Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Harvesting trees; timber harvesting

Timber harvesting

Harvesting can damage:

  • surface waters, if you do not manage run-off properly
  • soil, if the equipment and techniques you use to extract and transport timber are not appropriate to the site.

Good site planning and good felling and extraction practices will help minimise your impact on the environment.

What you must do

Felling trees - planning and permission

Before you start harvesting you must assess the site and draw a detailed map of your findings. Include any sensitive areas, streams, drains, protected wildlife or other relevant features. You can then decide on the most appropriate harvesting techniques, methods and machinery to use on different areas of the site.

Make sure that felling teams, extraction teams, and supervisors fully understand and follow any special working instructions. Hold a pre-commencement meeting where all parties discuss the site plan.

Check with your planning authority, or Local Council in Northern Ireland, to find out if a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) covers any trees in the area you plan to work in.

You will need permission before felling, topping, lopping or uprooting a tree covered by a TPO. If you carry out any of these activities without permission you will be committing a criminal offence.

You do not require consent to fell a tree if the felling is urgent to prevent danger. However, you should get advice from the Forestry Commission or your Local Council in Northern Ireland, beforehand. You could be prosecuted if it is shown that the tree did not present a real or immediate danger and you may be required to replace it.

In Scotland you will normally need permission from the Forestry Commission to fell growing trees. The Forestry Commission will usually give its permission in the form of a felling licence or an approval under a dedication scheme.

Forestry Commission: Quick guide to felling licences

In Northern Ireland you should contact the Forest Service for advice on felling.

Forest Service Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland owners of private woodlands of 0.2 hectares or more need a licence to fell trees and are required to re-establish the woodland under an approved felling management plan.

Felling trees does not always require a licence. For example, you do not need a felling licence if you are felling:

  • coppice stems with a diameter of 15cm or less
  • trees with a diameter of 8cm or less when they are measured at a height of 1.3m from the ground.

However, you should still consult your local planning authority or, in Northern Ireland, your divisional planning office and the Forest Service.

Clearing land for agricultural use

Before clearing land for agricultural use, you must contact:

Scottish Government: Rural Payments

Protecting the water environment during harvesting

If you pollute the water environment, you are probably committing an offence.

In Northern Ireland you must have consent from the Rivers Agency before you place structures in any waterway that are likely to affect its drainage. Contact your local Rivers Agency office for further information.

Northern Ireland: Rivers Agency Area Offices

In Scotland, if you carry out building and engineering works in inland waters or carry out activities close to waters that could significantly affect the water environment, you must either:

  • comply with certain general binding rules (GBRs) which apply to low-risk activities
  • register your activity with SEPA
  • obtain a licence from SEPA.

SEPA: Practical guide to the Water Environment Regulations (Adobe PDF - 540KB)

Good practice

Limiting soil damage

Cable-crane extraction causes much less soil disturbance than skidding or forwarding. Place runners or bearers on the ground before dragging trees. This protects the ground surface and prevents the formation of worn trails.

Choose the best machine combination for ground conditions to limit damage to the soil. This could include traction or flotation aids. Avoid ground skidding on soft soils. Try to avoid long straight ground extraction routes on steep slopes. Always use suitable extraction techniques to minimise erosion, siltation and water movement, especially in high rainfall areas.

Consider using horses for extracting timber. This will minimise the disturbance to soil, flora and fauna. For more information see the British horse loggers website.

British Horse Loggers

On soft soils, provide and maintain an adequate supporting brash mat for the main vehicle routes. Use brash thatching to protect roads from tracked vehicles. Consider using thatching or ramps of stones or logs to protect heavily used access points.

Where possible, only pile large brash heaps on dry ground.

Avoid leaving bare ground when harvesting. Bare soils are particularly at risk from erosion by wind and rain. Install collecting drains to control run-off and reduce the risk of erosion.

Further information

Forest Service Northern Ireland: Forest planning

UK Forestry Standard (Adobe PDF - 974KB)

Forestry Commission: Forests and climate change guidelines

Forestry Commission: Forests and water

SEE ALSO: Constructing forest roads and paths

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