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Managing Roadside Trees

Managing Roadside Trees

The Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine has published guidance on managing roadside trees. Written by a panel of experts convened by the Tree Council, it presents a simple six-step process for landowners to follow. Co-author Eileen Woodbyrne summarises the advice and guidance in the booklet

The purpose of the booklet is to assist landowners to fulfil their legal duty of care whilst minimising the loss and expense of unnecessary tree removal. The guide is available here A Guide for Landowners to Managing Roadside Trees

Main picture above shows a significant defect in a tree close to a road – felling was the appropriate solution here

The importance of trees

The document begins with an overview of the importance of trees and the benefits they bring to the countryside and to our towns and villages. These include:

Environmental benefits such as:

  • carbon sequestration
  • capture of airborne pollutants
  • the provision of shade and shelter for people and livestock. 

Of course trees also make a huge contribution to the beauty of our countryside and our towns and villages and they contribute to human physical and psychological wellbeing.

Responsibilities of tree owners

The guidance sets out the responsibilities of tree owners and explains what they need to do to fulfil those responsibilities.  Serious injury caused by tree failure is a rare event, but landowners have a duty of care to manage the risk presented by the trees that they own. This does not need to be a time-consuming nor an expensive process, and the document provides clear information on when, and how, trees near roadsides need to be checked. Sometimes the landowner is in a position to carry out these checks him or herself, and in that case advice is given as to how that can be done effectively and safely. In other situations, an arborist or forester may need to be involved, and advice is provided on how to engage a professional including the need for those professionals to be adequately insured.

Common signs and symptoms of damage and defects in trees

The signs and symptoms of damage and defects in trees are described and photographs are provided to illustrate them. (View some here) The significance of these defects is explained, as some may critically affect the stability of trees and others may not. The landowner is encouraged to focus on identifying obvious and immediate dangers, and advised on when to seek professional advice in interpreting the defects before a management decision is made.  

When trees are checked, the landowner may find that tree work is required. This may involve pruning or felling trees.  Advice is provided on how to prioritise the work so that trees that pose an immediate risk are attended to without delay.


There is also advice on safety in tree work, in particular relating to chainsaw use and working at heights.  An overview is given of the legal restrictions that may be relevant when tree work is being planned.

Keeping records 

Finally, landowners are advised of the need to keep records of the checks that have been made on their trees, the defects that were found, and the work that was done.  This is a crucial step in the process; in the event of an incident, the records will allow the landowner to demonstrate that he or she had taken reasonable steps to manage the trees responsibly.

This guidance will help landowners to understand their responsibilities around the management of roadside trees, and will provide them with a means to fulfil those responsibilities in a safe, straightforward and cost effective way. 

Some defects

Dieback as in tree above may indicate a root problem.

Deep cracks in the main stem can indicate a serious danger