Branching: Why Britons are buying woodland in the Covid crisis

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Branching: Why Britons are buying woodland in the Covid crisis


Lockdown has prompted some people to start yoga, do crafts, or watch more Netflix. For others, it inspired them to embark on their own green oasis.

Owen Gardner, 46, and his wife, Anya, 48, who live in Farnborough in Hampshire, decided to buy 2.2 hectares (5.5 acres) of timber in Surrey last summer.

“We had been fondling this idea since camping at a small forest campsite a year ago and spent a lot of time at forest sites like Alice Holt in Hampshire,” says Owen, senior manager of the Professional Services division. of a software company. . “We didn’t have the money or the time at the time, but when a friend bought acres during the lockdown, we took a peek around to see what was available.”

The couple ended up falling in love with the mature trees on a plot in Surrey, 7 miles from their home, and within six weeks, also purchased the two neighboring woods, spending a total of £ 80,000.

The Gardner family appreciates their wooded plot. Photography: Owen Gardner

The Gardners are among a growing number of Britons who have acquired woodland since the start of the Covid crisis.

Joe Fielding, managing director of brokerage firm Woods4Sale, says sales have doubled in the past 12 months. “We used to have around 80 forests on our website at any one time, but now it’s often reduced to 20,” he says.

Woodlands in demand tend to be those with additional features such as streams, ponds, and ruins. “Some people like large, mature trees, with lots of open space for camping and recreation, but others like dense vegetation where they can hide and not be seen,” says Fielding.

But a key point is accessibility. “The distance is attractive, but the location in relation to the owners’ homes is important,” he says.

Richard Scholfield, property manager at Woodlands.co.uk, has also seen demand for small woodlands double since the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think there is a parallel with people moving from London to live in the countryside,” he says. “People got stuck inside. They want a place to go with the kids and experience nature, and put their money somewhere that’s pretty safe. “

Woodlands typically cost an average of around £ 10,000 per 0.4 hectare (one acre). On top of that, Woodlands.co.uk says the legal process to purchase land will typically cost around £ 600 to £ 900. There is a small land registration charge to get the title registered (around £ 40) but there is no stamp duty as long as the purchase price is below £ 150,000 in England and Northern Ireland . There are different stamp law rules in Scotland and Wales. Woodlands do not attract council tax or business rates, or other similar charges.

CFO Gavin Hills, 44, and his wife, Tiki, 36, made an eight-year dream come true by purchasing 0.6 hectare (1.5 acres) of land in Northchapel, near Petworth in West Sussex , just before Christmas.

A 30 minute drive from their home in Littlehampton, and with a mix of oak, chestnut and silver birch trees, the forest is also a fairly easy walk to a pub and shop. The couple fell in love with the plot and bought it for £ 25,000, plus legal fees of just over £ 1,000, the same day they saw it.

“We had to cancel a vacation worth around £ 4,000, so we invested in wood, and that – with our existing savings – meant we could afford it,” Gavin says.

Gavin, Charlie, Tiki and Samuel Hills make the most of their woodland plot, which is a 30-minute drive from their home in West Sussex. Photographie: Gavin Hills

Although the closures meant they couldn’t visit as often as they would have liked, they called a few times. “We coppiced and can’t wait to camp there and invite friends over, especially during the summer months,” Gavin says. “It’s a lovely place to sit and spend time relaxing in nature. It is very good for the soul.

For those who dream of escaping to their own wooded oasis, it’s worth looking first at what you can and can’t do with the land. Legally you are normally only allowed to camp overnight in your forest for up to 28 days per year without a building permit, although in England this has been extended to 56 days per year until the end of December 2021, thus facilitating the installation of landowners. ephemeral campsites.

Other limitations also apply. “Although you can benefit from the use of the forest through recreational activities such as camping or walking, there will be restrictions on certain uses of the land,” says Raazia Ibrahim, Senior Lawyer and Head of Law. commercial property of the law firm Linder Myers. . “The development of the land or any form of construction will be restricted.”

