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Common Laws Around Trees and Garden Boundaries


Have you ever heard the expression: “Good fences make good neighbours?” This proverb, made famous in a Robert Frost poem, refers to the need for separation between households to prevent quarrels and maintain respect.[1]

After all, you want your neighbours to respect your garden space – when you’re reclining on a chaise or canoodling on a jack and jill seat, the last thing you want is a branch falling on your head, or your sunlight wholly blocked!

Our gardens are our private sanctuaries – natural escapes filled with the plants and foliage of our choosing. We have the ultimate control over what goes in our garden – to a point. At our property’s edges, we have to respect the laws around trees and garden boundaries.

What is the garden fence law?

Sadly, boundary disputes between neighbours are common across the country. People quibble over the actual location of the border, as well as disagreeing about where the responsibility for maintenance lies. Is it your responsibility to trim a border hedge or prune a tree, or your neighbour’s?

The UK is home to many ancient properties, which often come with ancient rules and traditions. This can make the rules around properties complex and hard to parse. Some old bylaws are grandfathered in, while public right of way has been mandated in more recent times.

When you’re planning to erect a new fence or plant new trees along your property’s borders, you need to be clear on these laws.[2] That often means going back to the original deeds, which can be easier said than done when it comes to 16th-century properties. You need to ensure that you have not encroached on your neighbour’s property over the years, and vice versa. You may need to get a properties expert, or a specialist solicitor involved.

The most important part of the garden fence law is regarding who can change or paint an existing fence.[3] The answer is clear – only the fence’s owner is permitted to alter the fence in any way. While this may seem counterintuitive, you are not allowed to paint or stain the side of the fence that faces your garden without prior permission. You are also forbidden from allowing climbing plants to grow upon it without permission, as they can cause damage to the structure.

On the other hand, if you are the owner of the fence, you must keep your fence in good condition, and make sure it doesn’t cause any danger to your neighbours. If you’re erecting the fence on your side of the property line, it’s always a good idea to be courteous and let your neighbours know in advance. Although you don’t need their ‘permission,’ it’s a kind gesture that will go a long way. We recommend that you allow them to stain or paint their side of the fence; again, you don’t have to do this, but it could ease any tensions. Finally, clear the date of construction with your neighbours in advance. This will prevent you from scheduling construction when they have a special party or event planned!

Even when you follow all of these tips and alert your neighbours about your new fence, disputes can still occur. Before you decide to take the matter to court, try to resolve the issues with your neighbour. If you can come to an amicable agreement, you can let the Land Registry know the outcome (or save some money with an informal agreement without involving the LR office).[4]

What is the Rights to Light Act?

According to the Rights of Light Act 1959, if a property “has received daylight for the last 20 years (the minimum prescribed period), they may be entitled to continue to receive that light.”

The ‘right to light’ gives property owners and residents that right to the light that streams into the ‘defined apertures’ in their house and other buildings.[5] As a landowner, you must abide by this easement – you may not build a structure that will block the light into your neighbour’s windows.

While this might frustrate you or hinder your renovation plans, just remember that the right to light benefits you, too. It protects the value of your investment and ensures that your home won’t be shrouded in darkness on a neighbour’s whim.

Can you complain about your neighbour’s garden?

While you can complain about your neighbour’s garden, you do need to try to settle the issue first before the Council can get involved.[6] Remember, you may have to pay a fee to file this complaint.

Once you have tried to reach an amicable agreement, you can access a complaint form if:

  • Your neighbour has at least two semi-evergreen trees or shrubs that are over two metres tall
  • The height of your neighbour’s trees and shrubs is negatively affecting your enjoyment of your garden or home

You are legally permitted to trim your neighbour’s trees or hedges if the branches or roots cross into your property from the street or an adjacent party. You may only trim the foliage up to your property’s boundary – if you trim more, you could face legal action. In certain conservation areas, you may need the Council’s permission to trim branches and roots, even if they cross over your property line.

Are there restrictions regarding what you can and cannot plant in your garden?

There are no restrictions regarding what you can and cannot plant in your garden, other than illegal drugs such as marijuana or psychedelic mushrooms. You have the right to plant whatever you want anywhere on your property.[7] That said, you should consider the future implications of planting a large hedge or tree close to your property line, as it may impact your neighbour’s right to light. For creeping plants that will grow up and over your side of a neighbour’s fence, you must ask permission from the owner of the fence, which will likely be graciously given.

FAQs about Trees

  • What can you do if a neighbour’s trees are blocking your sunlight?
    First, have an amicable conversation with your neighbour. If they refuse or prune the tree that is blocking your light, you can then go to the Council to lodge a formal complaint.
  • If a tree is overhanging into your garden, who pays to have it removed?
    In most cases, the owner of the tree should pay to have overhanging foliage removed. However, it may be easier to trim the branches yourself, up to the point of the property line.
  • Can I cut a neighbour’s tree without permission?
    You may cut the branches and roots of a neighbour’s tree without permission if it grows over your property line, but only to the property line.
  • Do you need permission to cut a tree on your property?
    In most cases, no. However, if you live in a conservation area or you have a protected tree on your property, you will need to get the permission of the Council.
  • What are the general regulations on trees near houses?
    You must take every precaution to ensure that your tree does not cause any damage to your neighbour’s property, or block their right to light.
  • Will my home insurance cover damage from trees?

