This petition was submitted during the 2017–2019 Conservative government

Petition Increase the penalty for developers and landowners who remove trees illegally.

It is too easy for a developer to illegally remove trees including, but not only, trees with TPOs and receive a small fine which in no way reflects the value of trees or the profit the developer can gain. We want the financial penalty increased and severe restrictions placed on the lands future use.

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Trees take decades or centuries to reach maturity. They absorb carbon and expel oxygen, provide shade for humans and habitat for numerous organisms. A developer who illegally fells a group of trees, even those protected by a Tree Preservation Order, can expect a fine of a few thousand pounds and an order to "replace" the trees. As well as a bigger financial penalty and replacement order, the land should be passed to a public trust for 100 years. This will make developers think twice.

This petition closed early because of a General Election Find out more on the Petitions Committee website

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Government responded

This response was given on 4 November 2019

We have proposed measures in the Environment Bill to deter illegal felling, provide fines proportionate to potential profits and increase powers to compel restocking of land even if it is sold.

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In the 25 Year Environment Plan we committed to increase protection for existing trees and forests. We have strengthened protection for ancient woodlands through the new National Planning Policy Framework, under which development on ancient trees is prohibited except in wholly exceptional circumstances. There are already strong measures in place to punish breaches of Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs). Unlimited fines can be imposed for lopping or felling a protected tree, allowing courts to take into account any financial benefit which has resulted, or is likely to result, from the offence. The local authority can also require landowners to replace trees removed or destroyed in contravention of a TPO.

We have proposed measures in the Environment Bill to improve protection for our street trees and deter illegal felling, including by developers. The current felling licence system works well for the most part, and the Forestry Commission is able to tackle most cases it encounters. However, while illegal felling rates are relatively low, no illegal felling is acceptable.

We have put forward measures in the Environment Bill to help the Forestry Commission tackle and deter the most challenging cases of modern tree felling. These would increase the deterrent for illegal felling and provide enhanced enforcement powers where required.

Proposed forestry enforcement measures build on those used for TPOs by increasing fines for illegal felling (to unlimited fines); introducing a Restocking Order to be made by the courts and allowing for the Forestry Commission to list Restocking Notices and Enforcement Notices on the Local Land Charges register. The purpose and effect of these measures is outlined below.

The introduction of an unlimited fine would allow the courts to determine the size of any financial penalty imposed on someone found guilty of an offence. The court can decide a penalty proportionate to the means of the guilty party which accounts for the profit which can be made from clearing land.

Courts are currently unable to compel the offender to replant trees which they have felled illegally and been asked to restock by the Forestry Commission. The proposed Restocking Order would allow courts to compel restocking following a conviction for failure to comply with an Enforcement Notice. Non-compliance with the new Restocking Order may result in a further fine, or a short custodial sentence (up to two months). This will compel individuals to replant on illegally felled land.

By allowing the Forestry Commission to register restocking notices on the local land charges register, we will provide a disincentive to illegal felling by making it harder to sell cleared land. This means that where a Restocking Notice or Enforcement Notice has been served, prospective buyers of the land will be aware of its existence. They will also be aware that, with the purchase of the land, they will inherit any unfulfilled conditions of the Notice. This will ensure restocking of a site is achieved regardless of whether the land is sold.

The Environment Bill also includes legislation for conservation covenants, private conservation agreements for the public good. A conservation covenant is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a designated “responsible body” such as a conservation charity, public body or for-profit body which conserves (protects, restores or enhances) the natural or heritage features of the land. Conservation covenants would be entered into voluntarily but become legally binding once agreed. The parties agree the duration of a conservation covenant, but they can continue to be effective even after the land changes hands. This can provide further protection for woodland against felling by future owners of the land.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs