Trees FAQs

Below are our most frequently asked questions about trees and their answers. Just click on a question to see the answer.

For more information about trees and planning, please read our permitted development rights and protected trees page.

If you need more information or have a different question to ask,  please get in touch using the contact details at the bottom of the page.

Questions 

Do I need permission to do tree work?

Yes, you need permission if:

  • the tree is alive and in a Conservation Area and is equal to or greater than three inches (7.5 centimetres) trunk diameter at breast height (1.3 metres above ground level). You will need to give us six weeks notice that you intend to carry out tree work. The only exception is if a tree is dead or dangerous, when you only need to give us five days notice in writing.
  • the tree is covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), you will need to apply to carry out any tree work. If the tree is dead or dangerous you only need to give us five days notice in writing.
  • the property has a history of planning permission which includes a planning condition requiring our permission to carry out work on trees. You are responsible for checking if tree-related planning conditions apply to your property.

Work carried out without permission to trees within a Conservation Area or covered by a TPO is a criminal offence. The law allows fines of up to £20,000 for each protected tree if unauthorised work is carried out.

Customers are encouraged to make tree work applications using the Planning Portal The end result is that there is less likely to be any delays over the processing of your application.

Alternatively, you can make your application manually using the form available and please use the guidance notes here to help you. If you are making an application manually please either send it by email to trees.andlandscapes@scambs.gov.uk or send it by post.

If you need to find out if trees are protected by a TPO or Conservation Area, please view the planning maps on the our website. TPOs are shown as bright blue shapes and Conservation Areas are surrounded by a pink line. Either side of this pink line will be inside the Conservation Area or outside of it. Please be sure to check what side of this line the trees are because it can be easy to get this wrong. TIP – If you untick the ‘applications’ layer it will make the map much clearer by removing all of the planning application red plotting lines.

Who's responsible for the trees outside my property? How can I find out?

It is natural to assume that such trees are the responsibility of the Council, which is true in most cases, however it is important to know which Council is responsible for the trees. For example, trees might be the responsibility of Cambridgeshire County Council (the local highway authority) or the local Parish Council or South Cambs District Council. Addressing your concerns to the appropriate authority in the first place will surely result in a better result for you.

 

 

We only hold information regarding the land we own ourselves (like any landowner would) so we cannot tell you who owns land that doesn't belong to us. So how does this help you? You can find out who is responsible for trees on public land in most cases by looking at the maps provided on the Cambridgeshire County Council website. This will usually tell you if a piece of land or highway verge is maintained by Cambridgeshire County Council or your local Parish Council.  

 

If you are sure that the trees you are referring to are the responsibility of South Cambs District Council, it is almost certain that the trees will be the responsibility of the Council's Housing Department. Because the Housing team is divided into geographical areas of responsibility, the staff you need to contact will depend upon where you live. The best way to contact us about trees in our ownership is by emailing the housing team.

Are there times of year when tree work is not allowed? What about protecting wildlife?

Work can be carried out at any time of year, but you must comply with legislation that protects birds and wildlife

For tree health, work should be avoided when buds are bursting in early spring and in the first few weeks of leaf flush. Different tree species come into leaf at different times, so it is not possible to provide specific dates.

Birds

All nesting birds, their nests, eggs and young are protected by law. It is an offence to:

  • intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird 
  • intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird whilst it is in use or being built 
  • intentionally take or destroy the egg of any wild bird 
  • intentionally or recklessly disturb any wild bird listed on Schedule 1 while it is nest building, or at a nest containing eggs or young, or disturb the dependent young of such a bird.   

The maximum penalty for a single damaged bird, nest or egg is a fine of up to £5000, six months imprisonment or both.

The law protecting birds and their nests means that work between late February and late August - or late September in the case of swifts, swallows or house martins - must not go ahead if it will damage or destroy a nest. If a nest is discovered while work is being carried out, work must stop and you should seek advice from our ecology officer (rob.mungovan@scambs.gov.uk) and Natural England (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england).

Bats

It is a criminal offence for any person to:

  • intentionally kill, injure or take any bats
  • intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any place that a bat uses for shelter or protection. This is taken to mean all bat roosts whether bats are present or not.

