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User Icon     Posted 7 months ago     by Jim Hook     

Woods galore

Imagine being able to take a stroll in your own woodland, with the bluebells in full bloom, birdsong all around and the glimpse of a deer or red squirrel jumping between the trees. Idillic. I mean, who wouldn't want to own a piece of that? In recent years it's become difficult to drive along rural roads bordered by woodland and forests without seeing one of those bill boards with green writing on a white background offering you the chance. 'Woodland for Sale'. Just go to the web address on the red banner on the sign and its yours.

There are a few of these companies operating now, some are running multiple websites under different names, but all offer the same elixir to modern living. Not only are you offered your chance to repay your debt to the environment but your quality of life will also be improved by spending the occasional night out under the leaves and the stars whilst you become one with nature. I imagine the companies were set up with good intention, and may well be operated with the same original intent. From a business perspective it's likely to prove more successful for the seller to offer smaller, more affordable plots, and the purchaser will, as a result, have a more manageable amount of wood to take care of. Thats a win win and everyone is happy. Or are they?

If you take a look at the 'deeds' associated with most of the opportunities they are in fact sold with hunting and mineral rights but these tend to be negated by the fact that also contained in the contract are a number of covenants which preclude activities such as:

  1. Rough shooting or pest control at such times or in such manner as to be or become a danger or nuisance or annoyance to any person.
  2. Business purposes other than that of agriculture or forestry.

Its also important to consider the size of the woodland purchased, which is generally less than 10 acres, as any realistic chance of managing a safe shot in those small confines is going to be unlikely. It's not just hunters who are restricted however. Pretty much any activity that the Company feels is anti social, and they think most are, will be covered. Camping, walking, bushcraft and picnicking are all ok though. Phew!

Purchasers are however permitted to manage the woodland for business purposes, as long as it is agriculture of forestry related. Access to a small plot contained within a larger woodland to manage the trees may make this at best very challenging, but at worst impossible.

So, what do you get for your money? In short, about an acre for £4,000 of your hard earned pounds, but it is tax efficient. Profit yields are in the region of 8% per annum and there's no inheritance tax to pay (as long as you live for a few years after the initial purchase). Processing of timber for sale, if you decide to do that, is income tax free. You get to feel good about your green credentials, but that feeling may decline if you don't manage the woodland to keep it alive and you simply leave it to become overgrown and a home only for pest species. What don't you get? You can't build a log cabin and live in it unfortunately. In fact you can only stay in the wood overnight twenty eight times a year. In Scotland, the right to roam would allow you to camp in a wood without owning it anyway. You have other responsibilities as well, including maintaining rights of way and other public access. In addition you will need to pay for liability insurance to protect against those pesky people exercising their right of way from any costs associated with injuring themselves whilst passing through your piece of heaven.

Don't get me wrong. I think the right for people to buy woodland is absolutely correct. We live in a free and capitalist country and as such, if you have managed to save surplus cash, you should be allowed to spend it on what you like. I do however think that with any purchase comes responsibility. Whilst 3rd party liability insurance for injury is one thing, ensuring a dynamic, healthy, and developing environment for bio-diversity to thrive should also be levied on any purchaser. Ignorance is not an excuse I'm afraid. Its possibly naiive to think that allowing a wood or forest to 're-wild' will improve the habitat for our wonderful wildlife as more often than not the opposite is the result. Unfortunately its very hard to get people to understand that, as the time between taking ownership and the result of inactivity could be relatively long. But at the end of the day its only a couple of acres isn't it?!

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