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What you need to know about tree surveys in Kent

Kent is a highly wooded county, and its 12 local authorities place great emphasis on retaining and planting trees. A BS5837 tree survey is needed to accompany planning applications and provide information to satisfy councils’ requirements concerning trees and development.

A view south of the Weald from the Kent Downs near Sevenoaks.

Kent County Council and tree surveys

Trees play a key role in the council’s strategy of moving to net-zero carbon emissions and increasing the amount of woodland cover in Kent.

However, while there is an emphasis on tree care and planting, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get approval for planning applications on development sites where trees are involved. The county is keen to see development and investment: its Strategic Delivery Plan 2020-2023 includes policies to increase housing and building projects to secure Kent’s future prosperity. Looking ahead from this, the council is focused on high-quality growth in terms of housing, infrastructure and jobs. Areas of new growth are aimed at the Thames Estuary along with the creation of new garden communities and housing that protects biodiversity.

An arboricultural surveyor conducts a tree inspection.

The Kent Tree Establishment Strategy 2022-2032

Kent County Council’s Plan Tree Strategy 2022-2032 aims to increase the number of trees in the county, reach the Government target of 19% tree canopy cover, give greater protection to existing trees and woodland and encourage sustainable tree planting for the long-term.

Kent boasts 11% of England’s ancient semi-natural woodland, with more ancient woodland than any other UK county and two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that are heavily wooded: the High Weald and the Kent Downs which are home to nationally threatened woodland species. Any loss of ancient woodland, aged or veteran trees will be regarded as exceptional, and robust policies protect broader woodland and trees. Where tree loss cannot be avoided, they must often be replaced at a greater ratio.

The council’s approach of planting `the right trees in the right places,’ aims to:

  • Contribute to the county’s net-zero targets.
  • Reduce and reverse the trend of decline in nature and loss of trees.
  • Tackle threats to trees from disease, air pollution and climate impacts.
  • Deliver nature-based solutions: trees can improve soil and air quality, reduce surface flooding and offer urban cooling.
  • Enhance recreation and amenity.
  • Address the decline in woodlands and urban trees.
  • Provide economic benefits from timber and wood products.
  • Increase knowledge of trees leading to their better management and protection.
An aerial view over Maidstone in Kent.

BS5837 tree surveys in Kent

If there are trees on or adjacent to your development site, you will need a British Standard BS5837 tree survey. To succeed in the planning process, the tree survey must demonstrate a sensible balance of retaining high-quality trees and removing lower-quality trees, and propose appropriate action to compensate for their loss.

If your site is in a conservation area or involves trees subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), it’s difficult to attain planning permission if these trees will be impacted by your scheme, so expert advice is needed. Tree preservation is a priority in Kent; as an example of this, Maidstone Borough Council has over 1,000 Tree Preservation Orders in force and 41 conservation areas.

However, any tree can potentially cause a problem with development sites: engaging a professional tree surveyor is an important step toward succeeding with a planning application.

What do tree surveys involve?

During a BS5837 tree survey, a tree surveyor will inspect your site and assess all the trees on, or close to it. They will identify all the species present and evaluate the condition of the trees, assessing size above and below ground and will grade them according to their ecological importance.

While this survey may satisfy the local authority, you may be asked to provide further tree inspections to accompany your planning application. These could include Impact Assessment, Method Statement and Tree Protection plans, along with Arborical Supervision, Site Monitoring and Tree Protection Plans looking at tree care options.

Other types of tree surveys include a Tree Condition Survey which may be needed to assess health and safety issues, a pre purchase tree report, or a Mortgage Tree Report which may be needed by property owners to satisfy their mortgage provider or insurer. This survey assesses trees from a health and safety aspect to see if they pose a risk of potential damage, and it might recommend that the tree owners carry out remedial works.

A professional tree surveyor at work.

Find a professional tree consultancy

If you need a tree survey, it’s important to get in touch with an arboricultural consultancy that’s experienced in dealing with trees in your area, and can provide tree reports geared to the specific requirements of the relevant local authority.  Consultants should be fully qualified, hold relevant licences and accreditations and the company should have good reviews.

The arboricultural consultancy that you choose will be able to provide tree surveys containing all the information and expert advice you need in the planning process; it should include advice on how your scheme will protect and retain higher-quality trees while justifying the loss of lower-quality ones.

The tree survey will include an arboricultural impact assessment which examines the tree canopy above ground and the root protection area below ground. This will inform the tree officer about how you intend to meet your obligations, enabling them to recommend that your planning application proceeds: the planning case officer should then grant it planning permission.

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