Trees on Council Land

Common enquiries about trees on Council land


  • What to do if a council owned tree overhangs a property¬†
  • What to do if a tree on council land is blocking light to a property¬†

We are responsible for the management of all trees on Council owned land and those trees currently managed by Parks and Recreation team as part of agency agreements with other organisations and public bodies in the Borough. 

These include trees on land managed by Colchester Borough Homes and trees on the public highway, which is the responsibility of Essex County Council.   

We receive a great deal of enquiries about trees and the following information will hopefully answer your questions.  If having read the information below, you still feel that you need to contact the tree team please telephone Colchester 01206 282266.

Dangerous Trees 

If you see a tree on Council or public land that you feel is dangerous please call us to let us know. We will inspect the tree as a matter of urgency and take the necessary action to remove the danger.

Our office hours are 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. If you need to contact us urgently outside these hours please contact our Helpline numbers as follows:

Office hours: (01206) 282266
Out of hours: 01206 282222

Storm Damage

When storms or high winds occur we will receive a high number of reports of damaged trees that may be dangerous. We will assess the level of urgency of each reported problem and will deal with them as quickly as we can in order of priority.

Priority system for remedial tree work

We will implement a policy for pruning and felling trees based on  the Council's legal obligations as a land owner and manager of trees and the financial resources available. There will be a presumption against the removal of trees, which are healthy, but subject to complaint, unless the basis of the complaint has an overriding justification and no alternative management practice can be implemented. Where remedial work to a tree is identified as being necessary, either as part of the Tree Hazard Risk Assessment or following an enquiry, this will be added to a scheduled programme of Arboricultural works and be undertaken in accordance with the following priority based system: Each particular job will be categorized and will reflect on the urgency of the situation, the degree of inconvenience being caused and the best time of year for the work to be undertaken. Priority dependant on severity of problem and action needed.

A Council owned tree overhangs my property

The Council has no legal obligation to prune overhanging trees unless they are causing direct damage to an adjacent property or are dangerous. As a result we will not prune trees that overhang a neighbour's property unless they are dangerous or are causing an actionable nuisance as identified in Colchester Tree Policy.  (See below for examples).  This reflects our position as an owner of thousands of trees and the resources available. As an adjacent landowner you are entitled to prune encroaching tree branches or roots back to the boundary of your property.  Legally, you are required to retain the pruning's and offer them back to us, but we are not obliged to accept them. Where access to our land is required in order to undertake tree works, you must seek permission from us.

It is a requirement that all Contractors working on Council land are suitably qualified to carry out the proposed work. We also require that adequate public liability insurance is in place and that appropriate risk assessments and method statements have been completed. We will request evidence of this before permitting access.

A tree on council land is blocking light to my property 

A common complaint about urban trees is that they block light from properties or shade gardens.  However, the seriousness of this effect is variable and often removal of the tree will have little effect on the amount of sunlight reaching the house or garden. An example of this is where the house is north facing and the tree is small or at a distance. There is no right to light under the law and therefore we have no legal obligation to abate this perceived nuisance.  However we will consider taking action (pruning or felling) in the following circumstances:

  • Trees over 12m in height where the distance between base of the tree and the window of the nearest habitable room is less than 5m
  • Trees smaller than 12m high where the distance between base of the tree and the window of the nearest habitable room is less than half the height of the tree
  • Where the separation between the edge of the tree canopy and a vertical line through that window is less than 2m.

A 'habitable room' means a dining room, lounge, kitchen, study or bedroom but specifically excludes WCs, bathrooms, utility rooms, landings and hallways. We recognise that there are exceptional circumstances in which this approach needs to be more flexible. Where it can be established that the presence of trees is causing a detriment to the health of residents, further consideration will be given to the management approach of trees. This will also take in to account the quality and importance of the tree in question. This approach is important as the presence of trees also has a beneficial impact on other residents and the reduction in the number or size of trees may have a greater impact than on just one original enquirer. Where a situation falls within these guidelines cases will be prioritised according to proximity and the orientation of the affected window. The results of any consultation exercise may modify decisions if it appears that any work would be by and large unpopular with the rest of the community.

A tree on Council land is interfering with my television and radio reception

Interference with television or satellite reception causes frequent complaints. Interference is worse when leaves are on trees and in bad windy and rainy weather. Satellite reception is more sensitive to interference than television reception. There is no right to good reception and in many cases it is possible to resolve issues of poor reception by finding an engineering solution. We will only consider requests to prune trees to improve reception where all the following conditions are true:

  • Efforts have been made to find an engineering solution to the problem and have not been successful
  • The work required is consistent with good arboricultural practice and will not unduly affect the amenity or health of the tree
  • The work required can be executed within financial resources available

A tree on council land is creating a nuisance 

We will not fell or prune Council owned trees solely to alleviate problems caused by natural and/or seasonal phenomena, which are largely outside of our control. There are a variety of potential nuisances associated with trees, most of which are minor or seasonal and considered to be social problems associated with living near trees. Examples of such problems are:

  • Falling leaves, sap, fruit, nuts, bird droppings or blossom

  • Reduction or increase of moisture to gardens.
  • Suckers or germinating seedlings in gardens.
  • Leaves falling into gutters, drains or onto flat roofs.
  • The build up of algae on fences, paths or other structures.

Clearing of leaves from gutters and pathways and weeding of set seeds are considered to be normal routine seasonal maintenance which property owners are expected to carry out.  As with leaves, honeydew is not readily controllable by pruning and cleaning of affected surfaces can be considered to be routine maintenance. Pruning will not normally be considered solely as a way of alleviating problems with honeydew.

A tree on Council land is causing damage to my property  

We will cut back trees from properties where they touch windows, walls, roofs or gutters. This will ensure that damage to property such as aerials, tiles or gutters is avoided. Cases of direct root damage will be considered on an individual basis. A balance will be struck between the nuisance experienced by individuals and the benefits offered by the tree to the wider community. We will not normally take action in response to complaints that Council trees are damaging drains.  Trees do not have the capacity to break into a sound drain, but they will ruthlessly exploit any existing fault. The removal of one tree will not prevent other vegetation from exploiting the same opportunity. The appropriate way to deal with tree root blockage of drains is to ensure that the drains are watertight.

I have reported a problem how soon will the tree be inspected? 

Unless there is a genuine emergency, which will receive immediate response, Inspections resulting from your enquiries will be processed within 30 working days. Telephone calls, correspondence and e-mails will be responded to in accordance with the guidelines set out in the Council's Customer Care Policy. You will be informed of how long it will take your enquiry to be dealt with and be given an indication of the date when an inspection will take place. You will also be given a reference number so at any stage you can quickly find out the status of your enquiry. Following the inspection, you will be informed of what action is planned and when work, if any, is to be carried out.  This work will be undertaken in accordance with a priority based system (See below). Where trees are identified for removal advance notices will be placed on the tree. In addition to this where trees of significant value are highlighted for removal local residents directly affected will be informed via letter. It will not be standard practice to consult with residents for works that are considered to be routine maintenance works, or where due to Health and Safety implications removal needs to be undertaken quickly.