Un­der an English heaven

You can pro­tect a slice of this green-and-pleas­ant land, ei­ther on your doorstep or hun­dreds of miles away, and make a good in­vest­ment, too, says An­nun­ci­ata Wal­ton

Country Life Every Week - - Property News - Edited by An­nun­ci­ata Wal­ton

AS a na­tion of fresh-air lovers, we all want to have our own lit­tle bit of Bri­tain, from the postages­tamp gar­den to the wild, wide moor. In do­ing so, we can pro­tect our pre­cious coun­try­side (and its plants and crea­tures), in­creas­ingly un­der threat from ur­ban sprawl, road and rail build­ing and any­thing else we might deem detri­men­tal. Ev­ery lit­tle helps.

Un­der­stand­ably, peo­ple of­ten wish to buy land near to where they live, farm, shoot and so on. Suc­cess­ful farm­ers are land-hun­gry and first-time view­ers of new plots to the mar­ket are nearly al­ways neigh­bours. In­deed, as Alex Law­son of Sav­ills (020–7409 8882) be­lieves, ‘peo­ple al­ways like to own what they can see from their house—it’s very Bri­tish’.

How­ever, land pur­chases can be just that—bare land. There needn’t be a res­i­den­tial build­ing for miles around and you needn’t live nearby. ‘Land is a solid and at­trac­tive com­mod­ity,’ says Richard Sea­man of Scot­land-fo­cused Gold­smith & Co (0131–476 6500), ‘and, un­like stocks and shares, it isn’t volatile.’

First, there’s farm­land, which doesn’t have ‘the same aes­thetic ap­peal as other land, but is highly pro­duc­tive,’ ex­plains Mr Law­son. Ob­vi­ously, if you’re an ac­tive farmer, the land needs to be nearby, but if you sim­ply want to in­vest in farm­land and it’s big enough to be a satel­lite plot, it jus­ti­fies in­vest­ment in build­ings. ‘If it’s the right prod­uct,’ says Mr Law­son, ‘you can be con­fi­dent that there will be some­one close by to farm it for you.’

In terms of in­vest­ment, farm­land may be the ‘most ex­pen­sive’, but it has ‘the high­est chance of be­ing the most prof­itable,’ says Toby Milbank of The Search Part­ner­ship (01423 324716). Of course, this varies hugely across Bri­tain. ‘If you want a high yield, ex­pect to pay £10,000 or £12,000 per acre,’ he says. ‘Other land—up in the York­shire Dales, for ex­am­ple—can be 10 times cheaper than in arable ar­eas, with prices for rough graz­ing on the moor­land edge as low as £500 to £1,000 per acre.’

Forestry is a top per­former in terms of cap­i­tal growth—val­ues have in­creased by about 50% in the past five years. Mr Milbank ex­plains: ‘With the in­crease in de­mand for prod­ucts such as biomass heat­ing sys­tems added to the tax ad­van­tages that land in­vest­ments can of­fer and the af­ford­abil­ity of forestry run­ning costs, forestry plots of­fer the high­est level of growth in the fu­ture.’

Other re­new­able-en­ergy op­por­tu­ni­ties, such as hy­dro or wind, can be ‘a big up­side’, says Mr Sea­man, who points out that the cur­rent un­cer­tainty over farm sub­si­dies, which have un­der­pinned land value in the past, adds to the lure of forestry in­vest­ment.

Then there’s the great favourite: sport. Ac­cord­ing to Mr Milbank, most grouse­moor (and forestry) own­ers ‘live far from their land, of­ten abroad’.

Win Hill, a 612-acre for­mer grouse moor in Der­byshire, which is cur­rently on the mar­ket, could be the per­fect in­vest­ment for a sports­man, wher­ever his abode. ‘This is an un­usu­ally small, man­age­able piece of beau­ti­ful moor­land,’ says Ben Longstaff of Fisher Ger­man (01530 410885). ‘There are no yards or build­ings, so it needs to be man­aged by a neigh­bour­ing farmer. The En­try Level and rarer Higher Level Stew­ard­ship scheme gen­er­ate pay­ments of about £14,000 a year, in ad­di­tion to the ba­sic pay­ments of about £177 per hectare for keep­ing the farm­land in good nick, which will be a help.’

‘Grouse-moor buy­ers have the golden ticket,’ en­thuses Mr Milbank. ‘Buy­ing a moor with low grouse num­bers for a low price and man­ag­ing it care­fully can be very prof­itable. How­ever, the buyer would need plenty of time and deep pock­ets.’

‘Mostly,’ con­tin­ues Mr Milbank, ‘grouse-moor buy­ers in­vest for their love of wild spa­ces. As the days go by, they tend to be­come en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists with a deep af­fec­tion for the other wildlife on their moors.’

The most im­por­tant thing is to re­mem­ber that no land is iso­lated. ‘What you do on your plot af­fects oth­ers and sen­si­tive man­age­ment will de­liver div­i­dends,’ rea­sons Mr Sea­man. ‘I’d al­ways rather buy­ers kept large chunks of land to­gether, be­cause a uni­fied and ho­moge­nous ap­proach is best for the health of the land and ev­ery­thing liv­ing on it. These con­sid­er­a­tions will differ de­pend­ing on where the prop­erty is. For ex­am­ple, in the High­lands, you need to be aware of lo­cal deer man­age­ment.’

In this coun­try at least, we hope that a love of the land will al­ways be a fac­tor. ‘Lots of peo­ple buy huge tracts in places such as Scot­land and Northum­ber­land sim­ply to pre­vent it be­ing spoilt by oth­ers,’ ex­plains Mr Law­son. ‘It may be too steep for farm­ing or too wooded for any­thing com­mer­cial. It may be no use at all—sim­ply un­spoilt Na­ture.’

Sim­i­larly, in Der­byshire, Mr Longstaff sus­pects that, if the buyer of the Win Hill plot doesn’t turn out to be a lo­cal farmer, it will be a coun­try­man who loves the land and sim­ply wants his ‘own piece of Eng­land’, with­out thought of fi­nan­cial re­turn. What price beauty?

Win Hill, Der­byshire, £775,000 Fisher Ger­man (01530 410885). A 612acre moor­land site, pre­vi­ously man­aged as a grouse moor, which also in­cludes grass­land and wood­land. Lo­cal land­mark Win Hill peak is a big sell­ing point

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