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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/tree-and-woodlands-introducing-measures-for-felling-street-trees/outcome/summary-of-responses-and-government-response
1. Executive summary
Urban trees play a pivotal role in creating healthy and economically successful communities and places for people and wildlife to live. Trees bring nature to the heart of our urban communities, help clean and cool the air, reduce flooding, and improve people’s physical and mental health.
There are a range of policies and grants to encourage the planting and sustainable management of trees in rural areas, but there is a need for more policies to enhance the protection of trees in urban areas.
Our consultation sought views on four main themes related to protecting England’s trees and woodlands, and invited responses to 15 questions. These themes were:
- Duty to Consult – Providing the public with an opportunity to understand why a street tree is being felled and express any concerns regarding this
- Duty to Report – Increasing transparency and accountability in the tree felling process, enabling the monitoring of both tree planting and felling at a national level
- Tree and Woodland Strategies – Setting out best practice guidance and management approaches for trees and woodlands, based on the local authority’s resource
- Forestry Enforcement Measures – Proposing new measures to strengthen the Forestry Commission’s power to tackle illegal tree felling across England
A total of 4,671 responses were received during the consultation period, with 3,873 of these responses submitted by email as part of a petition organised by The Woodland Trust. Responses were received from a range of sectors, including local authorities, charities, businesses and academics. Defra also held a stakeholder event where attendees could discuss the proposals. Feedback from the event was collated and has been used to further inform policy development.
Respondents commented on a range of key areas on each theme:
- overall there is support for the Duty to Consult, but some local authorities are opposed due to the additional burden imposed on available resources
- there is strong support for local authorities to have a reporting duty on tree felling and planting, with information collated and managed by national government and made available online
- there is agreement that Tree and Woodland Strategies would help in better management of our ecosystems, but there are divided views on whether encouraging best practice is sufficient or whether a statutory duty is needed
- there are however concerns regarding the associated burden on local authorities and the need for sufficient resourcing
- there is cross-sector support for strengthening the Forestry Enforcement Measures with a strong call for more punitive penalties for illegal felling
2. Introduction and context
2.1 Scope of the consultation
The consultation was launched in December 2019, and ran for eight weeks. It was supported by a consultation document which focussed on four main themes related to protecting England’s trees and woodlands, and invited responses to 15 questions.
The consultation document set out government’s view on the importance of trees, especially in an urban environment, and the need for more policies to enhance the status and protection of urban trees. It acknowledged that tree felling is an important part of tree management but that it tends to generate local concern. We consulted on three measures to protect urban trees:
- a duty on local authorities to consult the public when felling street trees (the Duty to Consult)
- a duty on local authorities to report on their tree felling and planting (the Duty to Report)
- best practice guidance for local authority Tree and Woodland Strategies
In addition to this, the consultation document also proposed new measures to strengthen the Forestry Commission’s power to tackle illegal tree felling across England.
Duty to Consult
Government has a manifesto commitment to introduce a duty on local authorities to consult on the felling of street trees. The consultation proposed this would apply to individual street trees which were to be felled, unless they met certain exemption criteria.
Local authorities sometimes consult with local communities prior to felling trees, but there is wide variation across the country, meaning some communities have little say over what happens to trees in their area.
Those local authorities that currently consult typically do so to inform the public of reasons behind felling that may be perceived as contentious (such as removal of healthy or prominent mature trees). There are currently no government standards or guidelines for local authority street tree management, and so the decision to consult is individual to each local authority.
The consultation proposed the introduction of a duty on local authorities to consult with local communities when a street tree is to be felled, and proposed a requirement that the consultation process meets certain standards. Communities would have an opportunity to understand why a tree was being felled within their local area and, if they wished, to raise concerns regarding the felling of trees with the local authority.
We asked consultees:
- Question 1: Should a duty for local authorities to consult on the felling of street trees be introduced?
- Question 2: Do you agree with the proposed scope of the Duty to Consult?
- Question 3: Do you agree with the government’s preferred approach of a closed consultation with trigger point (a closed consultation where if 50% of respondents are opposed a full/open consultation would take place)?
- Question 4: In what circumstances do you think a tree should be exempt from the Duty to Consult?
- Question 5: Do you think it is appropriate that trees of special historic or cultural significance are subject to a more rigorous consultation process? Do you agree with the criteria for designating a tree of special historic or cultural significance? Are there any other categories which should be included?
- Question 6: Do you think that the Duty to Consult will have any negative impacts on development?
