16 October 2018

Beautiful, but potentially deadly for horses - what action should you take?

The leaves are turning wonderful shades of brown, gold and red and the nights are drawing in. Whilst autumn is a perfect time to get out on your horse, it is not without its hazards.

With leaves and seeds falling from the trees, this is the time when horses are most at risk from poisoning from sycamore seeds and acorns. The advice to horse owners is generally to fence off the area containing the offending tree and remove any acorns, sycamore seeds, leaves and seedlings from their grazing. But that may be trickier to manage where the trees do not belong to the horse owner and overhang their pasture from neighbouring land.

Through the BHS legal helpline, we have received numerous enquiries from members whose grazing has been severely restricted by oak and sycamore trees overhanging their boundary from neighbouring land.

Whilst legal remedies are available, they often come at the price of good neighbourly relations. Instead, horse owners may wish first to have a discussion with their neighbour about the risk posed to horses by acorns and sycamores and what action both parties can take to minimise this risk. It may be possible to reach an amicable agreement.

In any case, where a landowner has been informed of the risk posed to neighbouring horses by their oak and sycamore trees, it may be more likely that they will be found to be in breach of their duty of care if a horse falls ill later. That may enable the horse owner to bring a successful claim in negligence, recovering damages for any financial loss.

Landowners can often be reluctant to take action because of the high costs that can be involved. A quote from a tree surgeon for the work involved in cutting back or removing the trees, and an offer to split the cost, may help to ease the process along.

An affected horse owner can take steps to help themselves: landowners and occupiers may cut back any trees that overhang their property from their neighbour’s land, but they must return any wood to their neighbour.

Ultimately, the parties involved should consider the cost/benefit of taking remedial action now against allowing the current situation to continue until one party, in this case the horse owner, suffers a loss as a result of the trees.

Sometimes a simple conversation is enough to educate the neighbour so that they will take action, sometimes a greater degree of pressure is required. We are always happy to discuss your options with you, whichever side of the fence you find yourself on. For more information, please contact Esther Stirling on 01989 561 422 or at estirling@hcrlaw.com

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Esther Stirling, Partner
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