A tree belongs to and is the responsibility of whoever controls the land on which the tree is growing. The land within a private residential dwelling is usually controlled by the householder although it may be controlled by an agent or tenant by written agreement. The householder has a responsibility, in law, known as the ‘duty of care’ i.e. the householder should take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which he or she could reasonably foresee may result in harm or injury.
When a householder fails to exercise his or her responsibility and harm or injury results, the householder may be subject to a claim for negligence.
Where a householder has a ‘duty of care’ towards a third party and fails to exercise that duty resulting in harm or injury and if that harm or injury is reasonably foreseeable, then it is likely to be categorised as negligence.
When resulting harm or injury is judged as negligence, a civil claim usually follows resulting in financial compensation being awarded, a fine being levied or imprisonment.
It is worth noting that no two legal cases are the same in every respect and hence the outcome of a particular dispute can never be predicted with absolute certainty.
What you need to do, or consider as a householder
- You don’t need a written tree safety “policy“ but you should have a management plan either written down or implicitly understood.
- Walk round your garden once a year in late summer/autumn. If your trees look sound and healthy with no obvious defects, that’s all you need to do, job done.
- A tree or branch with no leaves on it in summer is probably dead. If it is large, or at height, it may be dangerous and should be removed.
- If your tree has what looks like a mushroom growing on it, check to see what kind of fungus it is, and what its presence means; or call a tree consultant.
- Cracks in the branches, trunk or ground may need checking as well.
- Most non experts can identify trees rocking on roots, dead limbs, a dead tree or daylight shining through a limb or a fork opening.
For specific advice, with respect to the law, please seek qualified legal opinion.
References: APN 11 Trees and Hedge in Dispute published by AAIS NTSG: Managing trees for safety
The information ‘What you need to do, or consider as a householder’ is taken from the leaflet ‘Managing trees for safety’, written by the National Tree Safety Group and published by the Forestry Commission in 2011.