The protection of trees is not only an ecological concern, but also legally relevant. In Germany, there are a multitude of laws and regulations that govern tree protection, and these can vary depending on the federal state. This blog post gives you, as a lawyer with experience in tree protection, a comprehensive overview of the legal aspects of this important topic.

Here you will find information on the various laws and regulations, current judgements and case studies, as well as frequently asked questions and answers regarding tree protection in Germany. Inform yourself thoroughly so that you know your rights and obligations as a property owner or neighbour and how you should legally behave towards tree protection legislation.


  1. Legal basis for tree protection
  2. Tree protection ordinances of the federal states
  3. Competences of the municipalities in tree protection
  4. Felling, pruning and tree protection in private and neighbouring law
  5. Current court decisions and case studies in tree protection
  6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on tree protection
  7. Tree protection – an important topic

Legal basis for tree protection

Tree protection finds its legal basis in various laws at federal, state and municipal level. The most important sources are the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG), the nature conservation laws of the respective federal states and the tree protection ordinances of the municipalities. The following provides an overview of the individual laws and regulations relevant to tree protection in Germany.

Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG)

The Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) forms the basis for tree protection at federal level. According to § 39 BNatSchG, it is generally forbidden to cut down or plant trees outside of forests, short-rotation plantations or horticulturally used areas in the period from 1 March to 30 September. Gentle shaping and maintenance cuts are excepted.

In addition, the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) gives the federal states the possibility to make independent regulations for the protection of other plant species (§ 23 para. 1 BNatSchG). This is implemented in the respective Land nature conservation laws, which in some cases provide even stricter regulations for tree protection.

Land nature conservation laws

The federal states regulate tree protection in their respective state nature conservation laws. These laws apply to all trees not covered by the Federal Nature Conservation Act. The regulations regarding tree protection can vary between the federal states, both with regard to the protected tree species and tree circumferences and with regard to the permissible measures (e.g. felling or pruning).

Some examples of regulations in Land nature conservation laws are:

  • The State Nature Conservation Act of Baden-Württemberg (NatSchG) defines trees with a trunk circumference of 80 cm or more as natural monuments and places them under special protection (§ 30 para. 1 NatSchG BW). This regulation applies to all urban and municipal areas, regardless of agricultural or forestry use.
  • The Bavarian Nature Conservation Act (BayNatSchG) stipulates a minimum trunk circumference of 100 cm as protected for the protection of certain trees such as oaks, limes or elms (Art. 13 BayNatSchG).
  • The Hessian Nature Conservation Act (HessNatSchG) sets a minimum circumference of 80 cm for certain tree species under protection (Art. 3 para. 2 no. 1 HessNatSchG).

Tree protection ordinances of the municipalities

In addition to the legal regulations at federal and state level, local authorities can enact their own tree protection ordinances. These ordinances concretise and supplement the regulations of federal and Land law and specify, among other things, which trees are protected in the respective city or municipality area and which measures may be carried out on these trees.

Municipal tree protection ordinances can extend the protection of trees by, for example, placing smaller tree circumferences under protection or including additional tree species in the protection. The conditions for felling trees or interventions in the tree population can also be regulated at the municipal level, for example by requiring permits or anchoring compensation measures such as replanting.

Municipal competences in tree protection

The responsibility for implementing tree protection generally lies with the municipalities. This includes issuing felling permits, reviewing tree protection ordinances and monitoring compliance with legal regulations. In doing so, the municipalities often work together with environmental and nature conservation authorities to effectively ensure the protection of trees and green spaces.

Municipalities have the following instruments within their jurisdiction to enforce tree protection:

  • Enactment of tree protection ordinances, which can concretise the protection of trees and take into account local specificities.
  • Determining compensation measures (e.g. replanting) for interventions in protected tree stands.
  • Monitoring and control of the implementation of legal regulations (e.g. blocking of construction projects in case of violations).
  • Imposing fines and other sanctions for violations of tree protection.

Felling, pruning and tree protection in private and neighbouring law

In addition to the public-law regulations on tree protection, private and neighbouring law also play an important role in connection with trees and green spaces. This applies above all to the felling of trees or the pruning of branches that encroach on neighbouring property.

In principle, property owners have the right to fell or prune trees standing on their property, provided this does not violate applicable tree protection laws. However, the interests of the neighbours must be taken into account, for example with regard to interference by foliage, shade or roots. Neighbouring rights regulate the extent to which interventions in the tree population are permissible and under what conditions neighbours can demand, for example, the removal of overhanging branches.

