Boundaries: the thin red line and the hedge and ditch rule

The precise location of a boundary is a common dispute between neighbouring landowners. Often, neighbours will look to the Land Registry’s title plan as proof of the boundary’s location.

Sadly, Land Registry title plans are based on Ordnance Survey maps which are not definitive as to the legal extent of the boundaries around the property. Land Registry title plans are typically for identification purposes only and boundary disputes rarely turn on the title plans themselves.

In establishing the true location of a boundary the court will typically weigh up a number of factors, including the topography and other physical attributes. The recent Court of Appeal case of Parmar v Upton [2015] EWCA Civ 795 demonstrates that the long-standing hedge and ditch rule is still good law.

The hedge and ditch rule is a rebuttable legal presumption that where there is a hedge and ditch running along the boundary of a parcel of land then the boundary lays along the farthest edge of the ditch from the hedge. The presumption is that the owner of the land dug the ditch along the edge of their boundary and then piled up the soil along their land, after which a hedge was planted. This presumption can be rebutted, for example, if the ditch can be shown to have been dug whilst the land was in common ownership. Other examples of rebuttal were seen in the case of Steward v Gallop [2010] EWCA Civ 823 where the hedge ran only along part of the relevant boundary and the hedge predated the ditch.

In Parmar v Upton the appellant could not, despite some fresh evidence, overturn thepresumption that the hedge and ditch rule applied and consequently the appeal was dismissed.

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