Woods and forests have been in the news a lot lately over in the UK. The government had big plans to start selling off our national woodlands in order to raise some much-needed cash.
Understandably, there was uproar and, realising the error of their ways, David Cameron and the Con-Dem coalition soon beat a hasty retreat.
While all the furore was going on, I was sitting awkwardly on the fence.
Of course, I think that selling off the British woodland to the highest bidder is an outrageous idea, which cannot possibly have been in the public interest and which would have raised a pittance when compared to clamping down on big business tax avoidance.
And yet, I’m also one of a growing number of people who has bought a woodland on a private piece of land.
Why did I do it?
Because I grew up in a cottage surrounded by forestry commission woods and London was making me miserable. Because I wanted somewhere excellent to go camping on the weekends. Because I wanted to do my bit to safeguard the future of our woodlands. Because I wanted to spend my weekends whittling and fence-building and mushroom hunting. And because I wanted to leave something truly worthwhile to my children.
Managing woodland is good for the environment
Woodland management is one of the very few areas where human interference actually benefits the flora and fauna.
Coppicing (where the thick trunks are cut down to allow the side shoots to grow into lots of little trunks) allows light into a wood, which encourages wild flowers to grow, attracts butterflies and gives younger trees the space to grow.
Hedge building gives the birds somewhere to shelter (and the seed they drop gets more plants growing) and encourages dormice, and log-piles offer shelter to beetles and bees.
But too much of our woodland isn’t actually properly managed.
The Forestry Commission does its bit to keep the woods in order (and pine forests have their place, despite how many feel about them), but farmers rarely have the time or financial incentive to manage their woods properly, and much of our privately owned woodland is left to become over-grown with brambles, unstable old coppiced trees and poisonous, non-native rhododendron.
So if you rather fancy owning a wood, and you’re willing and able to put in the time and effort required to manage it, here’s what you need to do.
Buying a wood
- Check out Woodlands.co.uk and Woods4sale. They have small (usually 6 acres) plots for sale. These plots are usually in larger woods or forests.
- There’s not much haggling to be done when you buy a wood. The asking price is usually the sale price. Land is valued based on the value of the trees on it, the quality of the soil and how well the wood has been maintained. Also location, streams and springs, and the quality of the trackways will play a part.
- Read up on your subject first. Both Woodlands.co.uk and Woods4Sale have really good resources. The Woodlands.co.uk blog is one of my favourite blogs on the internet. The offer tips on managing a wood, making money from your wood (don’t get too excited), grants and tax breaks you may be eligible for.
- It’s not easy to get a mortgage on a woodland. You may need to remortgage your house rather than try to borrow against the value of the land. The Ecology Building Society may be able to help out if you don’t want to remortgage.
- Don’t expect to buy a wood and build yourself a log cabin, in most circumstances you will not be able to build on your wood. In fact, there are limits to how long you may camp there, and how long you may leave a caravan on site. Sadly, not all of us can be Ben Law.
- Get public liability insurance. Even if your land is officially private, people will still appear to walk their dogs. Although you may happy to let them do this, if they injure themselves on your land, you are liable.
- Can’t afford to buy on your own? Woodland collectives can be very effective. Just make sure you get a clear contract between you that states what your input will be.
- You’ll need a felling licence if you want to chop down more than a few trees. It’s worth doing a course on woodland management.
- This is a serious commitment, and if you don’t have the time to look after your woodland, it may be best to leave it to others who do. Our wood is in the middle of a forest and the surrounding wood owners all work together to get things done. We are lucky to have a qualified woodsman who lives right next to the wood and who can co-ordinate our work and keep us all in check.
- Get camping! You really will not have more peaceful holidays than the ones spent gazing into your own campfire on your own wood with your favourite people.