If a breeding site or resting place is damaged or destroyed, this is treated as an absolute offence -  intent or recklessness does not have to be proved in order to establish guilt, only that the damage or destruction has occurred.

If you need to carry out work on trees that bats use or have used as a breeding site or resting place, you must have a licence from Natural England (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england#org-contacts

If you discover a bat while work is being carried out, all work must stop and you must take advice from Natural England (0300 060 3900) and our ecology officer (rob.mungovan@scambs.gov.uk). Advice is also available from the Bat Conservation Trust Helpline on 0345 1300 228.

Are all oak trees protected?

No - this is a common misconception. The same rules apply to oak trees as to other tree species.

Can I cut back my neighbour’s overhanging tree(s)?

Yes - you can cut back overhanging trees, but the usual rules about obtaining Conservation Area or Tree Preservation Order consent before work begins still apply.

  • you DO NOT require the permission of the tree owner to remove parts of trees overhanging your boundary line, but you must not remove any parts further back than this. In the interests of being a good neighbour it is best to speak to the tree owner before carrying out any work. This may help to avoid conflicts and to agree how any cuttings will be disposed of
  • any cuttings you remove remain the property of the tree owner and you may not dispose of them without the owner’s permission. 
  • do not put cuttings over the boundary on to the tree owner’s property, as this understandably causes disputes.
  • the tree owner is NOT liable to cover the costs of any work to cut back overhanging tree parts. There is no legal process to compel tree owners to regularly cut back the sides or overhang of their trees.

Can you help me with a dispute I'm having with my neighbour about their trees?

No - unlike high hedges, we do not offer a mediation service for neighbour tree disputes. We can offer general advice on obligations and liabilities about common tree issues that can cause disputes, but we cannot become involved in individual cases.

Will tree roots damage my building foundations?

Trees are frequently implicated in damage to buildings and other structures. There are two main causes:

  • direct damage - caused by direct pressure from root growth
  • clay shrinkage subsidence - removal of moisture from soil by fine roots which causes soil shrinkage and leads to foundations being undermined. This only occurs in soils containing clay.

Whether tree roots can damage your foundations is dependent upon numerous factors specific to each site.

Media attempts to provide ‘rules of thumb’ for certain species of tree, and the minimum distance these should be from buildings, are over-simplified and misleading.

Only detailed site inspections, soil tests and the input of structural engineers can find out if trees are causing clay shrinkage subsidence.

Are there rules about the height that trees are allowed to grow to?

There are no rules about how high trees are allowed to grow.

However, there is legislation about evergreen hedges such as Leyland Cypress (Leylandii) that reach over two metres high and affect the enjoyment of residential properties.

This legislation does not set a limit on the height of hedges, it is a complaints process administered by us (https://www.scambs.gov.uk/content/high-hedges) under The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, commonly called the ‘High Hedges Act’.

Using guidance, we decide the appropriate height for a particular hedge and have powers to enforce the cutting of a hedge. We currently charge £450 to administer a complaint, and will only get involved if you have not to been able to settle the issue informally with your neighbour.

How do I apply for permission for work on trees in a conservation area or that are covered by a Tree Preservation Order?

You can find detailed information on the following pages:

My neighbour’s trees are dangerous. What can I do?

Concerns about tree safety are often raised because trees are perceived as being ‘too big’. Trees are not naturally dangerous because they are big, but when big trees fall they are more likely to cause damage.

If you are concerned about the safety of your neighbour’s trees, you are entitled to approach your neighbour to discuss your concerns:

  • tree owners owe a ‘duty of care’ to neighbours and anybody entering their land as prescribed by The Occupier’s Liability Acts of 1957 & 1984
  • trees should be regularly  inspected (‘regular’ is not prescribed as it depends on the circumstances of a site in each case)
  • after hearing your concerns the tree owner has to make a decision about what action to take, if any. In ideal circumstances, a responsible tree owner will have trees regularly inspected or at least monitor tree health and condition themselves
  • we cannot intervene in this kind of dipute. The responsibility for tree safety lies with the owner or occupier of the land that the trees grow on. If you are not satisfied with the response from a tree owner, we would advise you to contact a qualified legal practitioner.

Why didn’t you tell me about my neighbour’s tree work application?

