Join­ing the mod­ern wood­lan­ders

Fam­i­lies who buy a patch of trees find an an­ti­dote to stress, says Sarah Run­dell

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Outdoors -

Over­all sales of DIY power tools have dropped since the hous­ing mar­ket slump — only cord­less va­ri­eties re­main strong sell­ers

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 Wood­ 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)

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