- Question 7: Should consultations be done on an individual basis or on groups of trees where, for example, trees are planted in the same location?
Reporting on felling and planting trees by local authorities
The Forestry Commission currently collects data on trees felled when a felling licence is required, and on any compensatory planting that takes place. However, felling licences are not required in many situations where local authorities are responsible for managing trees, including street trees, trees in parks, and trees felled as part of the planning process. More information from local authorities would help government and the public to develop a better understanding of the drivers of tree felling and planting, as well as help track our aspiration to increase forest cover in England from 10% to 12% of land area by 2060.
Reporting on tree felling and planting by local authorities would allow local and national government, community groups, non-government organisations and the scientific community to develop a stronger understanding of where trees are being cut down and why, and where they are being planted. This would help to improve our understanding of tree management and protect and enhance the environmental and other benefits of trees.
We asked consultees:
- Question 8: Should a duty on local authorities to report on tree felling and planting be introduced?
- Question 9: Which trees would it be useful to report on?
- Question 10: What information do you think local authorities could gather and hold?
- Question 11: How could local authorities present this information? Should national government play a role in collating and managing information?
Tree and woodland strategies
Tree and Woodland strategies are local authority documents which set out the policy framework, and management approaches, for trees and woodlands, based on an assessment of the local authority’s tree and woodland resource.
There is currently no requirement for local authorities to produce Tree and Woodland Strategies. Although some local authorities already publish substantive documents, there is no uniformity and some authorities do not publish anything at all.
Guidance on Tree and Woodland Strategies would help local authorities to quantify the natural capital value of this critical component of the green infrastructure network. They would provide the basis for long-term thinking and enable local authorities to plan for a resilient resource through long-term adaptive responses to climate change and to pests and diseases. Tree and Woodland Strategies enable easy identification of important areas of work. They can be used to support bids for resources and to facilitate co-ordination of actions to achieve tree and woodland management aims and objectives. Local residents would be consulted on Tree and Woodland Strategies before they were finalised.
We asked consultees:
- Question 12: Do you agree that Tree and Woodland Strategies help local authorities and the public to manage their trees? Would best practise guidance be sufficient for local authorities and the public?
- Question 13: Do you agree with the suggested content for best practise guidance for Tree and Woodland Strategies?
Forestry enforcement measures
The Forestry Act 1967 is over 50 years old and was designed to allow the Forestry Commission (FC) to regulate the forestry sector primarily in relation to timber extraction. At that time the main driver of illegal felling was the value of the timber extracted, whereas it is now the development value of the land itself. Some of the approaches in the Act therefore require updating and further measures are required to update the current felling licence system. Nine measures to tackle this problem were consulted on:
Giving the Forestry Commission the power to apply to the courts to direct land owners to replant trees on land which has been both illegally felled and where current replanting directions (via Restocking and Enforcement Notices) have been ignored.
Giving the Forestry Commission the power to direct an individual to replant trees on land which they have subsequently sold, subject to the permission of the new landowner.
Giving the Forestry Commission the power to force the cessation of tree felling in an area while an investigation into illegal felling is taking place.
Creating a legal requirement on the owner of land, where illegal felling has taken place, to notify the Forestry Commission if they sell the land. This will simplify the process of tracking who needs to be served with Restocking and Enforcement Notices, thus directing individuals to replant trees.
Providing new powers to identify and pursue a suspected instigator of illegal felling, where the person suspected of felling illegally is not, and has never been, the legal owner of the land. Historically, felling was generally undertaken by landowners themselves (or people employed by them). The picture now is more complex, particularly in respect of housing developers who retain the services of third parties to manage land on their behalf, who in turn may commit the illegal felling independently of the developer.
Increasing fines for illegal felling. The current system of fines stems from a period where profit came from selling timber. Now the major driver of profit from illegal felling lies in the increased land value. As such, the current fining regime does not offer a sufficient deterrent. The current fine is only £2,500 or twice the value of the trees felled, whichever is greater.
Clarifying upon whom the Forestry Commission may serve a Restocking or Enforcement Notice in relation to companies that own the land. The current wording of the Forestry Act 1967 only allows the company secretary to be served a notice, whereas company directors may be more appropriate targets for enforcement measures.
Giving the Forestry Commission powers to compel the ‘owner’ to provide information with regard to who else has an interest (leasehold, tenant etc.) in the land. Currently the Forestry Act 1967 only gives powers to compel the ‘occupier’, or ‘any person who… receives rent in respect of the land’ to provide this information. While the owner will be listed on HM Land Registry, demonstrating who ‘occupies’ a woodland is more challenging. Equally, without being privy to individual’s accounts, demonstrating that they receive rent from land is even more difficult.
