Buying woodland – seeing the wood for the trees
Buying woodland has long been popular for a variety of different reasons. It has been viewed as a relatively cheap way of getting to own a little piece of England. Some seek woodland for environmental reasons, or have a desire to “work on” in their own woodland. Other woodland may be purchased for sport or as it forms an important screen to existing property. Larger woodlands may be acquired as an out-and-out investment.
So what should you be looking out for when considering purchasing a woodland? The most important consideration is to ensure that you will be able to manage the woodland in a way that will meet your objectives.
Woodland can be subject to landscape scale designations which can affect what you can do with the woodland. Such designations include National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They can be subject to general environmental designations, such as SSSI or National Nature Reserve. Then there are woodland specific designations, such as Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland, Ancient Woodland Site and Tree Preservation Orders. All these designations can impact future management.
Is the woodland freehold or leasehold? It may seem odd to have a leasehold woodland but much of the land sold to the Forestry Commission for planting was sold on a 99 or, more usually, a 999 year lease. A long lease may not impact the value, but the lease may well contain some restrictive covenants or reserve some rights, which may not be compatible with what you wish to do.
Even freehold woodland may be subject to rights held by third parties or other restrictions. The usual such rights will be mineral and sporting. If you were to buy a woodland for its environmental value, could you tolerate somebody else filling it with pheasants?
Then access must be considered. If access is over third party land are the rights robust and how restrictive are they? Is access suitable for your needs, both physically and legally? Don’t forget the weak bridge 6 miles down the council road which is the only route out for artics loaded with timber. Are there public rights of way within the woodland or other third party rights within or through the woodland? Your planned additional drive may not be a great success if the woodland has become the favourite dog walking area for the village.
Woodland boundaries can be an area of contention, particularly where they abut grazing land. What condition are they in and who is responsible for their upkeep? Sheep can be expensive grazers if they get into newly planted woodland.
The woodland may be covered by a felling or management plan as approved by the Forestry Commission. This may contain some legal obligations, such as the need to replant felled areas with particular species, so it is good to know of such schemes early in the process. Failure to do the correct due diligence can be an expensive and disappointing surprise!
Having acted for numerous vendors and purchasers of woodland, I am now listed on the woodlands.co.uk website as a specialist and recommended solicitor for woodland transactions so do please give me a call if I can be of any assistance to you.
If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.