Tree management and protection - FAQs

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The benefits of urban trees in St Albans

There is a substantial body of research that supports the following benefits that trees bring to urban areas.

Environmental

  • Reduce localised temperature extremes

  • Provide shade, making streets and buildings cooler in summer

  • Help to improve air quality

  • Help to reduce traffic noise, absorbing and deflecting sound

  • Help to reduce local wind speeds

  • Increase biodiversity and provide food and shelter for wildlife

  • Assist in land remediation

  • Reduce the effects of flash flooding by rainfall interception.

  • Mitigate against climate change

Social

  • Improve the quality and perception of the urban environment

  • Create community focal points and landmark links

  • Create sense of place and local identity

  • Benefit communities socially by instilling higher public esteem and pride for an area

  • Positive impact on both physical and mental health and wellbeing

  • Positive impact on crime reduction

  • Improve health in the urban population.

Economic

  • Have the potential to increase residential and commercial property values by between 7% to 15%

  • Improve the environmental performance of buildings and therefore the economic performance through reducing heating and cooling costs

  • Can provide mature landscapes that increase development site values

  • Assist the increase of property values as trees grow

  • Create a positive perception for prospective purchasers of property

  • Enhance the prospects of securing planning permission

  • Improve health in the urban population, thus reducing healthcare costs

  • Provide a potential long-term renewable energy resource.

Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs about trees and tree maintenance

1. The tree is too big, moves in the wind and looks dangerous...

Movement of trees in the wind does not automatically signify that the trees are dangerous as some flexing is normal. 

Our qualified tree experts will inspect a tree following an enquiry or as part of our ongoing maintenance following routine inspections. Our inspection will determine the trees condition and we will take appropriate action if necessary. Our inspections are all recorded. 

Should the tree in question be situated on Highway land please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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2. The tree outside my house in the pavement is blocking the passage of pedestrians and/or vehicles...

Trees will be pruned in line with current best practice to meet the legal requirement as stated within the Highways Act, i.e. a clearance of 2.4m over footways and 5.2m over roads, although this can be limited by the size and shape of some trees. Should this be an issue regarding tree(s) growing on a highway maintained verge, please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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3. The tree outside my house has not been pruned for ages. It is too tall and needs to be lopped back...

Trees within the District are regularly inspected and any safety or maintenance related works are reported at this time. We do not reduce the height of trees as a matter of course, as this can be inappropriate and stimulate rapid regrowth and/or cause significant defects in the tree’s structure, which are hard to detect. Should the tree in question be situated on Highway land please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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4. A Council-owned tree is shading my property...

Householders have no right to light from across a neighbour’s land. Likewise there is no right to a view, and a view obstructed by the growth of trees cannot legally be regarded as a nuisance. Where requests are made to prune trees to increase light levels, each instance will be assessed on its merits. The householder may be assisted where appropriate, if this is possible without excess damage to, or removal of, healthy trees or branches. As a general policy, the Council will not undertake the topping, thinning or felling of trees simply to allow more light to a property, where the trees in question would not otherwise require any surgery.

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5. Tree branches are growing across my boundary...

There is no requirement in law to prevent trees spreading over a boundary. However, whilst there is no obligation to prune trees, if branches or roots encroach on to neighbouring land they are legally regarded as a nuisance. There is no legal obligation for a landowner to cut back branches overhanging their neighbour’s garden unless the nuisance is actionable, i.e. causing obstruction to access or physical contact with a structure. The owner of the adjacent land has the Common Law right to ‘abate the nuisance’ by cutting the branches or roots encroaching on other property.

Where requests are made to prune trees that overhang a boundary each instance will be assessed on its merits. As a general policy, the Council will only undertake work where a tree’s branches touch or are very close to a building or blocking access. Where overhang of the boundary is relatively minor or at considerable height, works may not be undertaken by the Council. They may be considered for re-inspection within two to three years, depending on the size, type and growth of the trees concerned. Where tree roots are deemed to have encroached, works will only be undertaken where damage to property can be shown, beyond reasonable doubt, to have been a causal factor or damage is reasonably foreseeable in the future. Should the tree in question be situated on Highway land please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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6. The tree is affecting my television and satellite reception...

