As you can imagine some of the most common questions we get asked as tree surgeons is, my neighbour's tree is blocking the sunlight out of my garden, what can I do?

The tree legally belongs to the neighbour so it is up to the homeowner to care for the tree, and there is no legal obligation for the homeowner to have the tree pruned or removed. However here are some steps/ suggestions to solve the issue:


1. Consider what type of tree work will solve the problem

Before speaking to your neighbour it is sometimes best to work out what type of pruning will solve the problem. Pruning rather than removal is often more favourable to a neighbour. The type of pruning depend on the tree's shape, health and species but there are a few options such as crown clean, crown lift, crown reduction or crown thin.

A Crown Reduction is beneficial if you're concerned about the height and spread of a tree. It is the process in which the branches from around the canopy are removed to reduce the overall size and expanse of the tree whilst still maintaining the original framework of the crown. It will also enable the tree to maintain its natural shape.

Crown Thinning can help let more light in whilst keeping the structure. It will not alter the overall size of the tree but rather it will reduce the density to a maximum of 30%.

A Crown Lift is a good choice if the  branches are hanging low and you would like more room below the canopy of the tree. This is where we remove the lower branches of the tree to lift the height of the canopy.

Take a look at other options here.


2. Speak to your neighbour

The absolute best option is to have an open and friendly chat with your neighbour about the tree in question. Once you have thought about what you would like to do, sound out your neighbour to see if they are amenable and if you can arrange a way forward that suits you both and takes into the consideration the health of the tree. Often it is good to ask the neighbour to come to your house so they can see the issue from your side. 


3. Meet with a tree surgeon

If the your neighbour is not amenable then you can next put the request in writing but before doing this it might be worth asking a tree surgeon to give you a price. Possibly could you think about offering to pay some of the cost to make it more appealing to your neighbour.


4. Put your request in writing

You will need to detail your request in writing noting what type of tree work you would like carried out, how it is impacting you, pictures, and what you reasonable action you would like to happen. Highlight if you are able to put towards the cost, you will be amazed how that can help the situation. Emphasise that you are only looking for pruning works rather than tree removal, then this may help.


5. Check the Right to Light Act 1959.

In theory, if a dispute occurs, you could use the Right to Light Act 1959. This acts states that a property has a right to light if it has had light for 20 years or more. This can work for items such as big fences as you could apply to the courts for a Restore Light Order as you most likely can pinpoint when the fence went up and when the light was lost. But it is not so easy with trees as they grow slowly so the dates might be inaccurate. Also if the tree has a tree preservation order then it will not come under this act.


6. Check the High Hedges Act 

Another option would be the High Hedges Act with the local council but it would need to fit into this criteria:

  • Made up of a line of 2 or more trees or shrubs
  • Evergreen or semi-evergreen
  • More than 2 metres tall
  • A barrier to light or access (even if there are gaps)

The local council will also want to see that you have at least attempted to resolve the issue before they will get involved. They offer a guide called 'Over the garden hedge' to help resolve issues, it is best to follow this guide and document your efforts before approaching the council. 

Unfortunately after pursuing the above options and the neighbour is still not favourable then there is not much else you can do. You can get in touch with your local council but just because a tree is blocking light it is not enough for them to take action, it would need to be that the tree presents a danger.


If unsuccessful in asking your neighbour to prune the tree, here is a guide to what you can and cannot do to a neighbours tree:


Can I cut overhanging tree branches from my neighbour's tree?

Yes. Under common law, you are allowed to prune back branches that overhang into your garden. This should be allowed with or without the owner's consent. However, bear in mind these points:

  • You may only prune back to the land boundary, you cannot lean over to prune the branches back.
  • You also have a duty to take reasonable care, if you damage the tree in the process of pruning then you may be liable. Trees that are pruned incorrectly can develop a disease and can be imbalanced if pruned only on one side or not by a professional causing tree failure.
  • To avoid damaging the tree it is best to ask a local tree surgeon to do the work for you.


Cutting my neighbour's tree without permission?

The tree belongs to the neighbour so you cannot enter their garden and start pruning. However, you may prune the branches that overhang the boundary but it comes with the same rights and liabilities as mentioned above.


Can I throw the branches back into my neighbour's garden?

No, this could be considered 'fly-tipping'. The branches legally belong to the neighbour so you should offer them back before disposing of them as it could be considered an Act of Theft not to. But it is more than likely that they will be happy for you to dispose of them.


Can I throw leaves back into my neighbours garden?

No. The owner is not obliged to clear up fallen leaves unless it is blocking a gutter for example and damage then occurs from it. However, you would need to prove that it was the leaves from that particular tree that caused the damage.


Can I remove tree roots entering my property?

Yes, if the tree does not carry a tree preservation order. Removing roots comes with the same rights and liabilities of overhanging branches. However this is a dangerous and unwise action, depending on the position and size of the tree root, removing them will most likely cause tree failure.

For example, consider a large tree, the roots that are close to the tree or over 2 inches in diameter (this will alter depending on the tree size) are most likely structural so removing these would cause severe damage. You may think well I do actually want to get rid of the tree but this would be welcoming lots of problems if you did not consult the tree owner first. Before removing roots, it is best to seek advice from a tree surgeon


My neighbour's tree is dangerous, what can I do?

The safety of the tree is the homeowner's responsibility unless the house is rented for example and the tenancy agreement requires the tenants to look after the garden.

The safety of the tree would come under the Occupiers Liability Act, whereby the homeowner needs to take action to ensure the safety of trespassers or visitors.

If you are concerned that a tree could do damage to your property then in the first instance, write to or talk to your neighbour, you could ask for the tree to be inspected by a professional. If they ignore the request and as a last resort you could apply for a court injunction requiring the owner to deal with the tree. Another option if all communication has failed is to ask the local council to step in for you under the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1976. However, that is a limited provision.

We hope this has been helpful, feel free to take a look at our other blog articles here for similar topics.


A little bit about Silver Oak.

We are experienced tree surgeons and arborists based in Sheffield working across Sheffield, Chesterfield, Dronfield, and surrounding areas such as the Loxley, Bolsterstone, and the Peak District including Hathersage, Grindleford, Bakewell.


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