Woodland ownership, 1 year on

Aerial view of our land (the middle bit), woods to the left

It has been just over a year since we purchased with our pension – if you’re interested more details below – around 26 acres of marginal pasture (leaning towards wetland) and woodland in Wrexham, North Wales very near the borders with both Cheshire and Shropshire.

For the first 6 months we didn’t do much there. We made a few trips over from mid Wales to start surveying it before then moving to a little village in Shropshire just a few miles away. Post-move I made a few visits where I’d wander around the woods with a huge feeling of dread, not knowing where to start given it was very derelict as a coppice. I had an idea what to do but no confidence and no concrete plan.

So, I started work in the woods very slowly.

Firstly a path was beat to the middle where there was a handy clearing. I then took down a few unsafe limbs of trees along this path including a full oak where the crown had split. This oak I then milled into 2” thick planks with a newly acquired chainsaw mill.

Around this point three things happened almost at once:

  • We applied to the Welsh assembly for a grant under the Glastir Woodland Creation scheme to plant up 1 hectare (around 2 acres) of our adjoining pasture with more woodland (this application was successful);
  • We applied for a felling licence from the Forestry Commission Wales for the existing woodland. I had been putting it off for months and been using it as an outward excuse for a lack of action there (this has now been issued to cover us to 2018);
  • We both attended woodland management courses run by the Green Wood Centre;

Cathie’s course Sustainable Woodland Management and sounds like an all-round  affair which she really enjoyed. Mine was a 3 day Practical Woodland Management course where we spent all of our time in the woods with an experienced woodsman. It was brilliant. We got to see a real coppice and understand the real-life commercial challenges to being a traditional woodsperson as well as get an idea of ways to add value to the crop.

I came back with a much better idea what to do and most importantly I was able to draw up a – slightly back of a fag packet – 6 year management plan for the woodland divided up into various coups.

Given that spring was very nearly with us I chose a very small first year’s cut as a trial to see what would grow back with not much intervention.

Here’s the before and after shots of coup #1 (under 1/2 an acre).


Some things about the pension ownership

As it continues to raise some questions I thought I’d add a few more details to my original post on us buying a woodland with our pension.

As stated in that post the most important thing to understand is that the woods do not belong to us. The pension owns them. I can’t go and camp there and gain utility as in HMRC’s eyes I should be paying for the privilege and at market rates too. That’s fine as currently any visits that we make there are to do maintenance work on the land to hopefully add value to the ‘asset’ (again, HMRC speak).

This last winter that’s been mainly coppicing and path clearing and in the coming year there will be some gate and fence mending as well as hopefully the start of some commercial activities. When we make a start on the latter that will be the point that I can justify getting the surveyor in to value the land and draw up a lease for commercial activities, I’ll make sure that it includes camping and we can then pay the leaseholder (our company) on the odd occasion that we might want to camp there ourselves although as it’s so close to home this isn’t really a huge driver for us.

One last point, on paying for this personal ‘utility’. Whist we have to pay to use the land and importantly the pension itself can’t trade, hence us needing the lease so we can do the trading for it, we can also charge the pension for the work that we do on it. Currently we’re not as it doesn’t have any money! but in the future when income is flowing in due to lease or other activities then we would be perfectly justified in charging our time to it for the maintenance tasks.