risk of serious harm, a five day notice is not required prior to the works being undertaken. However, the onus of proof of the required works or felling rests with the tree owner and the absence of prior notification may lead to enforcement action and prosecution.

Reporting unauthorised works to protected trees

Please report unauthorised works to protected trees using our enforcement portal, or email our enforcement team at planning.enforcement@westsuffolk.gov.uk. We will check to see if there is a consent in place or if the correct notice has been given to the unauthorised. If the activities appear to be unauthorised but need consent, we will investigate the matter further and notify you of the outcome.

Penalties for damaging protected trees or carrying out unauthorised works

It is a criminal offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage, or destroy a protected tree without gaining consent or giving the necessary notice. Cutting roots is also a prohibited activity and requires the LPA’s consent. Anyone carrying out, causing or permitting such activities is guilty of an offence and could be fined up to £20,000 for each offence in a magistrate’s court. A person may be committed for trial in the crown court in serious cases and, if convicted, are liable to an unlimited fine. In determining the fine amount, the court will take account of any financial benefit arising from the offence.

Protected trees and new development

A TPO does not prevent planning permission being granted but can prevent precipitous tree removal during the application process. The risk or harm to trees is a material planning consideration and is given due consideration when making decisions on planning applications. If detailed planning permission is granted, any felling strictly required to implement that permission may be carried out without a TPO application or TCA notification. However, further consent/notification is required if the approved permission does not explicitly state that a protected tree will need to be removed, or if the permission granted is an outline planning permission.

Trees on highways

Overgrown trees on the highways are managed by Suffolk County Council. You can use their highway maintenance form to report any problems. Trees on major trunk roads are managed by the Highways England, contact them on 0300 1235000 to report problems.

Trees on council land

You can find out more about what we can and cannot help with from our frequently asked questions guide on our tree and grounds maintenance page.

If you are concerned about any trees on West Suffolk Council owned land and if it is something we can help with, let us know. You can complete our grounds maintenance enquiry form to do this or contact our Parks and Open Spaces team on 01284 757088. This form can be used for trees across West Suffolk.