The first question to ask and answer for yourself is, do I need woodland insurance? It is not a legal requirement, but many owners do purchase public liability insurance. This insures you as the owner against any claims for damages. As well as covering potential claims, the insurance company will handle the legal side of any such claim, including deciding whether to settle or contest. On average in the UK about 4 people are killed by falling trees every year. In view of the number of trees and the number of times people are in the vicinity of trees, this is a remarkably small number.
Whether insured or not, you as a landowner have a duty of care to ensure public safety. This means you have to take reasonable steps; a claim will be valid if the injured party can claim negligence. This may seem a bit vague, but nevertheless, it does enable any court (claims are dealt with as a civil matter) to assess each case on its merits. Newspaper horror stories tend to be the exception, and courts are generally sympathetic to a landowner who has taken reasonable steps.
The good news is that most insurers consider woodlands to be pretty low risk and premiums are not expensive. There are many woods where the risks are so low that it is hardly worth bothering with insurance at all.
It is however it is well worth considering obtaining cover for public liability for your woodland if:
- Your woodland adjoins a road or public right of way and there is a risk a tree might blow over and cause damage or harm, or walkers might injure themselves.
- Your trees might damage a BT cable, electricity line, fencing or neighbours property.
- You invite friends, school children etc into the woods and there is a potential risk that they might hurt themslelves.
You may wish to take out insurance cover for damage from wind (remember 1987 and 1990) or fire (most broadleaf woodlands do not burn, but young conifers can be inflammable at certain times of year)
Whether you are insured or not, you should take reasonable steps to ensure public safety. These might include:
- Checking all roads and public footpaths on a regular basis. This should be undertaken at a frequency appropriate to the risk. A busy footpath or road should probably be checked every year or at least every 2 – 3 years, or after major storms or high winds. It is important that the person undertaking the survey has sufficient experience to do so, and is covered by professional indemnity insurance.
- It is essential that whenever a survey is undertaken that a record is kept. This will ensure that if a tree does fail unexpectedly that you cannot be found to be negligent. Records of tree work alongside footpaths or roads should also be kept.
- On low risk sites, for example with no roadside trees, you may be competent to undertake much of this work yourself. Work may include felling dead trees within reach of a public footpath, and checking for, and dealing with, broken, spilt or hung-up branches that could fall on a member of the public.
- If you become aware of a problem eg a hung-up branch, or a tree that has started to lean, then you should take remedial action. Ignoring a known hazard is negligence.
- For general management work in a wood, consider erecting warning signs or diversions as a temporary measure (though you can not close a public right of way without permission from the Highways Authority).
- If you are employing a contractor, you should ideally notify the contractor of known site hazards, such as overhead power lines, roads or (down in the west country) mine shafts. While many things should be obvious to a contractor, to be technical, you do have a responsibility as landowner under section 4 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Having provided this information, it is then up to the contractor to assess the site, and come up with a risk assessment and safe method of working.
- Ask to see the insurance details of any contractor you wish to employ. All reputable contractors will have such insurance, with a minimum cover of £1 million.
So, if you decide that you would like the reassurance of insurance, where should you look? Wildlife Woodlands do not offer insurance, nor can we recommend any product. However, some thoughts and ideas which you may wish to follow up on are given below:
But the golden rule is take reasonable care, and don’t be negligent!
Common Sense Risk Management of Trees, written by the Tree Safety Group of the Visitor Safety in the Countryside Group.
This is a detailed and comprehensive guide, drawn up by a group of professional land managers, and covers everything you are likely to need to know, with a very practical approach to issues. Recommended!
Wildlife Woodlands Ltd 2013