Trees and vegetation

Tree maintenance

A tree becomes a hazard when it has a structural defect that may cause the tree, or a portion of the tree, to fall and injure people or damage property.

We inspect and maintain any trees within the highway.

As a landowner or occupier you need to regularly inspect and maintain any trees on your land which are adjacent to, or within falling distance of, the highway. This includes trees in hedgerows and banks on private land.

Image showing who is responsible for maintaining highways trees and verges

We can’t take any action on trees which don’t pose a safety risk to the highway. Where there is a threat to private property, but not the highway, we will only take action if we own the tree.

Things to look out for in an unsafe tree

Damage

  • Splits or cracks in the trunk or branches.
  • Branches that are broken or hanging.
  • Sections of bark damaged or stripped to show the wood beneath – some trees such as Plane or Eucalyptus naturally shed their bark.
  • Soil movement around the base of the tree in strong winds.

Ill health or disease 

  • Sections showing signs of rotting.
  • Growth of fungi on the bark, wood or around the base of the tree.
  • Foliage dying back or going brown for no apparent reason on evergreen trees, or out of season for deciduous trees.

Report an unsafe tree adjacent to the highway or a fallen tree or branch on the highway.

Dangerous tree letter or markings
If you’ve been sent a letter and report about a dangerous tree on your land return the reply slip to us in the envelope provided.

If your tree has been marked with a cross or circle, you will need to phone the number on the notice attached to the tree. If no notice is attached, phone 0345 155 1004.

  • A circle means that remedial work is needed, such as removing a branch.
  • A cross means that the tree has been marked to be felled.
  • Two circles means that remedial work is needed immediately.
  • Two crosses means that the tree has been identified as imminently dangerous and needs to be felled immediately.

Carrying out work on your tree
It is good practice to employ a specialist qualified contractor to carry out the work. Work on the highway should be carried out safely and by surgeons qualified to work in accordance with the recommendations in Chapter 8 of the Traffic Signs Manual. The person responsible for the work, or their contractor, should have Public Liability Insurance cover for working on the highway for a value of £5 million. Read our information for landowners for more detail.

Trees overhanging your property
It is your common law right to cut back any branches which are overhanging and interfering with your property, as long as your actions don’t affect the health of the tree as a whole. You must check with the planning department of your district or city council before carrying out any work, in case the tree is covered by a tree preservation order or is in a conservation area.

Trees preventing light from entering a room
As a resident, in common law you don’t have a legal right to light that may be blocked by a Devon County Council tree and we aren’t required to cut back or remove the tree. We only take any action on trees which pose a safety risk to the highway.

Trees growing into wires
Contact BT or Western Power about the tree. If the tree is damaging their equipment they will take steps to prevent further damage.

Birds causing a mess on cars
Although bird droppings are an inconvenience, they are not recognised as a legal nuisance and are not justification for the removal or pruning of a tree.

Devon County Council tree roots damaging property
If you suspect that the roots of a Devon County Council tree are causing damage to your property, for example the foundations or private drainage, you must get evidence from both a professional tree surveyor and a structural surveyor to verify this. You should then phone our customer service centre on 0345 155 1015.