Wood Are you buying a private paradise? Meet the British who take over forest areas

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If you head to the woods today, you may see a shopping spree to match the housing boom.

Because Brits pack forest, brokers report that prices have risen by 25 percent in a year and plots usually receive more than 50 applications.

It’s easy to see why. After being largely closed off for 15 months, more of us crave the open spaces reminiscent of our childhood — and owners say they’re easier to maintain than a yard.

Here, four of them tell SADIE NICHOLAS about the ups, downs, and magic of having their own patch of forest.

Our forest even has a hot tub!

Jane Hawkes, 45, is a consumer expert and author of the Lady Janey blog (ladyjaney.co.uk). She lives near the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, with her husband and their labradoodle Barney. She says:

Spring is my favorite time of year in our two-acre forest. After the gray and brown of winter, there are new green leaves and the most spectacular carpet of bluebells.

It’s impossible not to feel happy, even on the most stressful of days, and it’s a world away from our old life near Gatwick Airport in West Sussex. Tired of the noise of planes and traffic, in 2007 as a renovation project we bought a two bedroom cottage with a garden of one third of an acre in Gloucestershire.

Jane Hawkes, 45, is a consumer expert and author of the Lady Janey blog (ladyjaney.co.uk). She lives near the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, with her husband and their labradoodle Barney

In 2015 the chap who owned the forest surrounding our land died and we decided to buy some of it for just under £10,000. We saw it as an opportunity to increase the value of our property, and my husband always says everyone should have their own patch of woods to retire to. Now I understand why.

It is the most beautiful space to wander through, although it is not as peaceful as people imagine! Rather, it is a hive of activity with barks of roe deer and muntjac, birds in the trees and foxes, pheasants, badgers and hedgehogs rustling about.

Because of those sounds I have never set foot in the woods at night, that would be too scary!

Trees include oak, sycamore and birch, and a less common copper beech. Depending on the season, it is also full of daffodils, ivy, wild garlic, holly and of course bluebells.

We have a wood fired hot tub, where the forest joins our garden, but it is a labor of love as it has to be fired all day so we can use it in the evenings.

Fortunately, our wood is low-maintenance and largely takes care of itself. Even from the house I have to smile looking at our forest while I work.

It is a natural playground for the whole family

Helena Douch, 72, is a retired business startup consultant living near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, with her husband Colin, a retired IT consultant. They have three sons in their 40s and eight grandchildren, ages two to sixteen. She says:

At this time of year it is magical to walk into our forest in the morning as the sunlight illuminates the bluebells.

A month ago, the ground was covered with wood anemones, and when they died, the hyacinths emerged.

Helena Douch, 72, is a retired business startup consultant living near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, with her husband Colin, a retired IT consultant.  They have three sons in their 40s and eight grandchildren, ages two to sixteen

Helena Douch, 72, is a retired business startup consultant living near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, with her husband Colin, a retired IT consultant. They have three sons in their 40s and eight grandchildren, ages two to sixteen

There are wrens, jays and blue tits flying around, as well as squirrels.

When our grandchildren come to visit, they are drawn to our forest, which occupies two-thirds of an acre and borders the backyard. It’s wonderful to hear them play. From the house I can see the den they built in Easter, when they were allowed to visit again for the first time.

This has been our family home since 1977, although we didn’t buy the woods until years later. Then there was a public footpath behind our 100 foot yard, so we had people poking around our house.

When we discovered that Staatsbosbeheer, who owned the forest, was selling the lot, we and five neighbors each bought a piece. We have also been given permission to move the original footpath far from our home.

It is now extremely private and, apart from planting a little fragrant wild garlic, we have kept it natural.

During the initial lockdown, my husband and I went for lunch in the woods and ate it while watching the heron dive into the pond. Colin also used that time to make an insect hotel out of wooden pallets. And our sons have set up a zip line for the grandchildren.

Every November it has become a family tradition to have burgers and sparklers around a bonfire we built in a clearing and, pre-Covid, camp in tents.