We consult with Parish Councils about tree work applications but, as a rule, only consult neighbours if:

  • trees are not in the applicant’s property
  • the application is for significant, possibly controversial, work with high impact.

We are not legally obliged to consult anybody on tree work applications so use our discretion when deciding on who to inform.

Trees are blocking my light/TV reception or obscuring a view. What can I do?

When it comes to trees, there is no legal right to light, a view or television reception. This has become a more frequent cause of dispute with the rise of satellite dishes requiring a line of sight to the sky. If trees are on neighbouring property you can only appeal to the tree owner about the problem. We cannot become involved in these disputes.

Trees and shrubs are blocking visibility on a local road. Can something be done?

Trees and shrubs blocking visibility on roads is a common problem and can lead to accidents. The owner of trees or shrubs is responsible for maintaining growth and keeping the highway clear. You can report the problem to Cambridgeshire County Council who have powers to enforce vegetation clearance (http://www4.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/info/20081/roads_and_pathways/10/roadworks_and_faults)

How do I choose a tree surgeon?

Carefully. Tree work is often a significant financial investment and in the interest of your trees, your property and health and safety, you owe it to yourself to employ a reputable contractor.

Tree surgery is a dangerous occupation requiring highly trained and skilled operatives. As a general rule, you choose the contractor, they do not choose you. In other words, actively look for your tree surgeon and make sure they have adequate public liability insurance and a licence to carry waste.

So called “tree surgeons” who come knocking on your door or approach you when you're in your garden rarely offer the required level of skill, insurance or waste licence that you have a right to expect.

Without these assurances you may find that work is done badly, items in your garden may be damaged and cuttings may be flytipped - with the latter potentially landing you with a fine and criminal record.

Certain elements of the unregulated industry are quite unscrupulous and have been known to carry out work to protected trees without permission. This has lead to enforcement action against tree owners and contractors being untraceable.

The Arboricultural Association operates a list of Registered Contractors that have to comply with strict criteria to be part of the scheme (other industry bodies operate similar schemes) (www.trees.org.uk/Directory-of-Tree-Surgeons)

Planning permission says that existing trees must be retained - or they are shown on the plans to be retained - but they have been cut down. What can you do about it?

If trees have been felled against planning conditions, this is a breach of planning control and we have powers to enforce against this.

Unlike tree work in conservation areas or to trees protected by Tree Preservation Orders, felling against planning conditions is not a criminal offence. However, it is not something that we take lightly., and we can order work on site to stop or that replacement planting takes place.

Do I need permission to remove hedges?

It depends. The Hedgerows Regulations 1997 protects hedgerows in the countryside. If a hedge forms a boundary to a residential property then you do not need our permission to remove a hedge - unless it is protected by a planning condition or a legal covenant on your deeds.

In general:

  • you need permission to remove hedgerows on agricultural land. If the hedge, or part of it that you want to remove is over 30 years old and more than 20 metres in length, it is defined as a ‘protected hedgerow’. You must notify us about your plans before carrying out any work
  • removing hedgerow without our consent is a criminal offence
  • you must notify us at least six weeks before work on a hedgerow is scheduled to start. We will carry out a site visit and desk study to determine if the hedgerow is protected or not.

We are happy to give you more advice and send you a hedgerow removal notice form by email (trees.andlandscapes@scambs.gov.uk)

Can you refuse permission for tree work in a conservation area?

No, but the law requires that you make an application before work begins.

This is because a conservation area tree work application is a notice of intent to carry out tree work, rather than an application for permission.

The process allows us six weeks to consider whether the proposed works would be harmful to the setting of the conservation area and whether the tree(s) is important enough to warrant a Tree Preservation Order (TPO).

We only issue a TPO in exceptional circumstances and will normally ask the applicant to reconsider proposed works to avoid significant harm, therefore avoid the need for a TPO. We consult with Parish Councils and sometimes neighbours on this type of application, and value the feedback we receive which helps in the decision process.

Who can request to have a tree preservation order?

Anyone can request a tree preservation order by emailing trees.andlandscapes@scambs.gov.uk, however it is down to us as an authority to determine whether the tree(s) have the attributes for a preservation order being the amenity value and whether they are in a good physical condition.

Contact Details