Little-known gardening laws that could land you a fine of up to £5,000

2 April, 2024
Mark Lane

Our gardening expert and BBC Gardener's World presenter Mark Lane has donned his detective hat to uncover gardening laws, often overlooked and lesser known, that can catch even the most seasoned gardeners by surprise.  

Our gardens and outdoor spaces are so important for our physical and mental well-being, but there may be times when issues with a neighbour's garden or planning permission cause more stress than we'd like... 

When items find their way over from a neighbour's garden 

We all love to know where our boundaries are, and knowing this information can save you money and time in the long run. In many gardens up and down the country you’ll find overhanging branches, fruit, nuts or flowers in neighbouring properties.

While it’s tempting to pick the treasures up and eat them or pick a flower off a tree, especially if it has already dropped onto the ground, known as windfalls, just remember not to throw it over the fence because it would be classed as garden waste fly tipping.

Furthermore, the owner of the tree can legally ask you to return the item to them, even if it has fallen to the ground. Unless you get permission, removing and keeping the item is legally seen as theft – which carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years.  

Whose fence are you hanging something from? Do I need planning permission?

It's really important to find out from your house deeds or HM Land Registry who owns fences, hedges and walls, although legally, there is no responsibility to maintain boundaries unless the deeds state otherwise.

You can’t attach anything to a neighbour’s fence or wall unless you get written permission to do so. So, think twice before drilling into a neighbour’s wall to add some hanging basket brackets on your side to avoid any boundary disputes.  


Make sure the branches you cut are your own 

Overhanging branches or hedges from neighbouring gardens should be treated the same as fences or walls when it comes to boundaries. Consider trimming overhanging branches back to the boundary/property line and no further.

You can ask your neighbour to take the cut branches and to discard of them how they feel fit, as legally they still belong to them, but by keeping an open, friendly discussion with your neighbour you should avoid any difficulties. Another reason for not cutting down a neighbour’s tree or branches is that the tree may be covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO), which means you could receive a hefty fine if you ignore it. 

Of course, on the flip side of the coin, if you have trees in your garden and a broken or diseased branch falls onto your neighbour’s greenhouse or garden furniture, then you might be faced with a large bill to rectify the damage.

You have a legal obligation to ensure that your trees are not dangerous. And don’t think that because you rent, you are not obligated to maintain the trees in your garden. Always check with the landowner and get, in writing, who is responsible for what outdoors. 

Remember that walking into another property without the landowner’s permission or even leaning into a neighbouring property to remove a branch constitutes trespass. 

Fences, fences and… more fences 

Many property lines will have fences, but there are laws stipulating what is acceptable. Fences can be a maximum of 2 metres in height in a back garden and 1 metre in height in a front garden. If you want to exceed these heights, then you will need to apply for planning permission from your local authority.  

Many people also believe that there is a designated side of the fence to each property, but this is not the case – refer to the title deeds or HM Land Registry and look for a ‘T-mark’ which represents ownership of the fence or wall that currently exists. Also, don’t assume that the left-hand-side fence is the one you own.  

There is no law that states that your neighbour has to get the ‘good’ side of a fence, but from a security point of view, it’s better to have the ‘good’ side facing your neighbours with the rails on the ‘bad’ side facing into your garden, as there will be no rails for someone to use to climb into your garden.

Just remember though that your title deeds could show a shared boundary, which means both of you are responsible for its maintenance. 

If your neighbour’s fence is in a poor state, you cannot legally ask them to replace it or fix it. If it’s an eyesore the only think you can do is to erect a new fence on your land. It can touch the other fence as long as it is situated in your boundary. 

With deciduous and even evergreen leaves, there will be leaf litter in your neighbour’s garden and possibly yours, too. If you like to clear your garden every autumn, in readiness for the winter and spring, think twice before asking your neighbour to pick and collect the fallen leaves. They are under no obligation to do so. 

The Right to Light 

If you’ve moved to a new property or want to add a tree to an existing garden, then you’ll need to consider the Right to Light Act. The rule of thumb is 20 years. In other words, if a neighbour has had natural light coming through a window for over 20 years, then the law states that you cannot plant a tree or build something that will block the natural light.

You might think that a young tree is fine to plant, but you’ll need to think about how much light it could block out in a few years’ time or when it is fully mature. The same law applies. 


Bonfires are great – unless you’re a neighbour 

When getting rid of garden litter, it’s tempting to have a bonfire, but although there are no laws preventing you from having a bonfire, if it is seen as a nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and it prevents your neighbours enjoying their garden or having windows open, then you could receive a fine. This applies especially if you continue to have regular bonfires. 

Get the measuring tape out for your garden shed 

We all like a garden shed and while many are seen as permitted development there are some key points to keep in mind. If the shed is within two metres of the boundary wall or fence, then no part of the shed can exceed 2.5 metres in height. Also, you cannot exceed four metres in height for a dual-pitched roof or three metres for a pent/flat roof. Sheds must be single-storey and should cover no more than half of the area that surrounds your home.

In recent years, especially with more of us working from home, log cabins have become very popular; however, these must be sited at least five metres from the main dwelling. Again, check your deeds or title documents, as there might be restrictions to constructing a shed, log cabin, or even a greenhouse.  

Protecting your privacy 

Everyone is entitled to privacy, especially when it comes to our homes and gardens. If you spot security cameras pointing towards your property, ask the owner to face them in a different direction. If you want security cameras in your garden, then they must be confined to your garden.

Remember that under the UK Data Protection Act 1998, you or your neighbour can install CCTV cameras that capture images or video only with each other’s permission, but homeowners do have the right to protect their homes. Also, with regard to privacy, children and/or adults jumping up and down on trampolines can pose a serious privacy risk under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. 

Tackling more than just weeds 

If you have invasive or noxious plants in your garden, such as Japanese knotweed or giant hogweed, you will have to remove it or ensure it doesn’t spread, or possibly face a fine of c. £5,000. It’s advisable to get a professional to remove such plants. 

Finally, if you love to garden in the nude (and many do), ensure you do this without your neighbours seeing you in the outdoor space, otherwise you could be arrested for indecent exposure.  


These are just some of the laws we can easily find ourselves breaking in the garden – but it’s worth reading up on what can and can’t be done in our green havens to avoid being caught out by a hefty fine from your local council. 

You know the laws; now, it’s time to make the most of the beautiful green spaces we have, no matter the size (and in the nude if you really want to!). Read Mark’s guidance on designing an accessible garden or building a bug hotel – there’s something for all the family. 

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