Trees protected by Tree Preservation Orders or covered by Conservation Areas or planning conditions need permission from the Council before you can exercise Common Law rights.
If you have a tree protected by a Tree Preservation Order, Planning Conditions or inclusion in a Conservation Area, you need to notify/apply to the Council before undertaking any tree works.
Carrying out unauthorised tree works can lead to enforcement action, which can include monetary fines and a criminal prosecution. Trees not protected by any restrictions can be pruned in line with Common Law rights.
Common Law rights
Common Law rights permit property owners to remove branches that cross over onto their property from an adjacent property or piece of land, without the permission of the tree owner. Branches or roots that ‘trespass’ across legal boundaries can be lawfully removed back to the boundary only (not beyond the boundary).
Property owners or occupiers are not permitted to cross over the boundary to remove branches or access/climb into the tree without the tree owner’s permission. Crossing over the boundary to remove branches, or gain access to a tree without the owner’s permission, could be interpreted as trespass. The Council always recommends that where possible the two parties involved communicate with each other to prevent unnecessary confrontation or misunderstandings before any pruning works.
All branches and arisings (cut wood) that cross over a boundary line are still the property of the tree owner and should be offered back to them. The tree owner is not obliged to accept the branches or arisings from the person who has removed them. If the tree owner does not accept them then they must be disposed of in a responsible way (not throwing them back over the fence).
Roots are also covered under Common Law rights and can be legally removed back to the boundary. However, you should do this carefully because excessive pruning of branches or roots could lead to the decline, death or destabilisation of a tree. If a neighbour causes a tree to fail through excessive pruning of roots or branches, they may be liable.
Tree owners should be given the opportunity to prevent or abate (reduce or remove) a nuisance, e.g. branches touching a roof or damaging a neighbour’s building. This could be done by informing the tree owner of the issue, verbally or in writing.
The Council recommends that any claims regarding subsidence damage or damage to drainage should be dealt with through the owner’s or occupier’s insurance provider. This helps to produce a clear record of events, and usually involves specialists who carry out thorough investigations before deciding what action to take.
A tree owner has a duty of care under the owners and occupiers act to prevent harm coming to property or person from trees in their ownership and/or management. Tree owners are responsible for having their trees inspected and maintained to an acceptable level of risk to prevent foreseeable harm or damage occurring. If a property owner is concerned about the safety of a neighbour’s tree, they need to inform the owner in writing of their concerns. Arboricultural consultants are qualified professionals who can undertake detailed tree safety inspections.