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Managing your trees

New tree disease finding in Cornwall: please see the information on this disease (Phytophthora pluvialis) on the government website. This includes information on how to report any potential sightings of the disease. There are also details of the restriction zone in Cornwall and the restrictions that apply.  

Landowners' Responsibilities

Private landowners are responsible for all trees on their land. This includes the felling and removal of dead or diseased trees, including trees affected by ash dieback.

Cornwall Council is only responsible for the management or removal of trees growing on its own land or those growing within the limits of the maintained highway.

The landowner has a legal responsibility to ensure that trees on their land do not present a risk to the public. This includes trees rooted in Cornish hedges that form the boundary to the highway.  It is important to carry out regular checks on trees, particularly after storm force winds. Most attention should be paid to those that overhang or may fall onto a public right of way or highway. 

You should be looking for:

  • signs of ill health including dying or discoloured foliage or deadwood in the leaf canopy.
  • instability - this includes freshly exposed roots, soil cracking or significant movement of the root plate. 
  • decay fungi (mushrooms, toadstools or brackets) within the roots or on the tree.
  • large deadwood, broken hanging branches, splits, cavities, or decay. 

Seek professional advice if you are not sure what to look for or have concerns regarding your trees. Tree specialists (arboricultural consultants) or tree surgeons (arborists) can assist with inspection and management. See below for further information. 

The National Tree Safety Group has produced useful advice for property owners about managing trees and tree risk.

Cornwall Council has discretionary powers to deal with privately owned trees that pose a threat to a public right of way or highway. Cornwall Council will seek to recover the costs of any works from the landowner. 

Choosing a tree specialist (arboricultural consultant)

If you need advice regarding tree safety, management, or development you should seek a suitably experienced and qualified tree specialist. 

The experience and qualifications required will depend upon the type and level of advice you need. At a minimum you should expect your specialist to:

  1. hold a level 3 or level 4 qualification (as recognised by the Qualifications Credit Framework)
  2. hold Employers Liability, Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurance (suggested minimum £5 million)
  3. provide a written quote and specification that ensures that all involved understand the service to be provided. 

Information and advice regarding qualifications is available in the Arboricultural Association Guide.

You may wish to check whether they have a membership for a professional organisation. Membership of the Arboricultural Association gives some assurance of the experience and quality of a tree specialist.

The Arboricultural Association's 'Registered Consultant' status and the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) 'Chartered Arboriculturalist' status indicates a high level of experience and qualification. 

For more information see the Arboricultural Associations' 'Registered Consultant Directory' and the ICF  'Hire a Consultant' pages.

If you are requesting advice on tree safety, it is important that your specialist identifies potential defects and assesses the risk they pose. They should also provide a list of priority works. 

Choosing a tree surgeon (arborist)

You will need to find a qualified and reputable contractor if you require tree work carried out. 

It is recommended that you request confirmation that potential contractors:

  1. are suitably experienced and that they have the correct qualifications. These will include NPTC/Lantra Awards certificates for chainsaw and woodchipper use. Additionally contractors may have National Certificates and Diplomas in Arboriculture. 
  2. have insurance, which should include Employers Liability and Public Liability (minimum £5 million).
  3. undertake work to a high standard (in accord with BS 3998 'Tree work - recommendations')
  4. are able to provide references. 

It is recommended that a written works specification is agreed. This should include the felling and pruning works to be undertaken. It must also be decided what will happen to the timber and woodchips which will result from the works.

It is recommended that you obtain three written quotations to assess value for money.

Further useful advice is available from the Arboricultural Associations' leaflet 'Choosing Your Arborist'.

You may also wish to check for a membership of a professional organisation or trade body. These memberships should provide a degree of confidence in the experience and quality of a contractor. 

For more information see the Arboricultural Association's Approved Contractor Directory or the International Society of Arboriculture's Certified Arborist accreditation.

Before starting work on trees

Tree Preservation Orders and Conservation Areas

Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) and Conservation Areas provide legal protection to trees. It is a criminal offence to prune, cut down or damage a protected tree without following the correct procedures. This can result in substantial fines.

Before you carry out any work on a tree, please check for the presence of Tree Preservation Orders or a Conservation Area. Please see the Planning advice on trees and application forms for permissions.

Felling Licenses

You may require a Felling License if the trees are not part of a garden, and works will result in more than five cubic metres of timber.  Felling licences are granted by the Forestry Commission.  Please see the Forestry Commission on-line application system, and guidance as to when a license is required


Some animals, insects and plants are protected by law. Protected wildlife includes nesting birds, bats and their roosting places, dormice and badgers and their setts, as well as many other species. 

The Wildlife Trust provides a useful list of UK protected species, the law and information on wildlife crime. Tree works can cause harm or disturbance to wildlife. The presence of and the impact upon wildlife must be taken into consideration when planning and undertaking work. Works which are likely to disturb dormice, bats and badgers will require licensed permission from Natural England.  If you or your contractor are uncertain how to approach this issue you should seek advice from a qualified ecologist prior to undertaking works. This will ensure that you do not break any laws. 

Useful information for tree owners and contractors around Bats, birds & trees is also available from the Arboricultural Association.

There are many other important notable species which have less protection in the UK but are still under threat. One example is the harvest mouse. We recommend that all notable species are given consideration when planning works. You can also look at an atlas of species found in your area

Tree works and the highway

You may need a 'License to work with Highway limits'. This is needed if your tree works are to be carried out on the highway or if they may affect users of the highway

It makes sure that your works will not occur at the same time as other planned roadworks and also minimises disruption to the public.

Your tree works contractor (or a traffic management company) should determine what traffic management is necessary to safeguard both themselves and the public. 

If traffic management (stop/go boards, traffic lights or a road closure) is needed then additional application forms will be required. 

Your tree works contractor, and/or a traffic management company should plan the works. They should also submit any necessary application and organise the traffic management on your behalf. Note that traffic management must be set up and controlled by accredited people. 

Please contact Cornwall Council  on 0300 1234 222 if you need to undertake emergency tree works from within the highway or if highway users are affected.

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