Helping gardeners stay legit

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It’s a Bank Holiday weekend and a trip to the garden centre beckons for many – yet lots of ‘green-fingered’ Britons are unwittingly at risk of gaining an unwelcome criminal record because they don’t understand basic laws.

It would appear the legislation that governs how we look after our prized patches of lawn and garden are governed by confusing, complicated and counter-intuitive legislation.

For example, a person may cut back tree branches that overhang into their garden, as long as they do not go past the boundary line and there is no Tree Preservation Order in place. But they cannot keep the trimmings nor any fruit or flowers on them – nor can they simply throw the branches back into the tree owner’s garden without gaining permission.

Disputes over boundaries may require a hard look at the house deeds, and even then, there may be issues if the boundaries have changed over time.

And there can also be confusion over whether it is legal to allow a tree to block sunlight to a window.

‘Most of us want to be good, law abiding neighbours, but that can be difficult if we don’t actually know what the law is,’ commented a spokesman for GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk, an organisation that has just produced a helpful consumer guide on the subject.

‘There may be times when it would be within your legal rights to do something, but it could cause tensions with your neighbour. We’d always advise trying to come to a neighbourly solution first, as this is always preferable to having to call in the lawyers.

“If you brush up on the law as it stands, you may be able to avoid any sort of dispute altogether, which is always the ideal solution.’

Helpful advice

Thankfully for anyone unable to understand the difference between a tort and charge, the guide produced by GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk may help. For the list covers common issues such as overhanging branches, boundary disputes, blocked sunlight and wind fallen fruit, among others.

Among the advice it offers are practical tips on…

Trimming overhanging branches

If a tree’s branches overhang into your property from a neighbouring house, you can trim them, but only up to the property line. You can’t lean into the neighbour’s garden to do this, though – this constitutes trespass. And if a tree is covered by a Tree Preservation Order, you can’t cut the branches.

Fruit and flowers

Although you can cut branches that hang into your garden up to the property line, be aware they still belong to the neighbour – as do any flowers or fruit on them. Your neighbour is legally entitled to demand them back. And, whatever you do, don’t throw them into the next door garden, as this could constitute garden waste fly-tipping.

Windfalls

Wind-fallen fruit technically still belongs to the person who owns the tree. So, if your neighbour’s windfalls end up on your lawn, ask for permission if you want to keep them.

Fallen leaves

Tree owners are not responsible for sweeping up fallen leaves.

Trees blocking light

Under the Rights of Light Act, if a window has received natural light for 20 years or more, neighbours can’t block it with a new tree.

Fences and boundaries

These can be tricky to resolve. The house deeds should indicate who owns fences and is responsible for boundaries (although there is no legal responsibility to keep boundaries well maintained, unless the deeds state otherwise). But boundaries can move over time and cause disputes later. You may need to contact HM Land Registry for help with boundary disputes.

Hedges

If a hedge grows along the boundary between two gardens, both neighbours are responsible for trimming. If a hedge belonging to a neighbour grows into your garden, you can trim it but, as with tree branches, you must return the trimmings to the owner.

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