The question ‘What is a tree?’ may not seem to be likely to disturb the courts, but it does have importance in the context of tree preservation orders.

Tree preservation orders are dealt with through the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which was drafted with no definition of ‘tree’. This led to debate in the High Court over what should and what should not be deemed to be a tree for the purposes of the Act. In the view of the presiding judge, Mr Justice Cranston, there could be no minimum size to qualify as a tree so the term would include anything normally described as such, down to the smallest sapling. The term would not include a shrub or bush (presumably on the grounds that these are small when fully grown), but would include a ‘future tree’ in the form of a very immature plant.

The practical effect of this ruling is that any woodland tree preservation order applying to ‘trees’ in an area rather than a specifically identified mature tree would include all defined types of tree in the specified area.