Education Sector Clients

Tree Surveys and Tree Works for Schools and Colleges

Why every school needs a professional tree survey

Did you know that trees in areas of high public use, such as the grounds of a school, college or university, require an inspection regime? Moreover, that the school has a legal responsibility to ensure this is implemented, regardless of how many trees there are on the land.

Some defects such as deadwood, fallen or split branches, cavities and decayed timber are visible signs that a tree presents a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury to schoolchildren or property. Sometimes, however, it is hard to know if trees are in good condition or whether they pose a health and safety risk. Structural weaknesses in trees are not always apparent from the outside to the untrained eye.

If you are not sure what your legal responsibilities under the law are, or how to best to manage the risk from trees, then read on.

What the law says

The school owes a duty of care to all people who may be injured on school premises and should take reasonable care to avoid a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury to persons or property. The courts have endeavoured to define what amounts to reasonable care in the context of tree safety, and have stated that the standard of care is that of “the reasonable and prudent landowner”. The tree owner is not, however, expected to guarantee that the tree is safe. The owner has to take only reasonable care such as could be expected of the reasonable and prudent landowner.


Common sense risk management of trees within school grounds

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires schools to undertake a risk assessment of the tree stock on the school grounds. Reasonable tree management has both reactive and proactive elements. While a school may need to react to events involving dangerous trees as they arise, it is also prudent to have forward-looking procedures to keep tree-related risks at an acceptable level. These procedures do not need to be complicated.


Zoning is a practice whereby schools can define areas according to levels of use. This practice prioritises the most used areas, and by doing so contributes to a cost-effective approach to tree inspection, focusing resources where most needed. It contributes to sensible risk management and a defendable position in the event of an accident. It may be a reasonable outcome of the zoning process to decide that some areas do not require inspection. Classifying levels of use in this way requires only a broad assessment of levels of use. Typically, two zones, high and low use, may be sufficient. High use zones are areas used by many people every day, such as playgrounds, woodland areas used as outdoor learning environments, and other well-used routes, car parks or where property may be affected.

Tree Inspection

A trained and qualified arboriculturalist should carry out a tree survey at regular intervals so hazards can be identified and highlighted. This enables you to make accurate decisions to maintain a safe environment for staff, pupils, and parents.

When inspecting trees for public safety, the inspection primarily looks for external features indicating mechanical (structural) defects that pose a significant risk to public safety, concentrating on risks that are either immediate or reasonably foreseeable in the near future.

  • Urgent Public Safety
    Works are urgently required to make safe a tree that has been identified as dead structurally unsound and is putting safety at risk.
  • Essential Works
    Works may be required for the followings reasons:

    • To keep the highways infrastructure (e.g. street lights and road signs) clear of obstructions, maintain sight lines for vehicle and pedestrians.
    • To abate an actionable nuisance (e.g. branches damaging windows or gutters).
    • When an inspection regime has identified a visible decay, fungal brackets other structural defects.
    • To reduce a significant overhang of tree branches into an adjacent property.
    • When previous maintenance regimes have determined that future works are of the same specification for that specimen (e.g. pollarding and crown reduction).
  • Desirable
    Works may be carried out on a cyclical pruning regime to provide long term health and safety benefits to the tree.
  • No action required
    Where a tree’s health and condition indicate that no works are required at the time of inspection.

Next steps

If you have no record of your trees being inspected, or the inspection is a few years old, it would be prudent to arrange for a formal inspection. When commissioning a tree survey, the school should satisfy themselves as to the suitability of the inspector’s qualifications, experience and professional indemnity and public liability insurance.
At Gristwood and Toms, one of our many specialisms is tree health and condition. We carry out thorough and professionally recognised visual tree inspections, usually from observations and measurements taken from ground level.

We can provide your school with a written report on all trees, detailing any remedial work required, prioritised accordingly to a considered view of the level of concern for public safety. This report can demonstrate that the school has met a key component of their duty of care. Other useful ways of demonstrating reasonable assessment and management of trees include recording when tree work has been carried out.

To inquire about a survey of your trees, please click here

Arrangements for Tree Work in Schools

Gristwood and Toms are approved by local authorities across the UK, and we have extensive experience of carrying out arboricultural work in a wide range of settings, including high-use areas such as schools, colleges and universities. Externally accredited health and safety policies are in place to safeguard young people, and these are communicated to our staff. As part of these measures, and when appropriate, we will ensure our staff are suitably screened in line with the latest guidance for DBS checks.

Once we have been issued with work within a school or educational establishment, our Contract Manager will make an appointment to visit the school to ascertain any site restrictions with regards to both timing and the practicalities of the tree work involved. At this meeting, a time will be agreed for the work to be carried out. For schools, whenever possible, we will plan to deliver the work during school holidays or non-operational times. On occasion though, this will not be practical (such as in emergency situations), so we will agree when would be the best time to do the work.

On the day the work is to be carried out, the Team Leader will sign the team in at reception and review the work again and any provisions required to keep the pupils away from the work zone. If necessary, we will stop work during break times. No tools will be left unattended and any not being used will be placed back into the secure lock boxes on our vehicles. No keys will be left in any ignition when that piece of equipment is not being used. Once the work is complete, our team will notify the school reception that they have left the site and ensure that no tools are left behind.

Passing on our arboricultural knowledge to children

In the past, we have been asked to share our knowledge of trees with pupils and assist teachers where our operations might be used as a teaching aid. We have visited schools to talk about the importance of trees as well and explain the role we play in maintaining a healthy tree stock.

If approached to share the educational benefit of our work, we will work positively with all concerned to facilitate this and to ensure the necessary safeguards are put in place.

Types of tree work in schools

Tree Felling and Removal

Despite best efforts, there are occasions when a tree needs to be removed for safety reasons. It may be due to infection, or rot, or it may be leaning dangerously.

It is vital that tree felling is planned very carefully and is undertaken only by qualified professionals using the correct working techniques, the best possible safety equipment and a modern chainsaw with functioning safety features. Trees must be felled safely and in the direction that you want them to fall. The factors that first and foremost affects tree felling is whether there are significant obstacles in the area (overhead lines, roads and buildings) and whether the area is accessible to the public.

Nature conservation is also an integral part of the work we carry out and our felling plans take into consideration the plants and animals that live in the vicinity of the tree(s) to be felled.

Stump removal

Once trees have been felled within the school environment, it is sometimes necessary to remove the remaining tree stump, and this requires specialist machinery and trained staff. Gristwood & Toms have a wide variety of stump grinding machines that can work on any site and any ground conditions.

Tree pruning

We also offer a service of pruning. This is the removal of living or dead parts of the tree. Such parts may be soft growth, twigs, branches, limbs, parts of the tree’s trunk (aerial growth) or parts of the tree’s root system.

Generally, trees grow in balance with their environment. However, conflicts with either people or property can develop over time from the natural process of growth and dieback, or from the effects of damage caused by storm and weather damage, pests and diseases.

At Gristwood and Toms, all our tree operations are carried out in accordance with the principles as laid down in the British Standard BS3998: 2010 for Tree Work. All pruning works are correctly planned and executed to reduce the probability of structural failure and reduce the risk to people and property while prolonging the tree’s safe life. We inform all our clients as to the justification for the work to be carried out and how the work will be implemented in a written method statement.

For further information or any enquires about tree works please call 03458 731500 or email Gristwood and Toms is approved by local authorities across the UK and is an Arboricultural Association Approved Contractor. We are the largest arboricultural contractor in the UK with the most experience.