Managing trees in the garden
Want to prune or fell a tree? Find out where you stand with the law, your neighbours and local wildlife.
Trees are an asset in the garden, adding height and structure, movement and wildlife value. But they can also cause problems, especially when Tree Preservation Orders make it difficult to remove or prune them. In this feature we explain what to do if you need to remove or prune a tree, how to find out if there are tree preservation orders in place, and how to find the best local tree surgeons.
Find out more about managing trees in your garden, below.
When to remove a tree
You may want to remove a tree for one of several reasons. It may be diseased or unsightly, have invasive root growth or drop leaves and seeds on your garden. It may be partially dead, therefore posing a safety risk if it topples in high winds, or it may simply be growing in the wrong place.
When deciding to remove a tree completely, do bear in mind the benefits of the tree you'll be losing, for example it may offer a sound barrier to a road or other form of noise pollution, or it may block an unsightly building. What's more, trees provide a valuable habitat for a huge range of wildlife species, including birds, so removing the tree could reduce the amount of wildlife using your garden, and ultimately hinder their chances of breeding or surviving. It's also important to remember that it's illegal to fell trees during breeding season.
Alternatives to removing a tree
Removing the tree completely may not be necessary. There are other options to consider, for example pollarding and pruning. Both options can involve the removal of dangerous branches, or reduce the size of the tree. Pollarding is a more extreme version of pruning, and involves removing all the tree's upper branches, usually cutting back to the main branches or even the trunk.
Tree Preservation Orders
If your tree can be seen by the public it may have a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on it. A TPO is a written order created by your local council or other planning authority, which protects trees considered to have amenity value to the public. It's therefore a criminal offence to do any work to a protected tree without the authority’s permission. To find out if your tree has a TPO on it, contact the Tree Officer at your local council. Then you'll need to apply to your local authority for permission to perform works to the tree. If you do get permission to remove a tree with a TPO, you will have to replace it.
If you live in a Conservation Area, trees in your garden are subject to the same rules as those with TPOs, even if they don't have TPOs placed on them individually. However, planning permission can override a TPO if it's necessary for the tree to be removed for building to commence.
If you don't live in a Conservation Area and there's no TPO placed on the tree, then you can undertake works to prune or remove it, as long as it's your tree. Bear in mind you will need permission from your neighbour if any work you need to do to the tree involves going into their garden. This includes climbing on to branches that overhang their land.
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Pruning a neighbour's tree
If the tree belongs to your neighbour and you want to remove overhanging branches into your garden, then you don't need to ask permission, but it's courteous to discuss this with your neighbour, anyway. Take care to ensure you don't prune beyond the boundary into their garden. You will need permission from your neighbour if any of the work involves you being in their garden – this includes climbing on to branches overhanging their side of the boundary. You do have the option to offer the tree prunings back to your neighbour but don't simply throw them over the fence, and if your neighbour refuses them, it's up to you to dispose of them. Bear in mind that you will be liable for any damage done to the tree, and that it's best to use a qualified tree surgeon to conduct the work.
If the tree grows on the boundary between two properties, such as in a part of a hedge, then it's jointly owned by you and your neighbour. You will need to seek consent from your neighbour if you want to remove or prune the tree, and if you don't seek permission beforehand then you're liable to legal action. If there's doubt as to the position of the boundary, you'll need to employ a surveyor to determine ownership. Bear in mind you may be liable if harm is caused to your neighbours of their property if your tree topples or sheds a branch. As owner of the tree you are responsible for inspecting it regularly to ensure it's safe.
What to do once you have felled a tree
The Woodland Trust recommends that felled trees are replaced at a ratio of at least three to one, to help compensate for the loss of the tree, even though it’s likely the newly planted trees won’t match the benefits the felled tree for many years. If the original tree grew too big, consider planting smaller tree species in its place that won’t cause the same problems in future. What's more, dead wood makes a fantastic wildlife habitat, so consider using the felled trunk and branches to create a log pile.
Wildlife and the law
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 deems it an offence to damage or destroy bat roosts and active bird nests. It's therefore advisable to avoid conducting tree work during bird nesting season (March to August) and thoroughly check for holes and crevices where bats may roost, before undertaking any work.
How to find a tree surgeon
Always employ a professional tree surgeon or arboriculturist to conduct tree work, to ensure the job is done properly. You'll find a directory of qualified members at The Arboricultural Association.
Know the basics
- Trees growing on boundaries are jointly owned by neighbours on either side
- You can offer pruned branches from your neighbour's tree back to your neighbour, but they're not obliged to accept them
- The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects bat roosts and bird nests
- Inspect your trees regularly toreduce the risk of injury and therefore liability
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