Joining the modern woodlanders
Families who buy a patch of trees find an antidote to stress, says Sarah Rundell
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For almost 20 years Wendy and Garth Halanen’s nine acre wood in Kent has been a silent partner to many of their family’s milestones. “Whenever a relative or friend dies we plant a tree for them,” says Wendy.
She talks of their ancient wood of birch, spruce and sweet chestnut, bought for £12,000 on impulse in 1989, as if it is one of the family.
“I love the wood anemones, the bluebells and the smell after a downpour,” she explains. “I’ve told my sons they’re not to sell it.”
Sales of amenity woodland are growing. Many native and ancient woods are being divided up and sold in affordable, manageable plots with easy access from roads.
“There has always been demand for amenity woodland; now there is more opportunity to buy,” says Colin Gee from surveyors and woodlands specialist John Clegg, which sells around 100 amenity woods and commercial plantations a year.
Interest isn’t confined to shoots or people wanting a buffer to shield their property. Few of the growing band of woodlanders live next door to their woods. They buy in holiday spots or close to relations. All are prepared to jump in the car to spend a day camp building and foraging.
Remote ownership is possible because woods don’t need daily management, explains Gee who recently sold a wood outside Lyme Regis in Dorset to buyers from Lincolnshire and London.
Martin Garwood used his redundancy package to buy six acres of a 300-acre wood in Kent in 2005. He lives half an hour away but some of his woodland neighbours commute much further. “Some are from London and one chap comes from Derbyshire,” he says.
Most buyers want to enrich family life and indulge passions for wildlife and woodland management. All wax lyrical about the power of woods to rejuvenate. Fiona Tooth runs woodland days in her patch for people with psychological problems. “Spending time in a wood is therapeutic,” she says.
Few buy with a view to building. “It’s difficult getting planning permission,” says Mark Prior from the Forestry Commission.
Is it a good investment? John Clegg believes woodland values have risen from £3,500 an acre to about £7,000 in the past five years. But amenity woodland isn’t profitable like commercial forests which are exempt from capital gains and inheritance tax. They also have an economy of scale making them cost-effective. Rather than selling logs, most owners save on energy costs and burn them themselves.
Fiona uses her wood in a Rayburn that meets her heating needs. “Stoking it up is physically relentless but it makes sense,” she says. The sales agent Woodlands.co.uk estimates five acres heats an average home.
Is it hard work? Woods need managing. The Forestry Commission advises thinning trees to allow light to reach the forest floor. “Glades and rides need clearing to let sunlight in and to create wildlife corridors,” says Tracy Pepler who runs a small woodlands owners group in East Sussex. “But unlike agricultural land you can just leave woodland to grow.”
The credit crunch may put off some buyers for now, but woodland comes into its own as an antidote to stress. “I just can’t think of any downsides,” says Wendy. “It’s life affirming and we love it.”
Burning issue: Fiona Tooth with Rayburn fuel and woods for sale in Cornwall (right) and Cumbria (below)