ONE of the Forestry's Commission's leading enforcement investigators has detailed the first-ever restocking order handed out by officials. 

At the start of 2023, ministers brought in tougher penalties for the illegal felling of trees in England, including the threat of jail time. Offenders can also now face unlimited fines (up from the previous £2,500 limit) as part of sweeping deterrents brought in by Defra and the FC under the watch of former forestry minister, Trudy Harrison. 

Now, those alterations have been put into practice for the first time. 

In December last year, a court of law ordered a landowner to replant the site of an illegal felling with trees or face further consequences from the court. This order was made after the defendant failed to comply with previous enforcement notices, dating back to 2018. A high-profile case at the time, an area of ancient woodland was felled at Burley’s Wood in Crawley, West Sussex, for suspected development reasons.

"The felling of trees is an important part of good woodland management and key to a healthy woodland, but we need to make sure it is done legally to avoid detrimental effects to the both the wood itself and the wider environment," Jonathan Tizzard, a former police detective, wrote in a Forestry Commission blog post this week. "On 1 January 2023, the penalties for illegal felling changed and a recent case has resulted in the first ever Restocking Order after conviction being issued under Section 24B of the Forestry Act 1967 by a Magistrates Court.

"This court order is the culmination of hard work by our regulations team which sought the changes to the Forestry Act 1967 (through the Environment Act 2021). It is ground-breaking news for the protection of our trees and woodlands and has been a long time in the making." 

Evidence unearthed during an investigation revealed that Stables Farm Park knew about the enforcement notice when it acquired the land but chose to ignore it, later pleading guilty to the offences. 

As well as the restocking order being granted the defendant was also ordered to pay costs and a fine totalling £5,000 by the court.

"More routinely, the courts deal with assaults, thefts, frauds and other more commonly heard of matters, and often don’t understand the impact of environmental crimes," Jonathan added. "This court order marks a change in that.

Forestry Journal: Former Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison brought in the new rules during her tenure Former Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison brought in the new rules during her tenure (Image: Stock image)

"Not only will the defendant need to replant the trees, but they need to maintain those trees for 10 years too.

"It’s fantastic to see the result of such sustained hard work putting another effective tool in enforcement.

"Not only can this site now not be developed, but the offender’s wallet has been significantly impacted. They’ve incurred the fine, along with having to pay hefty legal costs along with now needing to pay the planting and maintenance costs.

"For what?? It really wasn’t worth buying that land to develop."