Clarifying how Enforcement Notices are affected by a change in land ownership. It is currently unclear who is responsible (the previous owner or the new owner) for complying with an Enforcement Notice when the land changes hands during the life of that Notice. This leads to cases of non-compliance, and can collapse a criminal case before a prosecution is secured.
We asked consultees:
- Question 14: Do you support these measures?
- Question 15: Do you think any other measures are necessary to combat illegal tree felling?
3.1 Breakdown of respondents
A total of 4,671 responses were received during the consultation period. The vast majority (3,873 responses) were submitted by email as part of an organised petition run by Woodland Trust. The majority of non-petition responses were submitted via CitizenSpace online portal (740), and the remaining 58 responses were received via email or in hardcopy.
Woodland Trust ran a petition. In relation to the consultation questions the Trust and its members responded that:
- they are in support of the Duty to Consult and the Duty to Report on tree felling and planting activity, but only if government provides adequate resources for local authorities to deliver it
- they do not agree with the proposed scope of the Duty to Consult, or the proposal of a closed consultation with a ‘trigger’ point, believing this is too narrow
- they agree it is appropriate that trees of special historic or cultural significance are subject to a more rigorous consultation process
- they do not believe the Duty to Consult will have a negative impact on development
- the Duty to Consult should be done on an individual basis and for groups of trees
- they agree that Tree and Woodland Strategies help local authorities and the public to manage their trees and woodlands
- they do not agree that best practice guidance would be sufficient and believe support and advice is also necessary
- they believe there needs to be a realistic number of Forestry Commission enforcement officers to identify illegal felling and to ensure it can deliver on the ambition of greater protection
3.3 Non-petition responses
Public/local authority responses totalled 212, which included county (25), district/borough/city (151), town/parish (18), agencies and other public bodies (18).
Other responses totalled 586, and were received from business (74), academics (8), charities/societies/groups (140), representative bodies (12), individual responses (193), and unknown (159) (respondents who did not identify).
3.4 Stakeholder event
Defra also held a stakeholder event at the Birmingham Midland Institute on 8th January 2019 , where attendees were able to discuss the proposals with Defra officials and ask questions. Feedback from this event was collated and has been used to inform policy development. The key messages raised during these events were consistent with those responses received in the consultation.
4. Part 1 – Duty to Consult
4.1 Key themes
This section summarises the most frequent comments across all respondents. The key themes raised in responses to the questions on the Duty to Consult were:
- the critical value of trees to the urban environment
- overall there is support for the Duty to Consult, but some local authorities are opposed because it imposes an additional burden on existing resources
- the need for local authorities to have the necessary resources and professional expertise required to implement the duty
- consideration should be given to widening the scope to go beyond just street trees
- the need for more clear definitions of many of the terms used e.g. what constitutes a ‘street tree’ or ‘urban tree’ for the purposes of this policy
4.2 Question 1: Should a duty for local authorities to consult on the felling of street trees be introduced?
There were 752 responses to this question. There was widespread recognition of the wider benefits of street trees and that they are a public asset. There was support for greater public engagement and more transparency and accountability in the process of felling trees. There was a strong consensus that local authorities should have a duty to consult on the felling of street trees, with 74.7% (596) of respondents for and 20.8% (166) against. 4.4% (35) did not answer the question.
There was recognition that the proposals represent an additional burden on local authorities and that they must be appropriately supported and resourced to deliver them.
Many respondents highlight the need to: provide adequate accompanying guidance, support and resources; develop a consultation process that local authorities are able to deliver; and ensure that the Duty to Consult does not impair the role of local authority Tree Officers as ‘champions’ of trees. Respondents recognise the opportunities the Duty to Consult potentially offers in bringing the public closer to the management of their local street trees.
Concerns raised by local authorities included a belief that the proposal will add unnecessary additional burdens to local authorities and that necessary checks and balances are already in place and being administered correctly in most areas. There was also concern that this duty could potentially undermine the current role and efficiency of professional staff within local authorities. One respondent stated that ‘tree managers/officers are qualified arboriculturalists and use recognised training, knowledge and experience to gather evidence and make decisions based on this’.
Many local authorities observed that they are already accountable to their residents through elections and believe that it is right that they should continue to decide locally on the process of engagement in tree felling and that there is no evidence to suggest that street trees are being removed without good reason across local government. Many suggested that Tree Preservation Orders provide an established route for protecting trees as part of the local environment and trees in conservation areas also benefit from protection in law, which should suffice.
