It has been widely reported that Chalara fraxinea, commonly referred to as Ash die-back disease, has now been found in at least 200 sites across the UK. The confirmed sites to date are a mixture of Forestry Commission land, commercial planting and nursery stock but investigations are currently being carried out to see if it has now spread to privately owned gardens where signs of the disease have been found.
It is thought that the disease has come into the UK either from infected saplings imported from the Netherlands or from wind-blown spores from parts of Europe. The disease is spread by spores which are produced from infected dead leaves and experts are therefore recommending that ‘leaf litter’ is carefully managed to try and reduce the further spread of the disease.
Following the Government’s emergency committee COBR, the Environment Secretary set out objectives for tackling the disease which includes amongst other things encouraging citizen, land owner and industry engagement in tackling the problem, tracing and destroying newly planted infected trees, monitoring infected mature trees and providing information on how to identify diseased trees and what to do next.
A key thing will be for landowners where trees are in public areas to ensure that they are inspecting trees for this disease and informing the forestry commission so that the tree can be removed, even if mature, if it is considered that it could otherwise pose a risk of harm to the public.
There are also a number of other diseases which all trees can be affected by, that could affect their stability, especially in the high winds we have experienced this year. It is estimated that there are 55 attendances per year at accident and emergency as a result of injuries sustained by falling trees and branches. Sadly these are often extremely serious injuries resulting in permanent disabilities or even fatal injuries.
Landowners and homeowners both have a legal duty to be responsible for trees on their property. Homeowners are expected to deal quickly and appropriately with any obvious danger they notice a tree could cause visitors to their property or passers-by whereas landowners have a higher duty. They are expected to follow and document a formal procedure for tree management. Such a procedure should include – 1) Assessing the risks which arise from trees on their property, 2) Periodically assessing trees for disease and instability, particularly if the trees are in a public area or area where there is a high risk of someone being injured should the tree or branches fall and 3) Taking immediate action with any trees thought to be unstable whether that be removing branches or removing the tree altogether.
If a person is injured as a result of a falling tree and the home or landowner responsible for the tree has failed to adhere with their legal duty they could find themselves being successfully sued for compensation. It is therefore important that they are aware of their responsibilities and with the potential vast spread of ash dieback disease on the horizon that they are taking appropriate action to properly manage their trees to avoid anyone being injured by them.
Harris Fowler has a team of specialist personal injury solicitors who can advise anyone who has been injured as a result of falling trees or branches.
Free and professional legal advice is available on 0800 213 214 or visit harrisfowler.co.uk
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