Thousands of British gardeners are at risk of becoming unwitting criminals due to a lack of knowledge of basic gardening laws, experts have claimed.
Now experts from GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk have published the top seven little known gardening laws to help Britons understand what they should and shouldn’t do in their gardens.
The list covers common issues such as overhanging branches, boundary disputes, blocked sunlight and wind fallen fruit, among others.
Gardeners could be forgiven for finding the laws confusing, as they can be counter-intuitive and complex.
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 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.
There can also be confusion over whether it is legal to allow a tree to block sunlight to a window.
A spokesman for GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk said: “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.
“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.”
Top Seven little-known gardening laws
1. Trimming overhanging branches
If a tree’s branches overhang into your property from a neighbour’s, 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.
If a tree is covered by a Tree Preservation Order, you can’t cut the branches.
2. Fruit and flowers
Although you can cut branches that hang into your garden up to the property line, they still belong to the neighbour – as do any flowers or fruit on them. Your neighbour is technically legally entitled to demand them back.
But do not just throw them into the neighbour’s garden, as this could constitute garden waste fly tipping.
Wind fallen fruit technically still belongs to the person who owns the tree. So, if your neighbour’s windfalls end up on your lawn, you might have to ask for permission if you want to keep them.
4. Fallen leaves
Tree owners are not responsible for sweeping up fallen leaves that land on your property.
5. 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.
6. 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.
UPDATE: HM Land Registry cannot tell you exactly where your legal boundary is, only show general boundaries. In a lot of cases, they can’t tell you which boundary feature you are responsible for.
Boundary disputes can be complex and HMLR always suggest getting some legal advice if a dispute is in danger of flaring up. If a dispute continues, it is ultimately a Court that makes decisions. There are other organisations that can help you before things get to that stage, such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) who have a boundary dispute helpline on 02476 868555. If you can reach an agreement with your neighbour though, it can be a lot less stressful and certainly a lot less costly.
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, technically, return the trimmings to the owner.