Help us reject TPO exceptions

How can a tree that is valuable in life become unprotected when it starts to die?

We are extremely dismayed that DCLG (Department of Communities and Local Government) proposes to retain the exception for dead trees and introduce a new exception for the removal of dead branches on living trees in new regulations proposed for Tree Preservation orders.  This means that dead trees and dead branches could therefore be removed without the approval of the Local Authority.  In our view, this is a very retrograde step.

In recent years there has been quite a leap forward in understanding the importance of deadwood for biodiversity. Trees and their deadwood provide food and shelter for birds and bats and a whole host of other wildlife; even familiar garden and woodland birds that require holes and crevices in which to roost and nest.

It is well recognised that biodiversity is in decline across the world; the UK government is so concerned that it brought in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006, a law that requires public bodies to have regard for biodiversity. In addition, Planning Policy Statement 9, Biological and Geological Conservation, demonstrates that the government specifically recognises the special role of ‘aged’ and veteran trees for conserving biodiversity. 

Two magnificent ancient trees: the one in the foreground could be protected because it is just alive, the one in the background is dead and a TPO could not protect it.

Ancient and veteran trees are very likely to have dead branches or are maybe nearer to becoming dead trees. As the saying goes ‘dead trees are full of life’. Wherever possible important trees should be allowed to go through their natural life cycles and allow all the nutrients locked up in the wood to be recycled into the ground where they stand. Even for less important trees the new tree work standard BS 3998 recognises the value of deadwood and no longer recommends its removal as good practice.

Local Authorities do not make TPOs lightly. The inclusion of these exceptions undermines the option a local authority has to protect something that is very vulnerable and important. Many of the trees that are protected play a very significant role in their communities and provide them with many benefits.  We therefore do not agree with DCLG’s proposal that if one of these protected trees dies or has dead branches, the Local Authority may not be involved in the decisions about what works can be done to it. 

Of course, if the tree or branches pose an unreasonable risk to people or property, then the owner should be able to take action – but that circumstance is already covered by another exception.  We don’t see why these two deadwood exceptions are also necessary.  The Trust will be responding in partnership with the Ancient Tree Forum to this consultation. Read our proposed joint response (pdf) here.

If some of our heritage trees – often associated with moments in history or famous people – died or began to die, should they immediately lose the protection that they received while they lived? You can help us to influence these streamlined regulations for the better – please support the UK’s vulnerable trees and tell DCLG what you think of these proposals.

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Woods Under Threat, WoodWatch and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Help us reject TPO exceptions

  1. Rodger Lowe says:

    The important point to remember is that as the law stands TPO’s are constructed to protect the ‘amenity’ of tree and not the tree itself. Therefore if the tree is dead the amenity is removed, – and it becomes more hazardous’.
    To change this a radical new approach to TPO’s needs to be adopted and no such radical change has been suggested. The emphasis (now 60 years old) is on public amenity and should instead focus on biodiversity and climate contribution issues.
    The latest consultation is tinkering with the edges and not a radical reform which won’t be for another 10 years judging by past rates of change.

    • Mark Nankervis says:

      Public amenity is still the greatest value of most urban trees.
      Biodiversity and climate contribution issues are also significant amenities, but in most urban trees secondary to the attractiveness of the tree.

      Overgrown Leylandii can be a haven for wildlife, lock up lots of carbon and intercept rainfall but it would be interesting to know how many are under TPO protection.

      Veterans are valued for many features which would degrade a younger tree and would be best served by having their own set of guidelines for the purposes of TPO assessments.

  2. Mark Nankervis says:

    Hi Kaye
    I agree with you about the benefits of veteran deadwood features. Usually to be found in woodland or parkland.
    Where we differ is maybe due to a different client base. My company primarily manages trees for homeowners, schools, holiday parks and a few large estates.
    Usually removal of dead branches or dead trees in intensively used urban environments is aesthetically an improvement and increases peoples perception of the value of the tree. also many people feel reassured because they can see the tree is being ‘managed’ – whether or not safety is an issue.

    It is these situations where the ecological value of the deadwood features is generally low as the target areas mean that they cannot be allowed to significantly degrade to a state where they are supporting large numbers of saproxylic organisms.

    It is not unusual just to be removing deadwood from a protected urban tree.

    It would also be difficult to pursue a conviction for removal of deadwood and expect a fine of sufficient magnitude to be a deterrent. A minor fine undermines the whole TPO system in the message it sends out.

    A ‘veteran’ category of TPO would seem less of a blunt edged tool to me. Certainly in veteran parkland and woodland trees the ecological and aesthetic value of deadwood features is eminently worthy of protection when under threat.

    Many of the valuable features of Veteran trees are judged and assessed in an entirely different way than the average urban tree. Cavities, low vigour, fugal brackets, deadwood, cambial senescence etc etc
    If we try to squeeze protection of veteran features in the same framework as the existing TPO we will weaken the TPO.
    A special veteran category within the TPO seems the only way to use this legislation to protect without increasing the complexity and bureacracy of the present system.

