Wokingham District Veteran Tree Association

Frequently Asked Questions

Keephatch nature reserve

Keephatch nature reserve


Tree protection

How do I report an endangered tree?

tree with two trunks
MRN 2814/5 Gemini tree, Earley

WDVTA are keen to protect veteran and other significant trees wherever possible, but it is Wokingham Borough Council that you need to contact. Do be sure that you can provide an accurate description of the tree and its location and if it is in the WDVTA survey (use our map page to locate all the trees we have surveyed), then make a note of the tree's Master Record Number as well.

You can find out whether a tree has a Tree Protection Order (TPO) by going to the WBC website and searching for TPOs or pages about trees and outdoor maintenance. WBC publishes an online map of trees with TPOs which should help you find what you want. If the tree has a TPO then call WBC Customer Services on 0118 974 6000 and ask to be transferred to the Trees and Landscape team to notify them of the threat.

If the tree does not have a TPO then your options are limited. If the tree is on private land then you will have to take it up with the landowner. You can, of course, apply for a TPO yourself (see below). The tree may be within a Conservation area, which would give the tree a little more protection - if you don't know this, call WBC Customer Services and ask to speak to the department that can tell you if you are in one.

If the tree in question is close to a recent area of development, then the planning approval may have specified that the tree is to be retained. Check by calling WBC Customer Services on 0118 974 6000 and ask to be transferred to the Planning team.

Trees on council owned land and roadside verges are the responsibility of the WBC Cleaner and Greener team. Call WBC Customer Services on 0118 974 600 and ask for the Cleaner and Greener Team. They should be able to tell you if a tree belongs to the Council. Many Council trees do not have a TPO and a landowner has a common law right to cut branches of any tree (including a Council tree) that overhangs the landowner's property. Anyone cutting branches that do not overhang their property is committing a trespass and the Council should be informed if this happens.

You can find information on WBC's tree policies on their Parks and Countryside webpages.

Can tree roots cause building subsidence?

In many cases concern about damage by tree roots is unwarranted but shrinkable clay soils can be a cause of problems.

Even if there is evidence that a tree is involved in damage to a building it may be sufficient to prune the tree in an attempt to manage the water demand, and thereby its influence on the surrounding soil.

Unnecessary pruning or felling may potentially lead to building damage as soil water content increases after tree work is completed.

It is reasonable for the tree owner and the planning authority assessing a felling application to ask to see evidence showing that the tree is the principal cause of damage. Such evidence should include any reports by structural engineers, arboriculturists or root identification experts. Anyone concerned that subsidence has been unjustifiably cited as a cause of tree damage should ask to see this report.

The tree owner or insurance company may decide to appoint experts to corroborate or challenge these findings.

Even if the tree has stood on the site for hundreds of years and a new nearby building suffers damage, the tree’s owner could still be liable to an affected party for damage caused.

If you are opposed to a planning application to fell trees due to alleged subsidence you could consider doing the following:

How can I find out about tree pests and diseases?

The Forestry Commission has comprehensive information on their website top tree pests and diseases in the UK.

How do I find a reputable tree consultant who won't recommend felling a tree unnecessarily?

Take a look at the Arboricultural Association website where you can choose from the list of consultants.

As an association WDVTA can't recommend a consultant but would suggest that you phone two or three companies and tell them that you need a tree assessing for any health issues but you don't want it felled. You may well be able to judge from the phone call whether they are a 'just fell it' or a 'we can look and advise you' style of business. We suggest you get at least 2 quotations so you can compare their assessments of the tree and the work, if any, they recommend.

If the tree is in our database then you could mention in your phone call that the tree has been recorded by WDVTA and what the tree number is. Some companies are aware of our work and this might indicate companies that are interested in retaining trees where possible.

You could also look at directories such as Directory of Excellence or Checkatrade.

What should I do if I suspect a Wokingham tree has a disease?

If the tree is on private land you should tell the owner and draw their attention to Forestry Commission Tree Alert if they are not already aware of it.

In the case of a tree owned by WBC, you should contact the Cleaner and Greener team at WBC, but you should also notify the Forestry Commission.

How do I protect a tree with a Tree Protection Order?

