When Neighbours Cry Bamboo-hoo-hoo

Take it from us: people fall out with their neighbours over all sorts of things. Some of the most common offenders are parking, broken fences and wheely bin etiquette, though neighbours who are really committed to squabbles don’t let it stop there.

We reckon it’s fair enough to say that the common offenders above often fall into the category of petty niggles that get blown out of proportion when they happen on your doorstep. When we tell you this post is all about disputes over bamboo, you might be tempted to chalk that down to the same category. However, it just so happens that bamboo can turn out to be something altogether more serious.

Sorry, are we talking about a plant?

Yes, we are indeed talking about a plant. Though bamboo is usually associated with more tropical climates, there are hundreds of varieties and many of them are suitable for growing here in the UK.

In recent years it seems to have been having a bit of a moment amongst British gardeners, with many being drawn to it thanks to its aesthetic appeal and reported oxygen-boosting properties. Bamboo can also grow incredibly quickly, which makes it a popular choice for those wishing to get a jumpstart on growing garden hedging for privacy reasons.

We get it; so far you’re failing to see the problem. But remember the part about bamboo growing incredibly quickly? Well, that’s not always a good thing. In fact, it can be a very, very bad thing, especially in the case of more aggressively invasive varieties.

Some of the more invasive types of bamboo can grow vigorously far beyond the initial planting area. In no time at all, it can end up encroaching on neighbouring properties, causing damage to buildings, fences and pipes, and even swallowing up pets and small children. (Okay, we’re exaggerating about that last one, but the part about property damage is a very real concern).

If bamboo makes its way from one garden into another and starts causing damage, this could give rise to a legal dispute.

Where does the law stand here?

Funnily enough, there’s actually a long history of disputes over garden greenery. The main legal principle that applies here is the concept of ‘nuisance’. The law allows all property owners the right to quiet enjoyment of that property, and if rampant bamboo threatens this quiet enjoyment, it can be considered a legal ‘nuisance’. (One might argue that bamboo breaking down fences and cracking waste pipes would be more than just a nuisance, but we say that’s a question for the linguists, not the lawyers).

This all harks back to Lemmon v Webb (1894), a key piece of case law that established that landowners have the right to cut back branches or roots that encroach over their boundary line. However, considering that bamboo can spread underground and pop its head up a fair distance from the original planting site, a bit of over-the-fence pruning is unlikely to keep things in hand.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 governs the protection of native wildlife and the control of invasive non-native species in England and Wales. It provides a legal framework for the prevention and control of species that pose a threat to native biodiversity, agriculture or economic interests. As part of this, it prohibits the release or planting of certain non-native species that are known to be invasive. Surprisingly, the act does not specifically list bamboo as an invasive species. However, gardeners should take note that this doesn’t mean they’re in the free and clear on the bamboo front. It’s vital from a legal standpoint (as well as a gardening one and a neighbour-relations one) to ensure that any bamboo plants are managed with consideration for its impact on surrounding areas.

Taking action

If you’ve been affected by encroaching bamboo, there are several things you might be able to do about it.

First of all, we’d always recommend a calm and collected conversation with the owner of the bamboo in question. It may be that they aren’t aware of how much the bamboo is impacting surrounding gardens. Ideally, you’ll be able to discuss the issue and reach a resolution you’re both happy with.

If it doesn’t turn out to be quite so straightforward, discussing the situation with a firm such as ourselves could help to clarify where everyone stands legally on the issue. Your solicitor will likely be able to recommend a professional, impartial mediator who will seek to help everyone settle on an agreement.

In situations where negotiation and mediation is a non-starter (or if you just happen to be particularly hot-headed) you might opt for an alternative solution involving the secateurs. If you do go for this one, it’s crucial to make sure you only cut back growth on your side of the boundary line and that you don’t unlawfully damage any property belonging to your neighbour.

Of course, in the case of really invasive varieties, cutting back overshoots might feel rather pointless, especially if new clumps are sprouting up everywhere in a 5m radius. If you’ve found yourself in a situation like this and the bamboo owner really won’t listen to reason, you might decide to consider taking legal action on the basis of nuisance. A solicitor will be able to advise you on your chances in this respect, though you’ll usually need to demonstrate that the bamboo has caused either actual damage to your property or, at the very least, significant interference with your ability to use and enjoy it.

Does this mean planting bamboo is a total no-no?

But what if you just *whispers* really like bamboo? After all, it can add beauty and privacy to your garden, not to mention the purported environmental properties.

The good news here is that we don’t intend to tell you what you should or shouldn’t plant in your own garden. There are plenty of ways to incorporate bamboo in a responsible way that won’t have your neighbours reaching for their pitchforks.

This includes:

  • Doing your research and choosing less invasive varieties.
  • Planting bamboo in containers rather than straight into flowerbeds.
  • Utilising a root barrier to limit spread.
  • Regular maintenance and monitoring to be sure you’re keeping things under control.

If you’re involved in a bamboo-off with your neighbours, you might be unsure about what to do next. We are always on hand to support you with these kinds of property and boundary disputes, so please do get in touch. (Though please note that we probably shouldn’t be your first port of call if your dog has disappeared in a mass of invasive shoots.)

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