New powers for illegal tree felling | Daily News Byte


Unlimited fines and jail terms are among a package of new powers to be introduced as part of a crackdown on illegal logging in England, Defra and the Forestry Commission announced today (Friday 23 December).

Delivered as part of the world’s leading environmental legislation, the changes to the Forestry Act 1967 will provide more proportionate, impactful and permanent enforcement options. The main changes are:

  • Felling trees without a felling license will carry an unlimited fine – up from the current limit of £2,500 or twice the value of the trees felled;
  • Failure to comply with Forestry Commission enforcement notices and subsequent court restocking orders (ie any trees felled must be replanted) will result in offenders risking unlimited fines plus imprisonment;
  • Restocking notices and enforcement notices will be listed on the local land charges register, making them visible to potential buyers of the land – potentially reducing the value of the land.

Landowners have been known to cut down trees without licence, in preparation for accepting fines if they are caught and fined, to re-use previously forested land for commercial purposes. These new powers will curb this illegal practice, streamline and strengthen the forestry enforcement administration and protect our trees, woodlands and forests.

The largest fine in recent years occurred in Hailsham, East Sussex, in January 2020 following a report of illegal tree cutting to the Forestry Commission. Hastings Magistrates’ Court fined him nearly £15,000 for felling 12 oak trees, all around 150 years old.

Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison said:

Cutting down trees without a license is illegal and can cause irreparable damage – damaging landscapes, destroying habitats for wildlife and causing distress to local communities.

These strong measures, implemented as part of our world-leading Environment Act, empower the Forestry Commission to tackle the issue with unlimited fines and custodial sentences for the worst offenders.

Today’s announcement demonstrates the Government’s commitment to protecting our precious trees, which are at the forefront of our efforts to bend the curve of biodiversity loss, tackle climate change and achieve net zero.

Forestry Commission Chief Executive Richard Stanford said:

I am very pleased to see these new powers written into law; As we increase the number of trees in England, we must end the scourge of illegal logging.

Legal felling is part of normal forest operations and is necessary to ensure a sustainable timber supply and that these areas are repopulated with new trees. The Forestry Commission will not hesitate to investigate allegations of illegal felling of trees. Once reported, our top priority is to ensure that damage caused by felling is properly accounted for by ensuring that trees are replanted wherever possible. In cases where it is appropriate, we will always seek action.

These new powers will hit people where it hurts – in their wallets. By guaranteeing that illegal textiles are no longer an economically viable option for criminals, these measures are an important step in the fight against this crime and will help in our efforts to combat the climate crisis and nature crisis.

Abi Bunker, Director of Conservation and External Affairs, Woodland Trust, said:

This is a welcome announcement which should strengthen the protection of trees in England. These changes should send a clear message that illegal felling of trees, for example before submission of development proposals, will not be tolerated, and that fines reflect the value and many benefits trees bring to our towns and cities. It is important that this is supported by increased resources for organizations that deal with the enforcement of illegal logging. We hope this is a step towards better conservation of trees and towards recognizing and protecting our oldest trees as essential parts of our heritage and most important to climate and nature.

Bringing more transparency to the forestry enforcement process, these provisions will also clarify that when an enforcement notice is affected by a change in land ownership, the new landowner will inherit the responsibilities of the enforcement notice. In addition, the new clauses will reclassify reclassification and enforcement notices as local land charges, which appear on the local land charge register. This register is checked regularly by conveyancers and will deter potential buyers, removing some of the financial incentives for illegally felled trees.

Finally, the Forestry Commission will have the power to compel a landowner to provide information about who else has an interest in the land, including leaseholders and tenants. While the owner will be listed on HM Land Registry, it can be more challenging to demonstrate who occupies the woodland – these measures will improve visibility in this regard and help better target any appropriate enforcement action.


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