Barking up the right tree

A short history of tree works and BSI

With the release of our new standard BS 5837:2012, it is worth noting that our standards covering trees go back to the 1960s.

Trees fulfil unique functions in improving the environment and they require reasonable conditions so that they can thrive.  Building foundations and underground services also make demands on the ground and it is essential to create conditions that allow buildings to be seen in a setting of trees and still be able to function.  Contractors rarely see trees deteriorating seriously when they are on site and is it necessary to make sure they are not damaged during construction.

Tree work is often an essential part of ensuring that the planting of new trees that they are well-suited suited to their surroundings, minimising the need for future work on trees that are established near utilities or buildings.  Established trees may require pruning, reduced to a stump for regrowth, and in some cases, be removed and replaced with a more suitable plant.

Tree work can be dangerous for those engaged on it, and for people and property in the vicinity

Tree work

In 1966, the Institute of Landscape Architects requested BSI to prepare a standard providing recommendation for tree work.  BS 3998:1966 was published under the authority of our General Council, and at the time, was being prepared with a host of other landscape recommendation standards covering turfing and seeding of grass areas, shrub planting, land shaping and maintenance.  Standards had recently been published covering trees in relation to nursery stock being grown for amenities, but BS 3998 was the first covering tree work.

BS 3998 covered operational procedures for cutting and pruning, restoration and repair and removal, with safety precautions and feeding methods after tree work.

Transplanting little trees

The ILA had requested a standard for recommendations for transplanting semi-mature trees, and BS 4043 was published three months after BS 3998, in the wet and humid June of 1966.  It included a list of trees suitable for transplanting that way, recommendations for root-ball sizes and gave examples of guying (supporting with cables) techniques.

Trees and construction

BS 3998 and 4043 remained in force through the 1970’s and it was not until 1980 that a new tree work related standard appeared.  The ILA had become the Landscape Institute, and it, with several organisations, had requested a standard to provide an authoritative guide of principles to be followed “in achieving the satisfactory juxtaposition of trees and construction.”  BS 5837 Code of Practice for Trees in Relation to Construction was published, recommending types of trees to be planted near buildings, structures, plant and services, advising on planting of trees in urban locations and paved areas, and advising on procedures for maintenance.

The new standard included a guide and tables for trees to consider when planting in relation to construction, including by shape and size, with tables for “round”, “spreading”, “conical”, “columnar”, “fastigiated” and “weeping” trees,

Development of standards to date

BS 3998 on tree work was revised and expanded in 1989 due to changes in techniques, equipment and chemicals, and also due to requirements under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and pesticides in the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985.  The standard was fully revised in 2010, expanding to incorporate changes in the law and working practice concerning safety, wildlife and habitat, and veteran trees.

BS 4043 was revised in 1989, with its title changed to “Recommendations for transplanting root-balled trees”.  Revision was due to changes in techniques, equipment and materials, and a wider availability since 1966 of planting stock grown specifically for transplanting with a ball of soil around the roots.  The revised standard recognises two distinct groups of trees – those which have been prepared for transplanting and those with no preparatory treatment. The degrees of care when lifting and the aftercare differs greatly for each group.  The 1989 version is still current

BS 5837 has been revised several times.  Its 1991 and 1995 revisions were necessary due to new planning practices for the protection and planting of trees in the vicinity of buildings, and protection of buildings near trees.  The standard was recently fully revised, updating the guidance in relation to Building Regulations, and recognition of the contribution that trees make to climate change adaptation.

What’s available in the Knowledge Centre?

BSI’s Knowledge Centre can provide access to all the withdrawn tree work standards.  Members can view withdrawn standards without charge in Chiswick, and they are available for purchase in hard copy and PDF. BSI members receive a 50% discount, free postage and can buy on account.

To find out more please contact the Knowledge Centre at: or on +44 (0)20 8996 7004


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