    The benefits of increased protection need to outweigh
    the costs.

    For 95% 0f my clients the deadwood exclusion is sensible. For those with significant deadwood features most appreciate and value them.

    Regards

    Mark

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Mark – Caroline from the Ancient Tree Forum has asked us to post a reply to your comment:

      We would have very much liked government to have responded to our requests made over many years offering a range of ways to make specific protection for ancient, veteran trees and others of special interest. However, they have rejected all our proposals. Therefore we only have the TPO mechanism and only this opportunity to influence it.
      Having an exemption for dead wood/trees only means that consent is required, and we expect local authorities to make judgments about affects on the overall amenity of the work proposed as they do with regard to any other kind of work and to adjust their procedures and requirements accordingly. The procedures do not need to be elaborate or onerous. It is arguable whether very minor dead wood comes within the provisions of a TPO in any event, and the revised ‘Blue Book’ and other advice to owners etc could give further guidance on this. It is also open to government to identify thresholds of diameter for instance to which exemptions might apply.
      Dead wood/trees are an important constituent of fully functioning ecosystems on which the health of our trees depend whether they are in rural or urban locations. As more people understand this so their perception of deadwood etc have changed and will continue to change.
      Those of us who advise on tree management whether in urban or rural situations are well placed to further the wider public’s understanding of these benefits, as you have said that you do. It is our position that the TPO should recognise all the features that contribute to the amenity of trees and be supportive of protecting them.

      Caroline Davis
      Vice Chair the Ancient Tree Forum and Chair of the Tree Council’s Green Monuments Campaign

  3. Kaye Brennan says:

    Hello Mark. Thanks very much for getting back to us, sorry for the delay in continuing this discussion.
    We don’t think that protected trees die so frequently or that branches die so often that there is really such a burden to owners or to the Local Authority. Standing decaying wood is perhaps the rarest habitat in Europe. This means that consideration should be given to retaining dead trees and branches wherever possible (with any work necessary to achieve reasonable stability) for all trees, but especially for protected trees which individually or collectively have high wildlife value.
    Also how often does an owner of a protected tree just want to remove the dead branches? Like you, in this day and age of bat protection and the International year of biodiversity, professional arboriculturists are taking great care of dead branches and advising owners to retain them or as much of them wherever possible. But while bats and some roosts may be protected, without the bats present I suspect a lot of good habitat found in dead limbs could easily get lost. Bats and a number of saproxylic insects are rare and protected because their habitat – trees with dead and decaying wood are also rare, so controlling the removal of dead branches should help a bit.
    We are not arguing for all dead trees to have protection, in the same way that we wouldn’t argue for any or all trees to be protected – just that these exceptions would allow all our ancient and veteran trees by definition to be unprotected in some way. That cannot be right.
    We believe that there should be some benefit to the owner from having a tree that has been protected by a TPO for the benefit of the community. If that could be arranged either by a reward/ grant or by a reduction in Community Tax then there would be less resistance from owners.
    Be pleased to know further thoughts on this.

  4. Mark Nankervis says:

    Kaye
    Hi I’m a sporadic visitor so just caught up with your reply.
    I understand where you’re coming from and also that some valuable deadwood features which otherwise could be retained will be lost.
    In my own experience however an awful lot of extra bureacracy and control would be imposed upon tree owners for a relatively small amount of benefit.

    Also protecting dead trees eg in an area TPO which don’t warrant protection will further devalue the perception of TPO’s more than protecting low quality live trees.

    I full agree with the ability to TPO veteran trees.

    I agree with your intentions also – but TPOs are an imperfect tool and generally the exemption helps reduce resistance, annoyance and non compliance from the landowners who resent having someone else controlling how they manage their vegetation on their land.

    Obviously if the dead wood supports protected species it can achieve protection through that route.

  5. Kaye Brennan says:

    Thanks for your comment Mark – The Trust wants a change from the current situation because it allows trees of great value to drop through the protection net. Until there is a system where trees of great historic, conservation or landscape value specifically can be recognised and separated from other trees or there are thresholds for minor works, it is vital that we continue to protect very significant trees through the only system that is available at present: TPOs.

    Without these exceptions, a Local Authority can do what you are doing as a conscientious contractor – negotiate an outcome that means habitat is retained when the value of the tree in question is substantial. If these exceptions are retained it means an owner or contractor is able to act without any control over preserving those values that are to the benefit of society.

  6. Mark Nankervis says:

    Is this so different from the current situation? As a contractor I have always proceeded on the basis that dead and imminently dying trees or parts of trees were exemptions.

    I have also pointed out the potential benefits of retaining dead wood/dead trees for habitat in the instances where this benefit is substantial.

    Generally in the course of urban tree management I’m not sure that forced retention of dead tree features, or the onerousness of forcing tree owners to apply to remove dead parts of trees is reasonable.

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