Safety of protected trees

Safety of protected trees

The following advice is aimed intended for private landowners with protected trees on their land.  Protected trees are trees where a Tree Preservation Order has been made by the Council protecting either a single tree or a number of trees within a defined group or woodland.  Trees are also protected if they are in a conservation area .

For advice on trees on Council land or to make a works request, please see

Protected trees can be found on our interactive map.


The Principles of Tree Safety and Risk Management

The arboricultural industry approach to tree risk management is outlined by the Forestry Commission and the National Tree Safety Group publication ‘Common sense risk management of trees’ (2011). 

The National tree Safety Group position is underpinned by a set of five key principles:

  • trees provide a wide variety of benefits to society
  • trees are living organisms that naturally lose branches or fall
  • the overall risk to human safety is extremely low
  •  tree owners have a legal duty of care
  • tree owners should take a balanced and proportionate approach to tree safety management


My tree has been damaged in the storms. What can I do?

Often storm damage will affect weak points on the tree, such as structural defects or decay. Often such weak points can be identified by regular inspections and addressed before damage occurs. Sometimes structurally sound trees can fail in strong winds. Tree owners and managers are advised to seek the guidance of a reputable tree specialist who will assess the tree and recommend any remedial works, particularly after extreme weather events.

Protected trees may require the consent of the Council for any non-urgent tree works and the contractor will usually deal with these matters.

What can I do about fallen branches in my garden?

Section 14 of The Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation) (England) Regulations 2012 lists specific 'exceptions' to the application requirement (the same exceptions apply to trees in conservation areas). If fallen branches are from a protected tree, you are entitled to clear any that have fallen or are hanging from a tree. The removal of such branches is deemed to be an ‘exception’ in the Regulations. If a protected tree has fallen entirely in high winds then this may also be cleared under the same ‘exception’.

However, unless works are urgently necessary to remove an immediate risk of serious harm, you should provide the Council with five days written notice of works undertaken as an exception.

My protected tree has become dangerous

The above mentioned 'exceptions' make a provision for trees which have become dangerous and require urgent works. An application would not be required to obtain consent for the ‘cutting down, uprooting, topping or lopping of a tree, to the extent that such works are urgently necessary to remove an immediate risk of serious harm’. The risk is taken to be within the view of ‘a prudent citizen’, however there must be a present danger in order for this exception to apply. It would not be sufficient to say that a tree, by its position, might become dangerous in the future or that a sound tree might fall in the wind. The exception describes a severe situation where the risk of harm is clear and beyond doubt. In such a situation, the works can be undertaken as soon as they become necessary, and the Council notified with evidence of the trees condition subsequently.

It is important to remember that it is your responsibility to prove that any work you have carried out on a protected tree was essential and the minimum required to make it safe and you may wish to ensure that you take a photographic record of storm damage caused to protected trees before carrying out any urgent works.

My trees are swaying alarmingly in the wind and may be leaning. Are they unsafe?

Swaying is not necessarily abnormal; and some trees may even appear to sway alarmingly. However, trees have evolved to adapt their growth in response to movement to compensate for the mechanical loading caused by as wind or a leaning form in a process known as ‘self-optimisation’. A stable but flexible structure is often far more resistant to wind damage than a solid rigid structure. Often coniferous trees appear to move in high winds more than deciduous trees, but this alone does not imply the tree is going to fall.

If you have any doubt whether a tree has become unstable or has moved by high winds, you are advised to obtain specialist tree advice.

Replacement Planting

If a protected tree has been blown down in the storm or has been damaged in such a way that in the interests of safety it should be felled, then you may be required to replace it during the next planting season. If it is considered that the tree loss has resulted in a loss of amenity and the tree should be replaced, the Council will get in touch with you following your notification of works with guidance on how to proceed with replacement planting.   

The Council’s responsibility.

A trees safety is always the responsibility of the landowner. We encourage landowners to manage their trees responsibly and we advise seeking advice from an arboriculturist qualified and insured to provide tree inspection services as necessary.

To summarise what the Council can and can’t do when it comes to protected trees on private land:

  • The Council have a duty to protect trees as it appears ‘expedient in the interests of amenity’ by using delegated powers (Town and Country Planning Act 1990)
  • Council officers can provide advice on the TPO framework, the application procedure, arboricultural best practise and the general principles of tree risk management etc. Officer advice is given in good faith and without prejudice to any formal decision.
  • Whilst the Council are responsible for their decision making on applications for works to protected trees, the Council does not assume responsibility for a trees safety by making a TPO or a conservation area. Responsibility and liability for trees safety and any damage caused by trees is the landowner’s responsibility.
  • The Council are unable to undertake inspections of privately owned trees or offer specific safety advice to be relied upon
  • It is the landowners or agent’s responsibility to provide sufficient arboricultural evidence for works undertaken as an exception or as part of a tree works application.
  • The Council cannot mediate in neighbour disputes.