O Christmas Tree

By | 5 December 2013

by Happy ViaO Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!
They are green when summer days are bright,
They are green when winter snow is white.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!

It is amazing to think that this carol in its original form is not really about Christmas trees or Christmas at all.  The origins of the carol are German and the song relates to a Tannenbaum tree (O Tannenbaum) and is actually about faithfulness.  To hear an English version click on this YouTube clip (other versions available!), for those that want to hear the German version then here it is.

It may have been interesting to look at faithfulness to the law, or maybe take a look at matrimonial law… however we are going to take the lyrics a little bit more literally.

Christmas Tree ProforgedSo you are out driving and you see a lovely shaped 6ft Norwegian Pine  sitting on a verge, thoughts may turn to how lovely it would look sitting in the corner of your lounge for the festivities.  So where would you stand if you were to sneakily take to it with a saw?

Trees generally can be quite a complicated business even if you own the land that they are on.  There are planning issues, conservation issues and nuisance issues and these can fall under statute or common law.  Tree’s can be subject to tree preservation orders (TPO’s) and this is covered by the Town and Country Planning  Act 1990 and the Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1999.  This states that it is an offence to cut down trees, without the permission of the Local Planning Authority, with a TPO or within a conservation area.

So what about trees within woods and forests? For these we must look to the  Forestry Commission whose mandate includes protecting forests and woodlands and promoting sustainability.  The legislation that governs the body is the Forestry Act 1967, the Plant Health Act 1967  and a number of bylaws as well.   Section 17 of the FA 1967  states:

17 – Penalty for felling without a licence

(1) Anyone who fells a tree without the authority of a felling licence, the case being one in which section 9(1) of this Act applies so as to require such a licence, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding [level 4 on the standard scale] or twice the sum which appears to the court to be the value of the tree, whichever is the higher.

However trees on boundaries that are a nuisance fall under common law it may be possible for a landowner to cut down or trim any overhanging branches  that he/she can reach on their property (see the case of Lemmon v Webb [1894] 3 Ch 1).  Of course if the tree then dies it poses another set of problems.
Christmas Tree monettenriquez
So perhaps best to leave that tree alone, but what about wood generally, surely you would be able to collect wood as you go along on a nice woodland walk to keep that fire going during the colder months?

magna cartaThere has been a long-standing idea that the Magna Carta enshrined in law that wood can be collected from common land, which is interesting as the Magna Carta doesn’t specifically talk about firewood at all, although the Charter of the Forest 2 years later does.  Regardless of the finer details, this idea has been established that as the ‘common man’ there was nothing stopping you stocking up on fuel for the winter.  Of course the difficulty comes when trying to define just what is common land and,  like anything to do with rights on common land,  you can find yourself in very muddy waters if you don’t actually hold a right as a ‘commoner’.  For example, in the New Forest, the Rights of Fuelwood (Estovers) is limited to a small number of ‘commoners’ and if this website is correct most of these have sold their rights to the Forestry Commission.  If you want to know a little bit more information on common land and rights and happen to be in the Law Bod then you can look at this handy work by Clayden.

So if you don’t have a right to collect is there anything you can do? As we have said earlier ‘public’ woods and forests are maintained and supervised by the Forestry Commission.  They have the power to grant licences to people to collect wood and in the past these have been available at a small cost  .  However there is evidence that they have stopped selling licences recently on the basis of Health and Safety and sustainability!

 So you may be stumped (pun most definitely intended).

One thought on “O Christmas Tree

  1. Jamie McIntyre

    In practice there are a number of exemptions to the requirement to have a felling licence before felling trees, largely based on the volume of timber involved or the location of the trees.

    So if you felled that 6′ tree you would not breach felling licence regulations – but it most likely would be theft 😉

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