Have you ever been tempted to prune a few overhanging branches from your neighbouring fence line? Maybe you’ve cut down a tree in your own backyard without even giving it a second thought? You’re probably thinking… ‘She’ll be right, since when has removing a tree ever hurt anyone? Well…listen out! Not only is there the possibility you’ve engaged in unlawful activity, but there’s a chance you could be slapped with a big ol’ fine. Yikes!

Pruning, trimming, cutting or removing a tree or branch on any given property, may have noteworthy consequences. Luckily the team at Shaw Landscape Group have got your back. We recently sat down with Bohmer’s Tree Care Director and Chief Arborist, Clive Woodnutt AKA ‘The Tree Whisperer’ to chat about the lesser-known facts of tree pruning and removal.

Do I need approval before pruning or removing a tree on my property?

Tree in back yard property

Image Credit: Wollongong City Council

Contrary to popular belief, just because a tree is growing on your private residence, it doesn’t necessarily give you permission to do with it as you wish. In fact, the current guidelines for Wollongong council state; that if a single tree measures 3 metres or greater in height, has a trunk diameter of 200mm or more while measuring 1 metre off the ground, holds branches that span 3 metres wide or if a tree is dead/dying, then you must seek and receive approval.

In some cases however, approval to prune or remove a tree on your property may not be required. For example if your tree is on the exempt list or if you already have been given approval as part of a development Consent.

What to do before pruning or removing a tree on my property?

Arborist removing tree branch

Image Credit: Bohmer’s Tree Care

As if there’s not already enough to consider when building a house or installing a new pool, right? If you are looking to remove or prune a tree on your property (or council verge), it’s important to engage a reputable landscaper or arborist who can help you to identify the tree species and advise you of the correct rules and regulations.

Clive says that the complex and challenging nature of the work that an arborist carries out should be considered before removing a tree. “You certainly don’t want to be responsible for a serious accident at your home or damage to your property”. We regularly advise customers who are undergoing tree work of the key information and the processes involved – people should really know what they’re doing”, says Clive.

The easiest place to start would be to visit your local council’s Tree Pruning and Removal webpage and apply for a Tree Management Permit. We suggest that you get in early with the council, because it can take around 14 days for your application to remove a tree is be processed. Clive and the Bohmer’s Tree Care team work closely with many local Councils to provide expert Arboriculture services and advice.

When is a good time to prune my tree?

image of tree producing sap

Image Credit: Homes Guides

When it comes to the question of ‘When’s a good time to prune my trees?’ This has always been a tough one for Clive to answer. He says “Predominantly there are two schools of thought: When the sap is not rising and whenever the tree needs some TLC”. However, Clive states that the latter is the real answer. “Whilst pruning a tree when the sap is rising does no harm, the removal of dead or diseased parts of a tree is very beneficial, particularly as dead wood can harbour harmful fungi and insects”, says Clive.

Will I be fined for pruning or cutting down a tree on my property?

Tree stump being removing in the ground

Image Credit: Bohmer’s Tree Care

Clive, Winner of the 2016 SafeWork NSW Award notes “It is highly recommended that you contact your local council before you engage someone to prune or chop down a tree”. Particularly as the council has the power to issue hefty fines” he says.

According to NSW legislation, if you’re caught cutting down a ‘protected’ tree without approval, the maximum penalty is upwards of $110,000 in a local court and even more in the NSW Land and Environment Court. Clive says “Most local councils require that a qualified arborist is engaged to carry out any approved works and fines can be incurred if this is not adhered to”.

The penalties are pretty heavy, so to avoid council from knocking on your door, it’s important that you do your research and seek professional advice before you or your neighbour decide to bring out the chainsaw.

Why does it matter if I prune or remove a tree on my property?

Bohmer's Arborist removing a tree

Image Credit: Bohmer’s Tree Care

Despite all of the very serious council rules and regulations in place for tree pruning and removal, there’s actually another really important ‘player’ that should be considered – her name is Mother Nature. So why does all of this matter anyway? It’s pretty simple really, because any tree that holds significant value in terms on it’s functionality, history, aboriginality or sacred nature is absolutely worth saving. At the end of the day, there would be no human population without trees.

Bohmers philosophy is that the removal of trees is often considered as a last resort. “First and foremost, we care for trees”, says Clive. “With a family name ‘Woodnut’, it’s safe to say that we live and breathe them, quite literally. While I was given the name ‘bohmer’ meaning ‘man of the trees’, I am more commonly known as ‘The tree whisperer’”. Bohmers replant a new tree each time they remove one and work closely with a number of charitable programs such as Carbon positive Australia organisation and Illawarra’s Green Connect. “We are always exploring ways in which we can avoid removal by transplanting, replanting, or opting to prune to better maintain a tree’s health”, says Clive.

Can I go ahead and remove an overhanging tree branch from a neighbouring property without approval?

tree overhanging neighbouring fence line

Image Credit: NBCL

The short answer is no. Speak to your neighbour first, then you must both seek and receive permission from council to prune or remove the agreed tree or branches. In the case of a difficult neighbour who is not willing to cooperate, you can apply to prune the parts of the tree that are on your side of the boundary.

What if the tree is a protected species?

Large Margaret river grass tree in front garden

Image Credit: Margaret River Grass Trees

If you have identified a tree on your property that is a protected species (any species that fit in the category of great significance) you may be required to submit a separate permit or development consent before you will be given permission to remove or prune.

In the case you are building or renovating, a protected species may require you to set up a tree protection zone to avoid demolition or any damage to the tree during construction. For more information on protected tree species, visit the NSW state environmental planning policy webpage.

Can I remove a tree if my property is in a bushfire prone area?

Arborist in the trees bohmer's tree care

Image Credit: Bohmer’s Tree Care

If you live in close proximity to the bush or a bushfire prone area, you may be exempt from seeking approval for the removal of trees within 10 metres of your home. If this is the case, you can visit the New South Wales Rural Fire Services 10/50 vegetation clearing information page to learn more. To identify if your property is in a designated 10/50 vegetation clearing entitlement area, visit the New South Wales Rural Fire Services online tool.

Clive states that maintaining your trees may cost money – but neglect can cost a fortune! So if you’re in the process of renovating, building, or if it’s just time to get that darn tree looked at, then speak to the professionals to ensure the safest and lawful ‘root’ is taken (pun intended). Do your research, check with your local councils regulations and speak to a qualified landscaper or arborist.

To find out more about the health and safety of tree removal, check out Bohmer’s Tree Care’s Youtube channel.