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The Impact of Trees on Structures: A Comprehensive Guide to Roots, Branches, and Neighbourly Relations

Welcome to our exploration of the relationship between trees and buildings. Join us as we delve into the realm of trees, unveiling the nuances of their impact on both existing and proposed structures. Discover the intricacies of direct and indirect damages caused by trees, and gain insights into navigating neighbourly disputes. We will also unravel the legal intricacies of common law regarding overhanging branches, offering a comprehensive guide to understanding and addressing these aspects of arboreal influence on properties.


Indirect Damage: Precautions when Building Near Trees

Trees effect subsoil ground conditions as they absorb from and release water into the soil. This causes changes in the water content and volume of the soil. When moisture is absorbed by trees, it causes subsoil contraction. When trees are removed, moisture is retained in the soil, causing heaving and subsoil expansion.


Subsoil contraction and expansion occurring in the soil surrounding foundations of buildings can cause the foundations to crack. Soil type, size and species of trees, and proximity to foundations are all variable factors. Oak, willow eucalyptus and poplars are common tree species of trees that greatly influence soil moisture levels.


According to The Arboricultural Association "there are no fixed minimum recommended distances that you should plant trees of certain species from buildings." The appropriate distance is contingent upon various factors including the specific species of trees, soil conditions, building foundation type, and local planning regulations. Local planning authorities may have their own guidelines and regulations regarding tree planting near buildings. Once your project has been submitted to the local council, it is possible that the vetting officer will request a arboricultural report during the submission process. Consulting a qualified arboriculturist or tree specialist who can assess the site and provide specific recommendations based on the circumstances.


Direct Damage: Gradual Encroachment and Displacement

Direct tree damage occurs when any part of a tree, like a stem or branch, comes into contact with a structure. Constant contact, such as a stem abutting a wall, or fleeting contact, like a branch hitting during wind, can occur. The latter is rare and often preventable with light trimming. Whilst constant contact does not happen often due to the restrictions on tree development near structures, it can still occur. Root encounters with solid objects usually cause no damage as roots choose the path with of least resistance, but continuous radial expansion of trunks and structural roots in confined spaces can displace heavy structures. We often come across neighbour disputes with trees that sit on a boundary, slowly pushing a garden fence into the other neighbour's property. Although boundary disputes and garden fences do not come under the scope of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, if the tree has grown to damage a party fence wall, Party Wall London will advise neighbours on the actions to take in order to resolve this matter.



A tree growing along the boundary between two properties, with branches overhanging to the neighbouring garden.


Overhanging Branches: Common Law Guidelines for Property Owners

When dealing with overhanging branches from a neighbour's tree, it's important to understand the legal principles that come into play. The common law right of abatement is a well-established concept, granting property owners the right to trim or cut branches that extend onto their land. This right is based on the recognition that the encroachment of branches can be considered a nuisance, and affected property owners have the right to take reasonable steps to address it. You can cut back or remove branches that overhang onto your property up to the property boundary.


You do not have the right to enter your neighbour's land without their permission to carry out the work. This includes climbing over the fence or entering their property to cut branches. It's crucial to approach the situation with consideration and open communication with neighbours. If you have concerns about overhanging branches, try to discuss the matter amicably and seek their cooperation.


Lastly, the High Hedges Act 2005 and Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) may also be relevant in specific cases, requiring property owners to adhere to additional regulations.



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