Under the Forestry Act 1967, it is illegal to fell trees in Great Britain without prior approval, although there are a few exceptions (for trees below a specified size, dangerous trees, and very small scale felling operations). There is a presumption against removal of woodland and loss of forest cover in the UK, so felling licences issued under the Forestry Act will normally be conditional (where felling approval is granted subject to restocking). However, the permanent removal of trees may be granted (through an unconditional felling licence) for thinning woodland (a standard woodland management practice) or if there are overriding environmental considerations, for example to enable the restoration of important habitats (and consent may be required under the relevant Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations).
The removal of trees may also be authorised under planning regulations, to enable development (including for windfarms). In this case, a felling licence is not required.
The Forestry Commission, Natural Resources Wales and the Forest Service may also require trees to be felled to prevent the spread of pests and diseases, by serving a Statutory Plant Health Notice (SPHN) on the affected site.
Data sources and methodology
Information about felling licences and Statutory Plant Health Notices comes from Forestry Commission, Natural Resources Wales and Forest Service administrative systems.
Data on felling licences relates to felling licences that have been issued. It does not indicate whether the felling has taken place (and if so, when).
Further information on administrative sources can be found at: www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/statistics/about-our-statistics/code-of-practice/administrative-sources/.
All of the statistics on felling in this chapter are outside the scope of National Statistics.
Figures on felling licences and Statutory Plant Health Notices for 2017-18 are released for this first time in this publication.
Figures on Statutory Plant Health Notices in 2012-13 to 2015-16 in England and in Scotland in 2016-17 have been revised from those released in Forestry Statistics 2017. This has resulted in revisions of between -3 and +2 in the number of sites where a Statutory Plant Health Notice has been served.
The Forestry Commission's revisions policy sets out how revisions and errors are dealt with and can be found at www.forestresearch.gov.uk/documents/4355/FCrevisions.pdf.
Some related figures for England on felling licences have been released. Data on the total area covered by felling licences (conditional and unconditional) were released on 14 June 2018 in "Forestry Commission England Corporate Plan Performance Indicators 2018".
Further information on felling licences (including details of exemptions) is available at:
- England - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tree-felling-licence-when-you-need-to-apply;
- Wales - http://naturalresources.wales/forestry/tree-felling-and-other-regulations/?lang=en;
- Scotland - http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/supporting/grants-and-regulations/felling-licences.
A new Case Management System was introduced in Scotland in January 2012. This centralises the data collected on felling licences and provides more information about restocking proposals (including cases where the applicant has agreed to plant an alternative area, does not intend to restock or where open ground is being created) than has previously been gathered.
Further information on tree pests and diseases is available at www.forestry.gov.uk/pestsanddiseases.
Figures on felling licences and Statutory Plant Health Notices in 2018-19 will be published on 26 September 2019 in "Forestry Statistics 2019".
Chapter 1: Woodland Areas and Planting