Tree Owners Responsibilities

Ownership

Generally speaking the person who owns the land that a tree is growing on also owns the tree. If the tree grows straddling a boundary then ownership is considered to be joint.

Responsibilities

As a tree owner you have a responsibility that your tree does not cause damage or injury to others. In law this is dealt with under Common Law Duty - the duty of care.

Negligence

In general this asks whether a reasonable person could have foreseen the potential for mechanical failure of the tree leading to damage to a person or property. Therefore, one essential element of negligence is foresight.

Foresight

Is defined as 'failing to do what a prudent person would do, or doing what a prudent person would not do'.

In relation to trees, the tree owner is responsible for the health, safety and maintenance of their trees and are expected to ensure with reasonable foresight that any health and safety implications that may cause damage to another person or property are rectified. While it is not expected that owner is able to competently inspect a tree, it is expected that competent suitably qualified professional is employed to make an assessment on the trees in the owners care at regular intervals based on the trees location, size and potential to cause damage or harm.

Example

A large tree in a location where it is close to persons and property may have a substantial decaying cavity. If this tree were to fail at this point and damage persons or property, the owner is expected to have foreseen the tree's failure and would be negligent in not remedying the problem as the tree initially had a potential to cause harm. However a tree in the middle of a woodland away from paths, public access and property would not require inspection as its potential to cause damage or harm is minimal.

Trees obstructing the highway

The Highways Act 1980 requires that trees and other vegetation do not obstruct the passage of users. The Highway Authority requires a minimum clearance over any part of a footpath of 2.4 metres and over any part of a road of 5.2 metres and that all street lighting and signs are not obscured by vegetation. The Highway Authority have the powers to serve notice on tree owners to enforce these clearances and if necessary carry out the works themselves and charge the tree owner. If the tree is protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or growing in a Conservation Area your must still apply to carry out these works.

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