There is no legal right to television reception. Existing trees on neighbouring land which interfere with television reception, especially with satellite transmissions, are unlikely to be regarded as a nuisance in law. As a policy, the council will not undertake the topping, thinning or felling of trees simply to improve television or satellite reception, where the trees in question would not otherwise require any pruning work. Should the tree in question be situated on Highway land please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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7. The trees are in the wrong place and are general nuisance...

Although some people regard trees to be a source of inconvenience, by law they must be shown to be a substantial interference to a neighbour’s comfort and convenience to be considered an actionable nuisance. As a general policy, the Council will not undertake the topping, thinning or felling of trees simply to prevent the accumulation of leaves, seeds or minor debris on adjacent property, where the trees in question would not otherwise require any pruning work. Should the tree in question be situated on Highway land please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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8. The tree is making a sticky mess on my car or in my garden...

This is a seasonal problem is caused by aphids and is known as honeydew with tree species such as lime and sycamore. Unfortunately this is a problem that cannot be solved by pruning or spraying with insecticides. The District Council may prune trees where the work complies with best practice but will not fell or disfigure trees to deal with this issue. Honeydew is a mild sugar solution and should not affect paintwork on cars if they are washed regularly. Should the tree in question be situated on Highway land please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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9. Birds roosting in the trees outside my house are creating a mess on my car or drive...

This inconvenience is not a sufficient justification to remove or disfigure the tree. Unfortunately pruning the tree is not the solution either, as the birds will simply roost on the remaining branches.

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10. The tree is causing damage to my drains or utility services...

Instances of underground pipes in good condition being broken by the growth of tree roots are very rare, but penetration and blockage of damaged pipes is not uncommon. Utility supplies such as water, gas and electricity are rarely affected. Tree roots can be opportunistic and if an old drain pipe with poor joints is leaking into the surrounding soil this will attract the roots that may then exploit the existing weakness. Then, when repairs are required, a proliferation of tree roots often leads to the blame being placed with a nearby tree. However, replacement of faulty drains/pipes with modern materials will usually eliminate the leak and stop problems from re-occurring. If you believe tree roots have caused damage to structures you should consult your insurers or an expert.

As a general policy the Council will not undertake the topping, thinning or felling of trees to prevent roots entering damaged pipes.

Should the tree in question be situated on Highway land please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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11-The tree is covered in Ivy and is killing it...

Ivy is a climbing plant abundant as a groundcover shrub in many rural woodlands and hedgerows. It has a variety of conservation benefits and forms an integral part of woodland habitat. In the urban environment there is a need to balance three main considerations for its retention: tree safety, conservation and aesthetics. Ivy causes no direct damage to trees. However, in some situations it may be considered unsightly and more importantly can create problems for efficient management by obscuring structural defects and fungal fruiting bodies. It also increases the weight of a tree’s crown and the 'sail' effect during the winter months, when deciduous trees shed their leaves. As a general policy, the Council undertakes the removal of ivy from trees only where it is considered necessary to aid visual tree health assessment and/or to reduce its competition with trees of low vigour. Should the tree in question be situated on Highway land please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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12. My neighbour's trees are blocking my light. What can I do?

Technically your neighbour only has a duty to ensure their trees are safe. There is currently no height restriction on trees, although evergreens and semi-evergreens can sometimes be affected by high hedge legislation (see 13). If you have concerns about a tree, ask your neighbour how they intend to maintain it. You may be able to cut the overhanging branches back to the boundary. However, before either you or your neighbour undertakes works to any trees it is important to check the trees are not covered by a Tree Preservation Order, or located within a Conservation Area. For further information you can contact the council’s Tree and Woodlands Section on (01727) 866100 or email treesandwoodlands@stalbans.gov.uk

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13. My neighbours have a high hedge. What can I do about it?

The high hedges legislation was introduced on 1 June 2005 under Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 and applies to evergreen and semi-evergreen hedges of over two metres in height.  The legislation provides for those who feel that a neighbour’s hedge is hindering the reasonable enjoyment of their property to submit a formal complaint to the Council.  The Council will then investigate the matter and may, if considered appropriate, serve a notice on the hedge owner requiring them to reduce the hedge’s height.  In most cases, it is possible for neighbours to agree on a course of action without a formal complaint being necessary.  This is certainly the preferable approach for all concerned.  If you are unable to reach agreement with your neighbour, you could try contacting a local mediation service (for which there may be a charge).  You should be aware that the law requires people to have taken reasonable steps to try to settle their hedge dispute for themselves before making a formal complaint to the Council. For further information, please see our web page Problems with Neighbour's High Hedges.

