Below, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about trees in the city. These responses link back to our adopted Tree Strategy and are based on policies in the document.
- About trees in Cambridge
- General tree maintenance
- Tree planting and watering
- Common problems
- Report unlawful work to a protected tree
About trees in Cambridge
We manage more than 30,000 trees on the city's parks and open spaces and at our rented housing properties. We also look after trees alongside roads on behalf of the county council.
Our work includes planting new trees, and watering and pruning them as they grow. When necessary we remove dead or dying trees.
We conduct regular inspections of trees, to make sure they’re in a healthy and safe condition.
- Find out more about council-managed trees including our pruning and planting cycles
General tree maintenance
When will a tree be pruned next?
We manage our trees on a three yearly maintenance cycle, within which we will inspect the trees to ensure they are in a safe and healthy condition, order tree works if necessary and conduct necessary minor pruning.
The city has been divided into three management areas by ward in order to regularise annual maintenance costs and workloads.
What pruning do you do on your maintenance cycle?
The works involved as part of the three yearly maintenance cycle typically will include but are not limited to:
- The removal of lower basal growth
- Crown lifting low canopies over roads, cycle-ways and footpaths to allow people access beneath the tree
- The pruning back from buildings to achieve a clearance of approximately 2 metres
- The removal of deadwood and any broken branches
- Cutting a clearance so any telephone wires are not excessively disrupted
- Any works that are considered necessary to address health and safety concerns
The overall width / height of the crown will not be greatly altered during these works unless it’s required to meet our maintenance standards or address structural concerns we may have.
I think a tree was missed in the cycle
Our pruning methods are based on the practice of ‘little and often’. We aim to maintain suitable clearances from buildings and allow people to pass under canopies, rather than constraining the overall size of the tree. Sometimes pruning we've done may not be immediately noticeable.
Trees in general do not require pruning to be healthy and in many cases the heavy pruning can cause problems with the tree, such as premature decline, or more vigorous regrowth that results in the need for more intensive management.
If you still think we missed your tree because it doesn’t meet our normal service standards you can report this using the online form at the bottom of this page.
Who do I contact about a tree at a council property?
As a council tenant you are responsible for trees in your garden, as stated in section 27 of the Tenancy Agreement [PDF, 0.5MB].
If you want to remove a tree or hedge in your garden, you must request permission from us. Tell us the location, size and type of tree, including photos if you can, and why you want to remove it.
If a council tenant’s tree is overhanging your garden and you want to prune it yourself, read our rights and responsibilities with regards to trees page to find out what you can do.
Tree planting and watering
How long after you remove a tree is it replanted?
We plant trees every three years as with our maintenance, but one year in arrears.
We concentrate on planting trees to replace those removed during the previous three years, but on occasion we do plant outside of this for a number of reasons. Planting is done over winter (November to the end of March) as this is the best planting time.
Can residents help care for and water new trees?
Absolutely! We are committed to watering newly planted trees for a minimum of a year, but in reality they could do with a bit of extra assistance for the first three years.
The first year is most critical especially during hot dry periods as even a short spell of intense heat can cause them significant and irreversible stress.
We actively encourage anyone who is able to look after a newly planted tree to take a look at our Help us water a new trees page and follow the guidance provided. Thank you!
A tree is causing an obstruction
A tree may be causing an issue by obstruction, for example to traffic signals, signposts, lamp posts, or by hanging too low over a footpath, cycleway or road.
We conduct routine pruning of trees under our management, including making sure all traffic signals, signs, footpaths, cycleways and roads are free from obstruction, and lamp post heads have sufficient clearance (approx. 1 metre).
If there is a specific reason or a special circumstance which means we should look at a tree out of our cycle, please let us know using our 'Report a problem' form available at the bottom of this page.
If the tree either privately owned or the ownership is unclear, and you feel it is affecting the safety of the public highway, you will need to inform the Highways department of Cambridgeshire County Council.
A council tree is touching my house
As part of our planned tree maintenance we ensure that no part of a tree is in direct contact with neighbouring buildings, aiming for a minimum clearance of around 2 metres where possible.
If you find that a branch is in contact with your property then it is worth checking to see if we’re due to prune the tree in the coming months.
If we are not due to look at the tree soon, or you feel you have special circumstances which may need to be considered outside of our maintenance cycle, please let us know using our 'Report a problem' form at the bottom of the page.
