Trees - frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What can be done about High Hedges?

The right hedge can be an ideal garden boundary but the wrong hedge may bring problems, especially if it is allowed to grow unchecked.  When considering whether a particular hedge can be the subject of a complaint under the Act, people should ask themselves the following:

  • Is the hedge - or portion that is causing problems - made up of a line of two or more trees or shrubs?
  • Is it mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen?
  • Is it more than 2 metres above ground level?
  • Even though there are gaps in the foliage or between the trees, is the hedge still capable of obstructing light or views?

If the answer to all of these questions is 'yes', then it is likely to be a high hedge for the purpose of the Act. There are other factors that need to be taken into consideration and the following leaflets explain why:

How do I report illegal work to protected trees or there are trees which you think should be protected?

Call our Contact Centre 01372 732000 and a customer service adviser will take the details and pass them to the Arboricultural Officer or Enforcement Officer.

Who is responsible for the maintenance of trees subject to TPO?

The owner of a tree subject to TPO is responsible for its maintenance, as is the case if a tree is not subject to TPO.

How do I find out who owns a tree?

The owner of the land on which a tree is rooted is the owner of that tree. If a tree is on the boundary of two properties the deeds to those properties should be referenced to establish the property boundaries. The tree is within the property which contains the majority of the stump. If you do not know who owns the tree you can search for this information using GOV.UK

My neighbour's tree is overhanging my garden, can I prune it?

If the tree is subject to a TPO, in a conservation area or subject of a restrictive planning condition you will need to apply to us to prune any part of the tree, overhanging or not. Pruning of overhanging branches only, which would render the tree one sided or unbalanced, would not be agreed.

If the tree is not subject to any restrictions we have imposed you have a Common Law right to prune overhanging branches back to the boundary only of your property but not beyond and may not enter adjacent land to carry out the work. It is always advisable to be polite and to inform your neighbour of your intention to prune their trees and to agree the method of disposal of the prunings which remain the property of the tree owner. Note: The tree owner is not obliged to pay for, or undertake the pruning of limbs overhanging a third party property.

I think my tree is dead/dangerous - can I remove it?

Any protected tree that is dead and/or assessed by a specialist to be imminently dangerous can be removed without the need to submit an application to gain our consent. If a part of a tree poses an imminent danger i.e. split or hanging limb, that part which poses the danger may be pruned without an application to gain consent. However, the onus of proof that a tree was dead or imminently dangerous rests with the tree owner and the advice and guidance and written opinion of a qualified Arboricultural specialist is needed. It is often difficult to tell if a tree was dead or dangerous from the stump remaining after felling. If you plan to remove a tree without an application, and if safe to do so, it is advisable to give us five day's notice in writing and marked for the urgent attention of the Arboricultural Officer. This will give the officer an opportunity to make a site visit to check that the tree is dead or imminently dangerous and confirm that it can be removed without consent. If the Tree Officer has not visited the site prior to a tree's removal it is a good idea to take photographs of the tree which clearly shows its condition. Note: Protected trees removed by way of exemption [dead] or five days notice may need to be replaced and the Council will issue a Tree Replacement Notice, which is a legally binding condition.

Can I search online to see if my property has a TPO?

Yes by using our on-line maps

Please note: The information provided by the website is for general guidance only. Whilst every care has been taken in compilation of information, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council or its employees cannot guarantee its accuracy and will not be liable for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of using these pages. 

Will the Council inspect/prune my tree?

We do not conduct inspections of trees for private residents or supply a tree pruning service. Lists of specialist Arboricultural Contractors and professionally qualified Arboricultural Consultants who can assist you with advice and guidance and professional support can be found on the Arboricultural Association's website.

How else might a tree be protected?

In addition to Tree Preservation Orders and Conservation Areas there are various other factors which may constrain work to trees. These include:

  • felling which involves more than 5m³ of timber, or more than 2m³ if sold, may require a felling licence from the Forestry Commission
  • if a tree contains a protected habitat, work may have to be delayed or may require a licence from Natural England. Wildlife habitats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. This includes bat roosts and the nests of wild birds
  • trees may sometimes be protected by conditions attached to planning permission
  • restrictive covenants attached to the deeds for a property may occasionally restrict what work can be undertaken to trees.

What happens if I carry out work to a protected tree without consent?

  • If you deliberately destroy a protected tree, or damage it in a manner likely to destroy it, this is regarded as a criminal offence and you could be fined up to £20,000 if convicted in a Magistrate's Court.  For other offences you can be fined up to £2,500. You will normally have to plant a new tree if the tree was cut down or destroyed.

My tree has been damaged in the storms. What can I do?

Often storm damage will affect weak points on the tree. Such damage is likely to leave large and unsightly wounds. Whilst the tree may remain structurally safe for some years following the damage, decay may develop as a result of the wound and the tree may become unsafe, ultimately requiring its removal. Tree owners and managers are advised to seek the guidance of a reputable tree specialist who will assess the stability of the tree and recommend any remedial works. Protected trees may require our consent for any non-urgent tree works and the contractor will usually deal with these matters.

What can I do about fallen branches in my garden?

Even if fallen branches are from a protected tree, you are entitled to clear any that have fallen or are hanging from a tree. The removal of such branches is deemed to be an exception in the Regulations. If a protected tree has fallen entirely in high winds then this may also be cleared under the same exception. However, you should provide us with five days written notice of its removal.

Do not be tempted to use a chainsaw to fell or cut up tree damage unless you are qualified to do so and have the appropriate protective clothing. Approximately 20 people a year are killed and 500 people are seriously injured using chainsaws. These are almost always amateurs in their gardens. Even cutting up fallen small branches with a chainsaw is dangerous and tree owners are advised to use professionally qualified and insured tree surgeons in all cases.

My trees are swaying alarmingly in the wind and may be leaning. Are they unsafe?

Swaying is not necessarily abnormal; and some trees may even appear to sway alarmingly. However, trees are self-optimising structures and respond to external forces like wind and a leaning form, and lay down adaptive growth to compensate for such movement. A stable but flexible structure is often far more resistant to wind damage than a solid rigid structure. Coniferous trees appear to move in high winds more than deciduous trees, but this alone does not imply the tree is going to fall.

Even if a tree appears not to have moved you may wish to inspect the immediate base of the tree. If there are cracks in the soil radiating away from the base of the trunk, the tree will require a more thorough inspection by a competent Arborist. If you have any doubt whether a tree has become unstable or has moved by high winds, you are advised to obtain specialist tree advice.

My protected tree has been damaged by high winds. What should I do?

If a tree that is protected by TPO or in a Conservation Area and suffers storm damage, you may arrange to carry out whatever work is necessary to make it safe. The work must be the minimum required to make it safe and any additional work will need to submit a prior application/notice to us. You must inform us at the first opportunity, regarding the works that have been carried out to the protected tree.

If a protected tree has been blown down in the storm or has been damaged in such a way that in the interests of safety it should be felled, then you may be required to replace it during the next planting season.

It is important to remember that it is your responsibility to prove that any work you have carried out on a protected tree was essential to make the tree safe. Therefore, it is good practice to make a good photographic record of storm damage to protected trees and to contact us prior to felling or removing them.

Who do I contact if there are other trees which are damaged or dangerous?

Customer Services on 01372 732000
Trees on or adjacent to the highway: 0300 200 1003