West Devon Borough Council is urging residents to be on their guard after reports of rogue traders in a neighbouring authority who were claiming to be tree surgeons apparently targeting elderly and vulnerable residents unable to carry out tree works themselves.
Several members of the public and their families contacted the trees team at South Hams District Council recently, after they were cold-called by traders claiming to be tree surgeons. The traders offered to do garden and tree works for cash, and also advised residents that they could legally carry out works to protected trees and provide a certificate to submit to the Council to avoid prosecution.
No such certificate exists - any works to a tree subject to a preservation order or a tree in a conservation area require permission beforehand from the Council.
As the Trees team cover both South Hams and West Devon, they wanted to make sure the warning was repeated across both areas.
Unauthorised works to protected trees can be punished in some cases by an unlimited fine and a criminal conviction, so homeowners could potentially find themselves in trouble for unauthorised works.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 affords protection to species nesting in trees and it is a criminal offence to disturb them. This can be reported to the police via 999 if the works are in action (contractors are still on-site) or via 101 or the police website if the works have been completed at https://www.police.uk/pu/contact-the-police/report-a-crime-incident/.
Cllr Caroline Mott, Lead Member for the Environment, said: "It's a good idea to always be very wary of anyone who appears on your doorstep offering to do work.
"Sadly there are those among us who will target elderly and vulnerable residents and think nothing of taking their money from them, leaving them to pick up the pieces. Please keep an eye out for your families, friends and neighbours, so that we can protect our communities."
There is lots of information on the West Devon website about protected trees and how residents can apply legally to work on their trees if required. If you are the owner of a protected tree and want more information, please visit www.westdevon.gov.uk/trees
If a tree is dangerous or dead, there is a process for requesting emergency works. Always seek advice from a qualified arborist (tree surgeon). The Council recommends using the Arboricultural Association website to find a qualified, insured tree surgeon if you need one. Visit www.trees.org.uk for more information and a useful checklist detailing insurance and qualification requirements of contractors.
Cllr Mott continued, "A properly qualified, insured tree surgeon will be perfectly happy to provide evidence of their qualifications and insurance. They won't rush you into any decisions and they'll answer any queries you might have. If you're not sure, or if someone's actions are worrying you, you can contact the police online or on 101."