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Business Clinic: How to navigate the forest market

Whether you have a legal, tax, insurance, management or land issue, weekly farmersBusiness Clinic experts can help.

Here, Marc Liebrecht, Head of Forestry at Carter Jonas, explains how to approach the growing forestry market.

See also: Business Clinic: Worried about horseback riding through our cattle fields

Q. I am looking to purchase approximately five acres of timber. The prices seem to vary a lot, why is this and what should I pay attention to?

A. I can assure you that you are not alone – since the start of the pandemic, the demand for small woodlots has exploded. Many buyers entering the market are not foresters, but rather buy forest land for pleasure and recreation.

This has led to price spikes as people with disposable income compete for a limited amount of woodland within a reasonable distance of their homes.

Woodlot prices will vary for a number of reasons, including location, species mix and accessibility.

The key is to find the piece that suits you and your vision. The amateur buyer is willing to pay for the good woodlot, which also causes price variation.

There’s a lot to think about and I’ll try to outline the main considerations here.

My first piece of advice is to establish your goals. You mentioned you’re looking for about five acres, so I’m assuming you’re not looking to run a commercial forestry business.

However, ask yourself if you want something you can enjoy from the get-go with little input, or if you’re willing to get more involved in hands-on management.

If it is the latter, then certain skills and know-how are required. You can also use the land for collecting firewood or for camping etc.

When considering potential purchases, access will be key, with requirements depending on what you plan to do.

If there’s wood to be mined, you’ll need suitable access to the big wagons – if you just want to pick up firewood, you’ll just need to get a pickup there.

If there is no access for vehicles, you can only use it for recreation. Access can be by agreement on third land, which in itself is not a problem, but make sure the agreement specifically authorizes what you plan to do.

If you’re hoping to fell trees, seek professional advice before buying, as you’ll need permission (subject to certain exemptions) and there will be fees for licenses and standards to meet.

In terms of development, you may be able to put in some simple infrastructure like paths or possibly a shed, but getting permission to build a house is highly unlikely as there are strict regulations to protect the woods.

If you don’t expect to do anything with the land other than use it for peaceful enjoyment, check public rights of way as this can affect the sense of privacy.

You might want to manage this a bit by putting up signs or fencing to allow people to enjoy the marked trails without compromising what you expect from the forest.

Many buyers wishing to acquire a wooded area for pleasure particularly want a natural and native wooded area (the archetypal wooded area with a carpet of bluebells or snowdrops) or one that can be transformed into a semi-natural old wooded area.

If that’s your goal, I suggest you find out what an old-growth forest typically looks like in your area – it may include a mixture of some of the following hardwood species: oak, beech, birch, hazel, hawthorn, holly, and ash.

And, with the proliferation of ash dieback, it is important to know the proportion of this species.

If it is not already affected, there is a great risk that it will be in the future. Thus, a wooded area with a lot of ash will require substantial work.

On a more positive note, there is plenty of support available for forest management.

This includes grants, but for larger plots than you are considering. The Forestry Commission is the best first port of call for further information on this.

Finally, take a good walk and inspect the grounds as you would a house – and consider getting professional advice.

Once you’re there, don’t rush to make changes, but live with it for about a year and get to know it first.

Good luck with your purchase.


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