South Hams District Council has received reports of potential rogue traders operating in our area, specifically targeting vulnerable and elderly residents unable to carry out their own tree works.
Several members of the public and their families contacted South Hams Trees team 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 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 Tree Preservation Order or in a conservation area require permission beforehand from the Council.
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 Keith Baldry, Executive Member for the Environment, said: "Unfortunately there are always people who will say anything to anyone to try to extort money from homeowners, and this is another example.
"Always be very wary of anyone who appears on your doorstep offering to do work.
"Remember that anyone who claims to be a qualified, insured tree surgeon will be perfectly happy to provide evidence of their qualifications and their insurance. They also won't rush you into a decision, or ask for payment in cash without a proper invoice."
There is lots of information on the South Hams 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 https://www.southhams.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 where you will find a useful checklist including insurance requirements and details on the necessary qualifications.
Cllr Baldry continued, "As usual, these people will have no scruples in targeting vulnerable residents and taking advantage of trusting souls in our community. Please watch out for your families and neighbours. If you have any concerns, please contact the Police on 101 or online for advice."