I have a large, mature tree in my garden that my neighbour tells me is subject to a Tree Preservation Order. I would like to trim back some of the branches to allow light on to my decking. Are the local authority likely to take any action if I trim the branches and I don't cut down the whole tree?

This is a very topical subject in anticipation of Spring and Summer and the new growing season.

Just to remind you if a tree is subject to a tree preservation order, or if your property is in a conservation area, it is a criminal offence to lop, top, damage or remove a tree without the written consent of the conservation officer of the local authority. The reason tree preservation orders are used by the local authority is to protect selected trees and woodlands if their removal would have a significant negative impact on the local environment and its enjoyment by the public.

If you breach this order you will have committed a criminal offence, and you are likely to be prosecuted by the local authority and will be liable for damages and costs to the council. This sanction has now gone a step further with recent case law where the council sued a home owner who removed a branch of a substantial, significant tree in the garden, which has a tree preservation order on it, not only for damages and penalties, but also for the enhanced value the property accrued in the removal of the branch. In this case the court deemed the value of the property to be significantly enhanced with the illegal removal of the branch of the tree. The court ruled that the home owner had to pay this enhanced value to the council as a further penalty for his criminal action.

With this in mind it is imperative that you check with the conservation officer at the local authority whether your garden tree has a tree preservation order on it, and also be sure your property is not in a conservation area, before you trim back your branches. You could be sued for punitive damages as well as penalties and a sum for enhanced value of your property if you do not follow the legal steps properly and methodically in obtaining the conservation officer's confirmation of a tree preservation order, and then consent to remove the branches.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.