It was suggested that if the Duty to Consult is introduced it should be treated as a new burden on local government and be fully funded.
Some respondents believed that the Duty to Consult was being driven by the exceptional behaviour of some local authorities rather than any more fundamental problems with the system.
4.3 Question 2: Do you agree with the proposed scope of the Duty to Consult?
There were 728 responses to this question. 45.2% (361) of respondents agreed with the scope, while 46% (367) disagreed, 8.8% (70) did not answer the question. Of those who disagreed, some opposed the duty as a whole due to the resource burden on local authorities, while conversely some respondents felt the scope was too narrow and wanted local authorities to consult on felling trees in parks and green spaces too.
Other concerns raised included that the wider local community might also have an interest and should be consulted, and that undue consideration of the views of the local community discriminates against a householder who is suffering real damage as a result of a street tree.
4.4 Question 3: Do you agree with the government’s preferred approach of a closed consultation with trigger point?
There were 704 responses to this question. Overall, respondents disagreed with a closed consultation with trigger point consultation (a closed consultation where if 50% of respondents are opposed a full/open consultation would take place). 57% (455) were against and 31.2% (249) were in favour of this option, 11.8% (94) did not answer the question. Of the 596 respondents who were in favour of the duty in the first question, 306 did not agree with this consultation option.
Of the 249 respondents who opposed, 75 explicitly expressed a preference for a broader consultation. Many respondents would prefer for the duty to encourage ‘as much openness and transparency as possible’. Specific concerns raised by those that opposed included that the enjoyment of street trees is not limited to residents in an immediate locality; that 100x100m was an unpopular distance, and that a trigger point consultation would be resource-intensive for local authorities. A number of respondents stated that they did not understand the question.
Those in favour of the option agreed that it provides a reasonable compromise between transparency and costs to local authorities, and is broadly proportionate.
Some respondents suggested that the planning consultation model that all local authorities have for planning applications may be appropriate.
4.5 Question 4: In what circumstances do you think a tree should be exempt from the Duty to Consult?
There were 518 responses to this question. Due to an error in the online response form, this question allowed for two answers: first a yes/no response and then a free text box which asked ‘please give reasons for your response’. The yes/no response is not valid for this question and so conclusions have not been drawn from this. All comments made have, however, been fully considered.
A wide range of views were expressed in relation to exemptions, ranging from ‘no trees should be exempt’ to ‘all trees should be exempt’. Generally respondents supported the exemptions in principle.
There was wide acceptance that diseased trees should be exempt. Many respondents across all sectors suggested that more clarification and a firmer definition of a diseased tree were required. Several comments highlighted the need for decisions to be made by an appropriately qualified person, with some suggesting they be independent. Several respondents highlighted the need to consider alternatives to felling a diseased tree prior to a decision being made.
Responses largely mirrored those for diseased trees: there was general agreement with the exemption, a request for more clarifications and definitions and suggestions of decisions being made by an appropriately qualified person, possibly independent.
In addition to these comments many respondents did not agree that the exemption should apply to trees that affected the operational use of a footpath, asking for more consideration of alternatives, such as engineering solutions to alleviate the damage or solve the obstruction, before the tree is felled.
Some respondents noted the value that dead trees provide for nature and biodiversity and asked for consideration be given in terms of risk, danger and ameliorative actions before decisions are made.
There was less agreement on this exemption. Respondents suggested that decisions be made by an appropriately qualified professional and some believed that the removal of trees to repair damaged footpaths or carriageways should not be exempt.
There was general agreement for this exemption with a number of respondents suggesting that a more appropriate criterion would be the girth diameter in line with nursery and arboricultural standards.
4.6 Question 5: Do you think it is appropriate that trees of special historic or cultural significance are subject to a more rigorous consultation process? Do you agree with the criteria for designating a tree of special historic or cultural significance? Are there any other categories which should be included?
This question was asked in three parts. The first two questions were yes/no answers and the last was for comments. 750 responses were received for the first part on whether trees of special historic or cultural significance should be subject to a more rigorous consultation process. 80.3% (641), agreed with this, whilst 13.7% (109) disagreed, and 5.1% (41) did not answer the question.
There were 710 responses for the second part, asking if respondents agreed with the criteria suggested. 69.2% (552) of respondents agreed, whilst 19.8% (158) disagreed, and 10.9% (87) did not answer the question.