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14. I have a big tree near my property and I am worried about the damage the roots may be doing to my house. What should I do?

Tree roots may potentially cause damage to built structures in two ways:

  • Direct damage – this is caused when the physical expansion of tree roots or stem lifts paving stones or cracks walls etc. Due to the weight of a house no amount of physical expansion will affect it, but garden walls and small structures such as garages or outbuildings might be affected.

  • Indirect damage – this can be caused to larger structures such as houses when trees roots grow close foundations and extract water from a shrinkable clay soil, causing subsidence . If a building has been built on a shrinkable clay soil near an existing tree, and that tree is then removed, the soil may expand which can cause heave (the opposite of subsidence). Modern building standards mean that the risk to newer buildings tends to be isolated and the Council will expect new buildings to be built to industry guidance and therefore they should not subside due to trees that were in existence at the time they were built.  Although there are areas of the District that do contain such soils, genuine cases of tree related subsidence are relatively uncommon.

However, should you believe that trees are the cause of cracking to property then you should consult with your insurers or a structural engineer to determine the probable cause.

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15. A tree is lifting paving slabs/affecting my drive. Can I cut the roots of a protected tree?

Cutting the roots of any tree is generally ill-advised as it may affect the tree’s health and stability. If a tree is covered by a Tree Preservation Order, or if it stands in a Conservation Area, an application will be required before root pruning can take place.  Contact the Trees and Woodlands Section on 01727 866100 or email treesandwoodlands@stalbans.gov.uk for details.

Should the tree in question be situated on Highway land please contact Herts Direct on 0300 123 4047 or via their website www.hertsdirect.org/highwayfaults.

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16. How can I tell if my tree is safe?

Such assessments are best made by qualified experts. This is not a service offered by the Council’s Tree Officers, but details of tree contractors and consultants operating throughout the UK are available from the Arboricultural Association. The Council is also able to provide a list, although it cannot be held responsible for any advice provided by those companies. See Choosing an agent, builder or contractor.

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17. My tree doesn't look very healthy. Can the Council advise me? If not, where else can I seek advice?

The Council is unable to provide such advice, but local tree contractors and consultants will be able to offer advice on the health and management of trees. Details of tree contractors and consultants operating throughout the UK are available from the Arboricultural Association or the Council. See Choosing an agent, builder or contractor.

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18. My tree has fungus growing on it. Does this make the tree unsafe?

There are many types of fungi that affect wood. They are often indicative of a wider problem and are a valuable tool in diagnosing what may be wrong with your tree. They are also an invaluable habitat for rare insects and beetles and should not be removed from the tree. Removing fungal fruiting bodies from trees will not get rid of the fungus as it is usually by this stage well established within the tree. If you find fungi growing on your tree, call an expert to help identify the potential problem. Further details of tree contractors and consultants operating throughout the UK are available from the Arboricultural Association.

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19. How can I find out if a tree on my land or somewhere else in the district is protected?

You can check the status of trees on a mapping system on our Local Information Mapping Service using the Map Layers and selecting Tree Preservation Orders under Planning Constraints. Please note the accuracy of the mapped tree positions cannot be guaranteed, so if in doubt contact the Trees & Woodlands section on 01727 866100 or email treesandwoodlands@stalbans.gov.uk.

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20. What types of trees can be protected?

Most tree species can be protected by tree preservation legislation including tree species regarded by some people as weeds e.g. Sycamore. Trees can be protected by Tree Preservation Orders or Conservation Areas.

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21. What do I do if I think someone is carrying out work on a protected tree or intends to to so?

Contact the Tree Section on 01727 866100 or email treesandwoodlands@stalbans.gov.uk immediately and we can check to see if the work is authorised and take appropriate action if necessary. All queries regarding potentially unauthorised works will be dealt with in the strictest confidence.

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Date of last review: 01 May 2015