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Trees - Frequently asked questions

Trees within public open spaces/amenity areas are likely to belong to either us or the local Parish/Town Council.

Trees within the curtilage of a council/social housing property will be the responsibility of either:

  • South Northants Homes; or
  • one of the other housing associations (eg Grand Union Housing Group)

If you are certain that we own the land, please contact the report through fix my street.

For land ownership searches see the Land Registry website. We do not hold any land ownership records.

The cutting back of any trees in public spaces or parks without our permission can be considered 'criminal damage'. It will be reported as such to the Police.

We endeavour to ensure a 2-metre clearance distance from overhanging trees to residential structures (i.e. houses, garages, etc.) as part of our maintenance programme. However, there is a common law right which permits a person (or their agent i.e. tree surgeon, gardener, etc) to prune back any growth of tree, shrub etc to the line of their boundary, as long as any cuttings are disposed of in a responsible manner, i.e. not dumped on public property or private land.

Before any work is carried out on a tree you will need to check with us to find out whether the tree has a tree preservation order (TPO) on it or if it is in a conservation area.

If it has none of the above restrictions, you may cut back any branches and roots encroaching onto your land, provided you don’t remove so much as to prejudice the health and safety of the tree. You don’t need permission from the tree owner to do this but it is best to discuss any work with your neighbour before doing any work to their tree.

Anything you remove belongs to them. You must either pass the cuttings over the fence, without causing damage to their property in doing so, or you can offer to dispose of them on their behalf.

Unless you have the tree owner’s consent, you must not remove any part of the tree on their side of the boundary, including reducing the height. Unless you have permission to enter the neighbour’s land to carry out the work, you must undertake it from your side of the boundary.

By carrying out any work to a tree as above, the person takes responsibility for their actions.

Should injury/ damage or failure of the tree occur, as a result of such action, the person who carried out the works becomes liable.

You are responsible for bearing the full cost of the work, not the tree owner. However, it may be useful to discuss the matter with the owner to try to negotiate cost sharing and a permanent solution.

We recommend exercising reasonable care and taking advice from an expert if you are concerned.

Yes, since the 1 June 2005 the High Hedges act has given us powers to deal with complaints regarding High Hedges. For further information see high hedges.

Ivy is not a parasite and that is why it can grow on dead trees or walls.

Ivy derives all its nutrients and water through its own root system and only uses trees for support to reach the light.

Ivy has a very high wildlife value as it provides both habitat and food for a wide range of birds, insects and animals.

However, ivy can constrict stem growth of saplings and can cause stability problems to old trees in poor health during winter storms by increasing the wind load.

Only cut it back if your garden is especially exposed or if it is growing over leaves.

Tree owners have no obligation to prune a tree because of inference with TV reception. In most cases, the problem can be addressed by relocating the aerial or dish.

There are no legal rights to TV reception, and therefore no obligation to carry out any works to trees.

A T.V. Licence does not give the holder a guarantee or legal right to reception, be it digital or satellite.

An information fact sheet offering advice on how to overcome tree-related reception problems can be found on the BBC website.

If you find that your phone line is being disrupted, get in touch with your telephone provider who will be able to investigate the issue as it may not be as a result of the tree.

It is the telephone service providers' responsibility to maintain your service.

Pruning is a temporary solution and the problem may reoccur when branches grow back.

In law there is no automatic right to light and there has been no tested case to prove or disprove right to light and as such there is no absolute right to light, to either land or property.

A right to light can be established under the Prescription Act 1832 if the light entering a building has been uninterrupted for at least 20 years, only refers to buildings and light, not to gardens and sunlight.

Whilst we are sympathetic, we do not undertake tree works to facilitate light to either land (gardens, etc) or property (houses, conservatories, solar panels, etc).

We have a duty of care to keep pavements in good structural repair (Highways Department), but Gardens (front or rear) whether those of the Council or private properties are the concern of the occupiers.

This is often referred to as sticky sap or honeydew. The sugar solution excreted by the aphids does not damage the paintwork.

We do not control aphids as they are important ecologically as part of the food chain.

Tree owners do not have an obligation to prune or fell the tree or clean cars because of sap deposits, stop leaves and seeds/fruit from falling or prune or fell a tree to stop leaves from falling.

We cannot accept responsibility for the tree leaf litter, seed drop, pollen, sap drop etc., as these are natural physiological occurrences only to be expected by trees.

We do not undertake tree works to facilitate the prevention of leaf litter, seed or sap drop in gardens or footpaths.

It is important to note that except in the most extreme and exceptional circumstances, We do not remove any tree without there being sufficient disease, decay or structural damage, identified and assessed by a qualified arboriculturalist.

If you are concerned about this, contact your building insurance provider for advice.

Generally, tree roots do not damage buildings. However, some of Northamptonshire soil has high clay content and this, when coupled with vegetation (trees or shrubs) can cause excessive moisture loss during periods of drought. If you think your property is affected this way, you should first obtain a structural survey (often via your own building insurance company). This should then be forwarded to our Insurance Services by email, [email protected] or telephone contact us on 0300 126 7000.

If a tree is covered by a TPO, or if it is in a conservation area, an application or written Notice will be required before root pruning can take place.

Cutting the roots of any tree is generally ill-advised as it may affect the tree's health and stability. Contact an arboricultural consultant if you want to cut any roots greater than 25mm in diameter.

There are no controls on the type or number of tree(s) that can be planted in your garden. However, do consider:

  • if there is enough space for the size of the tree when it is mature
  • are there any overhead wires or obstructions
  • what position will the tree be in relation to your property and neighbouring properties. A new tree to the south or west may block afternoon or evening sun, whereas a tree to the north will not restrict direct light from entering the building

‘Topping’ is an outdated arboricultural practice that is no longer considered to be acceptable by the industry for a number of reasons including:

  • Topping removes so much of the trees canopy it upsets the crown to root ratio temporarily reducing its food making ability
  • Topping exposes the rest of the tree, and surrounding trees and vegetation, to scorching from direct sunlight, which can damage the natural physiological processes and future survival of the trees
  • The large stubs and wounds caused by ‘topping’ open the tree to insect attack, disease and decay entry, compromising the future survival of the trees
  • Any new shoots that grow from the cut stubs will be weakly attached and pose a risk to safety when they become larger and heavier
  • ‘Topping’ a tree will encourage rapid re-growth often with larger leaves and denser crowns!
  • Some species of tree cannot cope with ‘Topping’ and will die as a result
  • A ‘Topped’ tree is ugly and deformed and will never regain its natural shape and character

Contact the police if you feel a wildlife crime is being committed:

See the following for further information:

We do not inspect trees on private property. We advise that you find an Arboricultural Association accredited consultant or accredited tree company for this work.

Pruning of your tree

We not carry out work on privately owned trees, even if the tree is protected. We recommend that you find an Arboricultural Association accredited company for this work.

Issues with neighbours not maintaining their trees

We do not intervene in disputes about trees on private property. You will need to discuss your concerns with the owner of the trees.

Tree ownership

A tree is owned by the owner of the land where it stands. If a tree straddles a border, ownership lies with the land on which it was originally planted. This can be difficult to determine so in practice shared ownership is often assumed.

If we do not own or maintain the tree, you will need to contact HM Land Registry to do a search to establish who the owner is.

Last updated 08 December 2023