A tree belongs to the person who owns the land on which it grows. However, the owner or occupier of land over which the branches of a tree overhang is generally entitled to chop back the branches to the boundary line. They do not need to obtain the owner of the tree’s permission before removing overhanging branches, although if you do intend to remove overhanging branches it is generally a good idea to inform the owner of the tree that you intend to remove them before doing so. The owner of the tree is less likely to complain about your actions if you discuss the matter with them before hand.
If you do intend to remove overhanging branches you should, however, bear in mind the following matters:
The possibility that you may commit a trespass
If you remove branches beyond the boundary line without your neighbour’s permission then you will commit a trespass and a claim for trespass could be pursued against you through the Courts.
If you are 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 owner of the tree could bring a claim against you for trespass.
If you intend to remove a substantial part of a tree it is a good idea to 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 that they are before employing them.
The possibility that you will cause damage to property or injure a person as a result of removing the overhanging branches
If your action were to result in the tree damaging property or injuring a person then the owner of such property or a person so injured may claim “damages” (compensation) 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 that they are insured against any damage, loss or injury sustained, before employing them.
If you believe that the tree in question is causing damage to your property it may be a good idea to 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 situated in a conservation area you may need to obtain permission from your local planning authority before carrying out work on the tree.
If you contravene a tree preservation order or carry out work on a tree situated in a conservation area you could be prosecuted and, if found guilty, fined.
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 or may have been on them even after the branches have been removed. For this reason a person who has removed overhanging branches should return them together with any fruit that is or was growing on them to the owner of the tree or obtain his consent for their disposal. If they fail to do so then their action will amount to theft.
If you intend to remove overhanging branches it is generally a good idea to ask the owner of the tree what he would like you to do with the branches and any fruit growing on them once they have been removed rather than simply throw them back into his garden as this may cause annoyance to your neighbour. If you are not able to speak to the owner of the tree for whatever reason it is a good idea to write to him explaining that it is your intention to dispose of the overhanging branches and any fruit within say 7 days of their removal (or perhaps a longer period if your neighbour is on holiday, for example, at the time) if he does not in the meantime confirm that he would like the branches and any fruit returned.
In the majority of cases the owner of the tree will not wish for the branches or any fruit growing on them to be returned to him.
Obligations in relation to trees which overhang a highway
Landowners have an obligation not to allow their trees to obstruct an adjoining highway.