Farmers and landowners are being advised to check the safety
of trees on their land or they could end up facing prosecution.
Owners of land where there are trees are normally liable to third
parties for any loss or damage caused by falling trees or branches.
Jonathan Thompson from law firm, Smithson Clarke (with offices in Alnwick and
Newcastle), specialising in agricultural law matters, says: “In a recent
court case, a motorcyclist won substantial damages after suffering serious injuries
when he collided with a tree that had fallen from land belonging to Viscount
and Viscountess Asquith.
“The landowners were found liable even though they employed
a forestry inspector to inspect the trees. The inspector
had relied on drive by inspections and if he saw an obvious problem
with a particular tree, he would carry out a closer inspection
and then take action to make the tree safe. It turned out
that the tree that fell, although it looked outwardly healthy,
was suffering from fungal decay. The court decided that an
expert would have realised that the tree was suffering from fungal
decay and that the landowners had failed in their duty of care
to the motorcyclist by not using a specialist.”
Mr Thompson concludes: “It is important to remember that ‘public
highway’ means not only roads but also public rights of way. You
should arrange regular inspections of trees situated on your land
that might fall onto the highway and arrange for any necessary
tree surgery. It is also important to ensure that branches
from trees overhanging the highway do not obstruct traffic or obscure
signs and you should have dead trees and broken branches, which
could cause a hazard to highway users, removed.”
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