Roadside trees, hedges and ditches | Oxfordshire County Council

Roadside trees, hedges and ditches

How we look after roadside vegetation.

Trees, hedges and ditches are an important part of our rural landscape. They are also a vital habitat for wildlife, provide a valuable windbreak in open countryside and, in the case of ditches, help prevent flooding.

Trees and hedges in urban areas are equally important to 'soften' the streetscape, and to provide visual screening. Some trees are also effective for reducing pollution and traffic noise.

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Who is responsible for looking after them

As a general rule, hedges, trees growing in the hedgerow, and the ditches in front of them, are owned by the adjoining landowner. They are seldom our responsibility. However, trees growing in the highway verge as well as undergrowth on the verge are matters for us to deal with.

We do not automatically clear undergrowth on verges, except where public use of the highway is affected. It provides cover for wildlife and offers a varied and natural landscape.

Trees over the public highway

Trees and vegetation that overhang the highway should be crown-lifted to at least 5.2m to allow safe passage of high sided vehicles as well as being cut back sufficiently from the edge of the carriageway to allow clearance for wing mirrors. Trees and vegetation that overhang footways and footpaths should be crown-lifted to at least 2.5m and cut back to ensure the footpath/way is at least 1.2m in width. This is to allow safe passage for all footpath/way users including wheelchairs, mobility scooters, etc.

These heights have been selected as an acceptable standard and any vegetation below this may be deemed to be an obstruction. We may enforce Section 152 of the Highways Act (1980) which allows us to serve notice upon the owner of the trees/ vegetation informing them that they need to clear any obstructions safely.

When considering works to trees close to the highway, it is important to remember that wet, leaf laden branches may droop up to a metre lower than in their leafless, winter state. Additionally, if you have dead trees that are within falling distance of the public highway, it might be advisable to remove them. However, they play an important role in the ecosystem and can provide valuable wildlife habitat that might be protected by law so it is best to seek professional arboricultural advice before works are done as it is possible that they could be retained safely rather than removed entirely.

Tree Preservation Orders and Conservation Areas

Landowners should always check that trees are not subject to a Tree Preservation Order or in a Conservation Area before carrying out any remedial works.

If the county council has sent you a letter asking that vegetation or trees be cut back for safety reasons then you do not need to go through the full planning process with your local district council. You will still need to notify them of the works that you are going to be carrying out.

In certain circumstances, under the Hedgerow Regulations, it is illegal to cut down and remove hedgerows. Advice on both these matters should be sought from the district council.

Hedge maintenance

Hedges should be trimmed as appropriate for highway safety or as part of their regular maintenance. They should be cut or laid, never flailed, unless they have been managed in this manner for five years or more. The cuttings should be swept up from carriageways and footways where they may cause punctures.

Trimming hedges during the bird nesting season should be avoided unless hedges are preventing the passage, or affecting the safety of the highway user, including cyclists and pedestrians. The most active period of bird nesting season is from 1st March to 31st July but can extent from February to August so it is important to check that there are no active nests before trimming. Birds and their nests are protected by law. More information on this can be obtained from Natural England

Ditch maintenance

Good ditch maintenance is the key to flood prevention. Ditches not only carry water from farmland, residential and industrial areas and roads, to the rivers, but they provide essential water storage areas at peak rainfall periods. Landowners should attend to the removal of silt and excessive weed and vegetation on a regular basis. Oxfordshire County Council as Lead Local Flood Authority / Natural England may seek to control how this is done.

Landowners will require a licence to work in an area if there are any protected species present - Great Crested Newts for example. You must always check for European Protected Species / wildlife before beginning any work. Information can be obtained from Natural England or Thames Valley Environmental Research Centre (TVERC) on this topic.

Landowners will also require consent from the District Council (as the Land Drainage Authority) before stating ditch maintenance works. In the case of Cherwell District, Oxfordshire County Council as The Lead Local Flood Authority have taken responsibiltyfor this area as Cherwell District Council do not have a drainage resource.

