The joys of owning your own wood

The joys of owning your own wood - at Moneyweek.co.uk - the best of the week's international financial media.

For as little as £20,000, you could buy a charming wood of around eight acres. It probably won't make your fortune, says Emma Thelwell, but it will be perfect for fun weekend getaways

Buying your own bit of woodland "is back in vogue", says David Budworth in The Sunday Times. It might not be an obvious way to spend your money it seems hard to imagine people bragging about their woods, and imploring friends to visit as they do with their sunshine villas but there is nonetheless a certain satisfaction to be had from owning your own little patch of trees.

There's certainly been a surprising surge of interest in woodland recently: rather than buying property, more and more people are investing in their very own leafy getaway. England currently has the lowest area of tree cover in Europe, with only 8%. But there are far more forests in Britain today than at any other time in the last 700 years and they are getting closer to our towns and cities. Somewhat surprisingly, the majority of available woodland plots tend to crop up in the southeast, especially south of London in Kent and East Sussex very handy for Londoners looking to escape city life in favour of rural tranquillity.

Woodland owners generally buy for enjoyment rather than for profit,Angus Hanton of Woodlands.co.uk told MoneyWeek. Woodlands specialises in selling forest plots for private use, but Hanton is quick to dissuade those looking to buy woodland in order to make a profit. Instead, they promote the merits of having a wood of your own as a place where you are free to have your own campfire or barbecue, where you can pick and choose your camping spots and grow what you like. It is an extended garden where your children and dogs are free to roam and explore without censure. You can install ponds, build dens, hang swings, collect creepy crawlies, harvest nuts, collect fungi, keep bees, or grow Christmas trees.

There is nothing to stop you fencing off your land, to keep people or animals out. And there are no legal restrictions on camping in your wood: as long as you don't disturb anyone else's peace, you are free to pitch as many tents as you like, or dance until dawn around the campfire. Mobile caravans can be left in a wood for up to 28 days but if you were to leave one there any longer, and received no complaints from neighbours, you would probably find no one would object, says Margaret Hanton on Woodlands' website. Those hoping to construct a log cabin on their plot will have no luck convincing the authorities, but you are allowed to build anything that qualifies for forestry purposes a shelter for tools, for example. It is also possible to put down tracks and paths without requiring permission.

Still, it's not all picnics, conkers and camping: a fair amount of responsibility comes with owning woodland too. Even if it is not being used for commercial benefit, the land needs to be properly maintained. You can't just chop down trees without permission, for example you need to consult the local officer of the Forest Authority but very likely you will need to fell trees, or at least trim them. There is help available though: if your woodland is part of a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, you can set up a management agreement with English Nature, whereby they take on certain work such as coppicing hazel.

Finally, there are some financial advantages to owning woodland. In comparison to buying property with buildings, the most obvious advantages are the tax breaks. Stamp duty is only paid on plots worth more than £60,000. That's great news when you consider that in the amenity woods' market ie, small woods that are bought for pleasure rather than commercial use a plot of about eight acres generally costs from just £20,000. Purchasing a wood of your own is relatively cheap your solicitor should charge about £350, but there are no surveyor's fees, no council tax and third party insurance is only about £50 a year, no matter how large the area. Any income derived from woodland is free from income and corporation tax. Increases in timber value are exempt from capital gains tax (CGT)   increases in land value, however, are not. If you retain woodland until death, though, CGT is not applicable, and inheritance tax is waived after you have owned your wood for two years.

For more information, see www.woodlands.co.uk and www.forestry.gov.uk

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