A woman who ordered part of a woodland of protected trees to be chopped down to improve the value the house she was trying to sell has been fined £15,000.
Marilyn Barnes, of High Knott Road, Arnside, admitted asking Stephen Lawton to fell the 27 trees on her land on August Bank Holiday weekend last year.
She also pleaded guilty to causing or permitting the wilful damage of a further two trees on her land.
Magistrates heard that 61-year-old Barnes was well aware the trees in the wood were subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) made in 1986, which prohibits unauthorised felling under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The prosecution was brought by South Lakeland District Council (SLDC) following an investigation by its planning enforcement and arboricultural officers.
The court was told Barnes had sought to obtain a financial benefit, by cutting down the trees in a woodland area on land she owned adjacent to her house in order to open up a view across the estuary to increase the sale value of her house.
Prosecutors for SLDC produced evidence that the house was being marketed by estate agents describing the view across the estuary after felling the trees.
As well as chopping down 27 trees – which included species of Ash, Hazel, Elm, Sycamore, Holly, Beech and Willow - several branches had been cut from the right side only of a large Beech tree in order to further open up the view.
The house had previously been marketed at a lower value with a different estate agent but was put up for sale at a higher asking price once the trees had been felled.
Magistrates sitting at Kendal Magistrates Court on Monday, March 2, agreed with the prosecution case that there were a number of aggravating factors involved, including the number of trees cut down and wilfully damaged, the degree of damage to a large section of the wood, the detrimental environmental effect on the wood and the wildlife and Barnes’ intention to gain financially through the actions.
During interviews Lawton, of Moss Lane. Silverdale, admitted that Barnes had spoken to him about opening up a view from the property.
The court heard that Barnes was fully aware of the existence of the TPO and had previously referred two sets of neighbours to the council when they wanted to prune and fell trees adjacent to their respective properties.
Barnes was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay the prosecution costs in full of £1260.50, plus a victim surcharge of £120.
Magistrates accepted that Lawton had lower culpability than Barnes as he had not sought to gain anything financially and received no payment for cutting down the trees.
However, magistrates did comment that he should have made enquiries before cutting down the trees.
Lawton was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay the prosecution costs in full of £1207, plus a victim surcharge of £120.
Nicola Hartley, Senior Solicitor at South Lakeland District Council, said: “Prosecutions in relation to breaches of tree preservation orders are rarely seen in court in comparison with many other types of offending, but their impact is significant.
“South Lakeland District Council is committed to protecting and enhancing our environment and this prosecution demonstrates how seriously we take that commitment.
“The unlawful felling of such a large number of trees, together with wilful damage of further trees, has a significant detrimental impact on the amenity of the area, in addition to the loss of habitat for birds and other wildlife.
“In this case the Tree Preservation Order in place to protect the wood was deliberately breached. The extent of the damage was widespread. The wider environmental impacts also include the long term loss of woodland, which is a continuing problem in the UK.’’
Mark Balderson, Planning Enforcement Officer at South Lakeland District Council, said: “This is a significant fine which reflects the nature of the offence.
“The council’s planning enforcement team strives to strike an even balance and take account of all the circumstances relating to a case when deciding on a particular course of action.
“In this case the damage caused to the woodland was extensive and could not be considered insignificant, which is reflected in the level of fine given out by the magistrates.
“The council planning department’s advice to any woodland or tree owners is to seek advice from the council’s arboriculturalist before considering any tree work.’’