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The right hedge can be an ideal garden boundary but the wrong hedge may bring problems. Use this guide to help you agree what is right for you and your neighbours.
The right hedge
A hedge can be cheap to create and last for a long time. It can help bring wildlife into your garden; and its flowers, berries and leaves can add colour and beauty.
Getting advice, from the Royal Horticultural Society for example, before planting a hedge can help you choose what is best for you and your garden.
You don’t normally need permission to plant a hedge in your garden. And there are no laws that say how high you can grow your hedge.
But you are responsible for looking after any hedge on your property and for making sure it’s not a nuisance to anyone else.
You can help prevent a hedge on your property from becoming a nuisance by trimming the hedge regularly, both its top and all sides.
The wrong hedge – and what to do about it
If a hedge is allowed to grow unchecked it can cause problems.
If you are troubled by someone else’s hedge, the best way to deal with the issue is to talk to them about it. Calling in the council or going to court, especially without first approaching your neighbour yourself, might make matters worse.
It’s in both your interests to try and sort things out. After all, you have to continue to live near each other and so it’s better if you are on good terms.
Here are some ways to help you agree a solution. They are worth trying even if you have fallen out with your neighbour.
Step 1: be prepared
You may want to keep copies of any letters between you and your neighbour and make notes about what steps you take towards agreeing a solution, when you take them and what they lead to.
Before you contact your neighbour, be clear in your own mind what the problem is. For example, the hedge:
- blocks light to the main rooms of your home
- deprives you of winter sunshine
- spreads into your garden and is affecting the growth of your plants
- is pushing over your fence
- the roots are damaging your path, drive, garage or home
Be clear about how if affects you. For example:
- you have to have the lights on for longer
- your garden is in shade for much of the day
- you will have to pay to replace your fence only for the hedge to damage it again
- you are afraid someone will trip on your broken path or drive
- you will have to pay to repair your path, drive, garage or home
Be clear about the solution you are seeking. For example:
- the size you would like the hedge to be
- how it should be kept to this size
Step 2: making the first move
Fix a time and place so that you and your neighbours can talk about the problem properly. You are most likely to be able to sort things out if you:
- speak to your neighbours face-to-face rather than push a note through the door
- don’t forget that they also need time to think, so don’t rush them into a discussion too soon
- invite them into your home so that they can see things from your side of the hedge, but don’t press it if they are uncomfortable with the idea
Even if you and your neighbour aren’t on speaking terms, it’s still worth trying to set aside your differences to find a solution to your hedge problems. In these circumstances, you might prefer to make the first move by letter.
When writing your letter:
- think carefully about what you put in it
- sketching out the letter in rough can help
- stick to the facts and describe the problems caused by the hedge and how these affect you (see Step 1)
- don’t be rude or abusive
- don’t dwell on past failures to sort out the problem
- look forward to taking the heat out of the situation by airing your differences in a calm way
- think how you would feel if you received the letter
- type or write the letter out neatly and put it in an envelope − a scrappy note could suggest that you don’t really care
Step 3: it’s good to talk
When you get together with your neighbour, don’t accuse, insult or blame and don’t charge in with a list of demands. Instead you might:
- welcome the chance to try and sort things out and tell your side of things
- use your notes to help you explain to your neighbour what the problem is and how it affects you
- be honest and calmly say how you feel
- be prepared for your neighbour to be honest and say how they feel
- show your neighbours the problems that the hedge is causing
- let your neighbours have their say, without interrupting them
- listen to what they’re telling you, even if you don’t agree
This may not be easy or comfortable. You might be told some things about yourself that you’d rather not hear. It will force you to examine your own behaviour and do some soul searching. But by trying to understand each other’s point of view you can reach a lasting solution.
Talking to a stranger – mediation
If your neighbour refuses to talk to you, you can ask for an independent mediator’s help. Mediators are totally impartial. They don’t tell you what to do but help you and your neighbour to work towards finding your own answer. You can approach them even if your neighbour hasn’t yet agreed to take part. But for mediation to be a success, both you and your neighbour must co-operate in the process.
