Here’s an encouraging statistic from England. In 1905, less than 5% of the country was covered in forest. Now, it’s nearly 12%, and growing every year. For at least the past twenty years, private citizens throughout England have been encouraged to buy their own forests for what I would call very reasonable prices—like about $50k for 9 acres of the Coed Glas wood in Wales’s Towey Valley. It’s shown above. Nice, huh? All you have to do is visit Woodlands.co.uk, and find a region and a woodland that suits you.
There are a few catches of course. First, I would imagine you’d have to be a citizen of the UK, though I did not see this stated on their website. You can’t build a house on it or use the wood for any noisy, smelly, damaging purpose, like racing, a commercial campsite, or other similar businesses or hobbies. Here’s what they suggest you use the wood for: walking and exploring, camping, orienteering, forestry (coppicing, planting etc.), photography, drawing, and the study of flowers. But you can sell the wood if you need to, though it must be sold as a whole, not divided. As for tree felling, owners must obtain a felling license from the Forestry Commission should they want to cut down more than one or two mature trees in a three-month period, though thinning and coppicing are allowed—indeed, encouraged. The Woodlands.co.uk group offers a considerable amount of guidance, even grants, to help woodland newbies manage their properties. It’s a different kind of approach than private ownership (and neglect) of woods kept for tax write-offs.
A recent article in the Toronto Star tells the experiences of several recent woodland purchasers and states some of the benefits of this unusual conservation strategy:
In the past 20 years, the populations of Britain’s rarest birds have increased by between 50 and 75 per cent. Majestic birds of prey like sea eagles, ospreys and red kites are once again flying in British skies after centuries of persecution by farmers and poachers.
There is far too much information on this to compress into a blog post and I encourage you to visit the website, if you’re interested. It has a FAQ, blogs, all the legal info, tons of beautiful images of woods for sale, and even a book you can buy about how to manage your wood, called Badgers, Beeches, and Blisters. Clearly, this is not something anyone should dive into on a whim, but even more clearly, the program is working. I wonder if a similar organization helps promote private conservation of woodlands here? If so, I’m not aware of it.