A tree is causing a trip hazard in the pavement
Any repairs to resolve trip hazards will be conducted by the owner of the footpath. In most cases however, the pavement adjacent to a road will be maintained by Cambridgeshire County Council so please report the problem directly to them:
There are a number of ways in which pavement damaged by tree roots can be repaired. Simply, the pavement surface can be ‘built-up’ and the pavement surface repaired.
A Tree Officer will advise only where the repair of the pavement has implications for the tree. Isolated roots can be pruned if these do not affect the stability of the tree. Removal of the tree is usually the last resort accepting that in some circumstances and where the tree is of relative low value or can be replaced, removal may be the most appropriate solution.
A tree has been vandalised
On occasion our trees do get intentionally damaged by people. Intentional damage caused to our trees is a criminal act and we will seek to prosecute where we are able to do so.
If you have any information or evidence that you feel would help us investigate please let us know using our 'Report a problem with a tree form' at the bottom of this page.
Issue with leaves or blossom
The loss of blossom or leaves from trees is part of the natural cycle. It is not considered to be a legal nuisance and cannot be suitably or satisfactorily controlled by pruning.
The maintenance of gardens and/or gutters is the responsibility of the landowner. Gutter guards may provide a low maintenance solution (fitted at the property owner's expense).
The council is not obliged to remove leaves that may have fallen from Council owned trees.
For roads, streets and parks, our Operations Service carries out a leaf collection in the autumn. Paths and areas of hard standing are regularly cleared of fallen leaves, but leaves on grass/shrub beds are generally left until the majority of leaves have fallen before they are removed.
There is very little we can do to minimise leaf fall beyond removing the trees entirely, and as well as having an environmental cost, we cannot respond to all minor nuisance complaints as this would be an unsustainable burden on resources.
If you feel the footpath outside your house is in an unsafe condition as a result of fallen leaves or blossom, and/or you consider there is a special circumstance, please submit a 'Report a problem' form at the bottom of this page which will be passed onto the street cleansing team to look into.
A broken branch or fallen tree needs clearing up
If you find a large fallen branch that needs picking up, or a tree has fallen that is not presenting an immediate danger, report it using our 'Report a problem with a tree' form at the bottom of the page. This will ask for detail to help us identify the tree or branch and where it is in order to rectify the problem.
To report smaller branches or twigs that are causing an obstruction:
If you are concerned about the immediate safety of the tree please phone customer services on 01223 457000.
Issue with fruit, nuts or seeds from a council tree
Fruit trees such as apple, cherry and pear have the double benefit of spring blossom and autumn fruit. This makes fruit trees good for wildlife and a source of free food. But, there are some locations where fruit trees are less desirable.
When considering what tree to plant we take account of the likelihood of such problems.
Paths and areas of hard standing are regularly cleared, but fruits on grass/shrub beds are generally left until the majority of fruits have fallen.
If the footpath outside your house is unsafe as a result of fallen fruit, if the issue is particularly bad, or if you consider there is a special circumstance, please submit a 'Report a problem' form which will be passed onto the street cleansing team to look into. You can find this at the bottom of the page.
Where fruit trees are established but where there is a significant antisocial behaviour or public health and safety problem, we may consider phased removal and replacement.
The tree outside my house is too tall or big
If left to grow naturally, a tree will not become unsafe even if it is much taller than surrounding buildings.
We inspect all of our trees on a three yearly maintenance cycle to ensure they are in a safe and healthy condition, ordering tree works to rectify any faults or defects identified.
This maintenance would not necessarily include the reduction of the height or overall size of a tree to improve light levels, or to remove branches overhanging boundaries. This type of work would only be done to tackle a significant structural defect with the tree, or to address a particular concern regarding damage to property for instance.
If you feel that the situation is particularly acute and/or you think there is a special circumstance for us to look at the tree out of our cycle, please submit a 'Report a problem' form with all of the details we would need to identify the tree and rectify the problem.
The tree outside my house is blocking sunlight
We appreciate that the loss of sunlight could cause a detriment to your enjoyment of your property. However, in Law there is no general right to light, and there is no right to light in connection with open land, such as a garden.
We will not prune or remove trees in cases where they cause a reduced amount of light to fall on a property, other than in exceptional circumstance, for example where the lack of light can be evidenced as having a negative health impact.
On occasion it's possible for some minor pruning to be done to improve the levels of light on a property, but only where significant and long term benefits could be achieved without causing a detrimental impact on the health and lifespan of the tree. The removal of lower branches (Crown Lifting) is a good example of this.
