Tree Map helps insurers manage drought subsidence risk

29 June 2018

A nationwide database detailing the location, height and canopy cover of nearly 300 million trees, created by Bluesky, is helping UK property insurers assess the risk posed by trees. During prolonged periods of hot, dry weather, as is currently being experienced, the number of claims, blamed on subsidence, can rise by up to 60 per cent, with costs to the industry in excess of 400 million pounds. It is estimated that vegetation, primarily trees, can account for 70 per cent of valid claims during these conditions.

The Bluesky National Tree Map is the first ever detailed map of trees across England and Wales and is already helping insurance companies identify properties with trees located in close proximity. When used in combination with other geographical map data, such as aerial photography, soil maps and address databases, the Bluesky National Tree Map data can help assess the risk of subsidence, understand the potential for damage to property and inform remedial action. The data is also being used to assist in pre-fill, pricing, underwriting and claims management.

“Early forecasts indicated the summer of 2018 would be the hottest for many years with an early start and prolonged and lengthy periods of particularly fine weather in August and into early autumn,” commented Rob Carling, Insurance Specialist and Senior Business Development Manager at Bluesky. “While this is good for holiday makers, the tourist industry and even aerial mapping companies, history suggests that it can be costly for insurance companies and home owners at risk of subsidence. Using National Tree Map data, as many insurance companies already are, can help mitigate risk, inform policy creation and assist with claim resolution.”

The Association of British Insurers reports that UK domestic property insurers receive around 35,000 domestic subsidence claims in a normal year, settled at a cost of around 250 million pounds. In a hot, dry year the number of claims can rise significantly coining the phrase ‘event’ year. In August 2003 a heatwave left Europe sweltering, recording the hottest summer on record since 1540 and contributing to the deaths of more 20,000 people. That year the claim count exceeded 55,000 and costs increased to 400 million pounds an increase of over 60 per cent.

Subsidence is not the only risk to property associated with trees. Falling trees can cause damage to property, exasperated by extreme weather, and the removal of trees can cause ‘heave’ which although much less common is often more severe.                                                

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