Legal Responsibilities of Tree Ownership
Please note: this article is intended as a general guide and is purely for information purposes only. It does not constitute your full legal obligations and responsibilities as a tree owner and in no way does it offer professional, legal advice and therefore should not be relied upon in the case of dispute or legal action.
If you are in doubt as to your responsibilities as a tree owner, you should always seek legal advice.
Overhanging Branches or Roots Protruding Over a Boundary Line
Trees which grow on or near boundaries may encroach on neighbouring land with branches and roots. The adjoining landowner is permitted to remove overhanging branches back to the boundary line. Any branches that are removed and any fruit growing is the property of the tree owner and must be returned.
Roots may also be cut back to the boundary but it’s not absolutely clear whether the tree owner would have a legal claim if the tree dies as a result and legal advice must be sought. However, if a neighbour uses a weed killer which spreads over a boundary and kills a tree the owner may have a claim.
In all cases, before carrying out any pruning works to protected trees (either under a Tree Protection Order or in a Conservation Area), permission must be obtained from the local planning authority.
Duty of Care
Tree owners have a duty to take reasonable care in avoiding acts or omissions that can reasonably be foreseen as likely to cause harm. The law requires tree owners to take reasonable care to identify possible causes of foreseeable danger and take appropriate steps to reduce and remove them, as far as possible.
Under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, there is a duty on the occupier of a property to take reasonable care in ensuring that visitors are safe. This duty includes reducing the risk of visitors being harmed by trees as far as reasonably possible.
Trespassers on your property are also protected under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 but only from risks which you, as the occupier, are aware of.
Right to Light
The Prescription Act 1832 provides ‘a right to light can be acquired by actual enjoyment for a period of at least 20 years’. If a landowner plants trees on their land that grow and block a neighbours light, the position is less clear. It may be reasonable to suspect that if light is substantially reduced, the affected party may be entitled to damages and/or serve an injunction requiring the tree owner to reduce the shading by pruning.
There is no right in law to a view. A view blocked by growth of the trees cannot be legally regarded as a nuisance.
Risk Assessments of Potential Hazards
Where a trees’ location has the potential for it to cause harm (for example near a road or pathway), it should be inspected at appropriate intervals to ensure it is not a source of possible danger. Professional advice should be sought if the owner is not capable of making this assessment themselves. Whilst no tree can ever be considered 100% safe, if a tree does fall and causes damage or injury, the owners maybe liable if it can be demonstrated that they were negligent.
The inspection of the tree will identify the hazard and the inspector needs to be able to determine the relative probability of the tree failing. An assessment then needs to be made of the potential consequences of this occurring. The inspector will make recommendations on appropriate actions which may include putting up warning signs, pruning the tree or removal as a last resort.