Wednesday 11 July 2018
I’ve met with many woodland owners, both individuals and organisations. As every wood’s unique, so are the owners! I’m not, therefore, going to suggest how to own a wood here. Legislation covering felling, ancient woodlands, H&S, land use, etc. is best left to specialist books, training, experience and officialdom. Thus woodland purchase shouldn’t be undertaken lightly or on a whim. For the ‘woodland ownership minded’, here are some websites that at least give a starting point as to what may affect woodland owners:
Local authorities have information pertinent to woodland owners too.
So, I’m featuring ‘40 Acre Wood’ because; it’s owned by Robin and Diana, a splendid couple I’ve known for years; I had a hand in the management plan – and I visit several times a year.
Here’s an idea of the wood cribbed from the Management Plan: ‘Vehicular access is shared with a water treatment works, this leads from the road, 0.5km away, to the wood’s entrance gate. The surrounding countryside is mixed woodland, farmland and orchards (some neglected). The wood covers two stream valleys and intervening spurs/ridges and contains part of a lake and other small seasonal ponds/wet flushes. Some features may prove noteworthy historically. The mix is of broadleaved and coniferous trees with some internal open/semi-open areas, past planting schemes have augmented the wood. The wood’s designations are: Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS) and ASNW (Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland – in the stream valleys that were inter-planted with now very tall poplars). Lying between 44m and 70m above MSL, the wood is part of the complex mosaic of habitats and landscapes of the High Weald AONB. It’s not readily visible or prominent from nearby settlements, but is crossed by two public footpaths and one bridleway.’
Questions and answers
I asked Robin and Diana some questions about their ownership of 40 Acre Wood…
Why/how did you become owners?
Because of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we felt that a family inheritance should be invested in a long-term, worthwhile and tangible venture. Then the wood came up for sale, just a couple of miles away. We’d always wanted to buy a wood for various reasons: conservation, peace, fun, education, community and youth involvement (scouts, special events, surveys, bushcraft, green woodcraft, etc.). It’s great for our dogs and children too and fits with our green ethos too – supplying our sustainable fuel. Our ownership’s more like ‘stewardship’ – we intend passing the wood on to future generations in a better state than when we bought it.
What was the first thing you tackled after gaining ownership?
Sorted out access. The vehicular entrance was unusable; there were trees down over the rights of way. We cleared these and after that we laid inert hardcore material (courtesy of the waterworks) along an inadequate, dangerous, rutted track to a central clearing. This is now ‘base camp’ and parking for our activities.
Bat box instruction and making with the Scouts
Did you look at other woods before buying 40 Acres?
Not many. They were either too far away, too flat, monocultures, small lots from larger estates, had access/covenant problems, or for sale through a large company with whom we weren’t comfortable.
It wasn’t clear how much of the lake was included
Was the idea of ownership daunting?
Yes! But we like a challenge – as did the solicitor that we chose for the purchase. We only had a matter of weeks to complete from the date of our accepted pre-auction bid. We wanted this wood and ‘wrong-footed’ potential competition that might have arisen at open auction by putting in our acceptable bid first.
What’s the best thing (so far) as owners?
Diana: Our 25th wedding anniversary, in the wood!
Robin: Not just one thing but many: space, peace, precious memories, nature, fun, family, friends, BBQs, woodland crafts. Both Diana and I were brought up surrounded by woods and we want to ensure that our children and other people have such opportunities.
Fun and sustenance in the woods
Did you walk the wood and know its boundaries before purchase?
Yes. There was uncertainty about parts of the boundary, as much is not fenced, although, adjoining grazed fields are fenced by farmers. It wasn’t clear how much of the lake was included or where the wood ended, where it ran into a derelict orchard. Land Registry investigation helped us define our borders.
A sustainable source of fuel
We shopped around and read the small print. Public liability insurance is essential for all woodland owners, particularly where public rights of way cross the wood. In the end it was a toss-up between compound policies with CLA and NFU.
Another hands-on group activity
H&S/PPE and working practices are covered in the management plan. We reassess when we work in the woods and particularly for group activities. Rights-of-way are way-marked and kept clear and bridges maintained. Areas where woodland work’s being carried out are taped off and signed. Fire notices are by the main entrance and extinguishers on-site when fires are lit. There’s a deep water sign (that occasionally goes missing) by the lake.
To be continued…..
(PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY MARSHALL)