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Termites are an incredibly destructive force, and one that the UK has mostly been spared from. Due to a combination of no native termite species and a strong preference for brick and stone in construction, termites are all but a none-issue in the United Kingdom.
Instances of termite colonies taking hold are starting to occur. Probably imported with timber, and benefitting from the warming climate, termites could soon be as much of a problem for the British as they have been for around 70% of the rest of the world, so it’s best to get to grips with the problem now.
Like all living things, termites are complicated creatures, but the essence of what you need to know here is that they are tiny, and they eat wood. That wood includes things like fallen branches, trees, garden furniture, and wooden structures, such as houses and other buildings. Needless to say, their presence is not ideal.
In countries where termites are more commonplace—such as America—many home insurance policies do not cover termite damage, and there is a good chance that an average UK home insurance policy won’t cover it either. Knowing that there is a high likelihood that you will have to foot the bill for any repairs due to termite infestations only makes it all the more important that you catch the problem early so that the cost of fixing it is reduced.
Fortunately, there are plenty of signs that give away the presence of these little critters. Knowing what those signs are and keeping a wary eye and ear out for them could help you spot them before they cause too much damage.
Discarded Wings and Flying Termites
One of the earlier signs of a termite infestation is flying termites and their discarded wings. Flying termites are males that have left their nest and are looking for a mate, which indicates they haven’t found one yet. The bad news is that it means there is a termite nest nearby, and it’s possible they could find the mate they’re looking for in your home!
When subterranean termites start venturing into your property, they will create “mud tubes” up the external walls of your house to keep themselves protected. These should be near the foundations of your property and easily visible to the naked eye.
The most obvious sign of a termite problem is visibly deteriorated wood. It will often look “frayed” where the exterior surface is damaged, and will flake away very easily. You can also check for deterioration of wood that isn’t visible by knocking on it. Wood that has been chewed up by termites will sound hollow, even papery. Unfortunately, once you get to this stage, the damage is already pretty extensive.
Termites are not quiet eaters, and their soldiers make a lot of noise when they think the colony is under threat. We’re not saying you will be able to hear them from across the room, but if you put your ear to termite-infested wood, there is a good chance you’ll be able to hear them munching away.
Tight Doors and Windows
We’re talking about wooden doors and windows, of course. This one may seem a little counterintuitive since you’d expect wood that is being eaten to get smaller, not larger. The reality is termites produce a lot of moisture, and that moisture causes the wood to swell, making it more difficult to get it in and out of its frame.
Dead Tree Stumps Attract Termites
There are many factors that go into a termite’s choice of home, but two significant factors are moisture and accessibility. A tree stump—particularly one exposed to the often moist British weather—presents both of these things, and makes for an ideal home for termites.
Of course, the tree stump may be a good distance from your home, but as we have mentioned, termites do eventually venture out into the world to seek new homes, and if they are close enough to your home to be on your property, they are close enough to spread to your house. Naturally, you won’t want this, so your best bet is to remove the termite temptation by removing the tree stump.
Tree stumps present a fairly obvious problem; tree roots. Trees are big, and it takes a lot to keep them from toppling over in strong breezes. They achieve this through expansive networks of roots that anchor them into the ground, which is great for a tree trying to stay upright, but not ideal for someone trying to remove a tree from their garden.
There are chainsaws, of course, but you can only get so close to the ground with a chainsaw (or regular saw for that matter) and there will always be a stump afterwards. And, if it was extremely hard to get a tree out of the ground before, it is basically impossible to uproot a tree stump.
That leaves stump grinding.
As the name suggests, stump grinding is the process of grinding a tree stump down. Special, heavy-duty equipment is used to grind the stump all the way down to just below ground level, where it can then be covered over with soil, paving, or any other surface of your choice. Obviously it is not as ideal as completely removing the tree, but the only way to really achieve that at this point would be to completely excavate the area to dig the roots out of the ground.
It is possible to hire a tree stump grinder—we certainly wouldn’t recommend shelling out for one if you don’t do this for a living, however—but it should be noted that it is a large and potentially dangerous piece of equipment. If you are inexperienced with heavy machinery, it is probably best to hire a tree surgeon to take care of this for you, rather than risk injuring yourself or causing accidental property damage.
In the UK, property sizes tend to be on the smaller side, and a tree stump in your neighbour’s garden—or even on council land—could be just as close to your home as one on your own property. Of course, this poses a problem if you are worried about termites, since you can’t make your neighbour get rid of their tree stump.
If there is evidence that termites are already there, you may be able to appeal to them to remove the stump on the grounds that it is in their best interests too. After all, the termites don’t distinguish between your house and your neighbour’s house. You could even offer to help with the costs of removal on the basis that it would be cheaper than dealing with termites once they are in your home.
For stumps on council property, you can try to have the council remove it, though they may not be particularly open to the idea if there is no evidence of a problem. There are provisions in the law for property damage caused by trees that are not on your property, but much of it was written with things like damage caused by roots or falling trees in mind, so you may find yourself forging new ground.
Remember, no matter how egregious the problem, if you start cutting down trees or grinding tree stumps on property that is not your own—be it private or public land—you open yourself up to prosecution for anything from trespass to vandalism. Always try to seek an amicable solution first, and you may consider a legal route if that doesn’t work, but don’t take matters into your own hands.
Tree surgeons are not only experienced, they will have all the tools they need to carry out the work for you. When you compare the costs of hiring a tree surgeon to grind a stump for you to the cost of renting a stump grinder and the inconvenience of having to do it all yourself, the monetary savings start to look a lot less appealing. There really isn’t much advantage to taking on this task yourself. Unless, of course, you are a tree surgeon, and have the necessary expertise.
Termites may not represent a significant problem in the UK yet, but with instances of termite colonies starting to creep in, and the climate continuing to warm, it seems as though it could be only a matter of time before they become a problem.
Tree stumps are particularly appealing to termites, and given that they rarely serve any other purpose, it could be argued that it is best to get rid of them regardless, and remove that termite stepping stone to your home.
If you do decide to get rid of your tree stump, it is definitely best to call in a professional. It is more convenient, much safer, and it will often work out favourably in terms of price when you factor in your own time.