If you wish to place a TPO owing to a tree's high amenity value or other valid reason, search Wokingham Borough Council's pages on TPOs which include an interactive map of TPOs already in place. To find the relevant pages on the Wokingham website you need to look under 'Roads and rubbish' then 'Roads and outdoor maintenance'. Anyone can request a TPO but you must be prepared to justify the application along the lines suggested in the guidance notes. Trees and Landscape will evaluate the application and let you know the outcome.

WBC may be reluctant to agree to a TPO on a Council-owned tree and in that case you may have to give persuasive reasons for the application such as an imminent threat or high probability of damage to the tree.

If the tree is in the WDVTA survey (use the map page to locate all the trees we have surveyed), then you can quote our Master Record Number to WBC in your application.

What should happen after I submit a TPO application?

The following is an extract from the Local Government Ombudsman's response to a complaint made by a Wokingham resident ("Mr X") in 2016 to the effect that The Council had granted planning permission for development that involved the loss of mature trees. The Council had failed to respond to Mr X’s request to protect the trees by making a tree preservation order, and had agreed to apologise. But that failure had no substantive effect on the decision to grant planning permission.

As a result of this response, the Council agreed:

What can I do if a tree is being felled or pruned unnecessarily?

felled trees

According to the Woodland Trust "Cutting down, uprooting or wilfully destroying a tree that is subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), is in a conservation area, or is over 5 cubic metres in volume is an offence if permission has not been granted."

The Forestry Commission also offers this guidance which should help you decide whether the work is being carried out legally.

If contractors have started to work on a tree which you think should not be pruned or felled you should make a note of any vehicle registration and any name, telephone number etc. on the vehicle. Do not endanger yourself by confronting the tree contractor, but if you can safely take photographs then these may be very helpful.

If the tree is on public land or a roadside verge call WBC Customer Services on 0118 974 6000 and ask for the Cleaner and Greener team.

You can find out whether a tree has a Tree Protection Order (TPO) by searching WBC's website for information on TPOs, which includes an online TPO map. If the tree has a TPO then WBC must have authorised any work on the tree so if in doubt call WBC Customer Services on 0118 974 6000 and ask to be transferred to the Trees and Landscape team to check that approval has been given.

If the tree is in our survey (use the map page to locate all the trees we have surveyed), then please email us to tell us of the felling of the tree.

In November 2018, WBC carried a Motion proposed by Gary Cowan committing the Council to full transparency and a statutory consultation process where TPO protected trees are due to be felled. Here is a report on the Motion.

If the tree concerned is just at risk of being felled, then see the FAQ for reporting an endangered tree and protecting a tree with a Tree Protection Order (TPO). If you have an active Neighbourhood / Residents group, then raise the issue with them as it is always helpful to get more local people to express their opinions. Contacting your local parish / town councillor(s) and your Borough councillor(s) to make them aware of the issue and ask them for support is always worthwhile too.

What can I do if a planning application affects significant trees?

Major planning applications e.g. for the Strategic Development areas should have the plans reviewed by the borough tree management, biodiversity and parks and countryside teams who will look at the implications for existing trees as well as the planned planting of new trees. Scrutinising the submitted plans to identify the impact on existing trees is a time consuming task, but it is worth checking them thoroughly to have all your facts to hand.

If you have an active Neighbourhood / Residents group, then raise the issue with them as it is always helpful to get more local people to give their feedback to the new plans. Contacting your local parish / town councillor(s) and your Borough councillor(s) to make them aware of the issue and ask them for support is always worthwhile too - they all need votes to get elected, so they should be at least there to hear what local residents want to tell them.

The planning application will identify which Planning Officer in WBC is managing the application and any objections you want to make should be sent to this planning officer.

WDVTA is not a campaigning organisation, nor are we tree experts and we are not political.  We are a voluntary organisation who aim to protect, wherever possible, the local trees. Where trees are lost for whatever reason we try to ensure their replacement. However, please email us with your concerns particularly if any of the trees impacted by the planning application are in our survey (use the map page to locate all the trees we have surveyed). Telling us details of the application and the Master Record Numbers of the trees affected will help us understand what is planned. Where our very limited resources allow, we will do our best to respond and if possible assist you or make our own response to the planning application.

WDVTA will press for the retention of as many trees as possible; particularly the larger trees which we have recorded and old hedges and hedge trees. These trees are particularly important for their aesthetic value, their biodiversity, their historical context and also specifically for Wokingham for the 'green routes' into the town which reflect the old Windsor Forest.

