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Trees In Gardens Threatened By New Ruling

03 November 2008 Adam Owen

The Times July 2008:

"What constitutes a garden and gardening has been redefined by a judge who ruled that chopping down a swath of trees can count as weeding rather than forestry.


A garden, said Lord Justice Moses, no longer conforms to the Oxford English Dictionary definition of "an enclosed piece of ground devoted to the cultivation of flowers, fruit or vegetables". It is, he maintained, much more than that.

He said that the dictionary definition is too old-fashioned and needs to be expanded to take into account the modern taste for letting parts of a garden run wild. The judge made his horticultural observations as he overturned a criminal conviction against Michael John Rockall that had been imposed by magistrates for chopping down trees on his property.

Mr Rockall, a multimillionaire businessman, bought a home in Woolverstone, Suffolk, in 2004 and set about clearing the overgrown areas of the 1.1 hectare (2.8 acre) garden.

When he chopped down the alders - described by him as "tiddly little things" - which had self-seeded in a neglected section of the property, he was charged with felling trees without a licence. Magistrates in Lowestoft found him guilty and were supported by Ipswich Crown Court but the conviction was quashed yesterday in London's High Court.

Mr Rockall had argued that because the trees were in his garden he had every right to cut them down without resorting to a licence application. The magistrates, however, accepted the argument that the overgrown section of the land had "ceased to be a garden" more than 30 years ago, when it was allowed to run wild.


Lord Justice Moses, in giving judgment that the definition was out of date, said there was a fashion for wild gardens. "No description will categorically establish whether a piece of land is a garden or not. It is important to look at the relationship between the owner and the land and the history and character of the land and space."