As a general rule, a place to store forestry equipment is permitted, although you usually need to apply for permission – Woodlands.co.uk has more on their site on sheds and storage.

If the idea of ​​a green burial appeals, you can be buried in your own forest but, again, this is subject to certain rules. There is more information on private land burials on the Natural Death Center website.

Ibrahim recommends that forest owners take out liability insurance. “Having the public walk through or near your wooded site could have consequences if people are injured as a result of falling branches or concealed tree stumps, which could lead to legal action for owners.

Judith Millidge, coordinator of the Small Woodland Owners’ Group and editor-in-chief of Living Woods Magazine, warns that safety can be an issue. There can be issues with intruders and criminal damage, she said, adding, “We advise you never to leave tools in woods or sheds, and we encourage people to keep the location fairly vague. . “

Judith Millidge in the woods
Judith Millidge says, “In my experience, people don’t often sell their woodlands after they buy one”. Photography: J Millidge

Some people may see their plot as an investment, but Millidge, who owns herself, says that doesn’t seem like the main draw for buyers.

“In my experience, people don’t often sell their woodlands after they buy one. Maybe if they move across the country, they might want to sell. But people seem to love them and have them for as long as they can, and very often pass them on to their families.

She says, “People generally go for the day, to see a bit of the wildlife, put up rope swings for the kids, and sit and relax.” Don’t let the rain put you off either. “It’s amazing what awnings and tarps can do to keep you dry,” she adds.

Angela, 56, from Surrey, paid £ 48,000 in February for a small plot in the Surrey Hills.

“I spend a lot of time outdoors and have imagined for a long time having a forest, but I didn’t think I would find anything suitable and close to my house until a friend alerted me to Woods4Sale, and I found a listing for a local wood, ”she says. “My partner and I love to be outdoors, camping and doing / creating including spoon carving, woodworking, pewter casting experimentation, etc.” The peace, quiet and privacy of the woods was a key consideration, as was the opportunity to enhance the area for wildlife.

“Since I live in an apartment and don’t have access to a private garden, this is a safe place to go, as I’m further away from the people in the woods than outside my home. I consider this to be my outdoor gym.

While construction company Ecology offers specific mortgages for small forests, Fielding says buyers often remortgage their primary home to finance their purchase or “use other funds that are in unproductive investments.”

Sabine Zetteler, 39, owner of communications agency Zetteler, has several reasons for wanting to have her own patch of green. “I plan to buy wood in the countryside to preserve and protect it because I can’t imagine being able to afford a place in London,” she says.

“I have always liked the idea of ​​protecting a piece of land or trees more than owning a house. The idea of ​​one day having a cabin in the middle of a wilderness to escape and let our friends borrow, and have the possibility of traveling somewhere to fall asleep in nature… I hope to invest in a plot before I turned 40. Protecting a plot and allowing biodiversity to thrive seems to be the best investment and the best legacy. “

For the Gardners, trying to find a slice of calm during the pandemic was a big factor in their purchase, and Owen says the plot has “turned out to be a lifeline during this strange year.” Money that would otherwise have been spent on vacations, travel, outings, etc. led to an investment for the well-being of his family, he adds.

Sometimes the family will go to their plot before setting up camp, throw logs on a fire pit, watch a movie on a portable projector and screen, and sleep in hammocks.

“We visited every weekend and even during the week,” says Owen. “From my perspective, I had a high pressure job, and it gives me the space for mindfulness and peace of mind. There is nothing you can do but pretend to be a lumberjack.

His sons Caleb, 10, and Teigan, 9, are at an age where they can explore properly. Owen says the family was lucky enough to have savings to make their dream come true. “We took a moment where we were like, ‘Are we spending so much money in the forest? But we know that its value will not diminish and it is a privilege to have custody of this area and to enjoy it.

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