Buying a woodland

People buy woodlands for all sorts of reasons, but most share a love of trees, wildlife and nature, and many want to experience the simplicity and adventure of spending time in the woods. Most woodland owners want to improve their woods, thinning where appropriate and letting light back in for the benefit of the flora and fauna.

There are specialist agencies selling woodlands, or you can try a local land agent. Prices for small plots of woodland have increased considerably over the last 10 years, driven largely by demand. There are also specialist solicitors who can help with the purchase. Sources of woodlands are listed in our FAQ section.

You need to be aware of the restrictions on your activities within your woodland.  You will need planning permission to erect almost any kind of structure, and the chance of being able to build a house and live in your woodland is remote.  Those few that have succeeded have had to prove that they need to be on site because of their woodland enterprise and have had to show over long period that they have made a reasonable living from their woodland.  In general you are permitted to erect a shed in your woodland but only if it is used for bona-fide forestry purposes – not overnight stays for the family or storing recreation equipment.

If some or all of the woodland has been designated as a site of special scientific interest or otherwise recognised as being of biodiversity or geological interest you would need to consult the relevant body (Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage) before carrying out any work.  If any part of the woodland is subject to a tree preservation order you would need to ask for permission from the tree officer with your local council before doing any work.  Your solicitor should be able to tell you if your woodland is designated in any way as part of their pre-sale searches.

You are legally allowed to take out a maximum of 5cu.m of timber from your woodland every calendar quarter (but you cannot sell more than 2 cu.m of this).  If you want to take out any more you need to obtain a felling licence from the Forestry Commission (see for further information) and before granting this they will expect you to have in place a management plan for your woodland.  Depending on your objectives grant aid might be available; different rules and entitlements apply in England, Scotland and Wales so check with the Forestry Commission website or ring your local office.

If you are considering buying a woodland check that sporting (shooting) rights are included.  If they are not (if they are ‘reserved’) this means that others will have the right to shoot in your woodland.

If overhead or underground services cross the woodland (wayleaves) you might be prevented from managing the area above or below the routes of these services in certain ways.  For example if an overhead power cable crosses your site you might have to keep trees under the route coppiced, or plant understory species only.  Service engineers will have the right to enter your property in case of emergency.

Check on the state of the fences surrounding the woodland and who has responsibility for maintaining them.  If they are in a poor state and you are obliged to replace them this can add considerably to the cost of the woodland.

Think about your objectives – timber, wildlife, recreation, green wood crafts – does the woodland offer the access, species, structure, topography, biodiversity to help you meet these?

If you join Small Woods you will receive a copy of our Information Pack which takes the new owner through the process of setting objectives and getting the most out of their woodland.