BT Cables, Telegraph Poles and Trees

Trees adjacent to telephone cables can disrupt the signals for sound, visual images and other purposes, and this can be exacerbated during wet and windy weather.

It is therefore sometimes necessary to manage trees in order to minimise these potential problems.


Telecommunications Act 1984

Where a company is authorised to run a telecommunications system, it will be given a licence under the Telecommunications Act 1984. Almost all such licences will apply the telecommunications code, subject to specified exceptions and conditions.

The code, which is set out in Schedule 2 to the 1984 Act, essentially provides a code of practice for enabling the operator of a telecommunications system to deal effectively with commonly occurring problems including tree branches affecting telecommunication apparatus, lines and structures.


Extent of the Tree Works

There are no statutory minimum clearances for trees adjacent to telephone cables nor are there any industry guidelines for recommended distances.

'Where the operator of the telecommunication system lops a tree ... he shall do so in a husband-like manner and in such a way as to cause the minimum damage to the tree', 1984 Act Schedule 2 para 19(4)


Trees in Streets

The code applies only where a tree overhangs a street and obstructs or interferes with the working of any existing telecommunication apparatus, or is considered likely to obstruct or interfere with any such apparatus that the operator is about to install.

'Telecommunication apparatus' is defined as:

  • Any apparatus constructed or adapted for transmitting messages
  • Any line (i.e. wire, cable, tube, pipe or other similar things) designed or adapted for use in connection with a telecommunications system and
  • Any structure, pole or other thing supporting or carrying such apparatus.

'Street' means the whole or any part of any highway, road, lane, footway, alley, passage, square, court etc..

The result of these provisions is that, where the branch of a tree is interfering with an existing or proposed telephone pole or wire on or over a street, but not where a root is interfering with a subterranean cable, the operator can take action to remove the problem, subject to the payment of at least some compensation to the owner of the tree.


Trees in Gardens

Where a pole or line is on or over a private garden or other land, the operator assumes the tree owner will act responsibly and exercise their duty of care to 'avoid acts or omissions which he or she could reasonably foresee may result in harm or injury'. In other words, maintain the trees on their property so as to avoid them causing damage to telecommunication apparatus.

For specific advice, with respect to the law, please seek qualified legal opinion. For general advice please contact us.



The Law of Trees, Forests and Hedgerows by Charles Mynors

Telecommunications Act 1984