Trouble with Trees

Trees bring a great deal of character and charm to our neighbourhoods. They provide shade in summer, help with air quality and are often a haven for wildlife. But what happens when these same trees become a point of contention? What if they encroach into your garden, threaten the foundation of your home, or are in such a state of decay that they pose a danger? Let’s delve into the intricacies of tree troubles and the steps homeowners can take.

wooden fence with green lawn and trees

Overhanging Branches and Garden Invaders

Imagine sipping your morning tea, only to be met with the view of overhanging branches, casting shadow and shedding leaves into your garden. Not ideal. If your neighbour’s tree or branches encroach into your territory, you have certain rights:

  • You can trim branches or roots that cross into your property, but no further.
  • However, always communicate your intent to your neighbour before making any cuts.
  • Any cut branches, fruit, or flowers technically belong to the tree’s owner, so it’s polite to return them.

Rooted Problems: Damage to Property

It’s not just the upper half of a tree that can be troublesome. Underground, tree roots can spread and interfere with buildings, driveways, paving and pathways, causing serious damage. If you find evidence that a tree’s roots from a neighbouring property are causing harm:

  • Seek professional advice before taking any action to ensure you do not cause further damage.
  • Take photos for evidence and keep any correspondence between you and your neighbour.
  • It might be possible to claim damages if you can prove the tree has caused harm.

The Rotten and the Risky

A rotten or diseased tree poses a significant hazard. If a tree in a neighbour’s garden looks unstable:

  • Approach your neighbour amicably, discussing the risks associated with the tree.
  • It’s wise to put any concerns in writing (keeping a copy for yourself) as a precaution.
  • If the tree were to fall and had been flagged as a concern earlier, your neighbour could be liable for damages.

Dispute Resolution: Communication is Key

In most instances, direct communication with your neighbour can solve the problem. Yet, when talking does not help:

  • Consider mediation where a neutral third party can help both sides reach a compromise.
  • As a last resort, legal action might be necessary. However, this can be time-consuming and costly.

The Regulations and Responsibilities of Tree Ownership

Tree ownership isn’t just about enjoying their beauty and benefits; it comes with certain responsibilities. If you own a tree, make sure you:

  • Regularly check its health. A professional arborist can identify potential issues before they escalate.
  • Trim branches that could potentially cross into a neighbour’s property.
  • Address concerns of neighbours promptly to avoid unnecessary disputes.

The Importance of Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs)

Before making any decision involving cutting or trimming a tree, it’s crucial to ascertain if it’s subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). Trees with a TPO have special protections due to their contribution to the environment, beauty, or historical importance.

  • Always check with your local council before pruning or felling trees.
  • Penalties for disregarding a TPO can be severe, with hefty fines.

Finding Common Ground with High Hedges

Sometimes, it’s not a tree but a towering hedge causing issues. Similar to trees, they can overshadow properties, blocking light. High hedges are governed by specific regulations:

  • If a hedge exceeds two metres, neighbours have the right to complain.
  • An amicable discussion is encouraged before official complaints.
  • Councils can intervene and dictate the hedge’s future height.

Recognising the Value of Green Spaces

Trees serve as silent guardians of our urban and suburban landscapes, offering a myriad of benefits that might be easily overlooked amidst disputes. Among their significant contributions, trees:

  • Improve Air Quality: Trees are natural air purifiers, absorbing a plethora of pollutants and releasing clean oxygen, making our neighbourhoods healthier.
  • Urban Cooling: By offering shade and through the process of transpiration, trees play a pivotal role in reducing urban heat islands, which are pockets of increased temperatures in city areas.
  • Enhancing Mental Well-being: Green spaces have been scientifically linked to better mental health, with trees offering serene spots for relaxation amidst the urban hustle.
  • Natural Flood Defence: In areas prone to flooding, trees act as natural sponges, absorbing excess rainwater and reducing run-off. Their root systems help in stabilising soil, preventing soil erosion and aiding water percolation, which in turn reduces the strain on urban drainage systems.

Trees, Tact, and Tenacity

Tree-related disputes often arise from a lack of understanding and communication. Fostering good relationships with neighbours and being proactive in tree management can prevent potential issues. While it’s natural to feel protective about one’s property and rights, it’s equally essential to approach problems with empathy and consideration.