Judge uses 12,000 words to legally define “a tree”

A High Court judge, Mr Justice Cranston, has taken 12,000 words to answer the question: what is a tree?

As the UK’s Daily Telegraph reports, the judge thought it necessary to spell out the exact legal definition of a tree because of confusion in the planning process.

While trees could obviously be the object of tree preservation orders, the question remained about the status of saplings.

For clarity the judge ruled that size did not matter, and that the smallest sapling was, legally speaking, a tree.

His conclusion clashes with that of Lord Denning, a former Master of the Rolls, who ruled that a tree was only a tree if its trunk had a diameter of at least seven inches.

In opening his judgment Mr Justice Cranston said: “What is a tree? In particular does it include a young tree, a sapling?”

He continued: “On one occasion Lord Denning said emphatically that many saplings were not trees and that in woodland a tree was something over seven or eight inches, 180 to 200mm, in diameter.”

The issue arose in the case on which he was ruling because, while section 198 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provided for tree preservation orders (TPOs) to preserve trees, groups of trees and woodlands, he said that there was “no statutory definition of a tree”.

He concluded that “with tree preservation orders there are no limitations in terms of size for what is to be treated as a tree. In other words, saplings are trees”.

The case was brought by a developer who had challenged a Government decision to not allow works in a young patch of woodland in North Halling, by the River Medway in Kent.

Palm Developments Ltd bought the site in 2001 and applied for permission to use the land as a commercial wharf.

Before the World War II, it was an industrial site but then it was abandoned, leaving a succession of trees to grow up.

Medway Council refused planning permission and applied for the site to be protected with a tree preservation order.

The company then appealed to Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, but she agreed with planning inspectors that the development would “cause irreversible harm to the visual amenity of the woodland”.

Palm Developments Ltd launched a fresh appeal in the High Court but that also proved to be unsuccessful.

Here is the full ruling by Mr Justice Cranston

Source: Daily Telegraph

Date: 13/02/2009

One Response

  1. Readers interested in the topic of definitions of ‘tree’ and ‘forest’ that are used through out the world may wish to check
    Lund, H. Gyde. 2008. Definitions of forest, deforestation, reforestation and afforestation. [Online report]. Gainesville, VA: Forest Information Services. Misc. pagination. http://home.comcast.net/%7Egyde/DEFpaper.htm.

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