Problems with trees - separating fact from fiction
The problem of overhanging branches is probably the most common one on which advice is sought. There are no statutory controls applying to deciduous trees, (while those applying to evergreen are limited to high hedges), and in the absence of direct, proven damage from a neighbour's tree there is little you can do to restrict its height or growth other than prune back overhanging branches to your boundary. The 'right' to do this was established in a test case known as Lemon versus Webb in 1894, in which it was held that the overhang constitutes a nuisance and therefore the person whose property is overhung may abate or remove that nuisance. By extension this may be applied to tree roots, but of course severing structural roots, especially on your side of the tree, is unwise because you may cause it to become unstable and predisposed to fall towards your home.
This does not confer any right to enter the other person's property or to work on any part of the tree that does not overhang/encroach onto your property, and you are advised always to discuss such action with the tree owners before carrying out work and to offer to return any offcuts to the owner. You should NOT dispose of them by putting them over the fence.
There is no legislation relating to the height of trees and nothing the council can do to enforce a reduction in the height of a neighbour's tall tree. Fear of large trees is usually perceived not actual: statistically trees are very safe, with fewer than ten fatalities per year arising from them, therefore it is unlikely that you will encounter any harm from a tree just because it is tall. Remember that trees have evolved over millennia to exist in all kinds of adverse conditions, and are bio-mechanically equipped by nature to cope with wind loading. The tree should move and flex under wind load - think of the skyscraper analogy - therefore just observing it moving does not signify an increased likelihood of failure.
Of course non-one can predict how any structure, natural or man-made, will behave in extremes of climate, but this is as true of say, your chimney stack as it is of a tree!
In general there is no 'right to light' therefore you cannot successfully argue against the tree owner on this ground. If the shading has its origins in an evergreen hedge there may ultimately be a case for high hedges enforcement but this route should always be your last resort. See our section on High Hedges.
It has been conclusively argued that the television licence is a legal requirement to receive television but is not an entitlement to a signal. You cannot therefore insist on a tree being pruned or removed to facilitate television reception.
Trees and Drains
There is a popular myth that trees, especially the willow and poplar species, have a tendency to invade and damage drains in their search for water. In general this is seldom true, but the origins of the belief probably lie in the fact that these two species are water-demanding and gained the reputation by historical association. Tree roots, of any species, will colonise drains opportunistically if those drains are damaged and leaking an attractive mixture of water and nutrients.
Until perhaps the last twenty years clay sectional drains were commonly used and these were prone to becoming disjointed and leaky, thereby attracting roots, so the problem was already present rather than created by root pressure. Usually when a drain is repaired by a 'sleeving' technique the problem is permanently solved without need for tree removal. Modern drains are much more reliable and continuous and therefore it's unlikely that tree roots will enter the drain.
Trees and subsidence
This is a fraught area, partly because much remains to be proven in these cases and of course because the concept of damage to property and the costs and stresses involved are worrying to all. Subsidence of low-rise buildings was not seen as high risk until the dry summers of the middle 1970's when an upsurge in insurance claims brought it to prominence. This has been compounded by the very high values attached to property that we have seen in the last twenty years and the insistence of lenders on the house being adequate security for the large loans necessary to buy them.
The problem usually occurs because there is an underlying layer of shrinkable clay soil on which the house rests. During excessively dry periods a large tree or trees may cause what is termed a
" persistent moisture deficit" in this soil that causes it to shrink. When this happens some settlement of foundations may occur and usually presents itself as a pattern of diagonal cracking around right-angled fixtures such as door and window frames.
One should never assume the tree is always to blame: leaking drains can wash away some soils and cause similar effects, for example. Wyre appears to have few problems of this kind, possibly owing to its abundant soil water - the area is coastal and estuarine in large part - and the wet north western climate protects us against periods of drought.
Roots and Buildings
Tree roots do not exert sufficient pressure to dislodge the footings of a house or other heavily-loaded structure. Occasionally they will affect lighter structures such as garden walls, and when this occurs here are sometimes engineering solutions such as bridging the root with a lintel that allow both tree and wall to co-exist, but in general a tree root will not affect your house because the weight bearing down on the footings is too great.
Trees on boundaries
Trees in gardens are often planted towards the peripheries so as to leave open areas where they are needed for outdoor recreation, the result being that neighbours often thoughtlessly plant trees with large growth potential on or near boundaries. Unless the tree damages your property in a direct way there is little you can do to prevent someone planting a tree close to the boundary other than manage the overgrowth.
When a tree causes " actionable nuisance" - nuisance that could give rise to a claim for damages - you should seek legal advice. This is a matter the council cannot become involved in because we have not the legal expertise necessary to advise you properly.
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