Trees are good, we can probably all agree, and tree planting is at the heart of the nation’s environmental programme, according to Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)  while the Woodland Trust says we are falling well short of target.

Both organisations talk in hectares and tens of millions of trees, but the one or two in your garden or grounds still count as well. They play their part as carbon sinks, as well as providing shelter, privacy and a pleasant surroundings.

On the other hand, any tree presents a risk of dropping a few branches heavy enough to put a hole in a roof or ruin someone’s car roof over its lifetime or, in the worst case scenario, of falling down completely; and the risk will only increase as the tree gets older.

Just look at this video taken in Ealing, West London in June 20203.  Those pedestrians had a lucky escape, but there really seemed to be no signs of what was about to happen that were obvious to the layperson.

One of the best ways to avoid risk of tree damage is timely pruning by a professional who will identify and remove at-risk branches and will also spot a serious imminent risk of falling.

Of course, aside from a few broken branches, most healthy trees can weather brief periods of high winds and heavy rain from thunderstorms, so tree falls are likely to come as a surprise unless the ground is already saturated so much that tree roots can lose grounding in the soil and an entire tree can come crashing down.

As you would expect, trees planted at the proper depth in an open area and in well-drained soil will fare much better in high winds than when planted in often wet soil or in built-up areas where roots are restricted or cut by roads, sidewalks, driveways, and building foundations. Soil type, disease, insect infestation, lack of maintenance and over-watering are also likely to increase the risk of a tree falling during a storm.

Your responsibility

Legally, a tree is the responsibility of the owner of the land they grow on, regardless of who planted them and, if a tree causes damage, the owner may be liable. However, anyone’s chances of making a claim would usually depend on demonstrating that the owner had been negligent and if the tree was obviously unsafe through disease or damage, for example.

Do check that your insurance policy covers you for damage caused by trees – and if there are any policy clauses that specifically require you to have your trees inspected at intervals.

Healthy trees, where there can be very little doubt the cause of any damage is stormy weather,  are usually covered. However, if a tree has been neglected and is in poor condition your insurance may not pay out, particularly where there are no records of inspection by a suitably qualified person.

Inspection and regular pruning will keep the tree at its best and a professional arboriculturalist will answer key questions before getting out the chainsaw.  What will be the result of removing this branch? Will it leave a large wound? Will it remove a large area of leaf bearing material? Will it leave the tree open to an increased risk of disease?  Will it still provide the amenities and privacy the customer wants?

Pruning should generally occur after the flush of new leaves has had time to harden, so late spring through to summer is usually best. There are some exceptions: species such as Birch, Walnut and Maples, will ‘bleed’ sap and risk losing valuable sugars in the process pruning of these trees should be in summer or mid-winter.

You will not normally be covered by damage caused if the branch fell during tree surgery, so make sure you use an accredited, fully-insured contractor. You can find a list of approved contractors at The Arboricultural Association’s web site. These contractors can also advise you on any Tree Preservation Orders or other local restrictions to tree felling.

If a tree falls, your third party liability insurance should cover the cost of damage that occurs on neighbouring properties if, for example, if a tree falls on cars outside your property boundary. However, the cost of actually removing the tree may not be covered – and for large trees this can be very costly, not least because damage to your own building and utilities has to be considered.

It is true having a lot of trees or even one big tree that is near to the building may affect insurance premiums or increase subsidence excesses, and we will cover that in a separate blog over the next few months.

Arranging insurance

When getting insurance quotes, make sure you provide full disclosures about any trees in your grounds. A garden with trees filled garden doesn’t necessarily mean a higher premium, but damage caused by a risk the insurer did not know about – or that is caused by lack of maintenance – can be very expensive.

Call us if in doubt, our team will talk you through the declaration process to ensure you’re covered.

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The sole purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the issues covered. This article is not intended to give legal advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. We make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein or in the links which were live at the date of publication. You should not act upon (or should refrain from acting upon) information in this publication without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited trading as Deacon accepts no liability for any inaccuracy, omission or mistake in this publication, nor will we be responsible for any loss which may be suffered as a result of any person relying on the information contained herein.