The pandemic prompted more people to explore their local countryside on foot while the rise in staycations has added to the number of visitors across the south west.

Whether you own a remote rural forest or a single specimen in a garden, it is important to be aware of your responsibilities, says Peter Topham, an associate director in Savills forestry team.

As a tree or woodland owner you have a duty of care to anyone who could reasonably be foreseen to be at risk of harm, from a falling branch, say, or unstable roots.

This applies if you’re inviting people on to your land for leisure or tourism, for example, but also to trees within falling distance of roads and footpaths, as well as those growing along third party boundaries.

As the owner of trees or woodland you must ensure there is no adverse effect on your neighbour’s property or risk of harm to the public.

Here are some tips for tree safety and good neighbourly relations:

Draw up a management plan

Draw up a management plan and make sure trees are checked regularly by competent personnel to identify and deal with any damage and disease. This is usually the landlord’s responsibility, but if you’re a tenant check your lease.

Proactive management enables the allocation of resources through risk zoning, and the ability to plan financially as tree work and planting can be budgeted and forecast.

You’re also likely to have to deal with fewer ad hoc reactive tree measures which are often expensive due to the nature of the work and the need for it to be completed quickly. It also provides owners with a defendable position should litigation occur.

Deal with issues early on

The problems caused by ash dieback make tree surveys all the more important. Diseased ash can deteriorate very quickly, often exacerbated by periods of dry weather (though don’t be tempted to fell unaffected trees as a precaution because retaining tolerant specimens allows the possibility of breeding from the resistant stock).

Our south west survey results from last year highlighted that trees in reasonable health deteriorated very rapidly over the summer period.

We suspect this was due to the long dry periods stressing the trees further which meant they were overcome by ash dieback more easily. Whereas this year we have seen more evidence of the rate of progression being slower.

There are still many trees suffering but some appear to be tolerating the disease a bit better where previously we would have expected them to decline quickly.

Unfortunately this appears to be completely random and it is not unusual to see a perfectly healthy tree amongst its dead neighbours in a uniform group.

It pays to deal with it early as the trees can still be climbed by a tree surgeon and are both safer and easier to work on.

For areas of ash over 0.1 hectares, check to see if you would be eligible for grant support to replant with alternative species – the minimum grant which is available in England only is £500.

Pay attention to overhanging trees

Overhanging trees can be an issue.

When it comes to boundaries, think roots, shoots and fruits.

A neighbour can cut back your trees without asking permission if they have sprouted over the boundary but they can’t trespass in order to carry out the work and the branches (and any fruit) must be offered back to you.

They should also be careful not to damage the tree in the process as they could in turn be liable for any damage caused by its failure or death.

If livestock are poisoned by eating overhanging vegetation, for example yew, the owner of the tree would be responsible.

This is not the case if the animal has to lean over the boundary to eat. And should a neighbour believe their property has been damaged by invasive roots, they must provide evidence and proof that your trees are at fault.

A tree surgeon may be able to carry out remedial work to overhanging trees in your ownership from your side of the boundary but if not, you will need permission to access the tree from the neighbouring side.