Felling licences are simple and free to obtain, so why are so many trees being axed illegally?

Woodland provides one of our richest habitats for wildlife: this butterfly is a brimstone

For this story we are indebted to our friends at the Forestry Commission, who have reported an increase in the number of cases of illegal tree-felling across East Anglia

The area of woodland felled without a felling licence increased from 9.48 hectares in 2013-14 to 20.55 hectares in 2017-18.
All reports of unlicensed felling are investigated by the commission. The consequences of felling trees without a licence can be high, from prosecution, replanting the area of felled trees to ‘making good’ any damaged area, so it is important that landowners, planners, developers and builders are fully aware of the regulations that exist.
Felling licences can also apply to any trees not situated in a woodland.
Woodlands contribute much to wildlife, landscape and local amenity. Most important are those classified as ancient woodlands, ie woodlands known to have existed before 1600 AD, with many being centuries older.
It is government policy to refuse development that will result in the loss or deterioration of ancient woodland because of their high biodiversity, undisturbed heritage features and soils, which makes them irreplaceable.
This applies both to Ancient Semi Natural Woodland (ASNW) and Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).
This is very important for Essex because the county has more ancient woodland than anywhere else in East Anglia but it also has more pressure for development than most other counties in the region.
Essex also has many hundreds of veteran trees, not just in Epping and Hatfield Forests but across the county. A veteran tree is one that because of its great age, size or condition is of exceptional cultural, landscape or nature conservation value.
Trees should not be felled in advance of full planning approval being granted. Outline planning permission does not mean trees can be felled before full planning permission is granted.
A planning approval may include permission to fell specific trees on a development site, but where they are not included a felling licence must be applied for from the Forestry Commission.
If pre-emptive tree-felling is undertaken, ie before full planning permission is granted, the felling will be investigated by Forestry Commission woodland officers.
The commission’s advice is, if in doubt, contact your local Forestry Commission woodland officer for help. See the links below.
In England, felling licences and permissions are granted by the Forestry Commission and are simple and free to obtain. Applying for a licence means that a number of relevant issues can be assessed, for example whether European Protected Species, such as bats and great crested newts, have been considered.
Advice can then be given by a forestry expert. The end result will be a successful and legal felling operation.

  • For more information on the Forestry Commission, regulations, advice, grants and the support on offer, please click here
  • A felling licence can also be applied for online here

Wednesday, August 7, 2019