Trees are a vital part of the UK’s environment and landscape, but they can cause issues between neighbours if not properly maintained or managed. The main laws governing trees in the UK are the common law tort of nuisance and specific legislation such as the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

 

What are my rights relating to neighbours’ trees?

Under common law, property owners have a duty to ensure their trees do not cause a nuisance to neighbours. This could include overhanging branches or roots encroaching onto neighbouring land. However, there are limits on how much neighbours can carry out works themselves to abate the nuisance. Generally, they can only cut back branches or roots up to the boundary line. Carrying out more substantial works, such as felling whole trees, would likely constitute trespass. If neighbours unreasonably interfere with trees, the tree owner can sue for damages.

It is always best to talk to the neighbour first to reach an agreement. You should offer the cuttings to the neighbour, as they remain their property, but you should not throw cuttings back over the fence.

 

What is a Tree Preservation Order (TPO)?

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provides additional protections for trees through Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs). Local authorities have powers to make TPOs to protect specific trees or groups of trees deemed to have public amenity value. TPOs can prevent felling, lopping, topping, uprooting or other works to trees without permission. Breaching a TPO can result in fines of up to £20,000.

When granting permission for works to protected trees, authorities must consider issues like the health and stability of the tree, its visibility and contribution to the landscape, and any other reasonable concerns of the owner. Authorities can only prohibit works that would unacceptably impact the amenity of the tree. Limited works for maintenance and safety are usually allowed. There are also procedures for appealing TPO decisions.

You can find out whether or not your tree is covered by TPO by phoning your council’s planning department. You would fill in a form and the council will often visit to see the tree. They do not normally charge for this. Arbex can do all this for you if you would like us to. Councils have 8 weeks to respond to an application to work on a tree covered by a TPO.

 

What is the law regarding trees in a Conservation Area?

Trees in conservation areas also receive extra protections under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Property owners must notify the local planning authority 6 weeks before carrying out works to trees over a certain size, such as felling, topping or lopping. This allows the authority to assess the tree and whether to make a TPO to protect it. Emergency works can be carried out without notice, but authorities should still be informed afterwards. Failure to give notice can lead to fines unless there is a reasonable excuse or the tree was clearly dead. The aim is to give authorities time to protect valuable trees that may be threatened with inappropriate works. Overall, the regulations balance preservation of trees in conservation areas whilst acknowledging owners’ reasonable rights.

There are some exceptions to the rule, mainly trees that are dead, dying or dangerous. Arbex can apply for permission from your local council if needed.

 

Do I have a “right to light”?

In some cases, property owners may have a common law ‘right to light’. This protects established access to sunlight through defined apertures like windows. Neighbouring trees interfering with a right to light may entitle the owner to an injunction or damages. However, there is no automatic right to sunlight, and rights must be formally registered with the Land Registry.

Loss of light due to normal tree growth does not necessarily breach a right to light. Some councils are starting to enforce a maximum height of 2m for hedge disputes. This legislation falls under the Antisocial Behaviour rules. It is imperative that you have dialogue with your neighbour first to try and resolve any dispute. Councils will not get involved unless this step has occurred.

 

Is it against the law to prune trees during nesting season?

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to intentionally damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. This means cutting or pruning trees and hedges should be avoided during bird nesting seasons, which usually run from April to July, but can vary by species and location. Some minor maintenance may be permissible if there is no disturbance to active nests. However, checks should always be made first and any occupied nests left undisturbed until chicks have fledged. Failure to comply with the regulations can potentially lead to fines or imprisonment, although prosecutions are rare. Reasonable care should be taken to minimise harm to nesting birds and their habitats when maintaining trees and hedges.

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