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But, these laws are not always widely known and through lack of knowledge of the law, they are not used.
This list is not intended for quotation in actual law, but serves as a step forward to protecting the rights of the trees, and to raise our awareness.
- Overhanging Branches
There must be 'give and take' between neighbours and it is impossible to prevent the intrusion by a tree or shrub into another's garden. Action should only be considered against a neighbour if the situation has become dangerous, ie. a branch is touching overhead power cables. If the course of action is not to go to court but to take action yourself, then this is 'permissable' but if the course of action requires you to enter the neighbour's property, then you ask or inform the neighbour of your intentions.
- Encroaching Roots
The situation is more complex here, since a problem is not noticeable until actual damage has occurred. Where a landowner discovers roots encroaching onto his land, he is entitled to sever the offending roots, although it is not clear whether they must inform the neighbour on whose land the tree resides. In this situation, the best course of action is to discuss it with the neighbour.
Tree Preservation Orders impose severe penalties on anyone who cuts down, uproots or destroys any tree subject to such an order, or damages, tops or lops it in such a way that he is likely to destroy it, even if the person does not know of the TPO. A Crown Court can impose unlimited fines. Once the order is made, it is only lawful to interfere with the tree with the consent of the District Council, or if the tree is dead, diseased or dangerous. The order can cover a single tree, an entire wood, or all larger trees in an area. If an order is made in respect of a tree on someone's land, they may appeal against it within 28 days.
Anyone can ask a District Council to make a tree preservation order. Department of the Environment (DEFRA) guidelines advise authorities to agree to them where the tree is enjoyed by the public and there is risk of damage to it. The Council keeps a list of trees which are covered by orders; it is open to the public. If it is feared that a landowner may fell a tree before an order is imposed, it is possible to get the Council to take energency action in secret.
Bushes, hedgerows and young trees fall outside this protection unless they belong to a rare species of form part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
If a landowner wishes to fell trees on his land, even if it is a solitary tree, he may need a licence from the Forestry Commission. The Commission should be consulted, as it is an offence to fell a tree without a licence where one is needed. Additional controls, for example in conservation areas, may also apply and the local authority should be consulted on these.
We have first hand experience of what we call 'Tree Butchers'. A tree was reported as being too close to the house and the management company was informed. They sent a gardener, with no knowledge how to cut back a tree, to perform the deed. They hacked at this tree while we were at work and we returned to see a tree with half of its canopy and another which resembled more of a stump. Thankfully both of these trees have recovered but it did not stop us from consulting the Council and lodging a complaint to the management company.
The same company were also responsible for felling several trees in our area because they had uprooted parts of the pavement. Only one of these was in a pedestrian route while the others were not used at all.
The excuse: A resident tripped over the pavement and threatened to sue the company so they felled the trees to protect themselves against future liability - even though no-one uses the other pathways!
It is always sad to see a tree fell, and more so if its human-intended.
The above laws apply to England, Scotland and Wales. If you would like to add to this, then please email us via the Contact Us section.
Document last updated on Tuesday 30 August 2011
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