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Care of Churches

Chancellor's Guidance on Churchyards & Memorials

Trees in Churchyards

The Chancellor is obliged to give written guidance to Parochial Church Councils as to the planting, lopping and topping of trees in churchyards. following consultation with the Diocesan Advisory Committee. This page sets out that guidance.

Introduction

The care and maintenance of a churchyard, and thus the upkeep of the trees within it, is the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council. In the case of trees, this is so even if a churchyard is a disused one, maintained by the local authority.

Where tree preservation orders have been made in respect of trees in churchyards, or where the churchyard lies within a conservation area, consent to fell, or to carry out work on, trees is required from the relevant planning authority: there is no "ecclesiastical exemption" from local authority control over works to trees (unlike the position in relation to building works to listed churches). Where the tree is in a conservation area (but not subject to a tree preservation order), the local planning authority must be notified of the proposed works to trees, in order to give it the opportunity to impose a tree preservation order.

A faculty from the Chancellor will generally be needed for any works of consequence to any existing trees in a churchyard, and for the planting of any new ones (but see below); and this will be so whether or not there is a need to obtain planning consent from, or to notify, the local authority under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The Faculty Rules contain a special form for petitions relating to trees, which needs to be sent to the DAC in the first instance.

All applications should be accompanied by photographs, clearly showing the nature of the alleged problem.

The importance of churchyard trees

Whilst trees may seem to be of no direct relevance to the life and work of the church as a local centre of worship and mission, they play an important role both in themselves (as objects of interest and beauty) and also as counterfoils to the architecture of the church itself and the memorials within the churchyard. Often local people appear to be more concerned about what happens to trees within a churchyard than about any other aspect of church-life. Additionally trees both grow and decay. This can cause problems for buildings and memorials, and dangers for all concerned.

Expert advice

Where there are trees in a churchyard, the Parochial Church Council should appoint one of its members as its Tree Warden, who should be responsible for monitoring the state of trees in the churchyard and should report at least annually to the Parochial Church Council. If desired, this position can be filled by one of the churchwardens. Further, every Parochial Church Council should be prepared to seek and follow expert advice concerning the trees and large shrubs within its churchyard or churchyards.

Many local authorities employ an arboricultural officer who may be able to give advice with regard to the safety of a tree within a churchyard and what, if any, maintenance or remedial work is necessary; alternatively advice can be obtained from an arboricultural consultant. The obtaining of a report from a consultant, and acting upon its recommendations, will be evidence that a Parochial Church Council has acted prudently, which is a duty expected of it by the law and indeed by insurance companies.

It is good practice to compile a tree report approximately every five years, which can then be annexed to the report of the quinquennial inspection of the church.

Dangerous trees

There is no formal exemption for the need for a faculty where a tree (or part of it) is dangerous. The Faculty Rules contain provisions for obtaining authorisation in cases of urgency, and a condition will often be imposed requiring replacement planting. Where the imminence of the danger is such that the only safe course is immediate felling, the Archdeacon should always be consulted, and care should be taken to confine the works to the part of the tree which is the cause of the danger; and thereafter to obtain retrospective authorisation.

Unauthorised works

Not only can an injunction be issued by the Consistory Court restraining the carrying out of unauthorised works to trees, but also a restoration order can be made by the court, requiring a replacement tree or trees to be planted.

De minimis

Subject to prior consultation with the Archdeacon, up to two trees in any churchyard may be planted in any calendar year without a faculty provided the trees are planted at least 10 metres from the wall of any church or building, and provided no disturbance of graves will be involved.

Minor works to trees, falling within the following categories, can be carried out without a faculty:

(a) in the case of any tree:

(i) the carrying out of pruning works, as distinct from lopping or topping; and

(ii) the carrying out of works required by a notice under paragraph 9 of Schedule 4 of the Electricity Act 1989;

(b) in the case of a tree that is in a conservation area but not subject to a tree preservation order:

(i) the cutting down, uprooting, lopping or topping of a tree whose diameter does not exceed 75 millimetres; and

(ii) where carried out for the sole purpose of improving the growth of other trees, the cutting down or uprooting of a tree whose diameter does not exceed 100 millimetres (as thus measured); and

(c) in the case of a tree that is neither in a conservation area nor subject to a tree preservation order, in addition to the works identified in (b)(i) and (ii) above, the lopping or topping of any tree.