Comments received from respondents on whether to include other categories of trees, suggested that ‘local significance’ also be considered; where trees hold importance to the local community. It was also suggested that recognition should be given where a particular grouping of trees hold significance.
4.7 Question 6: Do you think that the Duty to Consult will have any negative impacts on development?
There were 731 responses to this question. The majority of respondents - 66.4% (530) - do not believe that the duty to consult will have negative impacts on development.
This was a yes/no question on the online response form, without an opportunity for comment. Some email responses, however, did provide further details. They highlighted that the negative impacts on planning were likely to be created by the additional process, which they think would cause delays, and place additional pressures on resources.
4.8 Question 7: Should consultations be done on an individual basis or on groups of trees where, for example, trees are planted in the same location?
There was an error when placing this question online and respondents were only able to answer yes or no. No conclusions have been drawn from these responses.
Comments on these questions were left by the 58 email responses that were received and these have been fully considered. There was a view from some of these respondents that depending on the specific circumstances, the option of group or individual consultations should be available.
4.9 Government response to questions 1 – 7
Additional funding will be provided to local authorities to cover the costs of implementing the Duty to Consult, in line with our policy on new burdens.
Some respondents felt this duty was a direct response to particular instances in certain local authorities. This duty was created to enhance the public’s participation in decisions made in local street tree management, and to increase the transparency and understanding of these decisions. Specific local events are not the driving force for this measure, but rather the lack of protection for street trees overall which are a valuable resource.
Tree officers and related roles in local authorities do skilled and professional work. The duty is not intended to de-professionalise local authority tree officers. Rather, it is intended to make sure the public is included in decision making. The final decision on whether or not to fell a tree will still be made by local authorities. The scope of local authorities’ decision-making powers in this regard will be clarified in guidance accompanying the duty.
Only street trees will be in scope of the duty to consult. The scope of the duty will not be widened to include other urban trees in green spaces or parks as this would increase the burden unduly on local authorities.
The majority of respondents did not agree with a closed consultation with trigger point. As a result of feedback from respondents, consultations will be open, with a notice placed on the tree and online and anyone will be eligible to respond. This will allow for any interested party to respond to the consultation, and reduce the perceived additional burden that consultation with a trigger could pose on local authorities.
The following trees will be exempt from the Duty to Consult:
- trees that are dangerous under any enactment
- trees that are diseased or have a pest, and are required to be felled under the Plant Health Act 1967. In both of these cases, there is a statutory duty on local authorities to fell a street tree for the protection and safety of the public and environment. These duties must be fulfilled and delays caused by a consultation could result in the public or the environment being exposed to undue risk
- trees with an active planning permission will not need to be consulted on as consultation process will have taken place as part of the planning permission process
- trees that cause a current obstruction so as to discriminate against those with a disability by making the footpath unsafe or unusable for them
- trees that have a diameter under 8cm measured over the bark at 1.3 meters above ground level
- trees that are dead - although dead trees can be a habitat, the value of a dead tree is variable and a number of factors, such as the risk of them causing injury or acting as vectors for disease outweigh the potential benefits of taking the time to consult the public on the decision
Trees that are damaging or young will not be exempt. Damaging trees will not be made exempt as the extent of the damage can vary widely and other options, such as engineering solutions, can be used by the local authority to comply with its duty to maintain a safe and useable highway; therefore a consultation would be appropriate. Young trees which are failing will not be exempt from consultation. However, only trees over a certain diameter will be in scope of the duty, in line with recommendations from respondents.
Because a trigger point consultation is not being pursued, special treatment for trees of cultural or historic value is no longer necessary; in effect, all trees will now be consulted on as if they would have been if they had special historic or cultural value under our original proposal. This is in response to stakeholder feedback on the difficulty of defining trees of historic or cultural value.
The Duty to Consult will not will apply where a full valid planning permission has been, and is still, valid. This is because the felling of the tree would have been considered in part of this application process, which also includes a consultation. This will reduce the impact of the duty on development and avoid duplication.
Consultations for trees will take place for both individual trees and groups of trees where appropriate. This will help to reduce the administrative burden of the duty on local authorities.
