16 years ago we “Bagged ourselves a patch of scrub” so said one of the locals!! Managing it for diversity of species and successful growth of native trees was my winter work up until 2018.
Last week The Times had a great article about buying woodland. This photo of Chris and I was at the top of the article and we featured as a pair of regular people whose lives had been changed for the better by purchasing woodland. The full article is published here https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/meet-the-tree-huggers-investing-in-a-private-woodland-hqj0ww6rt . It is behind the pay wall so it is copied below without the pictures.
Over the last 16 years we’ve worked through a world of wild flavours and experimentation, running @tastethewild and ultimately leading to Bax Botanics Alcohol-free Spirits.
The knowledge of edible wild plants, herbalism and flavour preservation was invaluable for recipe creation, but the sustainability of foraged ingredients for larger production didn’t fit and so we researched and found a great supplier of Fairtrade Organic botanicals.
Big thanks to @jaynedowle1writer
@organicherbuk for brilliant herbs and @thetimes For publishing.
Published in The Times 20th January 2021 . Written by Jayne Dowle
As Lord Byron said, “there is a pleasure in the pathless woods”. And where better to find this than in a few acres of your very own?
In the past, woodland may have been the preserve of the landed gentry, but slowly the ownership of the UK’s leafy acres is changing. Whether it is a desire to offset our carbon footprint, conserve ancient habitats, set up camp and stargaze, or simply walk the dog, growing numbers of families are investing in their own private woodland.
Judith Millidge, co-ordinator of the Small Woodland Owners’ Group (SWOG), an enthusiasts’ group established in 2008, and editor of the online magazine Living Woods believes the pandemic has prompted more people to take the plunge: “Membership of the Facebook group rose by a staggering — for us — 22 per cent between April 2020 and the end of the year.”
The purchase of “amenity” woodland, typically between two and 20 acres in size, has been made possible by changing patterns of UK land ownership, says Daniel Sharp, central England manager for woodlands.co.uk, a woodland sales specialist.
The company subdivides large plots, acquired from landowners, into small parcels. At Langley Heath near Maidstone in Kent, for example, it is selling three plots resplendent with native species including sweet chestnut, oak and larch: Polo Wood, which is seven and three quarter acres, £85,000; Drake Wood, about ten acres, £95,000; and Keep Wood, about nine acres, £95,000. Each plot comes with free membership of SWOG and the Royal Forestry Society, and a £300 payment towards a course in woodland management, woodlands.co.uk.
When Chris and Rose Bax bought 18-acre Pilmoor wood near Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire in 2004 for £2,500 an acre it was dominated by pine trees and overgrown with reeds. “A local landowner came by and said, ‘Well done chaps, you’ve bagged a spot of scrub!’, but it isn’t scrubby now,” says Chris Bax. “We’ve
put ponds in it and paths. All sorts of wildlife come, from badgers to foxes, rabbits, deer, woodpeckers and stoats.”
The couple also run two thriving businesses, Taste the Wild, a foraged food cookery school, and Bax Botanics, a non-alcoholic drinks range, inspired by their love of nature from the site. Chris, 54, is the chef and bushcrafter, and his wife the plantswoman, wood-carver and “chainsaw-ist”, keeping the woodland maintained and an eye on the roaming deer.
Today, prices for woodland are significantly higher. However, Clive Hopkins, a partner and head of farms and estates at Knight Frank estate agency, says low interest rates are encouraging buyers; you can purchase woodland with a mortgage: “Woodland sales have increased significantly in the past 12 months. As a result, values in the UK have increased by an average of £2,000 per acre. In 2019, the average price for woodland was between £4,000 and £5,000 per acre. In 2020, that average increased to £6,000 and £7,000.”
This varies nationwide. David Smith, director of Myddelton & Major estate agency in Salisbury, Wiltshire, says that prices locally seem to be ranging from £10,000-£20,000 per acre.
Most private woodlanders go no further than a side-hustle such as stargazing, log-selling or the traditional craft of charcoal burning — the end product often sold to local delis for smoking food.
However, woodland can offer a complete work/life balance. “Buying a piece of woodland can provide the ultimate escape and be a cheaper alternative to buying a holiday home,” says Simon Gooderham, managing partner at the East Anglian estate agency Cheffins: “Also, as property with significant amounts of land or wooded areas can come with a premium attached, buying just woodland will often present a more viable alternative.”
Oxfordshire-based country buying agent Jess Simpson says blocks of woodland within ten miles of a city or a town tend to sell best: “Town-based buyers visit the woodland for recreational reasons — to picnic and to walk.”
