It is the season of falling leaves and falling fruit but who is responsible for clearing up the leaves and what is to be done with the fruit from the neighbour’s tree?
It is generally accepted that a leaf attached to a tree belongs to the owner of the tree, but when a leaf becomes detached from the tree, it becomes a free agent and when the leaf lands, it then belongs to whoever owns the ground onto which it falls.
Tree owners do not have to collect the leaves that have fallen from their tree onto a neighbour’s property. Additionally, tree owners do not have to accept back leaves that have been gathered from the neighbour’s property, albeit they originated from the tree owner. Indeed, it is unlawful to return fallen leaves back to someone else’s land without their permission (this includes highway land such as the road and the paths and verges running alongside it).
In general, where a branch of a tree extends over a boundary, any fruit on that overhanging branch belongs to the owner of the tree, not the owner of the airspace in which it is growing. That still applies even where the fruit has been severed from the branch ‘whether it has fallen from being ripe or been blown off by the wind, or severed by the act of man’ – or where the branch has itself been severed from the remainder of the tree (for example, by way of abating a nuisance). And if fruit falls onto adjoining land, its owner is entitled to enter that land and recover it.
If anyone other than the owner finds on his or her land branches or fruit that has been accidentally separated from a neighbour’s tree (for example, by the wind), there is no obligation to keep it safe. However, if the finder removes, destroys or sells it, or gives it away (or eats the fruit), that amounts to conversion, which can be the subject of a civil action in the courts; it will usually be theft, which is a criminal offence.
For specific advice with regard to the law, please do seek qualified legal opinion.
Reference: The Law of Trees, Forests and Hedgerows by Charles Mynors