5. Part 2 – Duty to Report
5.1 Key themes
Themes most commonly raised in responses to the questions on the Duty to Report were:
- strong support from some groups for the Duty to Report. Other groups, particularly local authorities, were less supportive or opposed, primarily because of administrative burdens and implementation challenges
- reasonably strong support for reporting all trees within local authority control
- a need to consider widening the information that local authorities should gather
- information should be made available to everyone online in a consistent format nationally
- national government needs to play a role in collating and managing information
5.2 Question 8: Should a duty on local authorities to report on tree felling and planting be introduced?
There were 754 responses to this question. There was a strong consensus that there should be a duty on local authorities to report on tree felling with 77.6% (619) of respondents for, and 16.9% (135) against. 5.5% (44) did not answer the question.
Many respondents highlighted the need for the government to provide adequate accompanying guidance, framework and resources, as well as the importance of government collating and publishing local authority reports.
Supporters of the duty focused on the importance of accountability, improved understanding of natural capital resource, the need for consistent data on trees, and the ability to track change. Respondents hoped that the duty would enable each local authority to have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the trees within their management and control, which could in turn enable local authorities to increase tree cover more easily. There was recognition of the benefit that this duty would deliver, by allowing a national and local picture to be established.
Many respondents acknowledged that reporting and monitoring would become more important within the context of changing conditions due to climate change.
Local authorities were less enthusiastic about the proposal. Concerns they raised include whether the duty is necessary when data should be available via a Freedom of Information enquiry, and the resourcing impacts of the duty on local authorities.
Concerns raised by other respondent groups include a lack of clarity regarding the purpose of the duty, and how information obtained from the duty would be verified.
5.3 Question 9: Which trees would it be useful to report on?
There were 642 responses to this question. Reponses varied significantly, however, there is significant support for all trees to be reported on.
Of those respondents who opposed the principle of the reporting duty in question 8, around 30% did not answer question 9. Of those that did, there was a strong view that reporting should be restricted to “street trees” and “urban trees”.
Many respondents acknowledged that all trees are valuable, that it is important to understand the overall tree resource, and that the reporting duty would provide essential data, helping to track progress against national targets.
5.4 Question 10: What information do you think local authorities could gather and hold?
A total of 636 comments were received on this question. Notable additional information identified to be gathered and held by local authorities included age, girth, canopy height, canopy width, and number of trees felled. There was also a strong view that tree location should be supplied in a format allowing data sharing across multiple platforms.
A number of respondents flagged the need for adequate resources to support the process of additional information gathering.
A small number of respondents referenced British Standard? BS 5837:2012 “Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction” as a useful basis to refer to when creating a template of information for local authorities to gather and hold. This covers:
- sequential number
- date of felling
- location (Grid Reference)
- species of tree
- stem diameter
- crown spread
- height of canopy
- height of first branch
- life stage
- reason for felling
- reason for planting
- date of planting
- number of trees planted (if planting a group)
- size at time of planting
5.5 Question 11: How could local authorities present this information? Should national government play a role in collating and managing information?
This question received 616 responses. There was a strong consensus that information should be made widely available to the public in a clear, consistent and accessible format. There was strong support for national government to play a role in collating and managing information, with 65.7% (524) of respondents agreeing, and 12.4% (99) disagreeing. 21.9% (175) did not answer the question.
Many respondents proposed an online resource, which would preferably be linked to a GIS system available through local authority portals, it was also suggested that online facilities should be interactive. A number of respondents also raised the potential for libraries and local newspapers to present this information to the public.
A large number of respondents see central government playing a role in collating and managing information as essential for consistency and accountability. There was strong support for local authorities to report annually to government, which should collate the information. It was also highlighted that government should coordinate and provide standardised systems.
The need for a system that is compatible with existing inventories and asset management software was also raised, as was the fact that many local authorities already capture tree information through existing software.
A small number of respondents believed that it would be best left to the local authorities to collate and manage, but this was not a widely held view.
5.6 Government response to questions 8 – 11
Government is committed to increasing the transparency and accountability of local authorities in their management of tree stocks. In response to feedback from consultees – particularly from local authorities and their representative bodies - on the administrative burden of this requirement, we have decided not to introduce a standalone reporting duty for tree felling and planting on local authorities, particularly in the context of other reporting duties on public bodies which may be introduced through the government’s upcoming Environment Bill. We are investigating local authority and wider public authority reporting on biodiversity more generally and are considering this in the context of the Bill. We will also give further consideration to the information it could be useful for local authorities to report on, based on stakeholder feedback.
