Fancy trying forestry? Two Chilterns woodlands on sale under two hours from London

W

hether you fancy yourself as a forester (lumberjack shirt optional) or are looking for a rewarding investment opportunity, it might be time to follow Ed Sheeran‘s lead and buy some woodland for all the family to enjoy. The “Shape Of You” singer, 31, revealed at the end of last year that he is buying up swathes of forest in an attempt to offset his carbon footprint and “rewild” the country. In doing so, he’ll be leaving behind something meaningful for his toddler daughter, Lyra, to inherit (tax-free, but more on that later).

If you too fancy being king or queen of your very own jungle, then head to the Chiltern Hills, where two ancient woodlands have just come to market.

Ed Sheeran has invested in woodland to offset his carbon footprint

/ Dave Benett

Spreading across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, the Chilterns are home to the most extensive area of native beech woodland in England. Roughly 60 per cent is classed as ancient woodland – it has existed continuously since at least 1600 – including Pittmans Shaw near Reading and Fining Wood near High Wycombe.

Peace, privacy and the potential for timber income

Both woodlands offer peace, privacy and the potential for timber income. The 17-acre Pittmans Shaw, just east of the village of Checkendon, has a guide price of GBP230,000. It features beech, oak and cherry trees and is reachable from London via Paddington in less than an hour and a half.

Fining Wood, meanwhile, spans over 63 acres and is on sale for offers over GBP600,000. Hidden in a rural location adjoining the village of Lane End, its trees are chiefly broadleaved, with patches of conifers. Mike Tustin, of woodland and forestry specialists Tustins, is handling the sale of both these woodlands.

He describes Fining Wood as “stunning” and Pittmans Shaw as “a real gem”. Tustins has recently sold three other Chilterns woodlands: 20-acre Rignall Wood near Great Missenden; 15-acre Longdown Wood near Princes Risborough; and 19-acre High Park Wood near Berkhamsted. Demonstrating the strength of the market in this area, they all sold for more than their guide prices, which ranged from GBP165,000 to GBP255,000.

Buying English woodland: a guide

English woodlands have become increasingly attractive to investors in recent decades, with their value increasing by roughly 8 per cent year on year for the past 20 years, according to figures from the UK Forestry Index. They make an eco-friendly investment choice – forests absorb twice as much carbon as they emit, according to the World Resources Institute – but most enticingly of all, they offer sought-after outdoor space for families to enjoy together.

Buying some woodland certainly sounds good, but here’s everything you need to know before you trade your cash for trees:

Fancy trying forestry? Two Chilterns woodlands on sale under two hours from London

Fining Wood near High Wycombe could be your playground for GBP600,000

/ Tustins

Will I get any tax breaks?

Yes, hurrah! English woodland is sold under the same tax rules as residential property, but you won’t pay any stamp duty on the first GBP150,000 of the purchase price, compared to the first GBP125,000 when buying your only home.

The rate for the next GBP150,001 to GBP250,000 is the same two per cent, while anything over GBP250,000 is charged at five per cent. This compares favourably to the 10 per cent of stamp duty that buyers pay on the GBP925,001 to GBP1.5 million portion of a property and the 12 per cent on anything exceeding GBP1.5 million. You don’t have to pay council tax, income from timber sales is tax-free, and the value of your growing timber crop (though not the land itself) is exempt from capital gains tax.

Best of all, there is no inheritance tax payable on the total value of the woodland and trees once you’ve owned it for two years, making it an excellent generational investment.

Can I take out a mortgage to buy woodland?

Though not unheard of, the majority of lenders don’t offer mortgages for buying woodland, meaning most purchases are made in cash.

What does the conveyancing process involve?

Once you’ve found your dream woodland and had your offer accepted, your solicitor will undertake local searches and answer any of your enquiries. Contracts will then be signed and exchanged with the seller’s solicitor, at which point you’ll pay a 10 per cent deposit.

Full payment will be made at completion, when the woodland becomes yours. This process should take about a month if all goes smoothly, but just like buying a house, it can take much longer.

What are the costs?

On top of the price of the woodland, expect to pay solicitors’ fees amounting to circa 0.5 per cent of its value, plus between GBP50 and GBP150 for any additional searches. There is also a small charge for recording land registry title deeds; this varies but costs GBP40 for woodland under GBP80,000. Make yourself aware of any annual costs you may incur, too, such as for forestry management services if you are not planning on maintaining the plot yourself.

Do I need a licence to fell trees?

To fell any tree with a diameter greater than 7cm at 1.3 metres, you must first obtain a felling licence from the Forestry Commission.  You can fell up to five cubic metres of timber with these measurements per calendar quarter.

Can you build on it?

Many would-be English woodland owners are city dwellers looking for a countryside retreat where they can unplug and reconnect with nature. But what many don’t know is that the chance of building on forested land hovers close to zero. English forests are highly protected, meaning planning permission applications are almost universally rejected, unless they are for forestry-related structures such as equipment shelters.

However, while you can’t build a permanent weekend getaway, you can camp in your woodland in a tent or caravan for up to 28 days a year, allowing for plenty of outdoor adventures with friends and family.

What does it mean if a woodland has its sporting rights reserved?

This means that an owner is selling their woodland but reserving the right for themselves and their descendants to use it for sport – usually, pheasant shooting from October until February.

Sporting rights are held forever, regardless of how many times the woodland changes hands, meaning they can go back many decades.

Can the public access my woodland?

Once you’ve bought your woodland, it becomes your private land, but existing public footpaths must be kept open.

It is also your responsibility to maintain them adequately. If your woodland is designated as common land, then the public can roam freely.

Will I need woodland insurance?

Though not a requirement, it’s advisable to take out forestry specific insurance that covers risks to woodland from wind and fire damage. Public liability insurance is also a good idea, just in case a member of the public (whether welcome or trespassing) is injured by a falling branch or tree stump and tries to seek compensation.

What else should I consider?

Consider how accessible your plot of woodland will be, particularly for workmen with big vehicles. If the only way of getting there is in an off-road truck, you may come to regret your purchase, especially if you’ll be trying to attract paying customers. Predictably, you will pay more for forests that offer both tranquility and transport links to local towns and cities.

Woodland in the south east of England is generally the most expensive due to its proximity to London – expect to pay a minimum of GBP10,000 per acre.

What else can I do with woodland?

Personal enjoyment and the sale of timber aside, there is the potential to generate substantial income by opening up your woodland to surrounding businesses that wish to offer their customers access to the countryside.

You could also consider setting up a recreational business based on a range of activities such as paintballing, treetop ropes, den making, survival skills or laser questing.

The possibilities are endless.

You can even be buried in your private forest, subject to certain rules!