There have been 12 breaches of tree protection orders in the north west since 2009 - but not a single prosecution, it has emerged.
The north’s environment minister Alex Attwood revealed in the Assembly this week that across the six counties there have been 121 cases of TPO’s having been breached in the last three years, and only one successful prosecution.
In Derry there have been 10 alleged breaches since 2009 and a further two in Limavady. There were no prosecutions in the north west.
George McLaughlin, vice chair of Prehen and Environmental Society, who tried to block the building of four houses in Prehen wood, one of the last remaining areas of ancient woodland, says TPO’s are completely useless.
“The woods used to stretch for hundreds of acres — now it’s down to an 18-acre site,” he said. “We have found TPOs are completely ineffective.”
Green Party leader Steven Agnew, who asked the Assembly question, says there is “no point having legislation on the books if there is no political will to enforce it.
“Strict enforcement of the new higher fines which can total up to £100,000, will act as a deterrent to those who take down trees that have a protection order on them.
“Trees that have been growing in situ for 400 or 500 years are the natural equivalent of our built heritage and therefore need to be respected and protected.
“As it stands the attitude seems to be to cut the trees down first and seek permission later.
“The figures speak for themselves. Prosecutions for breaching Tree Protection Orders are not being taken seriously as there has only been one prosecution in 121 enforcement actions.”
A TPO dictates that it is a criminal offence to cut down, lop, top, uproot or wilfully damage a protected tree in a manner likely to destroy it, without the consent of the Department of Environment. People
convicted of breaching a TPO can be fined up to £100K.