Contributed by Environmental Defenders Office ACT and current to 2018.

Which trees are protected?

Significant trees in the ACT urban environment are identified and protected through the Tree Protection Act 2005 (ACT). Protected trees are 'registered trees' or 'regulated trees' (section 8 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). The Tree Protection Act only applies to leased territory land declared to be a 'built-up urban area' by the Minister (section 7 of the Tree Protection Act 2005).

Benefits of protection

It is an offence to damage a protected tree without approval as well as to undertake ground work in the protection zone of a protected tree (ss 15 - 18 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). Unless otherwise defined in a tree management plan, the protection zone is measured in relation to the canopy of the tree and the four metre wide area surrounding the trunk (section 11 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). You can undertake 'minor pruning' of a protected tree without approval but lopping and pollarding requires approval (section 12 of the Tree Protection Act 2005).

Registered Trees Regulated Trees

These are trees registered on the ACT Tree Register (section 9 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). This is designed to protect individual trees of exceptional value:

  • Natural/cultural heritage value
  • Landscape and aesthetic value
  • Scientific value

These are living trees of a certain significant size on leased land in a tree management precinct (other than registered trees or palm trees) and can be either native or non-native (section 10 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). They must be either:

  • Over 12m tall;
  • Have a canopy of 12m; or
  • Have a trunk diameter of 1.5m, 1m from the ground
Minor pruning: limited to removing deadwood, removing limbs with a diameter of 50mm or less, or the first pruning of the tree in the calendar year, which affects less than 10 per cent of the canopy and does not change the overall shape of the canopy. Minor pruning: performed in accordance with the Australian Standard on Pruning , AS 4373, that does not affect the general appearance of the tree or if it is a fruit tree, if it is done in accordance with the Standard and is done for fruit production (section 13(2)(b) of the Tree Protection Act 2005).
Major pruning of registered trees may be approved if the work is required:
  • To maintain the health and safety of the tree;
  • To maintain clearance from services; or
  • As remedial treatment.

Approval for major pruning of a registered tree may only be given if the work is necessary and will not:
  • Substantially alter the tree's shape or form;
  • Cause the tree to become unsafe; or
  • Result in the decline or death of the tree, or necessitate its removal or destruction.
How can a tree be registered?

There are two steps to this: provisional registration and then registration on the ACT Tree Register. Anyone can nominate a tree in the built-up urban environment for inclusion on the tree register using the nomination form available from the Department of the Environment (section 46 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). After receiving the registration form, the Conservator of Flora and Fauna (the Conservator) has six months to decide whether to provisionally register the tree (section 47 of the Tree Protection Act 2005).

The Conservator must place a notice of this decision in a daily ACT newspaper (section 49 of the Tree Protection Act 2005) identifying the tree and calling for comments no less than 21 days after the publication of the notice. The Conservator must also seek the input of: Notice of the Conservator's decision must be given in writing to:
  • The person who nominated the tree;
  • The Heritage Council, where the Conservator considers the tree to have heritage significance;
  • The lessee of, or land management agency (the land manager) for, the land that includes all or part of the protection zone for the tree; and
  • Anyone else the Conservator considers appropriate (section 49 of the Tree Protection Act 2005).
Provisional registration ceases if the tree is registered or the Conservator decides not to permanently register the tree (section 51 of the Tree Protection Act 2005).

The Conservator must make a decision on the registration of the tree within one year after the day the tree was provisionally registered (section 52 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). In doing so, the Conservator must consider the advice of the Tree Advisory Panel, the Heritage Council, and any comments received on the proposed registration received by the due date (section 49 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). To register a tree the Conservator must believe that the tree meets the criteria for registration (DI2018-50), see above table for summary. The Conservator must provide written notification of the registration decision to affected parties and stakeholders (section 53 of the Tree Protection Act 2005).

Cancelling a tree registration

Anyone can make a proposal to cancel a registration to the Conservator (section 55 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). The Conservator:
  • May refuse to consider applications deemed frivolous or vexatious;
  • Must give notice of the proposal to cancel; and
  • Must seek the advice of the Tree Advisory Panel and the Heritage Council.
The Conservator can only cancel a tree's registration if relevant criteria (DI2018-50) are met, such as, the tree:
  • No longer meets the criteria for registration;
  • Presents an unacceptable safety risk; or
  • Is causing substantial damage to a substantial building, structure or service which cannot be fixed without ongoing and extensive remediation.
Legally damaging protected trees and permission

Damage to a protected tree is permitted in certain circumstances (section 19 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). The Conservator can also grant approval under criteria (DI2006-60) to damage protected trees if the tree;
  • Is in decline and its life expectancy is short;
  • Represents an unacceptable risk to public or private safety;
  • Is causing or threatening to cause substantial damage to a substantial building, structure or service;
  • Is an inappropriate tree for its location because of its potential size or growth habit - this does not apply to remnant eucalypts;
  • Is substantially affecting solar access to the lessee's or a neighbour's lease between 9am and 3pm during winter and pruning would not fix the problem - this does not apply to remnant eucalypts;
  • Is causing an allergic reaction to someone who lives on the property and the claim is supported by a medical specialist's certificate; and
  • Is part of a close planting and its removal would enable the other trees to develop fully.
A decision must be made within 30 days of receiving an application. Urgent approvals to do prohibited activities may be granted where the activity is urgently required to protect the health or safety of people or animals, or public or private property (section 29 of the Tree Protection Act 2005).

What if a protected tree is being damaged illegally?

The Conservator can issue directions (in writing), with requirements to: stop the damaging work, erect a fence around the tree, drain the area around the tree that is flooded, or prune the tree to correct any damage.

What if a protected tree will be affected by a proposed development?

The Conservator receives a copy of any development application if it relates to a declared site (section 148 of the Planning and Development Act 2007). If the Conservator believes that the development will damage a protected tree or affect a tree protection zone or declared site, the Conservator can give written advice which must be considered by the ACT Planning and Land Authority when making its decision (section 82 of the Tree Protection Act 2005). Decisions cannot be inconsistent with the Conservator's advice (section 119(3) of the Planning and Development Act 2007 through to section 128(3) of the Planning and Development Act 2007), with certain exceptions (section 119(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2007 and (section 128(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2007).

For more information please refer to the detailed fact sheet provided by the Environmental Defenders Office ACT which can be accessed here.

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