Neighbouring rights regulations in the federal states

Neighbouring rights in Germany are regulated in the respective laws of the federal states. The regulations may vary depending on the federal state, but there are also common principles:

  • Neighbours have the right to remove overhanging branches or roots that protrude onto their property, provided they have first unsuccessfully requested the tree owner to remove them (so-called right to self-help).
  • Property owners are obliged to tolerate the encroachment by trees to a reasonable extent. However, unreasonable encroachment can lead to a demand for the removal of the tree.
  • In the event of disputes about the permissibility of tree felling or interventions in the tree population, the parties may consult a lawyer or a court for clarification.

Observance of tree protection regulations

The provisions of private and neighbouring law do not conflict with the provisions of tree protection law. On the contrary, the parties must in any case observe both neighbouring law and tree protection law. Therefore, it is advisable to check both the neighbouring law requirements and the tree protection law regulations when planning tree felling or interventions in the tree population, and to seek expert advice if necessary.

Current court rulings and case studies in tree protection

Over the years, courts at various levels have made decisions in the field of tree protection that shape the understanding and application of the laws and regulations. Here are some recent and significant court decisions and case examples that affect tree protection law:

Example 1: Compensation for cutting down a protected tree

In 2014, the Higher Regional Court of Hamm ruled (Case No. 10 U 71/13) that the owner of a property is obliged to pay compensation to his neighbour if he unlawfully cuts down a protected tree on his property. In the specific case, the defendant had cut down a protected elder tree without permission and without the knowledge of the tree owner. The court ruled that this constituted an unlawful interference with the neighbour’s property and the defendant was therefore obliged to pay damages.

Example 2: Felling of street trees due to duty to maintain traffic safety

The Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf ruled in 2015 (Case No. I 20 U 76/12) that a city may be obliged to cut down trees along roads if they pose a danger to road safety. In the specific case, the plaintiff had demanded that the city cut down two trees because their branches protruded onto the road and thus posed a danger to road users. The court found that the city’s duty to protect traffic in this case outweighed the interest in protecting the trees and that the city was therefore obliged to remove the trees.

Example 3: Removal of roots on neighbouring property

The Regional Court of Aachen ruled in 2019 (Case No. 3 O 546/16) that a property owner is entitled to remove roots of a tree that have invaded his property and damaged his driveway and garage there, even if this causes the tree to die. In the specific case, the plaintiff had requested the owner of the tree to remove the roots because they had damaged the foundation of the garage and the pavement. Since the tree owner did not comply with the request, the court ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to remove the roots himself, even if this could lead to the death of the tree.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on tree protection

Which trees are protected by law?

Whether a tree is under legal protection depends on the regulations of the respective federal state and municipality. As a rule, trees above a certain trunk circumference (e.g. 80 cm or 100 cm) are protected, although individual federal states and municipalities may also give special protection to certain tree species. In addition, trees located in forests or on horticultural land are subject to special regulations resulting from other laws such as the Forest Act or the Federal Nature Conservation Act.

May I cut down or prune a protected tree?

The felling or pruning of a protected tree is generally only permitted with a permit from the competent authority. The requirements and procedure vary from federal state to federal state and from municipality to municipality. Violations of tree protection laws can lead to fines or other sanctions. If there is any uncertainty as to whether a tree is protected or what measures are permitted, expert advice should be sought.

What can I do if my neighbour violates tree protection laws?

If you suspect that a neighbour is violating tree protection laws, you should seek discussion and point out the possible violations. If this does not lead to a solution, you can inform the competent authority and ask for a review of the situation. If necessary, you can also involve a lawyer and consider taking legal action, such as filing a lawsuit.

Can I claim compensation if someone cuts down or damages a tree on my property without permission?

If someone cuts down or damages a protected tree on your property without your consent or without permission, this may constitute an interference with your property rights. In this case, you generally have the right to claim compensation from the person who caused the damage. However, you should first seek dialogue and try to find an amicable solution. If necessary, you can also consult a lawyer to assert your claims.

Is there a time limit within which I have to act in case of tree protection violations?

In the case of tree protection violations, action should be taken as soon as possible so that the competent authority or a lawyer can take action. Some claims, such as claims for damages, are subject to limitation periods (usually three years from knowledge of the damage and the damaging party). To ensure that your claims do not become time-barred or the situation escalates further, you should act early and seek legal assistance if necessary.

Tree protection – an important issue

Tree protection plays an important role in our society and legal landscape, and it is important to familiarise yourself with the laws and regulations related to the subject. As a property owner or neighbour, you should be aware of your rights and obligations in order to minimise conflicts and be on the safe side legally. If you are unsure, it is advisable to consult a lawyer who specialises in tree protection law for expert support and advice.