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Is A Tree Survey A Legal Requirement

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  • 21-04-2022
Is A Tree Survey A Legal Requirement

What is an arboricultural survey

An Arboricultural survey, otherwise known as a BS5837 Tree Survey, is a comprehensive assessment of all the trees located in a designated development site. The completed survey provides a variety of information and data concerning the existing trees in a specific area, from expected lifespan to root spread. The survey should be executed by an experienced and qualified Arborist, not a Tree Surgeon, as they specialise in more general tree maintenance. Furthermore, in commercial settings, a completed BS5837 Tree Survey can assist with decisions and budget allocation, alleviating the planning process.

Before construction begins, an arboricultural survey can provide relevant information to develop logistical and realistic plans for the development area. A survey also helps to reduce potential damages to healthy or protected trees on the assigned site, in accordance with UK law regarding Tree Protection Orders (TPO) and Wildlife conservation regulations. Moreover, the BS5837 Tree Survey will propose recommendations for necessary tree surgery or general work to maintain Health and Safety legislation and extend the tree's lifespan. Furthermore, any diseases or infections should be noticed during the survey, highlighting the need for felling. A record of the trees that risk causing harm are also included in the survey report; as a form of risk reduction, this responsibility comes under the tree owner's (developers, landowners or employer) 'duty of care. 

How often should trees be inspected

Anytime a new development is considered on land where trees are located, a tree survey should be carried out before construction planning can begin. In line with UK Government, a minimum of 5 years can be left between tree inspections, although the time between can be less, and often is. If there are any noticeable changes or faults to a tree's health or structure, contact an arborist as soon as possible, regardless of when the last time the tree was surveyed. Treacherous weather conditions, from droughts to high winds, can result in defects even on the healthiest of trees, so it's important to check the state of trees on site after major weather events to mitigate the risk of felling. The damages could be as simple as a snapped branch or as intricate as an entirely up-rooted tree.

  What is the risk from falling trees or branches

Falling trees or branches can cause injury to those on the site or nearby; therefore, the risk should be monitored using a BS5837 Tree Survey before construction work begins. In the UK, around 6 people are killed every year by falling trees or branches, making the likelihood extremely low. Public perception of safety can be contorted in the recent case of an accident. Therefore it's also important to reduce risks and promote your focus on public safety. Using the Health and Safety Executives 'Risk Triangle', published under "Reducing Risks Protecting People", it shows that injury from a falling tree or branch sits under the 'broadly acceptable' region. However, this is only a general guide and doesn't directly reflect the law.   

Some indicators of potential felling risks include; 

  • Dead Limbs: Evident decay (cracking or loose limbs)
  • Witches Broom: Mistletoe infection causes large/heavy limbs (>200)
  • Fungal Growth: Found on stems, portrays potential heart or root diseases.
  • Heavy Tree Lean: may be caused by damaged roots or lifting root mats, shallow or wet soils. In some cases, the tree may have corrected itself, which can be determined by looking for corrected top growth.
  • Root Condition: look for any ground cracks around the base of the tree, signs of decay or fungal conks on the roots.

What is required to do

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers or the responsible person have a duty to maintain a level of safety by taking all precautions that are 'reasonably practical' to do so. It would be unreasonable to continually examine every tree on-site; the person must decide what is considered reasonable under the circumstances. For instance, it may be considered reasonable to complete a comprehensive BS 5837 Tree Survey before any developments begin or for a more dense area during certain stages. This can depend on various factors, like regional regulations, the size of the project or tree diversity. 

Although the HSE 'Risk Triangle' regards the risk as extremely low, this is just guidance, and the law requires that in all cases, practical safety measures are in place. And in the case of a more serious accident or incident, an inspector may be required to investigate that satisfactory safeguards were in place.

Legislation Relevant To The Management Of Trees

When working on a development site with trees on it or in close proximity, there are various laws and regulations to follow. Primarily there is the British Standard for the Tree Survey (BS 5837); this ensures any tree survey carried out meets a set of specifications. Similarly, the BSI issued the BS 3998 (2010)- "Recommendations for Tree Work", which expresses the importance of trees being treated as living organisms with a level of respect before beginning surveying, planning or work on trees. 

For falling trees or branches, the SIM 01/2007/05: Management of the risk from falling trees or branches should be studied. This document works in alignment with the Section 3 Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSW Act), which highlights the employer's responsibility to ensure the greatest reduction in potential injuries or casualties.

In relation to protected trees or wildlife, 'The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects any birds nests, bat roosts etc. before and during the development stages. Sites of Special Scientific Interest must also be identified as these deny most development requests. Any Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) are filled under various UK government regulations, one being the 'Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation) (England) Regulations 2012'. It states the fines for destroying a tree with a TPO can reach £20,000, with damages to a tree with TPO can cost around £2,500. The price tag for a mistake further highlights the need for a trusted arborist to complete a BS 5837 Tree Survey to identify these trees.

For those in close proximity to a construction site, 'The Rights of Light Act 1959' prevents developers from blocking reasonable light with trees only if the property has had access to light for a minimum of 20 years. In the case where emergency work is required, exceptions can be made; however, it is much savvier to obtain permission first (Regulation 14 of The Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation)(England) Regulations 2012). 

Some other legislations to consider during work involving trees are as follows;

  • Occupiers' Liability Acts 1957 and 1984
  • Occupiers Liability Act (Scotland)1960
  • Land Reform (Scotland) 2003
  • The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW)
  • The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

If you want assistance in safely removing a tree from your property or would like to book an evaluation or assessment, please contact our professional team of arborists today.

We offer tree felling, tree surveys and tree removal in Northampton, Milton Keynes and Bedford.

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