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Buying your own woodland - what is involved?

Posted by Stewart Mcilroy on 9 February 2017 at 11:30 am

A year ago, my good wife and I summoned up the courage, and finance, to purchase our own woodland - five acres (just over two hectares) of beech woods in the Chilterns. It’s classified as PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site) because it’s been continuously wooded since 1650 (known as Ancient Woodland) and was later part planted (20%) with conifers.

It’s a tiny fragment of the total current woodlands in the UK, estimated at nearly 7.5 million acres (over 3 million hectares), and the 73% of British woodland which is in private ownership (Forestry Commission figures).

When I tell people I've bought some woodland, many people ask ‘What will you do with it?’ as if owning woodland only makes sense if you develop it or do something else to make money from it. Well, the answer is that I will restore the woods to a semi natural state (no wild boar, pine martens or lynx as yet, but hopefully soon) and then enjoy the woods. I will watch the seasons change, enjoy the beauty of an orange autumn day, and camp out in a hammock under a dark sky.

But, as with any new adventure, there are things to bear in mind.

Can I take as much wood as I want?

The answer is No. I can take a maximum of 5 cubic metres of timber every calendar quarter, but cannot sell more than 2 cubic metres. If I wanted to take out more I’d need to get a felling licence from the Forestry Commission and have a management plan for the woods. It’s not something I’m planning for the moment.

None of my trees are subject to Tree Preservation Orders and the wood isn’t a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so I avoid the extra restrictions that apply in such cases.

How do I maintain my woodland?

Every woodland is different, but it is not a garden to be tidied up. Woodlands have had centuries of human intervention and cropping wood for fuel is one way of maintaining a healthy ecosystem. There are plenty of useful tools online that will help you, such as the myForest programme from the Sylva Foundation.

The main tasks I’ve had to do so far are:

  • removing the invasive holly trees and smaller conifers and arranging for sensitive removal of larger conifers by felling contractors (advised by a very helpful man from the Chilterns Woodlands Project)
  • building ‘dead hedges’ to allow regeneration of cleared areas, removing wire fences (‘re-wilding’ my bit)
  • cutting and removing logs to roadside (by hand), and
  • squirrel control!

How much work is involved?

Having your own woods involves physical work, but this can be as much or as little as you want. I am more the ‘heavy toil’ type of guy and what I do certainly keeps me fit. Apparently working in the forest all day requires 9000 calories, which makes it a very energy intensive activity. I’m sure I don’t burn this amount but I am ravenous and sleep like a baby after a day of wood cutting and hauling. And I don’t need a gym membership…

How much does woodland cost?

Prices vary, but generally range from £4,000 - £20,000 per acre, and there are tax breaks and grants available in certain circumstances.

The ongoing costs of woodland management include: public liability insurance, materials and equipment, felling contractors.

Some people come together to buy woods as a community, sharing the costs and the work which suits some people better.

Buyer beware!

Buying woodland is like any other property purchase. You’ll need an experienced solicitor and there will be surveys and searches to pay for.

There may be restrictions on certain activities in woodlands, such as sports shooting or quad bikes, or the shooting rights may have been sold separately. Power lines and utilities that run under or over your land may affect your plans.

What else do I need to know?

Here are some other useful things to know about managing your own woodland:

  • you can’t build on or live in your woods in most cases, although you can stay for up to 28 days per year without planning permission
  • keep up to date with biosecurity advice on new pests and diseases, such as ash dieback, so you know what to look for
  • if you are buying a small wood that is part of larger woodlands, you will be a part of a wider group of owners who may want to co-ordinate some aspects of tree and wildlife management. Many woods have organised events and training that will help you make the most of your woodland.
  • chainsaws are very useful for woodland management but can be very dangerous. You’ll need to be trained before you use one and have the proper safety equipment.

What’s best about owning some woodland?

All in all, owning some woodland (for the price of a London garage) is great fun. You get to dress up as a lumberjack. You also have the opportunity to really relax in nature.

Any regrets? Should have done it 30 years ago!


Image credit: Stewart McIlroy

Further information

1. Forestry Commission - Guide to owning woodland

2. The Small Woods Association

3. Small Woodlands Owners Group

4. The Royal Forestry Society

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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