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Mind that tree?

30 July 2014

Is an ordinary landowner obliged, as a matter of course, to instruct an expert to carry out regular inspections of the trees on his or her land? If not, is the landowner obliged to carry out informal inspections of those trees?  These were the issues considered in a recent High Court case: Stagecoach South Western Trains v Hind [1]. 

The decision is of importance to all landowners on whose land are trees which are close to a highway, railway line or a neighbour's property, which risks being damaged by the trees. 

The facts were these: Ms Hind owned a Victorian cottage whose large garden adjoined the railway in Staines. During a winter storm part of a 150-year old Ash tree fell from the garden and onto the railway track and caused £325,000-worth of damage to a passing train.

The railway company argued that Ms Hind had been negligent in failing to have the tree regularly inspected by an arboriculturalist.

In this case the Court decided that Ms Hind had not been negligent. Ms Hind had limited resources and was not obliged to have the tree regularly inspected by an expert just because it was near a railway. 

As a keen gardener she had sufficient knowledge and experience to inspect it herself. She had done so and indeed had spent a good deal of money over the years on tree surgeons. There was nothing to put her on notice that this particular Ash tree was in a dangerous state.

In coming to that conclusion the Court set out the following principles:

  • A landowner's duty of care depends on the extent of his or her resources. A substantial company may therefore owe a greater duty of care than an individual landowner of limited means.
  • A landowner should act reasonably and prudently, particularly where the trees may cause damage to others. 
  • A landowner should regularly inspect trees, especially those in a potentially hazardous location, and obtain expert advice if it appears there may be a problem.
  • A landowner is not an insurer of nature and accidents can happen for which no one is at fault. There is no strict liability in such cases.


This decision will be of comfort to all landowners, but only up to a point.

You are responsible for trees on your land and you are potentially liable if they cause damage to other people or their property. The trees should be regularly inspected and checked for signs of decay or other defect. 

Trees in sensitive locations should be looked at more carefully and frequently.  It is not normally necessary to engage a tree expert to do this, but there is an onus on a substantial landowner to do so.

[1] [2014] EWHC 1891 (TCC)

This article was written by Jeremy Hudson.

For more information please contact Jeremy on +44 (0)20 7427 6452 or jeremy.hudson@crsblaw.com