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Forestry regulations

Forestry in the UK is tightly regulated and you should make sure that you are aware of your legal requirements before conducting woodland management operations. This can seem a daunting task at first, but the Forestry Commission has a network of woodland officers who are able to advise you on your obligations and best practice. There is a list of contact details for Forestry Commission England, including local woodland officers can be found on the Office access and opening times – Forestry Commission – GOV.UK ( of the website

N.B. This material is provided free of charge by the Biomass Energy Centre to give woodland owners general guidance, relevant to forestry legislation the UK in September 2011. This page does not cover this material in detail and as such is no substitute for project-specific expert advice. While the Biomass Energy Centre endeavours to provide accurate information and data, it makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability or suitability of the guidance contained or generated herein. The user understands that neither the Biomass Energy Centre nor the Forestry Commission accept any liability for any loss or damage whatsoever arising from any use of or reliance on this guidance and that that use of this guidance does not constitute a contract wherein any conditions, warranties or other terms implied by statute or common law can be relied upon.

Felling Licences

There is a presumption under the Forestry Act (1967) that any felling of living trees will require a Felling Licence, unless an exemption applies. An exemption may include felling small quantities, or when felling in specific areas (for example: gardens). Licences are free, and are issued by the Forestry Commission. If you do not obtain a Felling Licence where one is required, you face legal action. Contact your woodland officer for more details. There is also information available on the FC website at Tree felling: overview – GOV.UK (

Tree Preservation Orders and Conservation Areas

If any tree or woodland area is covered by a TPO, or is within a Conservation Area, you must inform the Forestry Commission before any felling takes place (in addition to requesting a felling licence where appropriate). Contact your woodland officer for more details.

Environmental Impact Assessment

The Forestry Commission is responsible for administering the Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999 and the Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) (Scotland) Regulations 1999. These regulations affect four forestry operations. These are:

  • Afforestation:
    Planting new woods and forests, includes direct seeding or natural regeneration, planting Christmas trees or short rotation coppice.
  • Deforestation:
    Felling woodland to use the land for a different purpose.
  • Forest Roads:
    The formation, alteration or maintenance of private ways on land used (or to be used) for forestry purposes. This includes roads within a forest or leading to one.
  • Forestry Quarries:
    Quarrying to obtain materials required for forest road works on land that is used or will be used for forestry purposes or on land held or occupied with that land area thresholds.

For these projects an EIA is required when the project exceeds a minimum threshold or when it is adjacent to land where these activities have recently taken place. Contact your woodland officer for more details.

Habitat Regulations

Since 1994 it has been an offence, under these Regulations, to deliberately kill or cause significant disturbance to a protected species, or to deliberately destroy their eggs. It has also been an offence to ‘damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place’ used by them (such as a bat roost in a tree or a dormouse nest on the woodland floor). However, the level of protection has been increased to ensure it complies with the EU Habitats Directive, as set out to the UK Government following a judgement in the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This judgement set the UK Government a tight deadline for incorporating the ECJ ruling into law.

The amended Regulations include as an offence any damage or destruction of a breeding site or resting place. Previously if damage was ‘an incidental result of a lawful operation' and reasonable precautions had been taken to avoid it, it would not have been an offence. Therefore there is a risk of woodland operators committing an offence if they have not carried out planned operations carefully, with the necessary checks and sought a licence where required.

Woodland managers need to consider the presence of protected species and follow good practice guidance to avoid committing an offence. In some cases management practices may need to be modified or rescheduled to a less sensitive time of year, and where this is not possible or adequate then operators may need to apply for a licence to remain within the law. Most activities will be able to continue without the need for a licence through the following of good practice guidance. The species that can occur in England's woodland are:

  • all 17 species of bat
  • Dormouse
  • Great crested newt
  • Otter
  • sand lizard
  • smooth snake
  • (The natterjack toad and some of the plant species, such as yellow marsh saxifrage, may rarely occur in woodlands or be affected by forest operations.)

The Forestry Commission has extensive guidelines for dealing with these species all of which is available here.

Countryside and Rights of Way Act

If a site has been dedicated under the CRoW act, or if there is a right of way on the site, there will be legal limitations regarding the extent of the disruption public access allowed. You should also bear in mind that if paths on site have been subject to unchallenged use by the public for at least 20 years, there may be a presumption of dedication under Section 31 of the Highways Act 1980.

Plant Health

The Plant Health Service regulates and advises on topics including timber treatment, wood marking, wood packaging, quarantine controls, phytosanitary certificates, and imports and exports of timber and wood materials.

There are a number of legal restrictions on the import and export; and movement within the UK of some timber species. This is covered by a number of pieces of legislation listed here. There is guidance on the plant health aspects of timber and wood import and export.

If you need more information then either contact Plant Health England, or check with your local woodland officer.

Ash dieback (Chalara Fraxinea) Regulations

The discovery of Chalara Fraxinea in ash trees in Great Britain required the passing of legislation on 29th October 2012 to minimize the spread of the disease. It's primary impact is to restrict the importing and movement of ash trees for planting.

If a site is found to have Chalara infection, a Plant Health Notice will be issued. This prevents the movement of all ash material from the site, however the wood may be used for fuel on the site. For sites that are free of infection there is no restriction on the sale of firewood and wood chips.

There is general information about the disease on the Forest Research website at: Ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) – Forest Research.

This includes information on financial assistance to assist woodland owners in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Importing wood

Plant Health controls apply to a wide range of imported wood products. This includes material imported for use as woodfuel.

Plant Health legislation for forestry
Plant Health Regulations applying to biofuels, trees, wood and other plant material. From the website.

Import firewood into England, Scotland or Wales
Guidance from the Forestry Commission

Import timber, wood products and bark
Requirements for landing controlled material into Great Britain. From the Forestry Commission.

Guide to implementation of phytosanitary standards in forestry
FAO Forestry paper No 164. A guide from the FAO on phytosanitation in forestry (PDF – 1.5 MB)

Forest Reproductive Material Regulation

The FRM regulations provide a system of identification and control of seeds, cuttings and planting stock used for forestry purposes in Great Britain. This is defined as 'woodland planting of any description for any forestry purpose including, timber production, forests and woodlands for tourist, recreational, sporting, educational or amenity purposes and the conservation and enhancement of the forest and woodland environment.'

The Regulations ensure that planting stock is traceable through the collection and production process to a registered source of basic material (e.g. trees from which the seed is collected or cuttings taken). This allows those who buy FRM to have sufficient information about the material being bought, such as provenance and origin. Further information is available from the FC website here.

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