Of all the trees, there is one special sequoia, which we grew from a cutting we brought from a trip to California for our 40th anniversary. Redwoods usually grow to 220 ft, although it has only reached 7 ft so far!

While it sounds like a big job to own a forest, it was quite easy. Colin searches for unsafe branches and we hire a tree surgeon to fix any safety issues. It is the most beautiful playground for our family.

My undergrowth is an urban jungle escape

Kelly Innes, 44, is a full-time mom living near Westerham, Kent, with her husband Steve, 46, a lawyer, and their daughters, ages 13 and 11. She says:

We moved here from a semi in London eight years ago, seeking a more rural way of life. When we viewed our four-bedroom cottage, it was the Aga in the kitchen that convinced me, while the option to buy the surrounding nine acres of woods was the deciding factor for Steve.

On weekends, he disappears into the woods at dawn with our dog Hester and stays out until dinner.

He never hears his phone ring when he’s cutting and chopping, so I call him in for tea now by ringing a big hand bell.

Kelly Innes, 44, is a full-time mother living near Westerham, Kent, with her husband Steve, 46, a lawyer, and their daughters, ages 13 and 11.

Kelly Innes, 44, is a full-time mother living near Westerham, Kent, with her husband Steve, 46, a lawyer, and their daughters, ages 13 and 11.

Although our forest is low maintenance, Steve chooses to work hard on it, not least by planting 175 trees, because over time we lose some of the existing ones through disease or strong storms.

The forest is full of ash, chestnut, oak, beech, birch, pine and cherry trees and there is one horse chestnut that is 400 years old.

When we first moved here, our girls were terrified of the forest, but now they love to run off with their friends to see how our pygmy goats live there.

At first, owning such a huge forest area felt daunting. But now it’s just part of our house and Steve thinks it’s a great way to relax after working in London for a whole week.

Personally, I like the sense of tranquility of living in a secluded place, surrounded by forest and the closer connection with nature it has given us all.

Perfect place to teach old and young?

Rachel Kellett, 63, is a forest school facilitator (kindaforestschools.com) and a member of the East Anglian Coppice Network. She lives with her partner in Holton, Suffolk. She says:

A month after buying my 5.5 acres of wood at auction for £47,000, I paid the balance and took a bottle of champagne and my dog ​​into the woods. I sat there wondering where this adventure would take me.

Six years later I now share my forest as a forest school with local children and the elderly.

Living in India for ten years certainly influenced my decision to buy my own wood. I didn’t realize how popular they had become until I lost the bids on two others before buying Kallwood.

Rachel Kellett, 63, is a forest school facilitator (kindaforestschools.com) and a member of the East Anglian Coppice Network.  She lives with her partner in Holton, Suffolk

Rachel Kellett, 63, is a forest school facilitator (kindaforestschools.com) and a member of the East Anglian Coppice Network. She lives with her partner in Holton, Suffolk

It was planted in 1900 with oak and hazel trees for utility purposes: the oaks were good for building boats and houses, while the fast-growing hazel trees were suitable for firewood, thatching and making utensils.

Known as chopping coppice, chopping down trees at the base and regrowth to provide a sustainable supply of wood, the technique was lost after World War II.

I reintroduced it to my forest four years ago and it has increased biodiversity. Now in the coppice areas there are spurge, laurel, daphne and early spotted orchids.

I learned a lot about forests from two local experts, Paul Jackson and Graham Norgate, and built a log cabin in the woods using 12 dead oak trees.

With the intention of sharing my forest, I initially thought of teaching yoga classes, but then a forest school asked to use it.

I loved what I saw and then trained as a forest school counselor. We have a parent and toddler group on Mondays and school-age children on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Recently I have also started receiving the elderly because they find the wood relaxing.

When the forest is empty, I meander down 50 meters from my house and love sitting on the steps of my cabin with my two dogs, thinking about life and how lucky I am.

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