Landowners advised to survey for dangerous trees

Strong winds across the country have left many trees in a dangerous state and landowners should review and update tree surveys, Strutt & Parker has warned.

Each year six people in the UK are killed and dozens more are injured by falling trees or branches.

Strutt & Parker’s senior associate director, Robert Gazely, said the risks meant it was important to establish the status of trees on their land.

“Trees represent a hazard, particularly in high-risk areas where there is public use,” Mr Gazely said.

These included public rights of way, highways, parking areas, yards and buildings.

See also: Farming near footpaths – the law for arable farmers

Any trees that had died or been damaged by gales should be assessed to determine which ones needed urgent attention, he advised.

The survey may have to be carried out by a suitably qualified arboriculture specialist because trees could be subject to statutory controls such as tree preservation orders (TPO).

The status should be checked with the local authority before any works, except emergency operations, are carried out, Mr Gazely warned.

He also stressed the importance of legal liability in relation to dangerous trees.

“An accident arising from a fallen tree can lead to a civil claim for damages being brought by the injured party against the landowner,” he said.

In such a case, any claim is likely to sit with the insurers of the property, but where a work activity is involved, a separate criminal prosecution could be brought.

HSE tree survey advice

  • Carry out periodic, proactive checks on trees in frequently visited zones
  • Checks can be a quick, visual appraisal for obvious signs of instability
  • The assessor must have a working knowledge of trees but need not be a specialist  
  • Monitoring systems should include:
    • A short record of when an area, zone or individual tree has been inspected with defects and action listed
    • A system for getting specialist assistance when a check reveals defects
    • A method enabling people to report damage to trees
    • Procedures for ensuring public safety during high winds – for example, restricting access to footpaths
  • Monitoring to ensure that the arrangements are implemented in practice 
  • Individual inspections will only be necessary if a tree is a high risk – for example, it is unstable, has structural faults or is in an area of high public use
  • High-risk trees should have an individual assessment and management programme
  • Work on high-risk trees should be carried out by a competent arboriculture specialist 

Source: Health & Safety Executive