A man stands in front of a townhouse.

Architect Paul Tilse believes retaining mature trees can benefit a building project.

04 January 2024

New tree protection laws came into effect on 1 January 2024, protecting more trees on both public and private land.

The bush capital identity that Canberra enjoys today is the result of a century of care and investment. But the landscape is facing new challenges – trees are aging, the climate is warming, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense, and the population is growing.

Without the right rules in place, a more densely populated Canberra could end up with fewer trees, making our city less resilient to the impacts of climate change.

From 1 January 2024, the Urban Forest Act 2023 replaces the Tree Protection Act 2005 to improve tree protection on both public and private land.

The new laws:

  • classify all trees on public land as protected trees
  • reduce size requirements for protected trees on private land to 8 metres in height or canopy width
  • protect some dead native trees.

Every tree in Canberra, whether on public or private land, is part of the urban forest. To protect our urban forest, Canberrans will need to continue to apply for permission to work on or around any protected tree.

While it’s important all Canberrans understand the new measures, some professions will be essential to the  success of the new laws.

An architect’s perspective

Architect Paul Tilse believes retaining mature trees can benefit a building project.

ACT tree protection legislation has remained unchanged for most of his two-decade architectural career. The new laws will influence how he designs and gets approval for his projects. They will also see more built environment professionals designing to retain mature trees and employing the types of tree-sensitive measures that Paul uses with wide-ranging benefits.

“In terms of aesthetics, a house always looks more anchored into the landscape if there are mature trees around it, rather than just a blank site,” Paul said.

“Trees provide so many benefits to the occupants of the house. When there are existing trees on a block, we look at the trees’ locations, size and appearance to determine how we want to use them in our design.

“In summer, trees provide great shading… Mature trees dramatically reduce the need for air conditioning,” he said.

“I think generally people like more trees. It’s really just a matter of how you work with them to create a successful project.”

An arborist’s perspective

Arborist Ryan Winefield also recognises the benefits of the new laws.

He hopes Canberrans will see trees as assets worth preserving, rather than as obstacles.

“The new rules say that you can’t remove a tree over a certain size without approval. Basically, by reducing the size of the trees that are now protected, more trees will be protected,” Ryan said.

“Whether it be developers, whether it be builders, whether it be the homeowners, the new rules will make people stop and think. Can they remove that tree if they want to, or can they just prune it? If they really must remove a tree, how can new trees enhance their project?

“I think generally Canberrans are going to appreciate the impacts of the new tree protection rules. The rules are going to allow us to stay the Bush Capital,” he said.

To find out more about the new tree protection laws, visit act.gov.au/treeprotection

A man poses in front of a gum tree.

Arborist Ryan Winefield recognises the benefits of the new tree protection laws.

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