6. Part 3 – Tree and woodland strategies
6.1 Key themes
Themes most commonly raised in responses to the questions on Tree and Woodland Strategies:
- strong agreement that Tree and Woodland Strategies will help in better management
- divided views on whether best practise is sufficient with some believing that there is a need for a statutory duty
- support for the proposed strategy content, but a more active development role was wanted for the community
- acknowledgement that sufficient resource is needed to support local authorities to carry out this work
6.2 Question 12: Do you agree that Tree and Woodland Strategies help local authorities and the public to manage their trees? Would best practise guidance be sufficient for local authorities and the public?
There were 798 responses to the first part of this question, with very strong agreement across all sectors that Tree and Woodland Strategies help local authorities and the public to manage their woodland. 88.5% (706) of all respondents were in support, with 5.1% (41) of respondents not in support, and 6.3% (50) did not answer the question.
Opinion was more divided with regards to whether best practice guidance can be sufficient for local authorities and the public with 48.2% (385) in agreement and 39.2% (313) disagreeing. Public sector bodies were more supportive of the sufficiency of best practise guidance, with 62.7% (133) supportive compared to 21.2% (45) unsupportive. Opinion was more balanced across the other sectors with 43% (252) in agreement, and 45.7% disagreeing.
Many respondents acknowledged that Tree and Woodland Strategies will potentially add a further burden to local authorities, and that central government should work to support this.
6.3 Question 13: Do you agree with the suggested content for best practise guidance for Tree and Woodland Strategies?
There were 798 responses to this question. Respondents generally agreed with the suggested content for the best practise guidance, with 66.9% (534) in agreement, and 16.9% (135) in disagreement.
The general view of those in agreement is that the suggested content covers major issues, and is reasonably comprehensive. A number of respondents did however note that not every section will be equally relevant in every locality, so there is a need for flexibility. It was highlighted that the strategy should cover all trees, not just those controlled by a local authority.
As with responses to Question 12, concerns were raised that the best practice guidance alone may not be enough to provide the “real” protection that is required.
Of those that disagree with the suggested content for the best practise guidance, there was a strong view that local community stakeholders, volunteers, and experts from other sectors are not given sufficient input and that there is a need for them to have an integral role in the development of the strategy, not just through consultation. Water related issues were also identified as an element missing from the proposed content.
12.5% (100 respondents) did not answer this question, some respondents were unclear regarding which part of the consultation document related to best practise guidance, and indicated that they were therefore unable to respond to the question.
6.4 Government response to questions 12-13
To avoid the excessive burdens on local authorities of a statutory obligation to produce a Tree and Woodland Strategy, best practice guidance on Tree and Woodland Strategies will be produced instead. Best practice guidance will achieve the objectives of creating greater transparency and accountability, improving stakeholder engagement and public engagement with tree management, and assisting LAs to quantify and value the natural capital value of their green infrastructure. We will develop guidance on strategies in conjunction with the local government sector, and seek expert advice from arboriculturalists, urban planners, and other subject experts.
We will consult on our draft best practice guidance to seek more engagement from professional groups and the public on the contents of Tree and Woodland Strategies.
7. Part 4 - Forestry enforcement measures
7.1 Key themes
Themes most commonly raised in responses to the questions on Forestry Enforcement Measures were:
- strong cross sector support for strengthening the Forestry Enforcement Measures as proposed
- strong demand for more punitive penalties for illegal felling
- strong feeling that such measures must be fully resourced
- the need to review existing exemptions within the Forestry Act 1967 and consider it in relation to other legislation such as the Highway Act 1980
- the need to support the measures with further guidance on reporting incidents and more publicity for prosecutions
7.2 Question 14: Do you support these measures?
There were 641 responses given to this yes/no question. There was strong support for the proposed Forestry Enforcement Measures from all sectors engaged in the consultation with overall 71.9% (574) of responses in favour of the question. Only 8.4% (67) did not support these measures.
To note, analysis of the accompanying comments suggest that a number of online respondents thought they were responding to the overall consultation measures rather than the forestry measures specifically. However the overall comments on these measures still suggest strong support for these measures.
7.3 Question 15: Do you think any other measures are necessary to combat illegal tree felling?
There were 491 written responses given to this question. Overall there were no specific suggestions for additional measures; comments instead focused on the proposed measures.
Many responses highlighted the need for much stronger fines and penalties to be applied for instances of illegal felling with a number of respondents advocating the introduction of custodial sentences. There was also support for greater penalties and fines to be applied specifically to developers where instances of illegal felling have occurred. It was suggested that fines should be more commensurate with potential financial gains, and if necessary, that existing planning permissions should be withdrawn. Many respondents acknowledged that adequate resourcing of the regulator is needed to facilitate enforcement action.
