This page is a brief guide to trees in general, trees under highway authority ownership, a landowner's duty of care and common law.

Leaf fall, fruit fall, honeydew and tree shadows are seasonal events associated with planting and growing trees in an urban area.

The council or any other private landowner has little, if any, control over these seasonal occurrences; they're normally considered minor inconveniences only.

But trees can sometimes be responsible for causing a legally defined actionable nuisance (actual and measurable damage to property). In certain situations, those affected may be entitled to claim for any damage caused and the courts may make an order (injunction) restraining a tree owner from allowing further nuisance from occurring.

Court results have established that if branches from a neighbour's tree overhang your property you may cut these branches back to the property boundary - if the tree is in a conservation area, or subject to a tree preservation order, you must get consent from the local planning authority before any branch or root pruning operations begin.

Although you don't need to obtain permission from the tree owner to carry out these works, it would be a good neighbourly gesture to notify them of your intentions beforehand. The removed branches and any fruit remain the property of the tree owner and should be offered back to them.

Just as branches can be pruned back to the property boundary, so can the roots of neighbouring trees.

However, it's best to seek professional advice first. It may be possible that you can claim compensation for any damage caused by roots from neighbouring trees. If you suspect that your building or property is suffering from subsidence or direct damage, you must initially contact your insurers who may ask for a report from a qualified structural engineer. If trees are located in the area, it would be prudent to contact a qualified arboricultural consultant to carry out an assessment.

Highways Act

The Highways Act 1980 covers laws associated with roads. Section 154 deals with trees and shrubs on private land, which gives the highways authority powers to serve a notice on the owners of trees which constitute a danger to highway users.

This would include dangerous trees that could fall onto the road, or trees and hedges that block a driver's view, cause an obstruction to users of a footpath, or interfere with street signs or the light level from an adjacent street lamp. The notice served gives the tree owner 14 days to carry out the necessary works. If those works aren't carried out, the highways authority can do the work itself and claim back the costs from the tree owner. Section 79 of the act gives powers to restrict planting and order the removal of trees and vegetation on private land if they represent a danger on a road bend.

Occupier's Liability Act

The Occupier's Liability Act 1957/1984 lays down a duty for occupiers to take reasonable steps to ensure that premises - including woodland - are reasonably safe for visitors. This affects managers of trees, woodland and forest, who need to make regular safety inspections of trees next to car parks, footpaths, picnic areas and public areas.

Town and Country Planning Act

The 1990 Act contains legislation that gives powers to the local planning authority (LPA) to protect trees by way of a tree preservation order. The order prevents anyone from pruning or felling the tree without LPA permission. Acting without permission could lead to a maximum penalty of £20,000. This Act also contains legislation to protect the immediate pruning and felling of trees in conservation areas.

Page last updated 14/07/2016