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The Woodland Trust: Restoration of the Fingle Woods

What they do

The Woodland Trust is the UK's leading woodland conservation charity. Over the last 30 years the Trust has acquired more than 1,000 woodland sites covering over 50,000 acres. It has over 300,000 members and supporters.

The Woodland Trust’s aims are:

  • to enable the creation of more native woods and places rich in trees;
  • to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future;
  • to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees.

Background

In June 2013 two of the UK’s biggest conservation charities, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust, joined forces to purchase and restore 825 acres of forest. The Fingle Woods, on the edge of Dartmoor, was one of the largest blocks of commercial woodland to come to the market in the last 20 years. Fingle Woods has more than 525 acres of damaged ancient woodland, the richest land habitat for species in the UK. The woods are bordered by two National Trust properties and attract tens of thousands of visitors a year, but lack of public access across much of the site has prevented visitors from enjoying them. Sites of this size and nature rarely come on to the market, so quick action was required to secure its future. The Woodland Trust instructed Roythornes to deal with the multi-million-pound purchase; contracts had to be exchanged within two weeks.

Action 

The Roythornes team was led by one of our property partners, Vember Mortlock, with assistance from solicitor Rebecca Jackson. Their main challenge was to lead this complex project through to exchange and completion within the deadlines. At the same time, the charitable status of the buyers meant Charity Act 2011 rules needed to be observed. As with many rural land sales, a wide range of technical matters had to be addressed e.g. relating to boundaries, rights of way and access. Access was particularly important given the buyers’ plans to open up significant parts of the site to the public. Shooting rights, stalking and fishing rights and other third party rights had to be investigated and dealt with, along with rights to take water from reservoirs, springs and streams. In addition, there were riding permits in place, and a protected ancient monument.

Outcome 

Exchange of contracts took place within the two week deadline. This was no mean achievement given the complexity of the various rights and interests affecting the site and the involvement of more than one buyer. It was helped by the focus of the parties involved and the fact that everyone was working towards the same goal. From the Woodland Trust’s point of view, this has secured a safe future for the Fingle Woods. The plan is to restore the planted conifer areas back to native ancient woodland by clearing them and allowing the native woodland to regenerate and become a haven for wildlife and plants. The two charities launched a fundraising campaign to raise £5 million to cover the purchase price and the first 20 years of restoration.