If you suspect anyone of illegal felling then you can check if permission exists and, if necessary, report the incident to the Forestry Commission.
Applies to England
When a felling licence is required
Before anyone can cut down trees, they may need to get a felling licence from the Forestry Commission. Our booklet Tree felling: getting permission provides an overview of when a felling licence is required.
In some circumstances, exceptions to the need for a felling licence exist, or other permissions may apply that allow felling to proceed. Some examples of where tree felling does not require a felling licence from the Forestry Commission are:
- felling trees in gardens, churchyards or a public open space
- felling trees required to prevent the spread of a quarantine pest or disease, as authorised by a statutory plant health notice (SPHN)
- felling trees with a diameter less than 8cm (the width of baked bean can) at a height of 1.3m on the main stem
- Trees growing in inner London boroughs.
Also, up to 5 cubic meters of timber (approximately 4 tons depending on tree species / a stack of timber the size of a small car) may be felled each calendar quarter without a felling licence.
For more information on exemptions:
- see our guide on when to apply for a tree felling licence
- read the guidance in Tree felling: getting permission.
Checks to make before you report suspected illegal felling
If you suspect tree felling does not have the necessary permission, and may in fact be an illegal felling incident, then there are various checks you could do before reporting the incident to the Forestry Commission.
Please check to see:
- if there is an approved Felling Licence in place
You can do this by using the Forestry Commission’s Land Information Search (LIS) map browser and search the area you are concerned about for a felling licence. The LIS map works best in Google Chrome but is supported by most internet browsers. There is a simple guide to help you load and use the map browser data.
You can check to see if a felling application has recently been approved, by looking at the Forestry Commission’s public register of new planting and tree felling.
If you have any concerns that felling is not in accordance with the Licence, then please contact the local Administrative Hub office.
- if the tree felling is part of some infrastructure work
Highways authorities, energy network companies and railway authorities, for example, have their own powers to fell trees or to authorise others to do so. If the tree felling appears to be linked to network management, check with the relevant authority to see if they have authorised any work.
If you have made these checks and still have concerns that tree felling should have permission then you can report the incident to the Forestry Commission.
Making a report
If you suspect an illegal felling incident that you’d like to report to us, you can contact your local Forestry Commission Administrative or Area office.
We need you to answer as many of the following questions as you can in order for us to be able to investigate your report:
- Can you confirm the exact location of the incident? We need a property or site name and Ordnance Survey Grid reference, or post code.
- Can you tell us who is doing the work?
- Can you tell us how to contact them?
- What kind of land is the tree felling happening on? Is it in woodland, on farmland, in a hedgerow, in a residential area or caravan site, derelict land, or some other site?
- What tools are being used to do the tree felling? Are they using chainsaws, or have they got heavy machinery?
- Are the felled trees or timber still on site?
- Can you tell us the date the felling started, and whether the felling is still happening?
- Do you have any photographs of the felling work or the site that you can share with us?
Please provide your contact details. You can choose to make your report of an alleged illegal felling anonymously if you prefer, but providing your details can help our investigators gather information required to secure any subsequent enforcement action we might take.
Any personal information you give us will only be used to contact you about the activities you are reporting. We will not share your personal information without your consent unless we are legally obliged to do so. We will retain your personal information while we are undertaking our investigations and any follow up actions, and for up to 12 months afterwards. You can find full details on how we handle personal information in our Personal Information Charter.
What could happen if a tree is cut down without a licence
If no felling licence, exemption to the need for a licence or other valid permission is in place:
- all parties involved in the tree felling can be prosecuted for felling without a licence, resulting in an unlimited fine.
- the Forestry Commission can, in certain circumstances, serve a Restocking Notice to re-stock the land concerned, (or any other land as may be agreed), regardless of whether or not a prosecution takes place. The person served must maintain the replacement trees for up to 10 years.
- if the restocking requirements of either a felling licence or a Restocking Notice are not complied with, the Forestry Commission may issue an Enforcement Notice requiring action be taken to meet the conditions previously set. It is an offence not to comply with an Enforcement Notice and upon conviction, can result in the court imposing an unlimited fine, and/or issuing a Restocking Order.
- a Restocking Order will require the person to comply with the restocking conditions of the preceding Enforcement Notice (and Restocking Notice / Felling Licence). Failure to comply with a Restocking Order may be held as a contempt of court and be punishable with a further fine or custodial sentence.
- Restocking Notices and Enforcement Notices may also be listed on the Local Land Charges register by the Forestry Commission, which is commonly checked by conveyancers when land is bought or sold.
- if someone fells trees without a licence, and they claim annual agri-environment scheme payments on the land, they can be penalised financially through that scheme. Any failure to comply with the licensing controls is a breach under the Cross Compliance rules (GAEC 7a).
- if anyone sells illegally felled timber, they might be committing an offence under the Timber and Timber Products (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2013. A breach of these regulations means that the illegally felled timber can be seized by an authorised inspector. Anyone convicted of an offence under these regulations could get an unlimited fine and/or term of imprisonment.
- the Forestry Commission may issue guidance or a warning to those involved in accordance with our enforcement policy, and will retain a record of the activity to promote regulatory compliance and to support future regulatory and or enforcement activity.