Leasing a wood may be a better option than buying one if your community group is small, has limited funds, or is only interested in a wood for a limited time. Even if your involvement in the site is modest and informal – and no cash payments are involved – it still helps to agree a formal lease.

Volunteers working in a wood

Credit: WTML

Agreeing a lease

A lease is a contract agreed and signed by the landowner and tenant to protect the rights and set out the obligations of both. It specifies both parties’ names, the beginning and length of the term, a description of the site, and any agreed costs or rents.

Once you’ve agreed outline lease terms, instruct a solicitor to advise on them and any relevant laws, as well as checking the status of the landowner.

A typical woodland lease includes...

  • Date of lease
  • Landowner’s and tenant’s name and address
  • Site address and size, with plan
  • Start and end date – ensure it covers a realistic time frame
  • Rent amount, frequency and payment date
  • Access and parking arrangements
  • Permitted uses of the site
  • Insurances, and who is responsible for them
  • Maintenance responsibilities
  • Erection of buildings
  • Responsibility for legal costs
  • Break clause (i.e. clause in the contract that allows it to be terminated early)

Who can sign the lease?

To enter into any contract, including a lease, your group needs its own legal identity. This means taking on some form of incorporation, with an approval process and authorised signatories. These are the people who can put their name to the documents.

Types of lease

There are general types of lease that cover the letting of land where landlord and tenant agree and include whatever terms they wish. But be aware that if a lease ignores a particular topic, it doesn’t mean that the landowner or tenant (or both) isn’t burdened with some obligations by law.

It’s usual first to negotiate (and write down) your lease requirements, also known as the ‘heads of terms’. The community group and landowner should discuss these first so they can form the basis for a formal agreement later.

It’s important to mark these preliminary documents ‘subject to contract and without prejudice’, so they are not legally binding. Advice and templates for heads of terms and standard leases are available from the Community Land Advisory Service.

Local authority land

If the land belongs to the county council an informal agreement may be all you need. They may welcome involvement in woods on local nature reserves or around their schools, council offices and estates.

Buying a wood

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