This guidance is intended to assist landowners and relevant authorities responsible for maintaining the utilities network and key infrastructure. It explains when felling permission is and isn’t required for dealing with trees infected with ash dieback in Scotland.
If you're in doubt as to whether you need felling permission after reading this guidance, please contact your local conservancy office for advice.
Felling permission is normally required to fell a tree unless an exemption applies or another valid form of permission is in place. Large individual trees, groups of trees, and trees within woodlands are highly likely to require felling permission. It's an offence to fell trees without a valid permission or an exemption being in place.
There's no specific exemption for trees infected with ash dieback. However, there are a number of felling permission exemptions that may be relevant due to the number, size, and location of ash trees across Scotland. Guidance on how the exemptions apply is provided below. If you’re applying an exemption, you must be able to prove that the exemption applies. This can be done by carrying out basic surveys, taking photographs and by recording any decisions you make before starting work. You should keep these records for three years.
Regulation 4(n) of the Forestry (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations 2019 provides that unauthorised felling does not occur if the felling of a tree is required by order of a court or tribunal or by any enactment.
Enactments could include The Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 which confers power to Local Authorities (for the public roads network on their lists) and to Transport Scotland (for the Trunk Roads Network) to serve notice on the owner or occupier of the land where a tree overhanging a road endangers or obstructs the passage of vehicles or pedestrians, interferes with the safe use of the road or increases the likelihood of road obstruction by drifting snow. Such notices require the owner or occupier to carry out the work necessary to remoce the cause of danger. If the danger is considered to be imminent, the roads authority may dispense with the notice and carry out the work.
Trees in this category can be felled by notice, requiring them to be felled within a certain timeframe or directly by the roads authority if the danger is imminent, without felling permission.
The roads authorities (whether in relation to local roads or trunk roads) have duties and obligations to manage and maintain roads under their charge. This duty is set out under sections 1 and 2 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 and is wide ranging. For the purposes of that Act the meaning of “road” includes the road’s verge. This duty would therefore include the maintenance and management of trees growing on the road’s verge.
We recommend that roads authorities prepare an Ash Dieback Action Plan for the road network they are responsible for. This should include provision for a regular assessment of the condition of the ash trees on the network and a definition of the level of infection where they consider that infected ash trees are likely to cause danger by falling on to the road.
Further guidance can be obtained from The Tree Council’s Ash Dieback Toolkit for Scotland.
See ‘Statutory Undertakers’ below.
Any trees with a diameter at breast height (measured at 1.3 metres from the ground) of ten centimetres or less do not require felling permission. If the proposed felling exceeds specific thresholds you will still require an EIA screening opinion from Scottish Forestry.
Less than 5 cubic metres of timber
5m³ of timber can be felled without felling permission within any set calendar quarter, per land ownership. This exemption does not apply in native broadleaved woodland between 0.1 and 0.5 hectares inclusive, and Caledonian Pinewood Inventory sites.
Felling Permission is not required in:
- Orchards - an area of land, frequently enclosed, given over to the cultivation of fruit trees.
- Gardens - a piece of ground adjoining a house, in which grass, flowers, and shrubs may be grown.
- Churchyards - an enclosed piece of ground in which a church stands.
- Burial grounds - land that is set apart as devoted to the internment of human remains, including land that was, but is no longer, used primarily for the burial of human remains. The full definition of a burial ground can be found in the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016.
- Public open space - public open space is an area which is designed and maintained for use by the public but does not include any stands of trees which have a canopy cover of more than 20% within an area of 0.1 hectares or greater. This may include open areas within public gardens, parks, urban greenspaces and trees forming part of the built environment, e.g. those lining streets.
Felling a tree where necessary for the prevention of immediate danger to persons or to property. This exemption applies where trees present an immediate danger and a direct risk to people or to infrastructure and utilities. The term ‘property’, may include buildings, access tracks, or where trees have compromised boundaries such as fences or dykes. Tree felling should only be carried out where the removal of dangerous branches is not sufficient to minimise the danger. Trees that are perceived to be dangerous (for example trees that may or may not fall in extreme weather events) are not exempt and require a Felling Permission.
Trees on land occupied by a statutory undertaker and at the request of a statutory undertaker which are obstructing or interfering with the construction or maintenance of their work.
“Statutory undertaker” means a person authorised by any enactment to carry out work on any railway, light railway, tramway, road transport, water transport, canal, inland navigation, dock, harbour, pier, lighthouse undertaking, or any undertaking for the supply of hydraulic power or of water, or a holder of a licence under section 7A of the Gas Act 1986. Statutory undertakers must be able to demonstrate that the trees currently obstruct the construction or maintenance of infrastructure, rather than a theoretical future scenario where the trees could obstruct planned works.
This exemption only applies to the felling of trees on land that statutory undertakers occupy – either in their ownership or under an agreement with the land owner (for example rail tracks). Statutory undertakers cannot carry out the felling of trees on land that they do not occupy without a Felling Permission signed by the owner of the land, where other exemptions do not apply.
Although permission isn't required for felling carried out by statutory undertakers, the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 confers a duty on all Scottish public authorities to promote sustainable forest management. Therefore all felling must be assessed for appropriateness and the requirement for compensatory planting in line with the Scottish Government’s Control of Woodland Removal Policy.
Where a statutory undertaker is likely to have a considerable number of ash trees on land they occupy, we recommend using The Tree Council's Ash Dieback Toolkit to prepare an Ash Dieback Action Plan. This should include provision for a regular assessment of the condition of the ash trees on their land and a definition of the level of infection where they consider that infected ash trees become dangerous to the point that they are likely to obstruct or interfere with the construction or maintenance of their work.
Felling of a tree by, or at the request of, an electricity operator, where the tree is in close proximity to an electric line or electrical plant (existing or to be installed) and the presence of the tree is:
- obstructing or interfering with the installation, maintenance or working of the line or plant; or
- constituting an unacceptable source of danger (whether to children or to other persons)
Please note resilience felling will require felling permission. This includes infected ash trees recorded during regular inspections.
Felling of a tree by, or at the request of, Scottish Water, where the tree is or may interfere with the functions of Scottish Water.
Infected ash trees can be felled under this exemption where they are adjacent to water treatment plants, and their failure would obstruct Scottish Water in their maintenance of, and access to, the water infrastructure.
Felling a tree by, or at the request of, a local authority, where done in accordance with the local authority’s functions under the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 Section 56(1) and (2)(a) to (d).
Felling under this exemption must be in accordance with the implementation of an approved flood risk management plan or where it's necessary to reduce the risk of a flood which is likely to occur immediately and have serious adverse consequences as detailed in the flood risk legislation above.
Tree felling is extremely dangerous. Only fully qualified and experienced professionals should carry out tree felling or surgery. The Forest Industry Safety Accord explains the health, safety and welfare standards required in forestry work.
If you have felling permission or an exemption applies, other approvals may be required if the proposed tree felling impacts on important site features including; Tree Preservation Orders, protected species, designated sites and archaeology. Approval under the relevant legislation for the site interest feature must be obtained before work starts. It's your responsibility to ensure all necessary valid permissions have been obtained before proceeding.
Ash makes a substantial contribution to biodiversity and many landscapes, therefore we would encourage you to replant any areas of diseased trees felled under an exemption. Further guidance for suitable alternative species to replant can be found here.
Further guidance on how to manage ash trees affected by ash dieback in Scotland can be found here.
Contact us for advice if you're unsure whether any exemptions apply.