Many of Canberra’s trees are protected by the ACT Tree Protection Act 2005. Tree protection legislation exists to protect individual trees of exceptional value, and to ensure that the urban forest cover of the city is protected.
The legislation has two types of Protected Tree.
A Regulated Tree is a tree that is located on leased Territory land and is either:
- 12 metres or more in height; or
- 1.5 metres or more in circumference at 1 metre above ground level; or
- with two or more trunks and the total circumference of all the trunks, 1 metre above ground level, is 1.5 m or more, or
- 12 metres or more in crown width.
A Registered Tree is a tree that is listed on the ACT Tree Register or Provisional tree Register as being exceptional for its:
- natural or cultural heritage value;
- landscape and aesthetic value; and/or
- scientific value.
Activities which require approval
Any activity which may cause damage to regulated or registered trees, such as tree removal, major pruning or groundwork within the Tree Protection Zone requires approval.
The application to undertake a tree damaging activity can be found here . The Conservator of Fauna and Flora may grant approval to damage a regulated tree if the tree meets one or more of the Tree Protection approval criteria. Applications need to include a tree survey and report by a qualified arborist that identifies the trees and the impact on them.
You don’t need approval to undertake minor pruning on a regulated tree in in accordance with the standard for Pruning Amenity Trees (ASNZ4373) Major pruning on protected trees requires approval from the Conservator.
You do not need approval to prune fruit trees for fruit production. In most other cases you will need to get approval to prune a Registered Tree.
Tree protection zone
A Tree Protection Zone for a protected tree is:
- the area under the canopy of the tree;
- the two metres wide area surrounding the vertical projection of the canopy; and
- the four metres wide area surrounding the trunk as measured at one metre above natural ground level.
However, another protection zone may be defined in an approved tree management plan for the protected tree.
Emergency tree removals
Groundwork is undertaking any of the following activities within the Tree Protection Zone of a Protected Tree:
- contaminating the soil in the protection zone with something that is poisonous to trees;
- cutting any of the tree's roots in the protection zone that have a diameter greater than 50 mm;
- excavating to a depth greater than 10 cm over an area 4 m2 or larger; and
- raising the soil level by more than 10 cm above the natural soil level over an area 4 m2 or larger.
Cultivating the soil for horticultural purposes, such as preparing garden beds for planting or planting trees and shrubs, is not considered groundwork.
Trees and proposed developments
If your tree has become an immediate risk to life or property and you think that it needs to be removed urgently, you may get a quick approval by applying for an Urgent Circumstances authorisation.
Contact Access Canberra on 13 22 81 any time of the day or night to get an Urgent Circumstances authorisation. Depending on the circumstances, an authorised officer will come and have a look at the tree and will be able to give you an on-the-spot approval. If necessary, you may be provided with an approval over the phone.
In an emergency situation, it is recommended that the tree surgeon undertaking the work make the request for the urgent circumstances approval.
The Tree Protection Act 2005 provides for the Conservator to give approval in the form of a Tree Management Plan. A Tree Management Plan is an ongoing approval to undertake tree damaging activities or groundwork within the Tree Protection Zone of protected trees.
The Act provides for a streamlined assessment process for tree protection matters in development applications.
A Tree Management Plan included as part of a development application may be approved prior to lodgement and may be amended as part of the assessment process. Any tree damaging or groundwork activities that are not included in the Tree Management Plan still require approval from the Conservator.
Tree protection advice for proposed single residential developments may be found here: PDF (91KB) or Word (106.5KB).
It is an offence under Part 3 of the Tree Protection Act 2005 to undertake a tree damaging activity or groundwork activity on a Protected Tree without approval.
Contravening the Act can lead to on-the-spot fines, or for more serious offences, court-imposed penalties of up to $300,000 and a criminal record .