Ring Barking and Felling Licences

I discussed the advantages of ring barking as a means of thinning young woodlands in a previous blog. An interesting point arises when considering Felling Licences in relation to ring- barking. The Forestry Act of 1967 allows up to 5 cubic metres of timber to be felled in each calendar quarter without a licence, any more than 5 cubic metres requires a licence from the Forestry Commission. There are exceptions, and among these are dead trees which do not require a licence to be felled at all.

It appears at first that there is a loophole in the Act since ring-barking is not felling, and when the trees are felled, a year or two later, they are dead and so not covered by the Act. I took this matter up with the Gordon Inglis of the Forestry Commission at Edinburgh. He pointed out that in Section 35 of the Act, “felling includes wilfully destroying by any means”, this would include ring barking. This means that for anyone considering ring barking as a woodland management option a Felling Licence must be obtained before more than 5 cubic metres of timber are ring barked in any calendar quarter.

Of course among the advantages of ring barking is that it is quick to do and not dependant on seasonal ground conditions, so a small wood could have up to 5 cubic metres of timber ring barked in each of the 4 seasons of a year without the need for a Felling Licence. If it is done regularly this should be enough for a silvicultural thinning in most small and medium sized woods. Felling the trees which have previously been ring barked will not require a Felling Licence no matter the volume of timber to be felled, so this can be done at short notice when the market or ground conditions are favourable without waiting for approval for a licence


  1. Grant Holroyd
    March 30, 2011

    we have been ring barking on a small scale for domestic firewood for about 10 years. We use chainsaws. What tool do use? I know it used to be done by axe but wonder if someone has come up with a hand tool that would doo the job more efficently? I have tried a scribe but it does not remove a wide enough ring.

    Grant Holroyd

  2. Hugh Dorrington
    June 28, 2011

    Hello Grant. The simplest way of ring-barking is with a chainsaw. First remove any low branches and any brash from the ground. Hold the chainsaw against the tree at waist height and slowly walk backwards around the tree, making sure that you cut completely through the bark layer and just into the wood. Don’t forget to apply herbicide to the cut or else vigorous trees will heal the cut and continue living.
    Hugh Dorrington

  3. stefan Janik
    July 23, 2013

    Hello can you help, I have a rare weeping ash hybrid growing in the grounds of a housing developement which was ilegally ring barked last year. I went to the press about it and the local council tree officer who did not seem too concerned even though the tree was listed. It is still alive and can I cover it to protect it?

  4. aveland trees
    July 31, 2013

    Dear Stefan
    Thank you for your comment on my website regarding a ring-barked weeping ash. I’m afraid the tree has very poor prospects of survival. Water and nutrients can be transported from the roots to the leaves by the wood in the trunk of the tree, but the products of photosynthesis in the leaves can only be transported to the roots via the phloem vessels which are on the inside of the bark. So although the Ash tree may survive for a year or two after girdling it will eventually die as the roots are starved of food. If the ring-barking removed only a very narrow strip of bark (1cm or less) then there is a chance that the phloem vessels could regrow from below the cut strip to bridge the gap, but in my experience this is more likely in Maples, particularly Sycamore, and is unlikely in Ash.
    I hope these comments are useful.

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