What are high hedges?
The term 'high hedges' is defined by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003: Part 8. This is a summary of what constitutes a high hedge under the law:
- The hedge is more than 2m (approx 6½ft) tall (measured from ground level)
- A hedge is defined as a line of two or more trees or shrubs
- The hedge is formed wholly or predominantly of evergreens (these don't lose their leaves in winter) or semi-evergreen ones (that retain some live green foliage throughout the year)
- Beech and hornbeam hedges are excluded.
- It does not include climbing plants, such as ivy, or bamboo - which is classed as a grass
- Where a hedge is predominantly evergreen, the deciduous trees and shrubs within the hedge may be included in the work specified. However, specific trees can be excluded or require different work.
Making a complaint
- Where you feel that a hedge is too tall and affects the 'reasonable' enjoyment of your house or garden, the first step is to approach your neighbours and try and settle the matter amicably. Keep a copy of any letters to demonstrate you have tried. See the leaflet Over the garden hedge for further advice.
- If this does not work, you can contact a mediation service to try to resolve the matter. Mediation Bucks provides a free service to residents living in the South Bucks district.
- We cannot deal with your complaint unless the matter has been brought to the attention of the hedge owner and we would ordinarily expect attempts to have been made at mediation including using a mediation service (within the last 4 months). A record should be made of what attempts you have made to resolve the matter.
- Approaching us should be a last resort.
- You cannot complain about root activity, for example, causing subsidence or blocking of drains.
- If the above steps are unsuccessful and the hedge meets the definition of a high hedge, a complaint can be made by completing a Complaint Form [92kb]. There is a fee of £420 to make a complaint. For further information see the leaflet High hedges: complaining to the council.
- We will investigate and consider both sides' cases and make a decision.
- We will reject the complaint or issue a notice for the work - including the period in which to cut the hedge back and by how much.
- There is a chance to appeal the decision.
How much will the hedge be cut back by?
Although the law states that a high hedge is more than 2m (approx 6½ft) tall, this is not necessarily the height to which a hedge is reduced. The final height will be decided on information provided by the complainant and hedge owner and after site visits to take measurements. For example, the following issues can be taken into consideration:
- The hedge blocks too much light to a neighbour's house or garden. However, the legislation does not guarantee access to uninterrupted light
- The hedge is on a slope, so is more overbearing
- The hedge blocks a view. This is a valid complaint but, by itself, is unlikely to be enough to justify action
These factors will vary case-by-case depending on the position and orientation of the hedge, the size of the complainant's garden, and the position and height of windows in the complainant's house.
Fact and fiction
There are some common misconceptions about the high hedges law, some of which are explained below.
What the law can do:
- It can override Tree Preservation Orders (TPO), although these should be considered when the complaint is evaluated
- It may be decided that a hedge needs to be cut back in stages (e.g. over a period of three years to minimise the risk of killing the hedge)
What the law can't do:
- It cannot require the removal of a hedge
- Work that would result in the death of a hedge is not permitted
- The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to destroy any bird's nest that is either in use or being built. The period given for cutting should take into account that, where birds are nesting in a hedge, work should not be carried out between March and August
- Require homeowners to get permission to grow a hedge above 2m (6½ft)
- When a hedge grows over 2m (6½ft), the local authority does not automatically take action, unless a justifiable complaint is made
- The law can not be used as a preventative measure - the hedge must already be above 2m (approx 6½ft) tall and impairing reasonable enjoyment
Overgrown Hedges / Maintaining hedges
The majority of hedges that front public highways are the responsibility of the owner who could be a private householder eg in a residential area, a farmer in rural areas or a company. We are rarely the owner unless we own the land to which the hedge forms a boundary.
Overgrown hedges can cause many problems for highway users ranging from obscuring visibility at junctions to inconvenience to pedestrians walking along footways and footpaths.
Bucks County Council's role is to ensure that landowners or occupiers responsible for overgrown hedges maintain them to avoid such problems. Normally, a politely worded letter or a telephone call to the landowner is sufficient and often achieves the desired action. However, in some cases it may be necessary to serve a Hedge Cutting Notice under the Highways Act 1980.
In many cases owners are unaware of their responsibilities for maintaining hedges so Parish Councils are encouraged to communicate them locally where hedge maintenance may be causing problems.