Frequently Asked Questions about Trees

Branches which interfere with pedestrian and vehicular traffic, street signs and lights, and those that obstruct sightlines in relation to the highway are removed as part of a crown lifting program.

Are trees legally protected?

Trees can be protected either by Tree Preservation Orders or being within a Conservation Area. If in doubt as to the protected status of a tree, the Council can advise on this as planning consent is required to carry out work on them. Tree Preservation Order Consent application forms can be found on the Planning pages.

Trees situated in gardens, particularly front gardens or where they form part of pre-development hedgerows can also be legally protected by being the subject of restrictive covenants in property deeds. Reference should therefore be made to a property's deeds and the authority who had the covenant inserted, before considering carrying out work on the tree.

The cutting back of any trees in public open space or parks without the Council’s expressed permission can be considered 'criminal damage', the tree being a community asset with a value, and will be reported as such to the Police.

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Who owns trees?

A tree is owned by (and therefore the responsibility of) the person on whose land it stands. If a tree straddles a border, ownership lies with the land on which it was originally planted. This can be difficult to determine so in practice shared ownership is often assumed. For all practical purposes trees on the highway are the responsibility of the Highway Authority. The Highway Authority has an interest to ensure that these trees do not present a danger to highway users.

A Highway Authority can require land owners to remove or prune trees adjacent to the highway which are considered to be dangerous.

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Why does the Council fell trees?

The reasons why we may remove a tree are many and complex. Each location and situation is unique. We do not remove trees without good reason.  Generally, we will remove a tree or trees in order to improve the sustainability of surrounding planting or to reduce the risk to the public or the council.

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What can I do about a branch overhanging my boundary?

It is not practical for the Council to respond to overhanging branches, unless they are likely to cause damage to your property. If you do not to wish to wait you are entitled to cut back the branch as far as your boundary.

You cannot legally force a neighbour to prune back vegetation that is overhanging your property from their garden. You should approach your neighbour first and if they will not prune the vegetation back, then you are entitled to do so yourself, but you can only prune it back as far as your boundary, pruning beyond the boundary or crossing the boundary to carry out pruning is considered trespass which is a criminal offence. The vegetation you prune off is still technically the neighbour's property and you have to offer it back to them, although they do not have to accept it, in which case you may be responsible for its disposal. Garden waste is accepted at any of the councils' community recycling centres or can be placed in your green bin for collection.

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Is a swaying tree a dangerous tree?

When a tree sways in the wind it is often taken as a sign that it is becoming unstable. This is in fact rarely the case. Trees sway in the wind to dissipate the wind's energy and therefore the movement is not necessarily a cause for concern. The roots anchor the tree into the ground and it is only if they become loose at the whole root plate that they maybe a cause for concern.

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Why have you allowed the tree to shade my house/garden?

A tree will only directly shade a garden if it is in line with the southern arc of the sun, from its eastern rise to western set. In carrying out programmed tree thinning, pruning and planting programmes the Council would wish to maintain a scale relevant to adjacent properties. It is inevitable however, if the advantages of trees are to be enjoyed, that some properties may experience shade for a period of the day. The northern side of a house will be within its own shadow and not that of the tree, it may also appear darker as leaves reflect only about 25% of light as opposed to the about 75% reflected by a white wall. The council will not normally undertake pruning work to reduce the effects of shade as there is no clear guidance on what level of shade is acceptable.

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Will tree roots crossing my boundary damage my foundations?

Most modern homes in Milton Keynes are built with foundations which are deep enough to avoid the effects of clay shrinkage from trees growing in open space. However, where they are considered to be too close they may be removed, or if marginal, subject to a cyclical pruning programme.

Milton Keynes Council recognises that trees can be a contributory factor in subsidence of buildings. It is equally true however that the cases where trees cause such a problem are rare and entirely unpredictable. Bearing in mind the value of trees to the residents and visitors to Milton Keynes, a policy of pre-emptive felling is not considered appropriate. This is because in most situations the felling would achieve no positive results and would cause actual harm to the amenity value of Milton Keynes, and carries with it the risk of reducing local property values without any positive effect.

Where claims of subsidence are made against the Council, they will be handled through the Insurance and Risk Manager. Published sources concur that long term monitoring of the movement of the building is essential in determining the cause. Milton Keynes Council recognises this as the best indicator of tree related subsidence and will ask for such information to be submitted prior to making a judgement on tree management. This would be seen as the minimum information that a claimant should reasonably supply in support of the claim. If this information is not submitted, Milton Keynes Council will be obliged to judge on the facts available.

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Why are you not 'maintaining' the trees in my street?

The council undertakes regular inspections of its tree stock. Trees have evolved over millennia and those chosen for planting within the street and within parks and open spaces display characteristics which are suited to those locations. The council will only undertake works to trees where there is shown to be a significant risk to persons, property or to the long term health of the tree. Undertaking tree shaping, reduction or other "topping and lopping" practices is not in the best interests of tree health, leads to weak re-growth of branches and to long term maintenance costs to the council. Most often the best course of action is to allow trees to develop naturally.

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Why didn’t the Council consult me before undertaking works near my home?

There are about 95,000 homes in Milton Keynes a great many which interface with the Council’s urban parks and open spaces, it is not practical to consult with residents about routine operations which are carried out throughout Milton Keynes. It is intended that work programmes should be made published for such works, showing the weeks of the year when certain tasks will be carried out. The Council however would certainly wish to consult residents when new works are to be carried out.

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Does Ivy damage trees?

Ivy is not a parasite and that is why it can grow on dead trees or walls. Ivy derives all its nutrients and water through its own root system and only uses trees for support to reach the light. Ivy has a very high wildlife value as it provides both habitat and food for a wide range of birds, insects and animals.

Ivy may, however, constrict stem growth of saplings and can cause stability problems to old trees in poor health during winter storms by increasing the windload. Only cut it back if your garden is especially exposed or if it is growing over leaves.

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A tree/branch has fallen and damaged my property (e.g. fence). Will the council come and repair it for me?

The Council will arrange for the tree/branch to be cleared but you will have to make arrangements to repair your own property. If you feel that the damage has occurred as a result of the Council's negligence and wish to seek financial redress, you should submit your claim in writing giving full details of the damage and how it occurred to the Council's Insurance and Risk Manager at Civic Offices, 1 Saxon Gate East, Central Milton Keynes, MK9 3EJ.

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My TV reception is being effected/blocked by the trees what can be done?

The Council is aware that trees can deflect analogue, digital and satellite signals for TV reception. We do not cut back or remove trees as a matter of course; we have to weigh up the advantages and amenity value of having the trees. There are often other options available such as broadband TV that is available to most areas of Milton Keynes. When you are thinking of having an aerial or satellite dish fitted it is best to check with the supplier/installer prior to buying to check the suitability, you may find that having the dish or aerial fitted in a slightly different place or angle could help. There are no legal rights to TV reception, and as such there is no obligation to carry out any works to trees, but if you are having problems and all other avenues have been explored contact the Council and we will be able to see if any work, planned for the near future, is likely to help.

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Sap is dropping from the trees onto my car, will it damage the paintwork?

This is not sap but is caused by aphids feeding. The sugar solution excreted by the aphids does not damage paintwork. The Council does not control aphids as they are important ecologically as part of the food chain.

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Last Updated: 7 July 2021