I picked up on a local wood coming onto the market recently via John Cleggs, the specialist woodland estate agents. Brassetts Wood, 20 hectares of almost certainly ancient woodland in East Sussex, was until very recently a Forestry Commission (FC) wood, part of the public forest estate. It was put up for sale in December 2010 and was obviously sold before all the proposed FC sales were stopped, during the abortive consultation process on the future of the public forest estate earlier this year. In December 2010 the wood was on the market at an offer price of £175,000 and is on offer today for a total of £404,000. It may not sell for the asking price, but that’s not a bad increase in value over a 4 month period!
In these latest details the wood has been divided up into seven lots. Now wood lotting – the sub dividing of a discrete woodland area into many blocks for individual ownership – has its good and bad points, but it was rumoured that clauses would be put in place on any Forestry Commission sales to prevent this happening as it potentially jeopardises the integrity of the woods in question. In the details for Brassetts Wood potential new owners are being made aware that the wood has been dedicated under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000, and so public access on foot is in theory protected (although it’s worth noting that the public does not have a right of access at all times to dedicated land; access to dedicated land can be restricted or excluded in the same way as with other access land (e.g. for up to 28 days per year, or where necessary for land management, safety or fire prevention reasons) and dedication does not safeguard against development; subject to planning consent or any other consents required by law, dedicated land can be built on as normal, and if the land later becomes “excepted land” (e.g. within 20 metres of a dwelling), the right of access ceases.)
However, the desire that the wood continues to be certified under the UK woodland assurance standard (UKWAS) which was expressed in the original transfer from the Forestry Commission has been lost. This independent standard gives reassurance that a wood is managed responsibly for both timber, wildlife and people.
There is a cautionary tale here for the Independent Panel as it considers how any Forestry Commission sales might be conducted in the future - it seems that fine words and good intentions guarantee nothing in terms of how a wood may be managed in practice under new ownership.
Tim Hodges, Woodland Restoration Programme Manager