Woodland Insurance

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!

Fur­ther reading:

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!

http://vscg.co.uk/documents/uploads/NTSG_tree_guidance.pdf

Wildlife Wood­lands Ltd 2013

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