In the UK we have an estimated total of 1,058,721 ha of broadleaved woodland (UK Biodiversity Action Plan). Although this 1,058,721 ha only amounts to ~ 6% of the UK’s total land area (the lowest coverage in Europe), we still have a sizeable amount of woodland out there.
So how do you go about finding a woodland, your own small portion of the 6%? Well you can buy, and I believe we as a nation have a natural affection bordering on obsession with buying land, be it a house a field or a woodland. Woodland is definitely available for sale and there are several companies out there who specialise in woodlands. Prices start around £5,000 an acre for smaller plots and decrease to £2,500 an acre once you start looking at woodlands that span hundreds of acres. So if you want a 10 acre woodland you could be looking at up to £50,000, a sizeable investment which will often be out of the range of a woodland worker. Further these plots are often broken up into very small areas, some as low as 2.5 acres, and consequently not appropriate for creating a profitable coppice rotation.
If you decide that owning your own woodland is not currently viable, or simply not for you then it is worth considering becoming a tenant. 90% of UK broadleaved woodlands are privately owned (The Woodland Trust, 2011). A survey by Small Woods and www.woodlands.co.uk found (from those owners that responded) that approximately 50% of private small woodland owners carry out some form of management, mostly for supply of their own domestic firewood and most purchased their woods for the reasons of conservation, bird watching and family relaxation (The Woodland Trust, 2011). So despite the efforts of owners this leaves a large amount of woodland lying idle and undermanaged, resulting in declining habitats, which are undermanaged and poor. Consequently there is huge scope for partnerships between private woodland owners who own land but do not have the time and/or skill to manage their woodlands and coppice workers who do not have the capital to invest in buying their own.
My experience very much supported this and an email touting my intentions, that was kindly circulated by the Pembrokeshire National Park Authority, brought a response from several different private owners who would like to see their woodlands managed. My terms were simple, I would manage their woodland for free (which would include a management plan agreed upon by both parties) in return for having access to all the wood that I took out. In addition I originally offered to supply some firewood or other product to the woodland owner as part of the deal (something I’ve omitted from later offers as I feel that an exchange of woodland management for wood is a fair deal in it’s own right).
With this package on the table I quickly found several woodland owners in my local area who wanted to take me up on the offer. Not bad considering that I had only seen one woodland for sale in the 1.5 years that I’ve lived here.
So since I put in my request early this year I have now found a beautiful woodland which I will be working from this winter and have been coppicing (harvesting oak bark for leather tanning) and charcoal making in a local Wildlife Trust woodland throughout this summer.
If this model of managing woodlands in return for wood was to become widespread we could see a shift from woodland management being wholly reliant on funding to having a free labour force of willing coppice workers who themselves can earn a living from the woods. For generations conservation went hand in hand with woods supporting local woodland workers, with the actions of the woodsmen benefiting the land whilst supporting them and stimulating the local economy. Surely that is a model that we should aspire to return to.