Transport Canberra and City Services


Information about Tree Protection on Leased Land

The Tree Protection Act 2005 came into force on 29 March 2006. It is a more targeted approach to the protection of individual trees of importance and areas where the urban forest requires particular protection.

Why do we need tree protection legislation?

  • To protect individual trees of exceptional value; and
  • to ensure that the urban forest cover of the city is protected.

There are exceptional trees throughout the city that are of high value due to their heritage or scientific importance, or for the contribution they make to Canberra's landscape.

Thanks to Canberra's gardeners and early planners, we have one of the best urban forests in Australia, if not the world. This makes it a nicer place to live, as well as providing us with environmental and economic benefits.

What is an urban forest?

An urban forest can be described as the collection of trees that grow in a city. The cover provided by tree canopies across the city plays an important role in improving the sustainability of our urban environment whilst helping to make Canberra a pleasant place to live.

Wind reductionIt has been estimated that Canberra's wind speed has reduced by approximately 10-15%. This is mostly due to the effect of canopy cover slowing wind speed near the ground. Reduced wind speed means reduced energy required to heat houses and lower respiratory illness due to fewer particulates suspended in the air.

ShadeThe shade provided by trees not only makes the city a more pleasant place to live, but also helps reduce temperature build-up in the summer known as the heat island effect. Shading of paved surfaces (such as concrete footpaths and bitumen roads and carparks) significantly reduces the build-up of heat in a city, thereby reducing energy consumption for air conditioning. Summer shade on the northern side of a house also significantly reduces air conditioning costs.

Energy consumption in cities is a major contributor to the emission of greenhouse gases.

Stormwater managementManaging stormwater runoff is a major cost of urban infrastructure such as the stormwater drainage system in Canberra. Stormwater management in cities is critical to prevent flooding due to the increased amount of water captured on hard surfaces such as roads, footpaths and roofs creating high peak flows during rainstorms. The fast flowing water resulting from high peak flows also have an impact on water quality and erosion once the water leaves the concrete drainage system.

Trees help to reduce peak flows by capturing up to 5% of the initial peak flow on their leaves as well as improving the absorption capacity of soils.

Landscape improvementTrees play an important role in the urban landscape by softening the architectural landscape of a city as well as being key features and providing colour.

How does the Tree Protection Act work?

The Tree Protection Act 2005 provides protection in two ways:

  • it protects individual trees of importance by establishing a Tree Register;
  • it protects the urban forest by preventing unnecessary removal of trees in areas declared as Tree Management Precincts.

Tree RegisterThe Tree Protection Act 2005 establishes a Tree Register to protect trees of individual importance. It is anticipated that the Tree Register could include approximately 3,000 to 5,000 trees on leased and unleased land throughout the city.

Tree Management PrecinctsThe Tree Protection Act 2005 allows the Minister to declare parts of the city to be Tree Management Precincts in areas where the urban forest is in particular need of protection. The purpose of Tree Management Precincts is to minimise the unnecessary loss of canopy cover in areas of high development activity, heritage precincts and during the construction of new estates.

In a Tree Management Precinct, approval will be required to remove, damage or undertake groundwork within the tree protection zone of Regulated Trees.

What is a Protected Tree?

The legislation has two types of Protected Tree. These are Regulated Trees and Registered Trees.

Registered TreeA Registered Tree is a tree that has been identified as being exceptional for its:

  • natural or cultural heritage value;
  • landscape and aesthetic value;
  • scientific value; and
  • is listed on the ACT Tree Register or Provisional tree Register.

Regulated TreeA Regulated Tree is a tree that is located on leased Territory land in an area declared as a Tree Management Precinct 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.

What about street trees?Public trees, such as street or park trees in urban areas, may be listed on the Tree Register. Otherwise, these trees are not covered by the Tree Protection Act 2005. Instead, they are protected under the Trespass on Territory Land Act 1932.

If you have a question about a street or park tree, contact Access Canberra on
13 22 81.

What activities require approval?

Any activity that is likely to cause damage to a Protected Tree is prohibited under the new legislation. This includes killing or removing a tree, or activities that are likely to cause the death or decline of a tree. Undertaking groundwork within the Tree Protection Zone of a protected tree also requires approval.

Minor pruning in accordance with the standard for Pruning Amenity Trees (AS4373) may be undertaken on a Regulated Tree without approval from the Conservator. Major pruning on protected trees requires approval from the Conservator.

What is groundwork?

Groundwork is defined under the Act as 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.

Do I need to get approval to prune a protected tree?

The need for approval to undertake pruning depends on whether the tree is a Regulated Tree or a Registered Tree.

Pruning a regulated treeYou don't need to get approval to undertake minor pruning of a Regulated Tree if the pruning will not adversely affect the general appearance of the tree and is in accordance with the Australian Standard for Pruning Amenity Trees (ASNZ4373) and:

  • only involves removing deadwood; or
  • does not involve removing any limbs that have a diameter greater than 50 mm; or
  • is the first pruning of the tree in the calendar year, affects less than 10% of the canopy and does not alter the overall shape of the canopy.

Qualified arboriculturists are familiar with this standard.

You do not need approval to prune fruit trees for fruit production.

Pruning a Registered TreeIn most cases you will need to get approval to prune a Registered Tree.

What do I do if I need to remove my tree in an emergency?

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.

What is a 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.

What is a declared site?

A Declared Site is an area of land that was once the Tree Protection Zone of a Registered Tree that was killed by other than natural causes. Approval is required to undertake groundwork activities in a Declared Site.

The Conservator may approve groundwork in a Declared Site if satisfied that the proposed activity, and any other prohibited groundwork done with or without approval in the past 12 months, would be less than 10% of the total area of the Declared Site.

The Tree Register

Nominated trees will be assessed against formal criteria based on one or more of the following reasons:

  • heritage value;
  • landscape value; and
  • scientific (including ecological) value.

You may nominate a tree to the Tree Register by submitting a completed tree nomination form (PDF 197KB) Word (161KB) or online at https://forms.act.gov.au/smartform/public/FormServer?formId=1103.

How will this affect my proposed development?

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 essentially an ongoing approval to undertake tree damaging activities or groundwork within the Tree Protection Zone of protected trees.

The new 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.

What are the penalties?

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 an on-the-spot fine of up to $1,000 for an individual or $5,000 for a company. More serious offences can lead to penalties of up to $200,000 and a criminal record.

How do I get more information?

More information and application forms can be obtained by contacting Access Canberra on 13 22 81.

The ACT Government is committed to improving the accessibility of web content. To provide feedback or request an accessible version of a document please contact us or phone 13 22 81.

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the ACT, the Ngunnawal people. We acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.

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