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Trees and shade

Trees are a great source of shade. In summer, they can provide leafy solace from the hot sun but when the cooler months come, the shadows they cast can become an annoyance, hiding the few scraps of sun that appear.

The size of a tree’s shadow depends on the time of year as well as the time of day and the geographical location. It is also determined by the height and spread of the tree.

In Medway, the shadow length at 12noon for a tree 1m tall varies from 3.6m in midwinter to 0.5m on Midsummer’s Day. To calculate how long the shadow from a tree will be at these times, multiply its height in metres by these numbers, so a 4m tall tree will cast a 2m long shadow in the height of summer and a 14.4m long shadow in late December.

Right to light

People generally enjoy sunlight and as a result expect to have light to their property. However, there is no absolute right to light from across a neighbour’s land, although, under the Prescription Act 1832, a right to light can be acquired provided the light has been uninterrupted for at least 20 years. This is known as an easement, which is a peculiar legal right or privilege. However, this right applies most commonly to a building and more particularly, to the window through which the light enters. For the right to be infringed, the loss of light must be substantial and interfere with the reasonable use and enjoyment of the property. Needing artificial light during the daytime to read a newspaper might fall into this definition. Shading of a garden is unlikely to constitute an infringement of a right to light. If it can be proved that a tenant or owner cannot use a piece of land to make a living because of shading, however, it may be possible to convince the court to issue an injunction to remove the source of shade.

A right to light may be infringed where trees block light but there does not appear to have been a court case dealing specifically with this matter. Nevertheless it is reasonable to expect that if light is substantially reduced, the owner may be entitled to damages and/or an injunction requiring the tree owner to reduce the shading and restrict further growth. However, the prescriptive right may be forfeit if the tree blocks light for more than 12 months without an objection being raised. Although it is not possible to state at what moment shading by a tree becomes actionable, if it seems likely that a tree may reduce light in the very near future, it may be possible to obtain an injunction preventing the tree owner from allowing further growth.

There is no right in law to a view and the obstruction of a view by tree growth cannot legally be regarded as a nuisance.