Responsibilities of a Tree Owner - Works to Trees
The responsibilities of a tree owner, with respect to working on trees have been laid down, over many years, by statute and common law. The following is not a comprehensive list but attempts to address those aspects of tree work which are most commonly undertaken.
Duty of Care
When carrying out any works to trees, for whatever reason, care must be taken to ensure that neither harm nor injury is caused.
Such harm or injury may be direct, e.g. where a branch is removed and in the process injures someone on the ground or indirect e.g. where work is carried out that causes a tree to become unstable and requires it to be felled at a later date.
If any harm or injury is caused and it is found to have been reasonably foreseeable those responsible may be found to be negligent.
Where A has a 'duty of care' towards B and fails to take any necessary action, resulting in harm or injury and if that harm or injury is reasonably foreseeable, then it is likely to be categorised as negligence.
Protected Trees - Tree Protection Orders and Conservation Areas
Before carrying out any works to a tree, the local planning authority should be consulted to see if it is subject to a Tree Protection Order (TPO) or if it is within a conservation area. If there is a TPO in force it will be necessary to apply for consent from the local authority before starting work. If the tree is in a conservation area the local authority must be given six weeks notice, in writing, of the proposed works. Please see Tree Protection Orders and Conservation Areas.
Permission from the local planning authority may be required to remove a countryside hedgerow. If any trees are growing, they are considered to form part of the hedgerow. There are situations where permission is not needed, but removing a hedgerow without permission may result in an unlimited fine.
A felling licence may be required from the Forestry Commission to fell more than 5 cubic metres of timber in any one calendar quarter. There are exemptions and the carrying out of unauthorised works constitutes a criminal offence.
Specific wildlife species and their habitats are protected by law. Intentionally or recklessly damaging or destroying them, their nests, roosts or their habitats is a criminal offence. If works are proposed to a tree where protected species reside or the tree forms a habitat for protected species the appropriate advisory body should be consulted e.g. Natural England, Bat Conservation Trust etc.
Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Consent from English Nature will be required if the tree is within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
There are numerous statutes and court rulings that define the responsibilities of a tree owner. Failure to abide by them may lead to both the person doing the work and the tree owner being prosecuted.
For specific advice, with respect to the law, please seek qualified legal opinion. For general advice please contact us.
Veteran Trees: A Guide to Risk and Responsibility published by English Nature