Removing branches overhanging your property
A tree belongs to the person who owns the land on which it grows. However, if you’re the owner/occupier of land over which the branches of a tree overhang, you are generally entitled to chop back the branches to the boundary line. You don’t need to get the owner of the tree’s permission before removing overhanging branches, although if you do intend to do this, it’s a good idea to inform the owner before doing so – they’re less likely to complain about your actions if you discuss the matter with them beforehand.
If you do intend to remove overhanging branches, however, there are certain matters you should bear in mind.
The possibility that you may commit a trespass
If you remove branches beyond the boundary line without your neighbour’s permission, you will commit a trespass and a claim for trespass could be pursued against you through the courts.
If you’re in any doubt as to where exactly the boundary lies you should, therefore, obtain legal advice.
The possibility that you may damage the tree
If by removing overhanging branches you damage the tree, the tree’s owner could bring a claim against you for trespass or damages.
If you intend to remove a substantial part of a tree, employ a tree surgeon or arborist to carry out the work for you. Normally they will be insured against any such damage, although you should check this before employing them.
The possibility that you will damage property or injure someone by removing the overhanging branches
If your actions result in the tree damaging property or injuring someone, the property owner or the injured person may claim damages from you.
This is another good reason, if you intend to remove a substantial part of a tree, for employing a tree surgeon or arborist to carry out the work for you. Again, you should check they are insured against any damage, loss or injury sustained, before employing them.
If you believe the tree in question is causing damage to your property, contact your insurers before carrying out any work to it.
The possibility that the tree may be the subject of a tree preservation order
If the tree in question is the subject of a tree preservation order or in a conservation area, you may need to obtain permission from your local planning authority before carrying out work on it.
If you contravene a tree preservation order or carry out work on a tree in a conservation area, you could be prosecuted and, if found guilty, fined.
If the tree presents a danger to people or proeprty
If you think the tree could be dangerous to your property or people on it – if it looks like it’s rotting for example – you should discuss the matter with the neighbor. If they won’t do anything about it or allow you to act, contact your local council.
Ownership of the overhanging branches once they have been removed
The owner of the land on which the tree grows remains the owner of any branches, together with any fruit that may be on them – even after the branches have been removed. If you remove overhanging branches, therefore, you should return them, together with any fruit that is growing on them, to the owner of the tree or obtain their consent to dispose of them. If you fail to do so, your action will amount to theft.
If you intend to remove overhanging branches, ask the owner of the tree what they would like you to do with the branches and any fruit growing on them once they have been removed, rather than simply throwing them back into their garden (this could be deemed as flytipping). If you’re not able to speak to the owner of the tree, write to them explaining that you intend to dispose of the overhanging branches and any fruit within, for example, seven days of their removal (or perhaps a longer period if your neighbour is on holiday, or otherwise unavailable, at the time).
In most cases the owner of the tree will not wish for the branches or any fruit growing on them to be returned.
Obligations in relation to trees which overhang a highway
Landowners have an obligation not to allow their trees to obstruct an adjoining highway.