Reducing a tree’s height and spread is commonly used by others to combat the loss of light, but the result of the pruning typically produces a response from the tree which forms rapid and dense regrowth in reaction to this work which can make the situation worse within 2 – 3 growing seasons.
If you feel that the situation is particularly acute and/or you think there is a special circumstance for us to look at the tree out of our cycle, please submit an online form with all of the details we would need to identify the tree and rectify the problem. The 'Report a problem' form can be found at the bottom of this page.
Birds roosting in a council tree drop mess on my property
One of the many benefits of trees is that they provide a valuable habitat and food source for local wildlife. Unfortunately this can lead to the nuisance of bird droppings.
Bird droppings may be a nuisance, but the problem is not considered a sufficient reason to prune or remove a tree. Nesting birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (and other related wildlife law).
The maintenance of gardens and cars is the responsibility of the property owner and the council is not obliged to remove bird droppings that may have fallen from birds sitting in council owned trees.
Warm soapy water will usually be sufficient to remove the bird droppings and car owners may wish to consider other practical alternatives to protect their car such as using covers or parking in alternative location when the issue is at its worst.
Issue with sticky sap or honeydew
While we appreciate the inconvenience caused by the honeydew sap which is falling from the tree onto your property and parked cars, there is very little that we are able to do to prevent this occurring.
The cause of this residue is as a result of insects feeding on the sap from the leaves of the trees, and is a perfectly natural occurrence. Some years are worse than others, particularly following a mild winter where the insect populations are able to survive better.
As laid out in our tree strategy the pruning/pollarding of trees to control this is not a satisfactory, long term solution to the problem, as any perceived benefits gained are generally short lived and often exacerbate the issue in the long term.
Significant pruning often results in vigorous, lush growth which is more susceptible to the aphid attack which results in the excessive production of honeydew.
In order to remedy the situation we can offer general maintenance tips to reduce the effect of the honeydew on your property. It is recommended that regular washing using hot soapy water tends to remove the vast majority of the sap, it’s best to do this before the problem has built up as it is more difficult to remove in this instance.
The other option to you could be to put a cover over car when you know you’ll be parking underneath the tree for an extended period of time during the worst times of the year (May – July).
If you feel that the situation is particularly acute and/or you think there is a special circumstance for us to look at the tree out of our cycle, please submit an 'Report a problem' form at the bottom of this page with all the details we would need to identify the tree and rectify the problem.
Alternatively, you are able to carry out minor tree works at your own cost, either by pruning back to your boundary or by applying for a permit to work on one of our trees.
Pollen from council trees is affecting my hay fever
Whilst some kinds of tree pollen are known to bring on the symptoms of hay fever in sufferers, this is not considered justification for either the pruning of council trees, or their removal.
If you feel that the situation is particularly acute and/or you consider there is a special circumstance which would mean we should go against council policy (such as having a severe health problem) please submit a 'Report a problem' form with all of the details we would need to identify the tree and rectify the problem.
Alternatively you are able to carry out minor tree works at your own cost, either by pruning back to your boundary or by applying for a permit to work on one of our trees.
Form links can be found at the bottom of this page.
A phone line runs through a council tree
As part of our cyclical maintenance conducted every three years, we prune a clearance around any phone lines running through the tree to ensure there are no significant snags.
If you find that your phone line is being disrupted, please get in touch with your telephone provider who will be able to investigate the issue as it may not be as a result of the tree. It is the telephone service providers' responsibility to maintain your service.
Several options are available to the utility company that do not require pruning of a tree to maintain the service. For example, the cable can be sheathed at points of high friction, or the line can be redirected through the tree canopy. It may be that the telephone service provider is able to suggest an alternative solution to the problem of trees affecting telephone wires.
Pruning is a temporary solution and the problem may reoccur when branches grow back.
If you have contacted your service provider and they have made recommendations to prune the tree in order to rectify a signal problem, please submit a 'Report a problem' form (at the bottom of this page) supplying all of the documentation and information required for us to process your request.
A council tree is blocking my TV reception
We appreciate the frustration caused when a tree interferes with receiving a good satellite or television signal, however there are no legal requirements for the Council to remove or prune trees for the benefit of a television reception.
It may be that a satellite or TV provider will be able to suggest an alternative solution to the problem, for example relocating the aerial/dish or means to boost the signal.
Whilst council policy states we will not prune or remove trees for such a reason, if the works are relatively minor and will not cause long term ill effects to the tree you may be able to carry out minor tree works at your own cost, either by pruning back to your boundary or by applying for a permit to work on one of our trees.
