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Hobby gardeners in particular often reach their limits when it comes to tree pruning. Which branch has to be removed, where is the ideal cut to be made and which branches must not fall under any circumstances? But that's not all. Because in addition to biology, very profane legal requirements also set clear frameworks for when pruning is prohibited and when and under what conditions a special permit also allows pruning outside the permitted time. We create clarity in the jumble of laws and explain in an easy-to-understand way how tree pruning can also be done legally.
Actually, one should assume that the basic biological conditions already provide a sufficient framework for how and, above all, when trees can be cut. Due to the vegetation phases, there is only a certain time for pruning, while pruning at other times can cause excessive damage or even adversely affect the tree as a whole.
The question now rightly arises as to why laws are setting up additional rules that should be used when pruning trees. The reasons why the legislature sees an additional need for regulation are as follows:
- Animal protection: Conservation of trees and other shrubs as an important habitat during the breeding and rearing phases of birds, insects and mammals
- Enhanced Habitat Protection: Conservation of important food sources for bees, bumblebees and other nectar-seeking insects by protecting flowering tree stands
- Tree protection: Prohibition of interventions in the trees during the growth phase with intensive consequential damage through incorrect or too intensive cutting
Tree pruning is prohibited during this period
Since 2010, the legal basis for the cutting ban has been Section 39 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act. In order to achieve the protection goals already mentioned, time is of the essence between March 1st and September 20th any intervention in the form of pruning and maintenance, but also total felling, is prohibited. This affects not only classic trees, but also numerous other trees and shrubs:
- "Living Fences"
- Other woody plants
It becomes clear that the term "other woody plants" alone leaves a great deal of room for interpretation, which sometimes makes it very difficult for the hobby gardener to recognize the correctness of his actions or even the violation of applicable law.
There is no rule without an exception - tree pruning is still allowed here
In order to make the situation even more inscrutable without a sufficiently uncertain starting point, the legislature has provided exceptions to the ban on cutting and felling in order to legitimize critical cases from the outset on the one hand and to make certain subject areas easier on the other. Within the prohibition period between the beginning of March and the end of September, trees and shrubs may be cut back:
- In the event of imminent danger - i.e. whenever a tree or its components poses a danger to life and limb due to death, rotten branches, wind damage or other adverse conditions
- For trees in connection with horticulturally used areas, e.g. gardens, green areas, lawn playgrounds, cemeteries
danger: In principle, every hobby gardener can take care of and cut their trees in their private garden all year round. However, numerous municipalities issue so-called tree protection statutes, which again restrict this right from the Federal Nature Conservation Act. So it may be that federal law allows you to fell a tree in the summer, but the local statute forbids it again, or makes it subject to certain conditions!
notice: The concept of areas used for horticulture is not clearly defined in the Federal Nature Conservation Act. Each federal state has therefore defined what is to be understood by this within the framework of various state laws. What is not a problem in one federal state can already be a violation of the law a few kilometers away in the neighboring federal state.
Special case hedge
The exception to the exception
In many cases, it is hardly possible to restrict garden maintenance to the permissible period between October 1st and February 28th or 29th when it comes to trees and shrubs. That is why the Federal Nature Conservation Act provides for the exception that measures in areas used for gardening are also possible during the warm season. In addition, hedges can be cut into shape at any time without restricting the relationship to horticultural areas.
This is where it gets even more confusing. Because hedges can generally be trimmed all year round. Unless the cut is "considerable", then it can only be made in the permitted periods from October to February. The big problem with this exception to the exception is that the notion of substantial cut is not regulated anywhere.
tip: As a rule of thumb, when a hedge trimming is subject to the prohibition times, one can roughly orientate oneself to the protection goals behind it. If breeding birds and other animal species are disturbed by the cut, it is apparently significant and may only be carried out in winter.
Tree pruning with permission
What to do if trees have to be felled or cut during the prohibition times?
Again and again it can happen that, for a variety of reasons, trees have to be cut or even completely cleared during the prohibition times. This can be the case here, for example:
- Detected tree diseases that require clearing to control
- Planned construction measures that would otherwise be significantly delayed
- Public interest, e.g. traffic safety measures etc.
In these cases, however, it is necessary to obtain the appropriate approval before carrying out the measures. Permission is usually granted by the responsible district office from the specialist department for nature conservation.
protection of species
Permission to fell trees during the prohibition phase is often associated with strict nature conservation requirements. It is true that before a tree is felled, it must be checked whether, for example, protected species are native to the tree and whether breeding grounds for these species would be destroyed. However, these issues must be considered completely independently of when felling or cutting is to take place. Naturally, the examination of species protection issues must also be carried out if a tree is to be felled during a time when it is generally not prohibited. Only the probability that these issues will become a problem is significantly higher during the breeding and rearing periods, i.e. ultimately during the ban on felling.
In short, the times for a permissible tree cut can be roughly stated as follows:
Between 01.10. and 28. or 29.02.
- All trees, shrubs and shrubs
- Species protection issues must be observed
Between 01.03. and 30.09.
- Shrubs in areas used for gardening
- Hedges unless pruned significantly
- Species protection issues must be observed
- Permission must be obtained prior to tree work
tip: Especially if you assume that there is an exceptional case under the Federal Nature Conservation Act, for example if a tree is in an area that can probably be regarded as a horticultural area, it is worth contacting the responsible nature conservation authority in advance. With a simple query, misunderstandings can be easily cleared up and possible violations of the law can be avoided from the outset. Because especially in the area of nature conservation law, it is very easy to leave the area of administrative offenses in the direction of criminal offenses. The consequences are usually significant fines, which can be easily avoided.