A recent court ruling has confirmed the right of a garden owner to manage his garden without undue interference from the Forestry Commission. The case hinged on the definition of a garden and whether the owner of the property was entitled to treat his garden as such, despite the fact that it had become overgrown and had not been used as a garden for some time.

The case originated because the owner of the land, Michael Rockall, was sent a summons for the offence of felling growing trees without the authority of a licence issued by the Forestry Commission, contrary to section 17 of the Forestry Act 1967. Mr Rockall was convicted, conditionally discharged for 12 months and ordered to pay £750 prosecution costs.

Mr Rockall’s property had become heavily wooded under the previous owner and so he decided to cut down the trees in order to improve the land and restore the garden. Before taking any steps to fell the trees, he contacted the Forestry Commission to find out whether or not any permission was required. On the basis of information sent to him, it was clear that if he was felling trees in a garden he needed neither a licence nor permission.

Once he had cut down the trees, however, Mr Rockall was sent a summons and was subsequently convicted.

On appeal, it was held that because Mr Rockall fully intended to restore the garden and had made this clear to the Forestry Commission, he was entitled to do so and was covered by exceptions in the 1967 Act. The fact that the previous occupiers of the land had failed to maintain the garden was not sufficient grounds for deciding that the land had ceased to be a garden.

The conviction was therefore overturned