Obstruction of solar panels
We appreciate that there is a need to provide renewable energy resources, however trees have an important role in maintaining and improving local amenity and contribute to local and national targets in tackling climate change. The presence of trees must be fully appreciated when considering a suitable location for the placement of solar panels.
While council policy states we will not prune or remove trees for such a reason, if the works are relatively minor and will not cause long term ill effects to the tree, you may be able to carry out minor tree works at your own cost, either by pruning back to your boundary or by applying for a permit to work on one of our trees.
Please note that works to reduce the overall height of a tree are unlikely to be considered acceptable as this negatively affects the trees long term health and structure and the perceived benefits are generally short term.
My drain is blocked with tree roots
Tree roots can cause problems by blocking drains. They do not usually cause the initial damage to the drain and will only enter drains which are already cracked, damaged or are leaking.
Tree roots found in a drain are usually symptomatic of an underlying problem requiring repair of the broken pipe. Therefore, if drains are watertight, roots should not normally affect them.
If your drains are blocked by roots you will need a drainage company to assist: they can clear the blockage and recommend whether the drains will require lining or replacing. Removing the tree won't usually solve the problem, and other roots or plants may cause issues later if the drain remains damaged.
Some home insurers will cover the costs of repair so it’s worth looking into your specific policy.
Where you feel the situation is particularly acute or you think there is a special circumstance that we need to consider, or you drainage company have advised that repairs cannot occur with the tree in place then you can submit a 'Report a problem' form at the bottom of this page with all of the supporting evidence for us to review.
A council tree overhangs my property
The works involved as part of the three yearly maintenance cycle typically will include the pruning back from buildings to achieve a clearance of approximately 2 metres. This work does not eliminate the overhang and may include overhanging your roof space, but with a 2 metre vertical clearance.
We will not prune or fell a tree in council ownership to alleviate the nuisance of overhanging branches other than in exceptional circumstances.
You have a Common Law right to remove the nuisance associated with trees encroaching onto your property back to the boundary assuming no other restrictions are in place.
The following advice is given if you wish to exercise your Common Law right with respect to encroaching trees:
- Only remove those parts of the tree from the point where they cross the boundary of your property. You have no legal right to cut or remove any part of a tree that does not overhang your property
- Consult a professional tree surgeon for guidance on how best to prune back encroaching trees, unless the works are such that you could do the works with hand secateurs or similar
- Find out who owns the tree/s and if they are protected by a Tree Preservation Order or are within a Conservation Area before doing any work. If the trees are protected, you will need to gain consent by making an application/give notice to the council:
- Discuss with your neighbour your intention to prune encroaching branches and offer the branches to your neighbour as you do not legally own them. If your neighbour does not want the cuttings, dispose of them yourself appropriately.
- If the encroachment relates to a council owned tree, the council does not require nor expect to have cuttings returned and you can dispose of these in an appropriate way.
If you feel that the situation is particularly acute and/or you think there is a special circumstance for us to look at the tree out of our cycle, please submit a 'Report a problem with a tree' form with all of the details we would need to identify the tree and rectify the problem.
A council tree is blocking my view
We will not prune or fell a council owned tree to improve the view from a private property.
However, if the works are relatively minor and will not cause long term ill effects to the tree you may be able to carry out minor tree works at your own cost, either by pruning back to your boundary or by applying for a permit to work on one of our trees. This form is available below.
Please note that works to reduce the overall height of a tree are unlikely to be considered acceptable as this negatively affects the trees long term health and structure, and the perceived benefits are generally short term.
Personal medical complaints
The council will normally not prune or fell a tree as a result of a personal medical complaint, unless it can be established that the presence of a tree is causing a detriment to the health of a resident.
Further consideration will be given to the management approach of trees especially where elderly, infirm or disabled persons who spend a significant amount of time within their home are affected. This consideration will also take into account the quality and importance of the tree in question, as well as the benefits to the wider community.
If you feel that the situation is particularly acute and/or you consider there is a special circumstance for us look at the maintenance of the tree in relation to improving your medical complaint, you can submit an online form below.
In the form we will ask for details to identify the tree and rectify the problem, along with as much relevant supporting evidence as you can supply.
Report unlawful work to a protected tree
You can see if someone has received permission to carry out tree works to a protected tree on our planning system.
If you still suspect they are in breach of a Tree Preservation Order you can report this to our enforcement team.