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Thirsty trees likely to cause insurance headache as drought takes grip

24th April 2012 Print

As the Environmental Agency extends its "drought map" into the Midlands and the South West, first direct warns the nation that a hosepipe ban and reduced rainfall could create a hidden threat to their homes and result in unnecessary insurance claims.

The direct bank has found that during prolonged periods of drought tree roots suck the moisture they need from clay in the ground surrounding them, causing it to shrink.  If left unmanaged tree roots can create subsidence, often responsible for structural cracking, particularly around windows and doors.  And, with root systems stretching out in a radius up to 2.5 times a trees height, the danger isn't only contained to trees in your own garden, but those of your neighbours as well.

The first direct Home Insurance team have produced a handy guide showing the safe distances for the most common trees to avoid root damage to a property and save the nation making home insurance claims.

Species - Mature height - Safe distance
Willow 24m (79ft) 40m (132ft)
Elm 25m (81ft) 30m (99ft)
Oak 24m (79ft) 30m (99ft)
Horse Chestnut 20m (66ft) 23m (75ft)
Lime 24m (79ft) 20m (66ft)
Maple 21m (69ft) 20m (66ft)
Sycamore 24m (79ft) 17m (55ft)
Hawthorn 10m (33ft) 12m (40ft)
Cherry 17m (55ft) 11m (36ft)
Pine 29m (95ft) 8m (26ft)

Andrew Ferguson, Head of Home Insurance at first direct commented, "It's always worth taking note of what trees are surrounding your property and, if looking to plant new ones, considering how tall a fully mature tree will grow before planting it near a property.

"Luckily first direct's Home Insurance covers homeowners for subsidence or heave of the land and falling trees or branches. We'll also pay to remove the fallen part of the tree; or the tree itself if it has been totally or partly uprooted."

However, if the problem has already ‘taken root' here are some handy tips on how to minimise the damage courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society:

Seek independent advice from a qualified arborist and building surveyor - they'll know the best course of action

Don't remove the tree before seeking advice - It is not always the case that removing the tree will make the problem disappear, in fact it could make it worse

Root barriers can be used when planting new trees but, if these are deemed necessary, it is probably better to select a smaller or less vigorous specimen

Pollarding may help reduce the potential impact of a tree by reducing its further root spread

Make sure that it is not protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) - Local Planning Authority permission must be obtained before any protected tree is pruned or felled, and similar constraints apply to trees in Conservation Areas

Remember, a tree is the property and responsibility of the land owner, who may be liable for any damage caused.

Buildings up to four storeys constructed before the 1950s are most at risk, as they frequently have foundations only 50cm (20in) deep