Felling licences and restocking notices – everything you need to know

When many people think of cutting down trees, their first thought can be to look at whether the trees are subject to Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs). TPOs are orders made by a local planning authority to protect specific trees, groups of trees or woodlands in the interests of amenity.

TPOs are however only one consideration. Others could include whether the trees are in a conservation area and (for larger holdings and woodland) woodland management plans.

Felling licences

Felling licences are another important consideration. In any calendar quarter you may fell up to 5 cubic metres of growing trees on your property without a felling licence, as long as no more than 2 cubic metres are sold.

Tree felling is a legally-controlled activity, therefore permission must be granted by The Forestry Commission (the FC) before the felling of trees. The FC set out to protect, expand and promote the sustainable management of woodland in the UK. This means that there can often be re-planting conditions attached to a Felling License.

Anyone can apply for a felling license, but the license must be registered in the name of the owner, or lessee, of the property. It is recommended that licenses are applied for three months or more before a planned felling to ensure it is granted in time. When using an agent, such as a tree surgeon, they must demonstrate they are authorised to represent the owner or lessee.

A felling license issued by the FC will allow the recipient of the licence to fell identified trees and woodland legally. Once a licence has been issued it cannot be withdrawn. And once tree felling has started a felling license cannot be amended.

It is an offence to cut down trees without a licence, unless an exemption applies. If there is no licence or other permission to fell trees in place, or if the wrong trees are felled and no felling exemption can be proved, everyone involved can be prosecuted.

Felling Licenses: the exemptions

If you are unsure whether a felling licence is required, you can contact your local FC area office.

You do not need to apply for a felling license in extreme circumstances, including:

  • Where it has been certified that the tree is an obstruction.
  • The tree is suffering from disease and is almost dead. However, special precautions may have to be complied with when felling a diseased tree. Common diseases such as Ramorum can spread for miles and threaten other vegetation, therefore applications may be delayed for up to a year in order to survey the trees and surrounding land.
  • Lopping or topping, for example, pollarding.
  • Felling trees that, when measured at a height of 1.3 metres from the ground:
    • have a diameter over bark of 8cm or less;
    • if thinning (i.e. felling carried out in order to improve the growth of the remaining trees), have a diameter over bark of 10cm or less; or
    • if underwood or existing coppice (i.e. previously managed by cutting to promote multi-stemmed growth arising at or near ground level), individual stems have a diameter over bark of 15cm or less.
  • Fruit trees, for example, orchard species like apple, pear or plum; and trees standing or growing in an orchard, garden, churchyard or public open space.
  • Trees growing in the inner London boroughs.

There are other exemptions and the burden of proving an exemption applies is placed on the party who has felled or wishes to fell the trees in question.

How to apply for a felling license

Applications for a license can be completed online, or a paper copy can be requested, from The Forestry Commission website. The application must describe the felling planned and provide a map of the trees to be felled. The map must highlight the trees and woodland on the property and to what extent they will be felled.

Unless a felling licence application is for thinning only, the application will be published on the public register for new planting and felling for four weeks to give the public the opportunity to comment on the proposals.

Re-stocking conditions

If felling will result in an opening in a woodland area, the felling license may be granted with a re-stocking condition. The conditions seek to ensure that the felled area will be filled with replacement trees that are maintained for at least 10 years. If the land is sold, the seller must inform the FC and the purchaser because they must continue to comply with the restocking conditions including planting and maintaining the trees for the assigned period.

In order to appeal a restocking condition, the applicant must raise concerns within 14 days of the decision, in order to then agree an alternative remedy with the FC before a license will be granted.

Appealing a decision

You must submit your appeal within three months of the date of the felling licence being received by you.

To discuss any issues with the license or any re-stocking conditions, the first point of contact is the local woodland officer. If the issues cannot be resolved, the application can be appealed to the appropriate Forestry Minister who will seek advice from an independent source to consider the case before deciding whether the conditions will remain or be amended.

The Forestry Commission may refuse an application to fell growing trees where we believe that the application fails to meet the interests of good forestry practice. Applicants who wish to appeal a refusal of the grant of a Felling License to the Forestry Minister, however where a felling license has been refused before, applicants must wait three years between refusals before appealing.

Felling without a license or failure to comply

A fine of up to £2,500 or twice the value of the trees, whichever is higher, can be served if trees are felled without a felling license or valid permission. In England and Wales, a re-stocking notice might also be served requiring the re-planting of trees on the land concerned, or any other land belonging to the party who felled the trees. Re-stocking notices can be appealed where the person who is served, objects to the notice. The appeal goes to the Minister and committee. Notices can be withdrawn or given effect on appeal.

Non-compliance with the conditions of a felling licence or re-stocking notice can result in an Enforcement Notice demanding action to be taken to meet certain conditions. Non-compliance with an Enforcement Notice can result in a fine of up to £5,000 or other penalty.

How Moore Barlow can help

We have recently been assisting clients with the appeal process for re-stocking notices and compliance with conditions of felling licences and re-stocking notices, so please do get in touch with our Property disputes team if assistance is needed.