Winter Housekeeping in a Nutshell

29th September 2011

“The recent gale force winds and the current protest in Scarborough over a 100 year beech tree following concerns that it may damage residential drains, have only served to highlight both the pleasure and the problems that trees can bring,” says Carolyn Milburn, Associate Partner at George F. White, “As a landowner the key is to properly manage your trees so that potential problems are minimised.” Here she offers advice on how implementing a comprehensive management plan.

There is no doubt that trees add to our enjoyment of the outdoor experience as well as providing important environmental benefits but defective trees can cause considerable damage to both people and property. As a landowner you are liable for “hazardous trees”, broadly speaking any structural defect which could cause all or part of the tree to strike a “target”.

As a landowner/occupier you must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk and this can include regular inspections of trees and the identification of suitable remedial action to reduce the risk. This can range from simple steps such as moving potential targets out of the way or pruning the tree in question to its complete removal. This applies in particular to trees which are your responsibility adjacent to roadways and footpaths or where the public have access.

Obviously with the winter approaching there is more likelihood of stormy weather and if the predictions are right, heavy snow lying on branches for prolonged periods. If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly urge you to get expert advice and resolve any potential problems now – it could save property, avoid costly legal battles and most importantly save lives.

Local homeowner Barbara Huddart is well aware of these potential problems. When the roots of a cherry tree grew into the drains of her property causing her home to flood, it cost £13,000 to rectify the problem. She explains, “This was both costly and time consuming as we had to remove the tree and lay about 20 yards of new drains. We have subsequently removed additional trees and are now always very conscious about what we plant in the garden.”

Following recent case law it is important that anyone carrying out inspections of trees is sufficiently experienced. Due to the natural variations in trees, the severity of defects and the different locations in which they grow, evaluating hazardous defects is not straightforward. A “drive by” inspection of trees cannot be relied upon as being sufficient in any circumstances.

We would recommend that a planned inspection programme and risk management assessment is established to ensure that trees are inspected as often as necessary by a professional arborist and land manager. We would also recommend that such inspections are carried out before the winter so that any remedial work required may be undertaken prior to the onset of winter. And because nature and the weather are continually changing, we would also advise that inspections are made after storms. A report and log of inspections should be retained.

In a nutshell, our recommendation is a three step plan:
• Obtain competent advice
• Implement a regular programme
• Take the remedial action as advised

And while you are thinking about winter housekeeping, don’t forget to check other aspects of your property ahead of the cold weather. In particular, if you have empty properties don’t forget to shut off the water, make sure mice cannot get in to chew electric cables and complete any repairs that will be made worse by damp and cold temperatures.

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