Everything you need to know about trees

If you have trees in your garden, you’ll be familiar with the way they change throughout the seasons - their buds and leaves bursting into life each spring, before turning into every shade of red, orange and brown in autumn, and then retreating into winter hibernation.

When is the right time to inspect my trees?

If any of your trees are overgrown, unruly, or looking unhealthy, then you’ve probably wondered when the best time to address the problem is - and the answer, ultimately, is: “It depends”. Different species of tree need attention at different times - some are susceptible to damage and diseases if pruned at the wrong time, while others are hardy all year round.

However, when it comes to looking after your home and property, autumn is the perfect time of year to take a good look at your trees. With leaves falling you get a clear picture of how the branches are growing and if any are overhanging your roof or close to your walls. You can also look through your garden to see if tree roots are causing subsidence in your home. You should also inspect the tree for signs of sickness - sometimes when they are damaged and diseased, they pose a risk of falling, especially in the strong storms autumn can throw up. It’s always worth speaking to an experienced tree surgeon who can advise you on any action that needs to be taken - whether it is pruning or pollarding branches, or removing the whole tree.

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Is it legal to cut down my trees?

Before you carry out any work on a tree, you will need to check whether or not the tree in question is subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). These orders are made by local authorities, and prohibit work being carried without their consent - in fact, it is a criminal offence to cut down, uproot, prune or otherwise damage a tree covered by a TPO without the council’s permission. TPOs are typically applied to trees determined to provide "amenity value" to a local area. You can check with your local authority if any of your trees are subject to a TPO - if they are, you will have to submit an application for any work which will need to be approved before you can carry it out. Breaching a TPO can land you with a fine of up to £20,000 if convicted in a Magistrates Court - or even more, if found guilty in a Crown Court.

If you live within a Conservation Area, trees are similarly protected, even if not covered by specific TPOs. If the tree is smaller than 75mm in diameter where it 1.5m above the ground (generally only small saplings), then you will not need permission to work on the tree or remove it. If it is larger than that, you will have to give notice of any work to your local authority, which can then make a decision whether to apply a TPO or not.

It can also be illegal to do work to trees if you know that birds are nesting there - common between March and August. Checks will need to be carried out for nesting birds before any work can begin. The maximum penalty for disturbing a nest is a £5,000 fine and up to six months in prison is found guilty in Magistrates Court, and up to two years in prison in Crown Court.

The other instances where you are restricted from doing work on your trees is if part of your land is in a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, or if there is any restrictive covenant on your property which covers your trees - you will have to check your property deeds to see if this is the case.

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How do I find a good tree surgeon?

If you think you need work done, you should speak to a tree surgeon first. Get multiple quotes and ask lots of questions, to ensure they understand what needs doing and you are comfortable with their approach and qualifications. We have a full guide for hiring the right tree surgeon for your project, and a guide to how much common tree surgery jobs cost.

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