According to Admiral Insurance, most home insurance plans cover damage caused by branches or falling trees.[8] However, if the damage occurs during maintenance or work by a tree surgeon, you will not be covered.

FAQs about Boundaries

  • What are the general boundary fence rules in the UK?
    Due to the UK’s legal system, which is based on precedents, there are no strict laws about the boundary lines between two properties.[9] As a result, there is no set of rules about whether you own the fences on the left or right side of your property. In some cases, the conveyance deed might clear up the issue.
  • What can you do if a neighbour’s fence is on your land?
    In most cases, title deeds don’t define specific borders, just general boundaries. However, if you think that your neighbour has explicitly encroached on your land, speak to them first and politely ask them to reposition the fence.[10] You can also offer to sell them the portion of land they have infringed upon. As a last resort, you can consider legal action, which is stressful and time-consuming.
  • How close can you build to a neighbour’s boundary?
    You can build directly up to the boundary between your property and your neighbour’s property.
  • Can you remove your boundary hedge?
    In most cases, the hedge is assumed to represent the boundary between two properties, unless otherwise stated in the deed. Based on this, the Crown will assume that the property line runs directly through the centre of the hedge.[11] Each neighbour may trim the hedge back on their side, but they may not endanger the life of the hedge.
  • How high can you grow your hedge?
    Up to two metres in height, being mindful of your neighbour’s right to light.
  • What are the general responsibilities for a boundary hedge?
    You must maintain the hedge, pruning both sides, and ensuring that it doesn’t violate your neighbour’s right to light.
  • Who owns a creeper/ climber that is growing on a boundary fence or wall?
    The owner of the fence has the final say over any creepers or climbers growing on a boundary fence or wall. If you grow creeping vines on the side of a fence that belongs to your neighbour, you must ask permission to trim them (which is almost always granted).

There you have it – the common laws around trees and garden boundaries. By following these rules and tips, you’ll have good fences, and good neighbours.

Reference list

Conlin, J. (2017). Can my neighbour remove the hedge? – Saga. [online] www.saga.co.uk. Available at: https://www.saga.co.uk/magazine/home-garden/homes-interiors/surveyor-questions/john-conlin-can-the-neighbour-remove-the-hedge#:~:text=Answer [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Frampton, C. (2020). Insuring against damage caused by trees – Admiral. [online] www.admiral.com. Available at: https://www.admiral.com/magazine/guides/home/insuring-against-damage-caused-by-trees#:~:text=Yes%2C%20your%20home%20insurance%20will [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Frost, R. (2019). Mending Wall. [online] Poetry Foundation. Available at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44266/mending-wall [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Garden Law (2010). Garden Law – Boundaries – walls and fences. [online] www.gardenlaw.co.uk. Available at: https://www.gardenlaw.co.uk/boundaries.html [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Government Digital Service (2011). Resolving neighbour disputes. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/how-to-resolve-neighbour-disputes/high-hedges-trees-and-boundaries [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Gov.UK (2020). Your property boundaries. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/your-property-boundaries [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Law Commission (2019). Rights to light | Law Commission. [online] Law Commission. Available at: https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/rights-to-light/ [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Lawsons (2018). Fencing and the Law – Know Your Rights Before Choosing New Fencing | Fencing Blogs | Lawsons. [online] www.lawsons.co.uk. Available at: https://www.lawsons.co.uk/blog/fencing/fencing-and-the-law-know-your-rights-before-choosing-new-fencing [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

McNulty, F. (2017). Can I ask our neighbours to remove a fence built on our land? [online] Homes and Property. Available at: https://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/property-news/legal-qa/can-i-ask-our-neighbours-to-remove-a-fence-built-on-our-land-while-we-were-away-a112971.html [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Royal Horticultural Society (2020). Trees and the law. [online] www.rhs.org.uk. Available at: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=1022 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Taylor, A. (2020). Establishing Rights Over Fences & Boundaries. [online] www.problemneighbours.co.uk. Available at: http://www.problemneighbours.co.uk/rights-over-fences-and-boundaries.html [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

[1] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44266/mending-wall

[2] https://www.lawsons.co.uk/blog/fencing/fencing-and-the-law-know-your-rights-before-choosing-new-fencing

[3] https://www.gardenlaw.co.uk/boundaries.html

[4] http://www.problemneighbours.co.uk/rights-over-fences-and-boundaries.html

[5] https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/rights-to-light/

[6] https://www.gov.uk/how-to-resolve-neighbour-disputes/high-hedges-trees-and-boundaries

[7] https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=1022

[8] https://www.admiral.com/magazine/guides/home/insuring-against-damage-caused-by-trees#:~:text=Yes%2C%20your%20home%20insurance%20will,by%20falling%20trees%20or%20branches.&text=The%20cover%20also%20includes%20the,fallen%20tree%20that’s%20above%20ground.

[9] https://www.gov.uk/your-property-boundaries

[10] https://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/property-news/legal-qa/can-i-ask-our-neighbours-to-remove-a-fence-built-on-our-land-while-we-were-away-a112971.html

[11] https://www.saga.co.uk/magazine/home-garden/homes-interiors/surveyor-questions/john-conlin-can-the-neighbour-remove-the-hedge#:~:text=Answer

Anna Sharples

Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches - a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.

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