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Buying a wood: a natural investment

Unlike residential property, there are no chains, no leases and usually no legal charges

January 23, 2014 | By:

Looking at woodland for sale? You won't just satisfy your love of wildlife. They're an investment and offer tax advantages, too, says Sheila Prophet

BUY A WOOD Sun-Rays-Between-Trees-In-Forest-620 Bigstock-46828282

The arboreal canopy makes an excellent tax shelter

When actor Mackenzie Crook bought eight acres of ancient Essex woodland, baffled people kept asking why.

“That had me stumped,” says Mackenzie, who played geeky Gareth in The Office. “To me the reasons were obvious. I want to study it, to watch it and see how it works, to learn the names of the flora and fauna and understand how they co-exist.”

Mackenzie, 39, has spent three years visiting his wood and camping there with his children, Jude and Scout. Owning it is a dream come true for him.

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“The idea had been with me for years,” he says, “ever since I read about protected areas that farmers, unable to use them for livestock or crops, sold off relatively cheaply.”

Mackenzie’s ambition may have puzzled his friends, but he is not alone. There is a growing army of people investing in “amenity” woods, which are too small for commercial use.

Publisher Felix Dennis loves his trees and woodlands so much, he writes poetry about them, and tours the country sharing his words with others.

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Felix also began in a small way, by planting a five-acre wood called Ralph’s Wood  in 1995. Since then, he has acquired thousands of acres in Warwickshire for his Heart of England charitable forest project, dedicated to creating a new native forest.

“We plant around 300 acres every year, and so far we have planted 1,900 acres, around the size of five Hyde Parks. The dream is to plant a total of 20,000 acres, all open to the public.”

Tax advantages

Recent research by Woodlands.co.uk found that over 12,000 acres of British land is now being safeguarded by British owners and nine out of ten buyers said a love of wildlife was the most important factor.

But there can also be sound financial reasons. “Interest in buying woodlands has grown considerably since we began selling them 40 years ago,” says chartered surveyor John Clegg. “In the past two or three years, prices have risen by around 15 per cent.

“Investing in woodland is a bit like gold. You know, whatever happens, the land will still be there and there will always be a demand for it.”

There can also be tax advantages. For instance, woodland does not normally attract inheritance tax, and any grants you receive for woodland work are also free.

John Clegg and Co currently has 74 woods on offer, ranging from vast swathes of Argyll in Scotland, worth millions, to amenity woods such as the 7.49 acre Ware Park Wood in Hertfordshire, with a guide price of £50,000.

How to buy woodland

Some sellers divide larger properties into smaller lots that are more manageable and affordable. For example, buyers can snap up part of the 49-acre Brassetts Wood in East Sussex from around £35,000.

What’s more, buying woodland is surprisingly simple, according to Woodlands.co.uk, a family business that creates and sells small woods all over Britain.

Woodland is generally freehold, with boundaries clearly marked and, unlike residential property, there are no chains, no leases and usually no legal charges.

However, it enjoys strong protection, so there are set rules about what you can and cannot do on your land. It is extremely unlikely you would get planning permission to build a permanent structure on the land, though permitted developments such as toolsheds are allowed and you can stay there in a caravan. In theory your stay is limited to 28 days per year, but in practice you are unlikely to be chased out on day 29.

Where to get information

Owners have their own association, too: Smallwoods provides comprehensive information about the ins and outs of buying and managing your own woodland. It runs courses on everything from management to making a woodland toilet. (One of the most common questions from those new to rural life is, “What about going to the loo?”)

There is also the Small Woodland Owners’ Group, or SWOG, which has its own programme of events, a forum and regular newsletters.

A comprehensive handbook for new and prospective owners (called Badgers, Beeches and Blisters: Getting Started in Your Own Wood) has been produced by Woodlands.co.uk and can be downloaded free from its website.

As well as the pleasure of owning your own rural sanctuary, owning a wood can have one other financial advantage. You are allowed to fell up to 20 cubic metres of wood a year, which adds up to a large lorry load. You can use this wood to reduce your fuel bills by burning it on your own fire, or make a small extra income by selling bundles of firewood or even getting crafty and making woodland products.

For inspiration, visit one of the regular wood fairs held around the country showing off the sort of things you can do with your wood. Visit Woodfairs for a calendar of upcoming events.