Worries with trees
You often hear people saying they like trees but are worried by the one near their house or garden. The information here attempts to answer the most common worries but each situation is different and specialist advice should be sought if the concern remains. Tree consultants are listed under Tree Work in Yellow Pages. It is worth checking that they have professional indemnity insurance as insurance companies will only insure competent persons and, if their advice turns out to be wrong, compensation payments could be payable.
I am worried that a tree close to my boundary could fall onto to my property. What should I do?
Landowners have a legal responsibility to ensure that, as far as they are able, trees on their land do not cause a danger to life or property. This means that they should inspect their trees regularly for signs of disease or dieback. Generally, trees that are close to houses should be inspected at least annually.
You could ask the tree’s owner when the tree was last inspected and by whom. You might also ask to see the inspection report. If it sounds like the owner is managing the tree responsibly, it is unlikely to fall down or shed limbs even in severe weather, although, as with lampposts, signs and other structures, unforeseen accidents do occasionally happen.
If you have reason to believe that the tree is not being inspected and the owner is continuing to ignore your concerns, you may want to discuss the situation with a solicitor or seek advice from a tree services company.
A tree close to my boundary is causing too much shade in my house and/or garden. What can I do?
It sounds obvious but it’s best to think about these things before moving into a property or before planting young trees where they might grow to be a problem. That said, we all want different amounts of shade and at different times of the year too. Shade can be very welcome in summer but slightly depressing in the depths of winter.
If you find the shade is getting to you, try thinking about all the positive things the tree offers. Is it a place where birds gather and sing? How delicate are the patterns in its bark and branches? What hues and colours are there in spring and autumn? There are other things too that you can do to help live with the shade such as using light colours and mirrors when decorating inside or out.
If you remain convinced that something should be done about the tree, you will need to find a suitable time to explain to the owner why the tree is causing you a problem and suggest possible solutions. Two heads are better than one so you should try to work together to find a course of action that will benefit everybody – the win-win situation. A relatively cheap treatment known as ‘crown-lifting’ involves removing the lowest branches to let in more light under the crown. Simply ‘lopping’ and ‘topping’ is not usually so effective and leaves a misshapen tree whose crown will grow back more densely than before. Felling the tree should be the very last resort. It will be expensive to carry out and the starker landscape will most probably reduce the value of your property – some studies show this could be as much as 5% or even more.
I have heard that trees can cause subsidence to buildings; is this true?
In places built on shrinkable clay soils, trees can be a factor in building subsidence and this has to be taken into account when designing new buildings, planning alterations to existing buildings or changing the pattern of trees and shrubs. Plymouth does not have any shrinkable clay soils so there is absolutely no need to be worried about trees causing subsidence to buildings in the city or in the surrounding area.
I am worried that the roots of a tree in the road outside may damage the underground services into our house. Can you advise please?
Engineers and designers plan to keep trees and services from interfering with each other so you are probably worrying needlessly, especially if your house was built in the last twenty years or so. You can check on the separation by plotting the lines taken by underground services across your land and the possible extent of the root zone. As a rule of thumb, most roots are found in the top 600mm of soil and, unless there are obstacles in the way – such as compacted earth or foundations - they can grow out a distance the same height as the tree.
Even if the tree’s roots are growing close to underground cables or pipes, they are unlikely to cause damage. The majority of tree roots are very fine and, except for a very few larger roots close to the trunk, don’t have the stiffness to displace underground obstacles. In older houses, it was relatively common for the fine roots to find their way into cracked clay pipes and cause a blockage but this shouldn’t happen with the plastic ones used now. Altogether, you are unlikely to have a problem with tree roots and underground services but, if one does occur, you should discuss it with the tree’s owner. This will be Plymouth City Council for most street trees.
There is a tree nearby whose roots are causing our front path to lift and crack. What should I do?
This situation will have built up over time and it needs a measured approach to solving it. It can be all too easy to rush in and make matters worse so, if you are tempted to dig up the tree root and relay the path yourself, do some careful research first! The tree may depend on the root for its stability and, if severed, you could soon find the tree rocking about in strong winds.
As with most tree problems, getting together with the owner and explaining the situation is a good first step to take. From then on, you may need the advice of a tree services company to recommend the best way forward.