Street trees

We have responsibility for some street trees in towns and villages, except those growing in boundary hedges or where they have been planted under a licence from the local council, town and parish councils or adjoining property owners. Other authorities, associations and private individuals also own and maintain street trees. To determine whether it is a maintained county tree please contact the Highway Enquiries Team.

We inspect our highway trees routinely to determine whether any maintenance  is necessary. Typical tree maintenance involves the raising of the crowns to allow access,  thinning out of branches and removal of sucker stems on the trunk if obstruction to pedestrians is likely.

We aim to keep the general shape of trees as far as possible, so pollarding of trees that have not been previously pollarded is the exception. Where pollarding has been the traditional method of pruning this will be continued if it is the only viable option for the tree. However, we will not pollard a tree that has not been managed in this way for 10 years or more before work begins.

Tree management policy

Unless public safety is a factor, it is not practical for us to remove trees or carry out work to control seasonal inconvenience such as loss of light, leaf / fruit fall, excessive sap, honeydew, shading of solar panels or television reception interference. In these circumstances we will look at each individual case and assess if any works are deemed necessary in accordance with our tree management policy.

Subsidence caused by trees

There has been much discussion concerning subsidence of structures allegedly caused by street trees. Subsidence may be the result of many things such as a general reduction of ground water levels, inadequately designed or constructed foundations or seasonal variations in the moisture content of soils. Consequently we will not automatically agree to remove trees where there is evidence of building subsidence and property owners should seek professional advice.

It is up to the owner of the property to prove that the tree(s) are causing the damage. This is normally done by submitting a full arboricultural report from a structural engineer and/or a chartered surveyor and a professionally qualified arboriculturalist (with 12 months of crack monitoring data attached, soil analysis and other supporting evidence) from your insurance company.

Tree roots and footpaths

Tree roots can occasionally damage footpaths, depending on the species. We will sometimes carry out careful root pruning under professional guidance or we may simply patch the surface to avoid, as far as is possible, tripping hazards for the unwary.

When we carry out planting we will always take the footways into consideration and try to pick a species that will minimise future disturbance.

Planting trees

If you are a town or parish council we will consider granting an agreement under Section 96 of the Highways Act to plant and maintain trees in your town or parish (please see our page on planting on the public highway). We will need to be satisfied that the trees are suitable now and in the long term.

Householders can apply to plant and maintain trees on the highway verge in front of their house only. This is done under Section 142 of the Highways Act. We will only agree to this if the town or parish is content with the proposal and we (Oxfordshire County Council) will need to be satisfied on issues of species, location and suitability. We will, however, require £10 million in public liability insurance for the life of that tree and we will require proof of this insurance on a yearly basis.

We do appreciate the fact that customers want to plant trees and we may be able to plant the trees for you under our insurance if the trees are paid for privately. For more information please contact the tree team on 0345 310 1111. It is, however, illegal to plant a hedge or tree on the public highway without prior permission from the council.

Woodland planting off the highway is promoted by the Oxfordshire Woodland Project.

Working on trees adjacent to a public highway

To work on trees adjacent to a public highway there are several things that you must consider:

  • your chosen contractor must hold £10 million in public liability insurance
  • all works should be done in accordance with the current relevant British Standard (BS3998)
  • any works on a Public Highway must be notified to the relevant New Roads and Street Works Act Officer (NRSWA) within the county, who can be contacted on 0345 310 1111. They will require that the works are  correctly signed and guarded in accordance with the statutory legislation and can offer advice if required.

It is an offence to work on the highway without signing, guarding or a high visibility vest. If we find contractors or private individuals working on trees without any of the above, you will be asked to stop work immediately.

For more information please contact the Highways Tree Team or the relevant NRSWA Officer.

Further information

Please contact the Highway Enquiries Team or the planning Department of your local district council:

Last reviewed
09 March 2017
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