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Hedge Cutting – legal duties and responsibilities for land owners

PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.

Winter is thankfully behind us and with summer approaching it’s a good time to remind landowners of their statutory duties and responsibilities with regard to hedgerow maintenance.

The Highways Act 1980 and Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 oblige owners or occupiers of land to ensure that:

  • nesting birds bats and other wildlife and not disturbed by hedge cutting activities;
  • hedges and trees do not cause an overhang hazard or otherwise obstruct the highway;
  • growth from hedges and trees do not restrict visibility of road signs and street lights; and
  • clippings from hedge cutting activities do not cause a highway hazard.

Wildlife Protection

The months of March through to the end of July is the breeding season for birds and as far as hedge cutting is concerned is considered a closed season and unless there exists unavoidable health and safety concerns hedge cutting during this season should be avoided. Ideally, as birds and other wildlife feed off berries and nuts during the winters cutting should also be avoided in the first couple of months of the year.

Under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 it is an offence to remove any hedgerow, or part of a hedgerow, without the necessary planning consents.

Highway Safety

Landowners and occupiers whose hedges run alongside the highway are responsible for the maintenance of the hedge.  Failure to adequately maintain a hedge and prevent a hedge from interfering with the use of the highway may result in a formal notice being served by the in local authority requiring action.

Landowners are responsible for trees on their land and are required under the Highways Act to ensure that trees are not a danger to anyone using the highway.  If a tree or branch falls onto the highway the landowner is responsible for its removal and could face liability if the fallen tree or branch causes an accident.

Top Tips

Carry out regular checks of the condition roadside trees or trees which are adjacent to footpath, bridleways and other areas of public access.  Tagging tress with an identification disk and keeping records of tree condition surveys will assist landowners in discharging their obligations under the Highways Act.

When carrying out cutting or trimming activities on a roadside hedge health and safety considerations are paramount.  It may sound obvious but ideally work should be carried out in good visibility and try to avoid using machinery which spits hedge debris onto the highway.  Ensure that hedge maintenance contractors have adequate insurance as operators and/or landowners/occupiers could be held liable if an accident is caused which arises from the negligent or careless actions of the operator.

When planting trees near the highway place think about where the tree is placed to minimise the risks to road users and also the obligation to carry out regular checks and any maintenance.

If you are a landowner or occupier and would like advice on the practical steps you can take to minimise your liability please call CLARE TOWERS at DFA Law on 01604 609564

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