Q: My neighbour's tree overhangs my fence and it is so large that it cuts out the light from a large area of my small garden. I have repeatedly asked him to cut it down but he has refused. In fact he has been quite nasty. The roots are right against my fence. Would I be committing an offence if I poisoned the tree?
A: You cannot poison your neighbour's tree. If you do then you could be committing the offence of criminal damage and find yourself facing court charges and a fine.
Under common law you can, however, cut back any part of the tree, including roots that encroach on your boundary but only as far as the boundary line. But as the tree belongs to the land on which it originally grew you must bear in mind that any cut-offs will belong to your neighbour and should therefore be returned to them. When cutting down branches you should also be careful that they do not fall and cause damage to your neighbour's property, as this could leave you open to a liability claim.
It is always best to try and come to some agreement with your neighbour before you cut anything down. If you can get a written agreement from him allowing you to cut the tree back that would be ideal. You should also check to see if the tree is subject to a Tree Preservation Order or is in a conservation area before carrying out any work. You can check this by contacting your local authority. If you cut down trees that are subject to a preservation order you could find yourself guilty of an offence under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.