RE: Storm Ciara branch fall, Watford Observer, February 14.

READ MORE: Man fears tree could have wrecked house in Storm Ciara

With reference to the above news feature might I contribute a few observations on statutory tree protection, as it is important that people realise the laws and regulations are enacted with their interests in mind as well as tree protection.

Tree protection was first formally introduced to England in 1947 with the advent of the first Town & Country Planning Act and is contemporarily detailed in the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 (Primary Legislation). Regulations used to implement the procedures in the Act are contained within the Town & Country Planning (Tree Preservation) (England) Regulations 2012 (Secondary Legislation).

The regulations are not draconian, whilst they do serve to protect trees from unauthorised works including felling they also hold provisions to allow emergency works particularly during, or after extreme weather events. Hence, works can be carried out to trees that have been damaged during such events provided that certain prescribed procedures are followed. In accordance with these, necessary works can be undertaken to remediate a dangerous situation but the onus is very firmly on the tree owner/manager and/or the chosen contractor to justify their actions. Therefore, remedial works could have been undertaken to the failed tree that is the subject of your article without recourse to the controlling authority provided that there was sufficient justification. Following such actions it is incumbent upon the parties involved to fully inform the authority of the reasons for their actions.

I would caution that this course of action is only permitted ‘where the works are urgently necessary to remove an immediate risk of serious harm’, and the justification must be supplied to the authority within five working days after the works have been carried out. Executing unauthorised works to protected trees is a criminal offence and carries the threat of a criminal record upon summary conviction.

I would advise any tree owner or manager, or indeed contractor, to obtain the advice of a properly qualified arboriculturist before taking such a course of action, because the law prescribes that both the tree owner/manager and the contractor carrying out the works are equally culpable for any legal transgression.

The same caveat applies to any breaches of Tree Preservation Order protection or works to trees located within a designated Conservation Area. Forestry commission Felling Licence legislation must also be considered if significant quantities of timber are proposed to be felled. Ignorance of the law is unfortunately no defence and unlimited fines can be imposed should any case progress to Crown Court!

Shane A Lanigan

Chartered Arboriculturist