Protecting the urban forest


Trees and development

Great cities need trees to be great places, however urban development has put a lot of pressure on our existing trees. As a result, our rapidly growing area is losing trees at an alarming rate. So how can we grow as a community and save our trees?

The concept of an 'urban forest' includes all the trees in our area. This embraces tree-lined streets as well as our parks, waterways and private gardens. The 'urban forest' contributes substantially to the quality of life of all our residents, both human and non-human, and is increasingly used to adapt to climatic changes.

If a landowner or developer is hostile to a tree on or adjacent their land, that tree’s health and survival can be affected, whether through illegal removal, neglect, or applications for removal based on health & safety grounds. It is therefore important to realistically allow space for trees to flourish and be valued by landowners when designing buildings and developments.

The fact is, the 'urban forest' needs protecting and enhancing. This calls for a range of policy mechanisms that work together to help retain our trees, maintain adequate spacing around them and encourage residents to value and protect the trees around their homes, and the greater environment.

Please read the conditions below that will be essential where any development affects a private or public tree(s). This will be required to firstly assist in keeping you safe and then from any possible litigation, furthermore achieving an acceptable outcome for our trees.

Tree protection for works close to trees on public and private land

Trees on or adjacent to your property may be protected by various laws and may require appropriate approvals and protection during your development project. A Tree Protection Zone (TPZ) is an area precluded or regulated from development activity.

A Street Tree Protection Zone (STPZ) will be required before any construction or demolition works commence on a work site. A minimum of two meter radius (or otherwise specified) must be maintained clear from the trunk of the street tree at all times.

All construction works, including grade changes, stripping of top soil/vegetation within close proximity to the STPZ should form part of information submitted to Council.  STPZ are not to be used as storage compounds for building materials and must be protected from potential contamination from sources such as water run-off from road works and wastewater from construction sites.

Any excavations which must be undertaken within the STPZ should be carried out carefully by hand to avoid damage to the protective bark on the larger roots and if roots are exposed for any length of time they should be hand watered or covered appropriately to stop them drying out.

Small roots of 30mm in diameter or less may be pruned, but it must be done using a sharp pruning tool such as secateurs or a hand saw.  Larger roots must be inspected by Council to determine their contribution to the trees stability and any potential nutrient storage values.

Please note that under no circumstances is pruning permitted to Council trees. Council requires a minimum of 48 hours notice before any works commence that would affect the nominated Street Tree Protection Zone.

In South Australia, controls are in place to protect certain trees known as Regulated Trees and Significant Trees. These controls are provisioned under the Development Act 1993.

What is a Regulated Tree?

A Regulated Tree is any tree with a trunk circumference of two or more metres measured at one metre or more above natural ground level.

For trees with multiple trunks, a Regulated Tree is one that has:

  • a total circumference of two metres or more and
  • an average circumference of 625mm or more measured at a point one metre above natural ground level.

A number of trees are exempt from Regulated Tree controls due to their location or species.

What is a Significant Tree?

A Significant Tree is a Regulated Tree that has a trunk circumference of three or more metres measured at a point one metre above natural ground level.

For trees with multiple trunks, a Significant Tree is one that has:

  • a total circumference of three or more metres and
  • an average circumference of 625mm or more measured at a point one metre above natural ground level or
  • any tree identified as a Significant Tree in a Development Plan.

Tree damaging activity

Any activity that damages a Regulated or Significant Tree requires development approval from Council.

Tree damaging activity includes:

  • removal
  • killing or destruction
  • branch or limb lopping
  • ringbarking or topping
  • other substantial damage including damage to the root system.

Maintenance pruning is not classed as tree damage, however we suggest you contact an appropriately qualified professional for advice before undertaking any work.

Emergency work

If an emergency arises, work involving a Regulated or Significant Tree can be undertaken without having received a development approval.

The owner of tree, however, must lodge a development application with Council seeking retrospective approval as soon as possible once work has been completed.

More information

Contact Council's City Development team, email, phone 8416 6333, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Community information from Department of Planning and Local Government

For further information visit


Penalties apply for any unauthorised activity to both Regulated and Significant Trees.

The person(s) undertaking the activity are responsible for the breach.

The maximum penalty $120,000.

Breaches relating to Regulated and Significant Trees are enforced using existing provisions under the Development Act 1993 that apply to all other types of development.

Trees and the law

Are you having an issue with a tree between private neighbours?

The best solution is to contact your neighbour, discuss the problem with a view to negotiating a mutually beneficial solution. Legal Services of South Australia has provided a guide for neighbours in this situation to help guide neighbours on how to resolve their issue.

For more information read the Trees and the Law Booklet.

Council has limited jurisdiction for private tree problems between neighbours.

Information relating to neighbours and private trees is not the same for trees growing on public or overhanging onto public areas. In general, trees on public land are deemed to benefit the whole community, therefore legislation provides some protection for trees on public land. (ie a neighbour to public land is not permitted to prune off tree branches which overhang their property as they may be entitled to do if the neighbouring land is private).

An excerpt from the Local Government Act 1999 states - whether or not a local council has planted a tree on a road, they cannot be made liable for any damage resulting from the tree's location or growth. (sec. 245 (1))

  • (sec. 221 (1) - A person, (other than the council or a person acting under some other statutory authority) must not make an alteration to a public road unless authorised to do so by the council and,
  • (2) - A person makes an alteration to a public road if the person (e) plants a tree or other vegetation on the road, interferes with vegetation on the road, or removes vegetation from the road.