Concerns Raised Over Damage by Tree& Branch Strikes

I recently held a series of meetings with the Department for Infrastructure to raise the transport sectors concerns at the increased frequency of damage caused to HGVs, trailers and high value loads by trees or branches not being adequately lopped or trimmed along the roadside.

I also discussed my concerns with the Ulster Farmers Union and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Any tree or hedge situated on a landowner’s land which is overhanging a road or footpath which is deemed to cause a danger the landowner may be liable in the event it damages a vehicle or a load, injures a person or causes an accident. This does not just apply to farmers it applies to anyone including householders, local councils, businesses, sports clubs or anyone who owns land with threes or bushes that overhang a public road.

As a result, the Department has issued a Tree and Hedge Cutting Notice and has also undertaken a social media campaign for landowners in late January 2020 to raise awareness of this issue and to remind everyone of their responsibility.

The RHA would encourage any operator or driver who encounters a dangerous branch or tree that is overhanging a public road to report it to the Department for Infrastructure stating the details of the road, approximate location to dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov. uk or phone 028 9054 0540.

All landowners are responsible for lopping or cutting back any tree or hedge growing on their land adjacent to a public road or footway which:

  • Endangers or obstructs the passage of all vehicles including HGVs or pedestrians, especially pedestrians with a visual impairment;
  • Obstructs the view of drivers of vehicles;
  • Obstructs or interferes with the light from any public lamp; or
  • Obstructs the view of traffic signs or otherwise prejudices the safety or convenience of persons using the road?

Lopping or cutting back should be to such an extent that it will remove the obstruction or remedy the matter. Given that modern HGVs, trailers and loads can have an overall travelling height of up to 4.9 metres landowners should lop trees and branches back to a minimum of 5.5 metres to avoid any danger being caused to all road users.

Owners or occupiers are also responsible for the removal of any tree or hedge which is dead, damaged, diseased or insecurely rooted and by reason of its condition is likely to cause danger to persons using the road or footway.

Action Needed

If anyone is carrying out this work, they should:

  • Quickly clear all hedge and tree cuttings from public roads and footways to ensure that all users of the road are not inconvenienced or endangered; and
  • Ensure that any such works on a public road or footway are signed and secured in accordance with the Code of Practice for Safety at Street Works and Road Works or, in the case of works on a dual carriageway with hard shoulders, signed and secured in accordance with Chapter 8 of the Traffic Signs Manual.

If possible, roadside hedge cutting should be undertaken from early February to early March, and whilst it’s appreciated this is a relatively short window this is designed to take cognizance of the important habitat that hedgerows provide for many mammals and birds.

Hedge cutting can be undertaken outside this period, however it should only be undertaken in cases where it’s deemed in the interests of public safety.

Many minor roads are bordered by hedges providing safe havens for small mammals and nesting birds and owners or occupiers should be aware that under the provisions of Article 4 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 it is an offence, with certain exceptions, to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built, or to disturb any wild bird whilst it is in or near a nest containing eggs or young. So, avoid the bird nesting season from early March until late August and exercise vigilance at all other times outside of what would be considered the main nesting period.

Avoid, too, if possible, to cut during autumn and early winter as this removes berries and fruit, an important source of food for birds and wildlife over winter and it is advisable not to cut during periods of hard frost. Care should also be taken not to damage saplings in hedgerows.

The Department for Infrastructure can also serve notice under the provisions of the Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1993 including Article 50 on owners or occupiers of land requiring them to remove or trim hedges or trees causing obstruction and in the event of failure to comply with the notice the Department may execute such works as are necessary and may recover the cost from the person on whom the notice was served.