Pensioner overwhelmed by fallen leaves from council property

Emma Woollacott
Derek Dowell
Derek Dowell

South Tyneside Council is refusing to help a pensioner who says he can't cope with the leaves being blown onto his garden from the cemetery behind his home.

Every autumn, leaves from Harton cemetery blow into the property that Derek Dowell, 79, shares with his 77-year-old wife Margaret. Mr Dowell says he fills between 60 and 80 bags every year and takes them to the dump.

But because he suffers from the lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), he's now finding the massive job too much of a struggle.

"I basically end up with all the leaves from the cemetery in my garden, it's just the way the wind blows. I can't just leave them there as they'll get wet, rot and become slippy and dangerous," he tells the Shields Gazette.

"I bought a little machine which hoovers them up, but even that takes ages."

Mr Dowell, a retired sheet metal worker, says he has asked the council for help several times. However, it has refused to help, saying it has no legal duty to do so.
Unfortunately for Mr Dowell, the council is right. Falling leaves aren't regarded as a 'legal nuisance' - unlike, say, invasive roots or branches - and he has no grounds to complain.

This makes sense on a practical level, as it would be almost impossible to establish exactly which trees nuisance leaves are coming from.

And Mr Dowell doesn't even have the right to return the leaves to the cemetery.

Back in 2006, Torquay householder Sandra Pote was publicly ticked off by council workers for sweeping leaves from her driveway into the gutter. Despite the fact that the leaves had fallen from the council-owned plane tree outside her home, she was told that sweeping them into the street amounted to fly-tipping.

Three years ago, 82-year-old Barbara Ray, of Stratford-upon-Avon, was told the same - and threatened with a fine of up to £50,000 and/or 12 months' imprisonment if she didn't stop sweeping leaves into the gutter.

What you can do is cut back any branches of a tree that actually overhang your garden, although you can only cut them back as far as the boundary.

Utilizing Fallen Leaves
Utilizing Fallen Leaves