Buying land can be complex so it's advisable to employ an experienced solicitor.

Buying a wood for your community group has benefits. It can create a stronger sense of ownership and responsibility. It can make your hard work feel more rewarding and your achievements more secure.

Credit: Ben Lee / WTML

Finding land or a wood

You may find land or a wood for sale on an agent's website. Or if you’ve got your eye on some land, but it isn’t officially up for sale, it may still be feasible to approach the landowner about your ideas (though land bought this way may be more expensive). Or put the word out in the community. Sometimes there are parcels of land on farms and private estates that may be available.

Finding out who owns the land may involve some investigation and online searching. The Land Registry holds ownership details for about half the land in England and Wales, but rural land isn’t always registered. Or contact land agents as some vendors don’t want publicity for a land sale, so it’s not advertised.

Credit: Keith Morris/WTML

Who can buy?

To own a wood your community group needs the money to buy it and a legal identity. This means taking on some form of incorporation, with an approval process and authorised signatories. If your group remains unincorporated, individuals such as the chairperson or secretary personally takes on ownership and responsibility of the site.

Credit: Judith Parry / WTML

How is land sold?

Most land is sold freehold, granting you ownership in perpetuity (as opposed to leasehold, which sets a time limit on your ownership). You may be able to arrange a private sale with a sympathetic vendor, but most land is sold on the open market or at auction.

The process of buying land differs in different parts of the UK, so seek advice from a local solicitor.

Open market sales and auction

Open market sales can be subject to informal (non-binding) or formal (immediately binding) tender. If there’s lots of interest, they may go to best and final offers or sealed bids.

You’ll need to have your funding confirmed and legal searches in place before buying at auction. If successful, you’ll generally exchange contracts (and pay a 10% deposit) on the same day. Sometimes sellers will accept an offer before the auction, but you’ll still be expected to pay the deposit and sign contracts speedily.

How much should you pay?

Land and property values fluctuate, so make sure you instruct a qualified chartered surveyor with experience of woodland to value and survey the site. They will advise on the type of survey you need.

If your project funding isn’t yet fully in place, try to agree a price subject to a period of time to obtain it. It can be tough for a community group to raise money quickly enough to buy land, and donors and grant-givers may want to see the site, or your detailed plans for it, before committing cash.

Any extra costs?

As well as the cost of your survey and valuation, you’ll need to budget for solicitors’ fees (often 0.5% of the property price), which will include standard searches, registering your title, conveyancing and possible additional costs (known as disbursements). Also factor in your stamp duty land tax (SDLT) which you can find further information on at GOV.UK, and any costs for arranging finance. If the group is a Registered Charity it is exempt from paying SDLT.

This should all be covered by your solicitor’s checks.

Anything else to consider?

You may need to pay council rates and utility bills, maintain water pipes running through your site, and ensure you’ve got the appropriate insurance.

Watch out for any rights to your wood that the vendor wants to maintain, such as shooting, gravel extraction or access. Or restrictive covenants that may apply. Be aware of any clawback clauses (also known as overage), which award the vendor a share of any future jump in the land value.

Leasing a wood

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