What we are responsible for
As the Highway Authority, we are responsible for hedges, trees and plants that protrude into the road. We are not responsible for boundary hedges. Verges are an important feature of our road network. They reduce noise, provide screening and vital habitat, as well as improve air quality.
This page describes how we maintain roadside verges within the “rural environment”. Section 2.1 of Highway Maintenance Manual defines the “rural environment”. Roadside verges in urban environments are maintained by the Environment Service. New schemes are developed by the Council’s Making Space for Nature team. Making Space for Nature design verges that increase biodiversity in our towns.
Through our contractor, Cormac, we inspect and maintain roadsides within the highway corridor throughout the county. We also undertake specialist surveys of trees within falling distance of the road. Where dangerous trees or obstructions are identified we will take action. We either deal with issues on our highway land or notify private landowners of our concerns. Tree specialists (arboricultural officers) also undertake regular inspections of our street tree population. They then specify maintenance and safety works as required.
What we cut
Residents wrote to us with concerns about our roadside maintenance. In response we asked our service provider, Cormac, to review their roadside maintenance methods. We continue to focus on road safety but now look to promote biodiversity wherever possible too.
The number of cuts on the road network was reduced to two per year at most. Any extra cuts are then dependent on the extent of seasonal growth. Highway staff must verify that safety is being compromised before they schedule treatment.
The review also reduced the area of treated roadside verges. Only specific types of locations are cut:
- visibility splays and approaches to highway junctions, pedestrian crossings and school crossing patrols
- approaches to highway signs
- the inside of bends
- around safety fencing
- a swathe around verge markers
- around seats, milestones and other roadside features including bridge parapets
Cormac mapped every maintenance area. They also mapped locations of precious or invasive species. For example, Japanese Knotweed or orchid colonies. Verge maintenance may then be modified at these locations accordingly.
When we cut
The first of the two possible annual cuts we call the Safety Cut. The Safety Cut is carried out in the spring to early summer (May - July). It aims to improve visibility at junctions and signs. It also treats verges with high pedestrian usage. Our contractor, Cormac focus on key areas needed for visibility and safety only. They do not cut the whole corridor.
The second annual cut is in the autumn (September - November) and called the Serviceability Cut. It aims to maintain or improve the verge. The Serviceability Cut treats a longer length of the highway corridor. It usually includes a one metre ‘swathe’ cut to help reduce verge encroachment. It also ensures access to highway infrastructure such as oil interceptors. Again, these cuts are minimised to reduce the impact on the natural environment. Cormac have fact sheets that describe their processes in more detail
To ensure we minimise risk, we prioritise treatment based on the road hierarchy, meaning the busiest roads are treated first. Details of road hierarchy can be found in the Highway Maintenance Manual.
Not all roadside verge maintenance is undertaken by the Council. Most hedge cutting along the highway is done by the adjacent landowner, often farmers. Landowners may cut the verge as well as their hedges. Individuals also cut verges in the vicinity of their properties for aesthetic purposes.
Growth from Cornish hedges or trees on property boundaries is frequently the responsibility of the adjacent landowner. We recommend that regular maintenance of hedgerows is undertaken. Regular maintenance prevents side growth and low-lying branches extending into the road. Landowners must take reasonable care to ensure that trees within falling distance of the highway are safe. This responsibility includes trees rooted in Cornish hedges that form the boundary to the highway.
We recommend tree owners to check trees that overhang or may fall onto the highway. Check for signs of disease, damage or instability (particularly after storm winds).
As a landowner, if you have concerns about your tree(s) you should seek professional advice. A tree specialist (arboricultural consultant) or a tree surgeon (arborist) can help. Visit our Managing Your Trees webpage for further advice.
Work to maintain hedgerows from the road, must be done by an accredited contractor. The contractor must have the necessary licenses to work on the highway. They must also be familiar with the relevant legislation. For example, the Highway Act 1980, Streetworks Act 1991 and Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. It is the legal duty of the landowner to check whether their tree(s) are subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or located within a Conservation Area. Landowners must check before instructing their contractor to complete any remedial work. Also, where tree works involve the removal of more than 5 m3 of timber, a felling licence may be needed. Read more about protected trees and felling licences at Managing Your Trees.
We have the power to ensure landowners resolve any vegetation and tree issues. The Council notify landowners under Section 154 of the Highway Act 1980. We notify landowners where vegetation or tree growth is causing a safety concern. Under Section 154 if the council complete tree safety work on private land, we can recover costs from the landowner.
If you are a landowner, we ask you or your contractor to:
- reduce side growth back to the edge/boundary of the maintained highway
- achieve a minimum 2.1m clearance above the surface of footways to allow safe passage of pedestrians
- achieve a minimum 2.5m clearance above the surface of cycleways to allow safe passage of cyclists
- achieve a minimum 5.2m clearance above the surface of the highway to allow safe passage for high sided vehicles
- ensure that branches and vegetation are not in contact with or obstructing highway signs
- remove branches that are in contact with or blocking streetlights
- remove or reduce vegetation that is obscuring visibility at junctions, on bends or passing places
Landowners must also comply with legislation relating to control of noxious and injurious plants. For example, Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Ragwort. Information on how to identify these species.
If you/your contractor need to undertake emergency works from the road please call Cornwall Council opn 0300 1234 222.
Reporting issues with trees, hedges and verges
If you wish to report an issue with overgrown hedges or overgrown or fallen trees causing a concern in the highway, please use this link:
Report an issue with a tree, hedge or verge
Please note when logging an issue or concern, in the rural environment we only cut vegetation to ensure highway safety or to facilitate other highway works. If your concern purely relates to the aesthetics of a roadside verge, please contact us via general enquiries.
If the issue is a threat to public safety please telephone 0300 1234 222 (24 hour service) giving details of the location.
Ash Dieback Disease
Ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) is a tree disease that causes one of our most common trees to die. Affected trees can drop branches and even fall over. Ash dieback is likely to become a significant issue over the coming years. The disease affects our management and safety of the highway.
If you suspect an instance of Ash Dieback disease and need further information, visit our Ash Dieback page.