These days, it can sometimes seem like trees have more rights than people. If you want to remove one, or even prune it and you live in a conservation area or the tree has a TPO (Tree Preservation Order) on it, you will have to ask for permission to carry out the work.

So what are TPOs and are they something you need to know about?

TPOs were first introduced in 1947 and are designed to protect trees that, in some way, provide a local amenity. They don’t have to be hugely special. For example, a tree could be given a TPO because they are a local landmark, are of a certain age or size, or simply because their removal would have a negative impact on the public’s enjoyment of the local environment. To give you an idea of how common they are, there are over 600 TPOs in just one London borough (Merton). And that’s excluding the thousands of trees in the vicinity that are protected by virtue of being in a conservation area.

The numbers are not surprising. It’s not difficult to get a TPO. You simply put in a request to your local authority and if they think you have a case, within twenty-four hours they will grant a temporary TPO. After that, they will consult with interested parties over whether the listing should become permanent. For this reason, when building work is about to take place, trees are often cut down by the owners/developers before any planning application is made. A last minute TPO instigated by an agitated neighbour could bring the entire project to a halt.

Once a TPO is in place, it is a criminal offence to do anything that may harm the tree, including lopping and felling it without express permission from the Local Authority, which may not always be forthcoming.

As Arborist Rick Meldon of R.Meldon Tree Services ( explains,

“The purpose of a TPO is to protect a tree, so that is Local Authority’s default position when dealing with any applications.”

However, you are likely to be given permission to prune a TPO tree by up to 20% and, under certain circumstances, you may be able to fell the tree. For example, if the tree is dead, dying or dangerous. The same applies if it is causing significant damage to buildings, ie to roof tiles, walls or if it is causing subsidence. There are also degrees of protection – for example an ancient oak on public land is likely to receive a far higher degree of protection than a relatively ordinary but large tree in someone’s back garden.

“And,” says Rick, “Local Authorities aren’t ogres, they will regularly offer you alternative suggestions if you cannot do exactly what you have requested.”

One oddity of the TPO rules is that if a TPO tree is in the way of an extension, there’s very little possibility of removing it. On the other hand, if you demolished the entire building and started again, you would have a far better chance, as new developments are looked upon more favourably. One thing that is very clear is that, when it comes to TPOs, you have no right to light. If the tree is completely overshadowing your house, it’s bad luck.

For those of you who decide to ignore all the official processes and just go ahead and cut down a TPO tree, there’s a good chance you’ll be reported and most commonly by a neighbour. It could lead to a fine of up to £20,000 or more. If the court deems that, as a result of removing the tree or trees, that you have benefitted by an uplift in value to your property, you could be fined by an equivalent amount.

Lichfield District Council is one of the few who publish their fines, which range from £16,000 for felling a TPO oak tree and damaging the roots of other TPO trees during construction works, to an £1,800 fine for the sub-standard pruning of a TPO tree and failing to serve a Notice of Intent to undertake the works.

If you want to do anything with a TPO tree, it’s best to first consult a professional like Rick Meldon. Applications take up to 8 weeks and if you are not successful, you can appeal to the Home Secretary. And if you are not sure whether a tree has a TPO on it, check it out with your local council.

Conservation area trees are far less controversial. You need to ask for permission before pruning or cutting down any tree whose stem diameter is at least 75mm, measured at 1.5m above the ground. The Council then has 6 weeks to either place a TPO on it, or if the tree is of no particular significance, allow you to get on with the work. The penalties for unauthorised work can be quite high – a few years back, a Norwich resident was handed a fine of £2,000 per tree for felling 11 trees without permission.


If you want to check if a tree has TPO, just use this link –