Trees In Private Ownership

The Council has little authority over trees in private property. Still, we receive many calls each week from people with questions about their rights and responsibilities, usually regarding a neighbours tree. Mostly these are civil matters dealt with by common law.

Important Disclaimer:

The information contained here does not constitute professional advice. For definitive information, particularly in regards to common and statute law, you must always seek proper legal advice from your legal advisor.

If you cannot see an answer that helps you please contact the Tree Officer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My neighbour's tree is growing over into my property. Can I make them cut it back?

A: No. There is no legal obligation upon the tree owner to cut growth back from a neighbour's property. The complainant, however, has the common law right to remove the offending vegetation (that being any material part of the tree above or below ground that encroaches into a neighbours property) back to the common boundary and no further. Encroachment or works by persons not authorised beyond the common boundary may constitute trespass and/or criminal damage.

If, however, the tree is causing a legal nuisance i.e. damage, injury or loss of reasonable use and enjoyment of their property, then the complainant would have grounds to request the courts to serve an abatement notice upon the tree owner, of which failure to comply could lead a criminal prosecution.

Q:  If I prune a neighbour's tree, can I give them the prunings?

A: Yes, if it is over your own garden. The waste materials from pruning work (the 'arisings') still legally belong to the tree owner. In theory, removal of the arisings without the owners consent could constitute an obscure form of theft known as 'conversion', although, unless the tree owner has a particular need for that material, it is unlikely they would make a complaint.

It is, therefore, perfectly legitimate to return the tree owners material back into his possession. The point must be made though that the material must be returned in such a way as not to cause damage or injury to avoid being sued. In practical terms, it must be advised that dumping the arisings back with the tree owner, although perfectly legal, may not be regarded as a neighbourly act and could lead to disputes.

Q:  Can my neighbour get a court order to force me to cut down a tree?

A:  They can try but will probably be unsuccessful. In this country nothing is prohibited unless expressly prohibited by law. To own a piece of land is to own the airspace above it and the ground underneath to the centre of the Earth. You may utilise the freedom of this ownership to do whatever you wish unless, as mentioned above, it is forbidden by law. It is not forbidden to grow a large tree on your property. As long as it remains within the confines of your property, is safe and is not causing damage, injury or a other legal nuisance then there is no reason why you cannot have the tree.

The point must be made that with ownership comes responsibility. Should any damage or injury occur arising out of the ownership of a tree then the tree owner will be fully liable for any reparations or compensation. So, although a person may have the freedom to own a large tree, because of the greater implications of the failure of a part or all of the tree, it must be checked for health and safety by an arboricultural consultant at least once every 5 years, if every year is prohibitive (but advisable) and after severe weather; and suitably certificated to indemnify the tree owner.

Q:  My neighbour's tree is blocking my light. Can I force them to cut it down?

A:  No. There is no automatic right to light or a view in law. The right to light may be earned under the Prescriptions Act 1832 by which a person must have enjoyed light to a window in the dwelling for 20 years before the obstruction appeared. Redress must then have been sought in court within 12 months of the light being blocked or the right will be forfeited. If successful then an easement may be granted (that is, the granting of a right over a piece of land as a legal privilege) allowing the free, unimpeded, access of light.

Q:  My neighbour has a large garden with lots of trees that grow into the pavement and force people to walk in the road. I've also noticed a dead tree in his garden that might fall across the road. Can you make them cut it down and clear the pavement?

A: Yes. The Highways Act 1980, provides remedy in the form of the local authority having the powers to serve an abatement notice on the offending landowner (or occupier of the land) to undertake specified works or works as necessary to remove the danger or obstruction, within 14 days of the serving of the notice. Failure to do so would result in the Local Authority being able to undertake the work and recover all reasonable costs in undertaking the work.

The Local Authority also have powers under the same Act to enter private property with no notice to remove any severe or imminent threat from a tree in land adjacent to the highway. This would be instructed as part of the duties of the controlling authority to take action to remove any danger to the highway.

Q:  I'm getting a lot of leaves blowing onto my property from both my neighbours' trees and some from the highway trees. Can I charge them for cleaning up and disposing of their leaves?

This is probably one of the most contentious issues to come across which, as far as I'm aware, has not been fully answered by common or statute law. It seems, from my research, that it is generally viewed to be unreasonable to burden a tree owner with being responsible for every leaf shed from a tree in his ownership, particularly as it is accepted that leaves will carry long distances in the wind and also tend to gather in places that 'trap' the leaves. Plus, how could you definitively identify the leaves as coming from that particular tree and not another of the same species reasonably close also? It is felt that the courts would be relatively uninterested in granting remedy for such minor complaints, viewing leaf fall and the sweeping of leaves as just a normal part of life.

Leaves or other natural tree debris (nuts, berries, blossom etc) that somehow cause actual damage or injury, however, fall into that state of affairs that leaves (no pun intended) the tree owner open to be sued for damages and/or compensation.Honey dew is the excess sugar fluid exuded by aphids as part of their feeding. It falls in fine droplets from infested trees, particularly lime trees, where a heavy infestation can result in objects below the tree being coated in a fine sticky residue. If left this sugar coating will encourage the growth of an unsightly black mould. As far as I can determine in my research, the sugar solution is not damaging and can be removed by ordinary warm water and detergent. Some people have claimed that it damages car paintwork but again I have found no scientific proof that this is the case.

Q:  I have a leylandii hedge that I have grown high enough to suit my privacy but my neighbour keeps moaning it's too high. They say they're is going to get the council to get me to take it down. Will they be able to do that?

A:  Find out more about High Hedges

Q:  My neighbour's tree is blocking my satellite T.V. signal. I pay my television licence - surely I can make them get it cut so I get a clear signal again, can't I?

A:  No. Paying for a television licence only entitles you to possess and use a receiver, that is, the television box itself. You have no right to an analogue or digital television signal or radio signal that comes over a neighbour's property.

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