It is also worth looking at the details in the planning application for the protection that is planned for existing trees and hedges during the development. On some of the larger developments this has been very good, but it is always worth stressing to WBC that this protection is essential in all developments as examples of trees and hedges damaged by contractors during their work are all too frequent.

What can I do if it looks as if land and significant trees are being cleared on a site without planning permission?

Try to ascertain who owns the site and why the land is being cleared. It is also important to know if the land is part of a 'reserved site' for possible future development. The Land Registry may help for ownership and WBC Planning Department should be asked about 'reserved site' status.

If there are significant trees remaining on the site (along its boundaries or adjacent to the site) that may be at risk then please follow our FAQs for reporting endangered trees and what to do if a tree is being felled or pruned unnecessarily and act as fast as you can if work has already started.


Can I use my smartphone to get a grid reference?

There are several phone apps that give grid references. This is great for surveying trees because it means you don’t have to carry a separate GPS around with you and the screen is larger. On my android phone, I use GR [Grid Reference by Arthur Embleton]. It’s free, accurate (as accurate as our eTrex GPS units), very easy to read and you can save the grid reference directly to other apps if you want to.

The Ordnance Survey offline maps application gives grid references and bearing. The data is free to download when you buy a paper OS map.

How accurate is my GPS? Why is my tree on the wrong side of the road in the database?

GPS units usually require a strong signal from at least four satellites to give a position reading. Even when you get the 'Ready to navigate' display, if it is only receiving a few satellites (tree cover can cause this!) your accuracy will be reduced. Under the very best conditions, there is still a margin of error in the basic measurement caused by a variety of factors including the weather and solar activity. A secondary error is also introduced when converting to an OS grid reference. This is discussed on page 5-1 of the handbook. Our target accuracy is 10m, but that can of course still put your tree on the wrong side of the road. To get a really accurate grid reference you need to use the OS maps that we send back to you. These show all features to an accuracy of about 0.5m in a town and about 1m in a rural setting. Other maps, such as Magic Maps based on the 1:10000 series can introduce other errors. Features can be up to 7m out of position and roads are depicted wider than they really are. To aid visibility side roads can often be shown more than 15m wide where the road is actually less than 10m wide. Therefore an accurate grid reference on those maps can seem to place a roadside tree in the middle of the road and a grid reference taken from the roadside can end up well inside an adjacent property.

This is why it's so important to include a good location description. If the location description places a tree on an island and the grid reference doesn't, we know the grid reference needs correcting.

How do I correct an inaccurate grid reference in the database?

Lime Avenue Barkham

Lime Avenue, Barkham

If the grid reference is approximately correct, there is no need to go out and take it again (unless of course you have forgotten where the tree is). In fact you are unlikely to get a more accurate reading the second time. You should use the maps sent back to you to correct any inaccurate grid reference. These maps are not really suitable for printing. They are intended for screen use, so that you can zoom in and out to see details clearly. If you know where a tree ought to be on the map, you can measure (on the screen) the distance from the inaccurate position to the accurate one and calculate the true grid reference from that. The method is explained on page 5-3 of the handbook. [All recorders should have a copy of the handbook. Check with your co-ordinator if you need one.]

Some pdf readers (including free ones) have a measuring tool so that you can draw a line between the position of your tree as marked on the map and its true position, with the distance being displayed on the screen.

Hint: If you do want to print just a section of the map, zoom in to get the section you want on screen and then use 'Print Screen' (or the Windows snippet tool), or ⌘-Shift-4 on Mac OS.

When a tree is felled is it removed from the database?

No. We want to record any trees lost through natural or unnatural causes, as well as any other significant changes that happen to a tree since it was first recorded. We have a separate recording sheet to record such updates and a separate update field in the database. The latest known status of any tree is shown in the information box of each tree on our web map.

About trees

oak tree with ivy

Is ivy harmful to trees?

Ivy is not parasitic and does not damage a tree although a heavy growth of ivy can be an indicator that the tree is under stress due to other causes. It can act as a valuable habitat providing shelter for nesting birds, small mammals and a variety of insects. See A & E ArborEcology's Ivy - Friend or Foe? for further information.

How do I find out the age of a tree from its size?

The girth of a tree is a good indicator of its age and the WDVTA has published a guide, Estimating the Age of a Tree from its Girth, which gives information on a wide range of species.