When you buy a property with a garden, you own all the trees, plants and hedges in that garden too. But you may be surprised to find out that you can’t necessarily prune and chop them as you please.

Some trees in the UK are protected by Tree Preservation Orders (TPO). And you could face a fine of up to £20,000 if you fell a protected tree without permission.

The consequences for getting it wrong are high, so let’s have a look at how to get it right first time.

Find out if your tree is protected by a TPO

If you still have your conveyancing documents from when you bought the house, you should be able to find out if any of your trees are protected by a TPO.

A TPO will be revealed as a registered Local Land Charge against the property. You conveyancer will discover it during their searches. Usually we would request a copy of the order to find out exactly what the restrictions are, and this document may also be included in the bundle your solicitor gave you.

To take a belt and braces approach, you can also email your local authority to find out. In Bristol, that’s a simple case of emailing planning.searches@bristol.gov.uk. They ask you to include a site plan which marks the boundary or your area of interest, and / or the trees in question. Find out more on Bristol Local Government’s website.

How to carry out work on a protected tree

If your tree is protected by a TPO, does that mean you can’t touch it at all? What happens if it has been blown over in a storm? Are your hands tied?

Well, it’s not quite as restrictive as that. You are allowed to work on a protected tree. So long as it is agreed in advance with the council, you can fell, lop or top the tree, and / or cut its roots. For trees in the Bristol area, you apply for permission through the online Planning Portal.

If the tree has now become dangerous for any reason, then you can remove it. But you still need to give notice to the council first.

What you can’t do is go ahead and remove a protected tree without permission. That’s when you’re likely to incur a fine.

How a conveyancer can help

Your conveyancer can run the searches to identify whether or not the trees in the boundaries of your property are subject to TPOs.

If they are, then your conveyancer can go a few steps further to help you. Your conveyancer can:

  • Clarify your obligations towards the protected trees, as the owner of the property
  • Find out whether the current owner has ever had permission refused by the council to prune, or lop, or fell the relevant trees
  • Discover if any work has been carried out on the trees without permission. If so, there is a risk to you that you could be found liable for this contravention later down the line.

If you’d like any help with a conveyancing transaction and you want solicitors that will give a thorough review of all the potential risks and opportunities, please give us a call.