Many people plant a hedge rather than erect a fence to marking the boundary with their neighbour’s property. Not only is a hedge more aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also relatively easy to maintain and provides shelter and food to various species of wildlife. However, hedges can become the subject of a dispute between neighbours. Hedges can grow too tall and block light to a neighbour’s property or its roots may spread onto a neighbour’s land. Even questions such as ‘who owns hedge’ can spark disputes.
Knowing your rights regarding hedges and boundaries is important when it comes to resolving disputes. A hedge growing at the edge of a boundary is subject to some restrictions, such as height, and protected by law when it comes to cutting or shaping it. Most hedges and boundaries disputes can be solved quickly and easily without fuss, but some disputes result in costly legal battles.
We’ve divided this guide into two parts, depending on who owns hedge. If you own the hedge, we’ve detailed both your rights and obligations, which can help minimise the risk of a dispute over the hedge. If you’ve got a complaint about a neighbour’s hedge, such as a tall hedge or a hedge blocking light to your home, we’ve detailed how to complain.
Who owns hedge part one – your rights if you own the hedge
When you plant a hedge – especially at the boundary of your property – you have a series of rights and obligations, some of them required under the law, in respect to your neighbour.
The best advice is to talk to your neighbour before you plant the hedge. You can let them know the type of hedge you’re planning to plant, where you will be planting it, and how high you’re likely to grow it. By involving your neighbour at the start, you can head off any disputes. If you both agree to the hedge, it’s typical that both you and your neighbour will assume responsibility for maintaining and trimming your own side of the hedge once it is established.
If your neighbour isn’t enthusiastic about your hedge plans, the good news is that you don’t require permission to plant it as long as it is planted on your property. However, you need permission to grow your hedge directly along the party line separating your two properties and your neighbour has a right to deny the planting of a hedge on the party line. The best advice is to plant your hedge just inside the party line to avoid any contentious conversations while still attaining a similar result.
Your neighbour can trim branches, roots and leaves that extend onto their property but they cannot cut further into your property than the party line. If they do, you have the right to pursue them in a civil court for damage to property.
You also have the right to grow your hedge to any height within reason. Your local councils may step in when a hedge is deemed too high and insist that the hedge is maintained at a sensible height.
Who owns hedge – restrictions that apply if planting a hedge
Remember to check if there any covenants on your property that determine what you can and cannot do in terms of growing or removing a hedge. Some will list the size of hedge and type of foliage you can grow. Covenant details can be found in the information supplied by your solicitor when you purchased the property.
You should also check any restrictions in place locally, especially if you live in a conservation area. For example, you may not be allowed to cut down boundary trees to make room for a hedge. Some local authorities can require their permission before you remove an existing hedge, even if you plan to replace it. If in doubt, check.
When it comes to training and maintaining your hedge, check for nesting birds first. It is illegal to trim a hedge with nesting birds – even if it is your hedge. Birds generally nest between March and September, so be vigilant during these months.
Who owns hedge – your obligations if you own a hedge
There are some specific legal obligations you need to follow if planting or growing a hedge. As your hedge grows, you must maintain it to prevent it from damaging your neighbour’s property. If it grows too high, for example, and high winds cause debris to damage your neighbour’s home you could be liable for the cost of repairing the damage caused by the hedge.
You’re also responsible when your hedge borders a road, especially if it’s overgrown and obstructs the road or footpath. The council may ask you to cut back the hedge, which you should do. If you refuse to comply, the council will cut back the hedge and bill you for the work.
Hedge height is another issue. If you grow a tall hedge, your neighbour can complain and ask the council to step in. This falls under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, which allows the council to mediate in a dispute between neighbours. The council can ask you to cut your hedge if its height prevents your neighbour from the full enjoyment of their property.
The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 defines a tall hedge as one made up of a line of at least two scrubs, with a height taller than 2 metres or 6 foot, 6 inches. While bamboo and ivy are excluded, high hedges cover any evergreen or semi-evergreen plants that you use for hedging.
Who owns hedge part two – if your neighbour owns the hedge
If your neighbour’s tall, overgrown hedge is infringing on your enjoyment of your property, it can make for a tricky conversation. Neighbour disputes of hedges can quickly escalate, so the best approach is to keep calm and be reasonable. Look for ways to defuse situations before they get out of hand.
Talk to your neighbour about the hedge
The best approach is a friendly chat with a neighbour, sticking to the facts and asking for their help. They may not be aware of the issue and will be happy to resolve it. Keep the conversation calm and don’t make things personal. You don’t know the reasons why the hedge is too tall, but don’t assume it’s a personal insult aimed at you.
If the hedge affects other neighbours, look for their support and ask them to chat with the neighbour as well. Avoid going en masse at the start, as it can make the conversation confrontational. You could ask for a more confident neighbour to make the initial contact if you’re not feeling up to it. Alternatively, write a letter to your neighbour keeping to the facts and pointing out the issue.
Make a complaint about the hedge to the council
If you don’t get anywhere with your first actions, make a formal complaint to your council. The council will want to see that you have tried all remedies before making the complaint, such as writing to your neighbour, as well as evidence of the problem, such as measurements and photographs. Draw up a plan showing the hedge, as well as details such as hedge type, lighting levels and position of the hedge.
It’s worth spending time getting this right, as some councils can charge around £400 for filing a complaint for them to investigate. To help prepare your case, the government has a helpful 2005 book you can download called High hedges complaints: prevent and cure. At 116 pages, it details what councils might look for when dealing with high hedges.
The council will investigate if it thinks you have a case, including interviewing your neighbour and examining the hedge. They may take measurements – including light and sizes – then return with a conclusion including what should be done. This could include a remedial notice which details what action needs to be taken and by whom. They could require your neighbour to cut the hedge back to 2 metres, but they can’t request the hedge is removed.
If your neighbour refuses, the council can levy a fine – typically around £1,000 – and ultimately court action. If you’re not happy, you can refer your complaint to the Planning Inspectorate who will consider your appeal.