Investing in woodland has never been more popular, and the reasons are as much about sustainability as they are commercial. Carla Passino explains more.
Country Life has launched its Trees For Tomorrow campaign — we’re planting thousands of trees in what will be a newly-established Country Life Forest, and we’re looking for your help. See the Trees For Tomorrow page to find out more.
Sustainability is driving fresh interest in British forests. In the year to September 2020, the value of forestry investment reached a record £205 million, according to Savills, with a 50% rise in the number of acres changing hands.
‘The primary product of forest systems is building materials and timber, and they are in high demand globally,’ explains the company’s director of rural research, Emily Norton.
‘But in terms of forest creation, if you plant trees today, that timber won’t be harvested for 25–30 years, so a primary motivator [for demand] is sustainability: it’s the credentials that go with trees. These can be formal — accredited carbon — or informal, in the sense of voluntary carbon offsetting.’
“The convergence between forestry and agricultural values means one of the key barriers is falling away”
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Crucially, the rise in forest values is also removing a deterrent that, until now, put off landowners from converting their land into woodland. ‘One of the main contentions is that forestry land is worth less than agricultural land; therefore, there’s effectively a penalty on woodland creation. The convergence between forestry and agricultural values means one of the key barriers is falling away.’
Landowners looking at diversifying into forestry have many options, from Defra grants to schemes such as England’s woodland carbon guarantee, which allows people to sell carbon units to the Government at a guaranteed price, plus voluntary systems where accredited carbon is sold privately to offsetters, or even ‘a fully branded model, where you provide a local business that’s after the offsetting with additional opportunities, such as staff engagement or days out’.
From a landowner’s perspective, this can feel very different from the Government-controlled schemes of the past but, says Miss Norton, ‘increasingly, this mix of private and public is the way we need to think about land — because that’s where the opportunities are coming from’.
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