“Hedge Law UK is my attempt at a general introduction to the law applicable to hedges in England and Wales. I hope it proves helpful.”
Mike Hansom, Head of Property Disputes
Contact our Property Disputes Team on 01225 462871 or by email.
This article, Hedge Law UK, is my attempt at an introduction to the law applicable to hedges in England and Wales. For more information on ownership of boundary features – including hedges – and boundary issues more generally, see our main Boundary Disputes page.
Boundary hedge ownership
Many hedges straddle or abut boundaries, and it’s best to avoid boundary-related disputes if at all possible. This is because not only are disputes costly, but they are also disclosable to a potential buyer when you sell the property.
Neighbour cut my hedge without permission
Hedges are a common cause of tension between neighbours. Perhaps your neighbour fails to manage their own hedge (or their side it) or, whether well-meaning or otherwise, they have inflicted a cruel short back and sides on your luscious privet, box, or laurel.
If a hedge straddles the boundary, only cut your neighbour’s side with their permission.
And strictly, the trimmings from their side belong to them. Offer the trimmings to your neighbour. If they decline – as they probably will – you can dispose of them yourself.
Criminal damage to hedge
The Criminal Damage Act 1971 provides that unless you have a lawful excuse, intentionally or recklessly causing damage to “any property belonging to another” amounts to a criminal offence. That includes a hedge. So, it’s permissible to prune the branches of your neighbour’s hedge if it’s protruding into your garden and causing a nuisance. But don’t be tempted to go further than the point where the branches cross the boundary.
Do I need permission to plant a hedge?
Planting a hedge in your garden is usually permissible if it lies solely within your boundary. But you will require your neighbour’s permission before planting a hedge straddling the boundary line between your properties. You should also agree on the position of each tree or shrub forming the hedge. Once growing, you will usually each be responsible for maintaining your own side of the hedge.
Restrictions on cutting or removing a hedge
If you live in a conservation area, check with your local authority whether you need permission to cut back or remove a hedge. However, this does not usually apply to routine trimming and maintenance. Also, if a tree that forms part of a hedge is subject to a tree preservation order (TPO), permission is required to prune or remove it. If unsure, always ask your local authority before starting work.
It’s advisable to check your property deeds to ascertain whether restrictive covenants limit the size or height of hedges on your property.
Another consideration is the time of year. Cutting or removing a hedge where birds are nesting is a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The offence carries an unlimited fine or up to six months in prison! You should therefore inspect the hedge very carefully first. If you cannot be certain there are no nesting birds, the best approach is to leave well alone from March to September inclusive.
High Hedges Act
Often referred to colloquially as the ‘High Hedges Act’, this legislation is actually Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. (“ASBA”). ASBA gives powers to a local authority to serve a remedial notice on a landowner if:
- they have an evergreen hedge consisting of at least two evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs; and
- it is over 2 metres in height; and
- is a barrier to light to a neighbouring property.
ASBA only applies if the hedge is a barrier to light, not to solve tree/hedge-related problems such as blocked drains, root encroachment or subsidence.
High hedges: complaining to the council
First, you must raise your concern directly with your neighbour. But if that informal approach fails to resolve the issue, you should put your complaint to the local authority. A standard form for this purpose will be on the planning department’s website. You will also have to pay a fee to the council. Fees vary but expect to pay between £300 and £400.
Hedge Law UK
The local authority will require evidence of your attempts to resolve the matter informally. Therefore, keep a detailed and contemporaneous record of interactions with your neighbour on the issue. If verbal discussions fail, put your request to your neighbour in writing, with reasons. You may need to prove your neighbour has received the letter, so use Royal Mail Special Delivery or another ‘signed for’ service.
Before deciding whether to intervene, the local authority will gather evidence, including writing to both parties and visiting the site. In addition, they may speak to neighbours and other stakeholders, such as a resident’s association. There is no time limit on carrying out these investigations.
High hedges notice
If the local authority believes action is necessary, they will send a remedial notice to the person responsible for the hedge. The notice sets out the required work and the time limit for undertaking it. The hedge owner could face prosecution for not carrying out the work. And the local authority also has the power to carry out the work and recover the cost from the owner.
However, remember that the local authority cannot remove the hedge or require that it be shorter than two metres.