A sign of things to come?

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

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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
This entry was posted in Conservation, England, Government Affairs, Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS), Woods Under Threat and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A sign of things to come?

  1. Iain Turner says:

    There has to be demand for this business model otherwise people would not do it. Being someone that regularly views the said agent’s listings, I have noticed other woodlands that have sadly been fragmented and sold on for considerable gain at little cost to the temporary owners. Not all of these sales had the previous owner as the Forestry Commission – this can happen to any larger woodland with the right attributes.

    Perhaps when Ancient Woodland, Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland and Plantations on Ancient Woodland sites are for sale the Trust could step in more often than at present. My idea is that these woodlands could be purchased by the Trust and then leased out to reputable woodland management companies. This way the Trust’s funds could be recycled to protect more woodlands. Conditions could be imposed in the lease so that good industry practice is followed, such as the UK Woodland Assurance Standard. The Forestry Commission does not have to sell to the highest bidder. Perhaps when it sells assets it could be more choosy with who it deals with.

  2. hen says:

    Hello Tim,

    Glad the WT are finally seeing this as the serious problem that it is.

    It was a real blow to me when, earlier this year, in the midst of the public fight to stop the Government from creating legislation enabling them to sell off our public forests without consultation, I heard on the radio your Chief Executive, Sue Holden, being interviewed about the consequences of this potential mass woodland sell-off.

    In the interview Ms Holden said that she didn’t see a problem with the fragmentation of woodlands into small lots for private ownership, as people love to (and this IS a quote) “tinker with woodlands”. I believe this was in response to a question based on the issues of woodland “lotting” but this is from memory, so please correct me if I’m wrong…

    I was horrified. As I know many, many others were too.

    So, I am pleased to see you discussing the serious issues with fragmenting woodlands. Especially considering Sue Holden is on the Forest Panel.

    Best Wishes,
    hen

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