South Hams District Council (SHDC) has successfully prosecuted a resident who illegally cut down two protected trees in a woodland near Hope Cove more than two years ago.

The incident happened in December 2022 when the individual, who was not named, contracted an independent gardening service that was reportedly unaware of the trees’ protected status and cut them down. However, they were in fact in breach of a Woodland Tree Protection Order.

SHDC investigates unauthorised work to protected trees and, where appropriate, will prosecute individuals or companies that deliberately damage or destroy a protected tree, often for personal or financial gain.

In this instance, the defendant received a £10,000 fine and was ordered to pay costs totalling more than £5,000. In addition, the offender will also be required to replace the trees which will be protected by the same Tree Preservation Order once planted.

Cllr Dan Thomas, South Hams District Council’s Executive Member for Planning, said: “I am very pleased with the outcome of this case and more importantly with the clear message it sends. We never want to take our residents to court, but when planning law is deliberately ignored, we can and we will.”

According to the government, illegal tree felling can cause irreparable harm to forests, as well as damage wildlife habitats and negatively impact local communities.

Since January 2023, illegal tree felling in England has been punishable by unlimited fines and even prison sentences, but despite the latest measures, a 150-year old oak – the Sycamore Gap tree at Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland - was chopped down by four individuals last September.

Information and advice about trees and hedgerows as well as the laws protecting them can be found on SHDC’s web and social media pages, in addition to SHDC’s arborists’ specialist advice.