Trees – what's the problem?
Trees play a vital role in safeguarding the climate and wildlife. Besides their value to the natural world, there are countless other ways in which trees improve the wellbeing of people and planet.
Restoring forests and growing more trees clearly has to be a priority. Countries in the EU average around 40% tree cover, but the UK has much less – just 12.8% in England, close to 20% in Wales and Scotland, and only 10% in Northern Ireland. 43% of English neighbourhoods have less than 10% tree cover, and lower income areas tend to be much more deprived of trees than wealthier areas. Finding the land to double tree cover is an urgent challenge, and so is choosing the right species.
But we also need to protect any existing trees that we have.
Trees, especially in towns and cities, are under constant threat from the pressures of development. The good news is there are several things you can do to protect and save the trees in your area that matter to you.
I want to protect local trees. What can I do?
Think about your local area and the tree or group of trees that matter to your neighbourhood. If you’re based in England, you can also use our trees map to see tree cover in your area, including lone trees and street trees. It's better to secure protection while trees are healthy and under no threat of removal, and you can do this with a Tree Preservation Order.
What's a Tree Preservation Order?
A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) is a legal tool to prevent harm being done to trees. It makes it a criminal offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy protected trees without prior written consent from your local authority. It also creates a duty to replant a tree removed without consent.
While the aim of a TPO is to protect the amenity value which a tree offers, there are clear environmental benefits too, so it's a useful tool for protecting your local environment.
Can it protect my local trees?
TPOs protect all types of tree – including specific trees, groups of trees, areas or woodlands. This includes privately-owned trees if they provide public amenity benefits.
TPOs can be suitable for general preservation of trees, but also in emergency cases, such as when new developments pose a threat.
What other protections are available?
Hedgerows are protected by specific measures under the Hedgerows Regulation 1997.
Large areas beyond the remit of a TPO may be suitable for protection under Conservation Area status.
Find out more about the different types of protection in our briefing, "Protecting trees, woodlands and hedgerows: a practical guide".
Who can request a TPO?
You or anyone else can. If granted, it can have an immediate provisional effect.
Why are TPOs important?
When making a TPO application it's important to stress to the council both a tree's visual amenity value and any documented records of wildlife it supports. And remember, you don’t have to own the land where the tree is situated.
Once in place, a TPO allows a council to prosecute people who ignore these protection orders and fines can be quite significant.
TPOs can also influence planning decisions. Any proposed development would have to consider trees with TPOs as part of the project works, which ensures the public are fully aware of any threats to trees as part of the consultation process.
TPOs are recorded on local authority registers, and this helps build a vital picture of the various species of trees across the country.
How can I find out which local trees are already protected by TPOs?
If you're still unsure whether a TPO already exists, ask someone in your local council, such as a Tree Officer or someone in the planning department. They can also advise whether issuing a TPO is appropriate.
If your council website doesn't publish TPO details, please encourage them to make this information public. Contact your Tree Officer or planning department, or consider submitting an Environmental Information Request.
When a new planning proposal arises, your local authority should consider creating a TPO to secure protection for any important trees. But as there's no guarantee that your local authority will do so, you could also request a TPO yourself.
How to request a TPO
Most local authorities will ask you to complete a written request or online form. Requests must include a map showing the location of the tree or trees that you wish to be protected, the tree species, and the reason for your request.
If you need help with identifying the species, see the Woodland Trust’s Tree ID app.
It's important to highlight both the visual amenity and documented records of wildlife your tree supports. If any tree is or has been home to a bat colony, you may find if useful to read this Bat Conservation Trust briefing. If trees are facing an immediate threat, you may want to stress that the proposed timescale of works will interfere with hibernation and food sources at a time of greatest need.
Find out more about submitting a request, what happens next, and some useful tips in "Protecting trees, woodlands and hedgerows: a practical guide".
Here's a step-by-step guide:
Enter your postcode or click "...use my location" below it.
Click the "Report a problem here" button or click on the map to get started.
Drag the pin to the exact location of the tree you’d like to protect. If you're applying to protect more than one tree, drag the pin to the middle of these trees and at step 8 explain in detail which trees you're applying to protect.
On the left, select "Trees" from the Category dropdown menu. For some local authorities you may need to select a different category, such as "Highways", to find the "Trees" category, or use the "Other" category instead. If all else fails use www.writetothem.com to provide your councillors with the information outlined below so that they can pass it on.
In the "Summarise the problem" box type "Tree Preservation Order application".
Add a photo of the tree you’d like to protect if you want (this isn’t necessary but may be helpful).
In the "Explain what’s wrong" box, type the species of the tree and provide the reasons why you’re seeking protection. See our briefing, "Protecting trees, woodlands and hedgerows: a practical guide", for advice.
Click "Continue", add your details and click "Submit" to complete your application.
Let us know how you get on! Please email email@example.com to tell us if your application was successful or if there's anything more we can do to support you to use TPOs.
Local campaigns for trees
To raise awareness about local trees under threat, it's a good idea to work as a group to maximise your campaigning effort. You can get together with neighbours, or see if there's a Friends of the Earth local action group nearby who can support you. Invite ward councillors and your MP along to an urgent meeting. Promote your campaign in the local press. You might find some of our campaigning resources useful.
Harwich Peninsula Friends of the Earth highlighted the loss of over 100 trees caused by a developer’s error - they successfully forced the developer to pay over £50,000 in compensation. This money funded a campaign to protect trees along a wildlife corridor. Their efforts even won recognition, with a Friends of the Earth environmental award. Most of the trees in the area are now protected by TPOs, securing their future.
A concerned Hampshire resident, Jean Wigmore, contacted Friends of the Earth about the threatened permanent loss of 280 trees at a railway cutting. After following our advice, 150 trees were saved, with the remainder just coppiced. Thirty bird boxes were installed and a commitment to maintain all the trees resulted in a great success story. It also prompted a major policy change by Network Rail regarding protection of trees, and a 4-year £1 million tree planting pledge.
More ways to protect your local trees
The Tree Council runs the Tree Warden scheme for volunteers who want to play an active role in conserving and enhancing the trees and woods in local communities. You don't need to be an expert, you just need plenty of enthusiasm.