Advice: Are land owners liable for damaged caused by trees and hedges
Q I am a landowner and have an issue with mature deciduous trees which are located approximately six feet inside a ditch which adjoins a road. The trees are of great value to me as they are located on the boundary of my lands. I would be sorry to have to cut them back, but I am concerned about my liability if any part of the trees were to fall over the ditch onto the roadway or even into an adjoining landowner's property. I am also concerned about potential liability from overhanging trees and hedges in some of my fields.
A Liability for trees and their branches as well as over-hanging hedges are issues faced by almost all land owners at some point.
The law is quite clear on this subject, in that the land owner or occupier (that includes farmers renting land) are responsible for ensuring that hedges do not encroach and affect their neighbours' use of their land and also that trees are safe from falling branches.
In relation to the cutting back of ditches and trees, Birdwatch Ireland highlight the legal restrictions and state that hedges should not be cut back any later than March 1, due to birds nesting, and they also advise that there are a number of species that nest well into August.
While this may be advisable from a conservational perspective, the law permits the cutting or grubbing of isolated bushes and clumps of gorse (furze or whin), as well as the mowing or cutting of isolated growths of fern (bracken) in the ordinary course of agriculture at any time of the year.
You should also bear in mind that if you are an applicant to schemes like the Basic Payment Scheme, you may be restricted in taking actions to cut/burn hedges.
In relation to your deciduous trees which may overhang onto the roadway, local authorities and Electric Ireland have powers to deal with this type of dangerous tree. They can give notice to the owner requiring them to cut or prune the tree.
If the owner fails to comply, they have authority to carry out the work and charge the owner.