In relation to planning permission, it was suggested that the Forestry Commission should be made a statutory consultee to Local Planning Authorities on land which “a RN [Restock Notice] or EN [Enforcement Notice] is applied to and full planning permission is being requested”.
Respondents who did not support the new measures felt that current legal remedies through Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) and the Criminal Damage Act, were sufficient if necessary resources were provided to implement them.
Some respondents suggested a need to review current exemptions within the Forestry Act 1967. A number of respondents identified the ability to gradually remove trees and woodlands within the allowable 5m3 allowance per calendar quarter, and suggested that action was required to reduce instances of this kind of activity. In addition, there was concern that the current interpretation of the Forestry Act 1967 in relation to the Highways Act 1980 “gave too much freedom to fell street trees without proper justification” and this needed to be reviewed.
It was suggested that continued education and public awareness was required to highlight the real value of trees and that more guidance was needed on how and where to report concerns regarding illegal felling.
7.4 Government response to questions 14-15
Measures to strengthen the Forestry Commission’s enforcement powers will be taken forward in the Environment Bill, to be introduced in due course. The precise legislative means by which those outcomes will be achieved will vary slightly from the proposals detailed in the consultation. These changes will improve the deliverability and efficacy of the proposals.
The following measures will be introduced:
Give the courts the power to order land owners to replant trees on land which has been both illegally felled and where current replanting directions from the Forestry Commission (via Restocking and Enforcement Notices) have been ignored (via a Restocking Order).
Provide the Forestry Commission the power to list Restocking Notices and Enforcement Notices as a Local Land Charge. As the register of Local Land Charges is routinely checked by conveyancers prior to any purchase of land, this will provide visibility to any buyer or anyone who inspects the land registry that the land is subject to these local land charges, and that they will inherit the duty to replant the land with trees should they purchase it.
Clarify how Enforcement Notices are affected by a change in land ownership. It is currently unclear who is responsible (the previous owner or the new owner) for complying with an Enforcement Notice when the land changes hands during the life of that Notice. It will be made clear in statute, that the new owner of the land inherits the duties imposed by an Enforcement Notice.
Increase fines for illegal felling. The current fine is £2,500 or twice the value of the trees felled, whichever is greater. This will be changed to an unlimited value fine.
Clarify upon whom the Forestry Commission may serve a Restocking or Enforcement Notice in relation to companies that own the land. The current wording of the Forestry Act 1967 only allows the company secretary to be served a notice. Company directors will in the future also be able to be served.
Give the Forestry Commission powers to compel the owner of felled land to provide information with regard to who else has an interest (leasehold, tenant etc.) in the land. Currently the Forestry Act 1967 only gives powers to compel the occupier, or ‘any person who… receives rent in respect of the land’ to provide this information.
An alternative approach will be taken to that which was consulted upon in relation to compelling land owners who are served with a Restocking Notice or Enforcement Notice to notify the Forestry Commission if they intend to sell the land, as well as the prospective new owner of the land of the existence of the Notice. Rather than pursuing these measures, a more straightforward solution will be taken forward to give the Forestry Commission the power to list Restocking Notices and Enforcement Notices as Local Land Charges at the time that they are made.
This alternative approach has the added advantage of guaranteeing that new owners are aware of notices on the land at the time that they purchase it, and therefore that they will inherit the restocking conditions attached to the land. In addition to this, it will appear in land checks if planning permission is being sought.
Once implemented this will also increase public awareness of illegal felling activity by Restocking Notices and Enforcement Notices being publicly available on the Local Land Charges register.
A power to issue temporary stop notices will not be pursued because other non-statutory measures that will achieve the same outcome have been identified. Firstly, an increase in the penalties associated with illegal felling will provide an increased deterrent to illegal felling, reducing the number of instances where a temporary stop notice could be issued. Additionally, the Forestry Commission already issues a stop felling letter. Improvements will be made to the current stop felling letter, to provide greater public awareness of the potential penalties that may be imposed by further non-compliance. This approach is considered more proportionate and will lessen the burden on Forestry Commission resource whilst still achieving similar results.
In addition, government has chosen not to pursue a power to increase the scenarios under which the Forestry Commission can serve a Restocking Notice. This is to avoid concerns that the exercise of this power could disadvantage innocent land owners and may present compatibility issues with the right of enjoyment of property.
While the consultation provided a number of other recommendations to enhance the current measures proposed, most were not in scope of the proposal at this time. However, they may be considered during the development of the National Tree Strategy later this year.