Tree maintenance guidance

The law sets out the responsibilities of tree owners and what you can do if a tree is causing a problem.

Tree maintenance rights and responsibilities

The Council will investigate reports of unauthorised works to our trees and seek to prosecute where appropriate.

For legal advice, contact a solicitor. We cannot give a definitive guide to the law. 

The following checkboxes are used for accordion drop-downs. When selected, they show content that was visually hidden

Tree owners should take reasonable care to inspect trees regularly and do essential maintenance work such as removing dead wood. Tree owners found to be negligent can be held liable for injury or damage caused. 

Tree owners do not have any legal obligation to cut or fell trees for any reason other than safety. If you want a neighbour to cut a tree and they refuse, it is a civil dispute and you may wish to get legal advice.

Before working on a tree, you must check whether the tree is protected or whether any other restrictions apply. Where permission is needed, it is a criminal offence to start work without it.

We recommend you use accredited tree specialists for advice and tree work.

Applying to work on protected trees

To apply for treework consent (trees protected by a tree preservation order) or give treework notice (trees in a conservation area) use the Planning Portal

Planning Portal tree work application guidance

You have the right to cut overhanging branches, overhanging sections of multistemmed trees and encroaching roots back to your land boundary. You cannot take the top off a neighbour's tree.

You must check whether the tree is protected or whether any other restrictions apply. Where permission is needed, it is a criminal offence to start work without it.

If you ask contractors to trim a neighbour's tree, it is your responsibility to pay for the work. 

All the work must be carried out from your own property unless the owner agrees to let you work from their land. Crossing the boundary could be treated as trespass.

The trimming must be done to good arboriculture practices, must not result in further die-back, allow disease to get in, or leave the tree dangerously lopsided.

You could be liable for negligence if a tree becomes dangerous as a result of the work and the tree harms someone or property is damaged.

We recommend using specialist tree professionals.

If the tree is on private land, you should offer the wood back to the owner. If the tree belongs to the council, you can keep the wood.

Most hedges and trees overhanging public roads and footways are privately owned and the landowner must make sure they are safe. If a tree is unsafe or causing an obstruction (such as forcing people to walk in the road) we may contact the owner to ask them to cut it back. If the owner does not do the work we may do it ourselves and claim back the cost.

If you are a landowner and you are struggling to cut back a roadside tree or hedge, contact our highways team to let us know why.  

We are the landowner responsible for highway trees and hedges. A highway tree is usually a tree with its roots on the footway. A highway hedge is usually a hedge with a road or footway on both sides.

How we manage our trees and hedges

Use Fix my street to tell us about trees and hedges with roots on the pavement or roads that need attention.

Tree owners do not have a legal obligation to prune or cut down trees to allow light or views to a neighbouring property or improve TV reception. If we own the tree, we will not cut it back for any of these reasons. This includes trees on the roadside.

There is no blanket 'right to light' for either buildings, gardens or open land. 

You may have a legal right to light if you have enjoyed light uninterruptedly to a window of your home for 20 years before the obstruction appeared - contact a solicitor for advice.

Tree owners do not have a legal obligation to prune or cut down trees to reduce leaf fall, berries, or bird fouling. If we own the tree, we will not cut it back for any of these reasons. This includes trees on the roadside.

To work on trees from public land complete the enquire about council property form below. The form will take 5 minutes to complete.

 Enquire about council property

To find out how we use your information see our privacy notice (opens in a new window).

You will need to provide the following:

  • method statement
  • risk assessment
  • proof of insurance

A suitably qualified contractor will provide these as a matter of routine.

We will tell you if you need a licence. 

When we can take action on tree or hedge maintenance issues

We can take action on tree or hedge maintenance issues when any of the following apply:

  • a tree or hedge with roots on council land needs cutting or felling because it is dead, diseased, dying or dangerous, damaging property, or blocking statutory road signs
  • fallen branches are blocking a footpath or putting road users at risk, or a tree is about to fall onto a road
  • overgrown vegetation is blocking a public right of way (see path management)
  • a tree on private land presents an immediate risk to people or property - we have powers to act if the tree owner has not taken action after you have asked them to do so 

We cannot normally take action for any other reason. 

We do not offer a hedge trimming or tree pruning service for privately owned hedges and trees.

How we manage council trees

We have a programme of routine inspections for the trees we own but we do not carry out routine maintenance. We balance the overall risk to public safety from trees against the benefits of trees and the costs of work. 

We cut our roadside hedges once a year, usually between October and November. This minimises the impact on animals, plants and habitats. 

For further information you can view the Council’s Tree Risk Management Strategy (PDF, 420KB)

Dangerous trees on private land

If a tree on private land is in danger of falling onto a road or public right of way imminently, contact our highways team via fix-my-street.

In other situations, we have discretionary powers to act as a last resort if the owner of a dangerous tree has failed to do anything about the tree and the tree now presents an immediate risk to people or property. 

To take action, we need a written request from an adjoining landowner asking us to make the tree safe. The request should include:

  • evidence that all reasonable steps have been taken to resolve the matter over a period of time, including dates of conversations, phone calls, and copies of emails/letters
  • evidence that the trees pose a significant risk of harm including an arboricultural report and/or detailed photographs
  • where the landowner cannot be traced, details of avenues explored to find them including copies of land registry searches

Landowners should be aware that if we decide to investigate the case, we will visit the site and assess the tree. We will try to contact the owner if necessary to advise what actions to take to make the tree safe. If they do not make the tree safe, we may serve an enforcement notice. We may then do the work ourselves if the owner does not comply. We will recover the costs of the work from the owner.

Page last reviewed: 09 June 2022