Sam and Lucy Augur-Forbes moved to Kessingland in Suffolk in 2019, after selling their four-bedroom semi in Rochford, Essex, for £347,000 and bought a detached five-bedroom house for £245,000, then invested £53,000 in a four-acre plot of woodland, ten minutes’ drive away.
“We wanted our son, Harvey, who’s five, to grow up knowing the freedom of the woods,” says 31-year-old Sam. “His favourite thing is going to have hot chocolate in the open air. He likes to take his friends. Last year he brought a friend to pick blackberries and was really proud, touching the trees and telling him that it was ‘his’ wood.”
The Augur-Forbes’s original plans included building hides to rent for nature photography, keeping bees and starting a bushcraft business. “Bushcraft isn’t going
to happen,” says Sam, who also owns a photography business, Saaf Photography, and has a job in medical administration. “We discovered that our woodlands are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) so this limits what we can do. If we did it again, we would probably buy a non-protected site, but we’re enjoying them anyway.”
And there is the environmental aspect. “By owning and maintaining your own woodland, you could effectively offset the carbon footprint of your domestic household,” says Nick Ferrier, director of Jackson-Stops at Midhurst in Hampshire.
But don’t forget about “plain old fun”, points out Andrew Chandler, a partner in the rural department of Carter Jonas. “People just want to build dens, make camps, even make a treehouse, or to ride, bike or walk through,” adds Charlie Wells, managing director of the buying agency Prime Purchase.
Under current coronavirus restrictions, Defra advises woodland owners to follow the rules on social distancing and travel. A Defra spokeswoman says maintenance of land, to secure it against damage and to ensure no risk to others, is allowed. Find more information at gov.uk. The Small Woods Association has also produced pandemic guidance for woodland owners, smallwoods.org.uk.
Although not benefiting from inheritance tax saving, many amenity woodland owners intend to share their land with future generations. “It is very much getting out into your own ‘piece of England’,” says Smith.
Age is no barrier either. Smith has just sold a former orchard at Wherwell, in the Test Valley between Andover and Winchester, Hampshire, to Peter Bryant, 79, a retired water engineer, who is going to restore the fruit trees for his bees, with the help of his son and daughter.
James Greenwood, a buying agent at Stacks Property Search, points out that you shouldn’t see a piece of woodland as a substitute for a house in the country: “It’s
more comparable with a large allotment. On its own, it can’t be somewhere to live. You may be able to camp there, but you’ll need planning permission for pretty much anything else.”
However, for all the joy that hugging a venerable 500-year-old oak may bring, much of the new-found appeal of buying woodland has a very modern motivation — it’s instant nature. “You can’t create maturity when it comes to a landscape, but you can buy it, which is why many people purchase woodland,” says Wells. “If you buy a field with the intention of creating your own woodland, it will take you forever.”
Need to know
Research the type of woodland you would like to buy. Do you want native broadleaf species, such as oak and ash or conifers — which are evergreen and grow quicker, but are not so pretty — or even scrubland with the potential to plant new trees? Check out the Small Woods Association, smallwoods.org.uk, which
offers advice and information, and the Small Woodlands Owners’ Group, swog.org.uk.
Finding your perfect wood takes perseverance. Look out for potential sites on the experts’ websites johnclegg.co.uk and tustins.co.uk, as well as on woodlands.co.uk and woods4sale.co.uk, which are two internet-based companies that sell small woodland plots UK-wide.
“Check there are no diseases affecting the trees,” Mark Lawson, a partner at The Buying Solution, warns. “The trees may look healthy at certain times of year but sick at others. You also need to be aware of any conditions affecting growth of the trees, such as the soil type.”
Seek legal advice about the searches — for flood risk and subsidence, for example — that might be needed before completing a purchase.
Check that the sporting and mineral rights are included, or you could find that someone else can access your woodland to shoot or to extract any minerals.
Check for any restrictive covenants that could affect how you use it, for example for any kind of commercial purpose, or for activities such as quad biking.
Do not leave boundaries to chance. This could cause problems with neighbours later. Ask your solicitor to check, double check and triple check. “When you’re buying anything you should give consideration to what’s happening on either side,” forestry expert John Clegg says.
You will need to be aware of any tree preservation orders or sites of special scientific interest; these will limit what you can remove from or do in your patch.
Previous owners may have benefited from government grant schemes — in England the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS), while similar schemes operate in Scotland and Wales — which provide cash support in return for
management, replanting and other sustainable activities. You may be obliged to continue this work.
“Where you have public access ensure there is appropriate insurance in place,” says Philip Whitcomb, a partner at the law firm Moore Barlow specialising in rural matters. You may also need to maintain trees near overhead power lines.