The way it usually works is that a mediator will first visit you to find out more about the problem. They will then get in touch with your neighbour to see if they would like to take part. If so, a mediator will visit them as well. Anything you or your neighbour say at these visits is private and confidential.
The next step, if you agree, would probably be for the mediator to arrange a joint meeting with you and your neighbour. The mediator will set the ground rules, but it’s up to you and your neighbour to come up with ideas and suggestions for solving your difficulties.
If you are reluctant to meet your neighbour, ‘shuttle mediation’ may be available. This involves a mediator going between you and your neighbour, explaining your needs and suggestions to one another until a solution is found.
The Civil Mediation directory lists civil mediation providers working in your area.
Step 4: finding the right answer
There is no single right answer, but you should try to find a solution that works best for both of you. It can be helpful to:
- make sure that you have both got everything off your chest and all the issues are out in the open
- sort out the things you can agree on – even if it’s agreeing to differ
- treat it as a shared problem that you need to solve together
- be ready to consider all ideas and suggestions, including what you each might do
- look at all the options before picking the one that suits you both
Step 5: putting the answer into practice
When you have your answer – whether you’ve negotiated this yourselves or with the help of a mediator – you should:
- make sure you both know who is meant to do what and by when – it’s a good idea to write this down
- set a date to check how your agreement is working
- agree how you will let each other know about any future problems
Involving the council – the last resort
If none of this works, you might be able to ask your local council to step in. The council will expect you to have gone through the steps outlined above before you approach them for help.
They can turn away your complaint in certain circumstances, for example, if they think that you haven’t taken all reasonable steps to try to sort it out without proceeding with a complaint. Your notes and copies of any letters can be useful evidence at this stage.
Before you go to the council, you should write to your neighbour to let them know what you are going to do. Keep the letter short and simple. Don’t make it sound like a threat.
To find out if your complaint is one that the council can look at, and for other important information, see High hedges: complaining to the council. You can also look on your council’s website, or contact your council direct.
Finding the right answer
On a level site, a hedge that’s 2 metres high will usually prevent you being overlooked from a neighbour’s ground floor or garden and so should be enough in urban and suburban areas.
In many situations a hedge that’s 2 metres high will be enough to restrict views from a garden or downstairs rooms of the wider landscape. Also bear in mind that there is no right to a particular view or outlook.
A hedge will usually provide good shelter from the wind for a distance of 8 to 10 times its height.
Noise, smells and smoke
Noise, smells and smoke will work their way through or around a hedge.
For evergreen hedges, you can do some calculations that will tell you what height the hedge should be if it’s not to block too much daylight and sunlight. See Hedge height and light loss for further information.
Subsidence and other damage
A hedge that is growing close to buildings, paths or drains is not bound to cause damage. And there could be better, and more lasting ways, of solving such problems than cutting the hedge. Insurers, building surveyors and tree professionals can advise you on these matters.
Putting the answer into practice
You might need permission from your local council to cut back or remove a hedge if you live in a conservation area or if trees in the hedge are protected by a tree preservation order. Check with your local council before you do any work. For more information see the Tree Preservation Orders and trees in conservation areas section of the planning practice guidance.
It’s against the law to disturb nesting wild birds. Before you start to cut the hedge, check there are no birds’ nests currently in use. To be on the safe side, trim hedges during the winter months when there is no danger that birds may be nesting.
Some hedges must be kept under the terms of a planning permission. Check with your local council. You would need their consent to remove such a hedge.
Some properties have legal covenants which lay down the size or type of hedge you can grow. Details should be in your deeds.
Health of the hedge
If the hedge has to be pruned drastically, it might not grow back again. What’s left could look ugly or the hedge might die. You could be better off removing it and starting again. In these circumstances, it’s a good idea to get professional advice.
You will probably need specialist equipment or professional help to trim a hedge over 2.5 metres high.
Getting the work done
Your council’s website may have information on finding a local tree surgeon. The Arboricultural Association has a directory of tree surgeons.