Please Note: This website is out of date. The Steward Community Woodland sustainable living project ended in 2018 for legal and planning permission reasons. The contents have been left here as a historical archive.

Planning for Sustainable Woodlands

A submission to the Forestry Forum
regarding reform of the Town and Country Planning system
to implement 'A New Focus for England's Woodlands',
the England Forestry Strategy

January 2000


Working Party

  1. Definition of Foresty
  2. Ancillary Uses
  3. Forestry Dwellings


Working Party

This report has been produced by a working party which was set up in August 1999 to put forward to the Forestry Forum the views of the small woods and coppice workers sector.

The report describes current problems resulting from planning controls, and makes recommendations for reform.

The working party comprises:
Lucy Nichol, PhD student, School of Planning, Oxford Brookes University
Simon Fairlie, forest worker, author of 'Low Impact Development' and founder of Chapter 7
Benjamin Law, coppice worker, West Sussex
Russell Rowley, chief executive, National Small Woods Association


Planning controls over forestry are out of date and do not reflect the vision of sustainable multi-purpose forestry now held by the government and its agencies.

Planning policies are needed which integrate economic and social aims with conservation objectives for wildlife, landscape and the environment, to deliver woodland that enhances local distinctiveness and promotes a sustainable social and economic fabric on the land.

Issues concerning planning and sustainable woodland management

There are three main areas for planning policy reform:

1) Definition of Forestry

Forestry is not defined in planning law. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 section 55 states that 'the use of any land for the purposes of agriculture or forestry (including afforestation) and the use for any of those purposes of any building occupied together with land so used' is not categorised as development, and is outside planning control. Section 336 of the same Act defines agriculture, giving a list of activities which are included1. However, there is no corresponding definition of forestry, and this is leading to confusion about the scope of activities that need planning permission. For example, a local planner at a recent appeal2 argued that forestry was just 'the growing a utilisable crop'3. This very narrow approach would rule out even such basic forestry operations as felling. A broad definition bringing in planting, management, felling, small scale low intensity processing and retailing of timber and timber products would remove doubt and assist in the sustainable management of woodlands.

The England Forestry Strategy calls for multi purpose woodlands. In his forward to the document Elliot Morley calls for 'a great variety of well- managed woodlands' including 'woodlands for timber production to strengthen local economies' and woods for recreational use and biodiversity protection.
Forestry is no longer just about single purpose plantations, and this should be reflected in planning law and planning policies.


That a definition of forestry is devised, taking in a broad spectrum of woodland uses, forestry operations and small scale processing. The definition in the Charter of the Institute of Chartered Foresters could provide a useful starting point: '"forestry" shall include all aspects of the science, economics, conservation, amenity and art of establishing, cultivating, protecting, managing, harvesting and marketing of forests, woodlands, trees, timber and wood'

2) Ancillary uses

Planning controls over agriculture allow a range of processing activities of farm produce as ancillary and therefore requiring no planning permission. However, the situation for forestry operations is unclear. There are a number of products which working woodlands can provide, such as sawn timber, fencing, firewood, biomass energy, charcoal, furniture, baskets, thatching materials, brushwood, faggots, chestnuts, forest honey, saps, fibres and fruit. However, one appeal inspector stated that the only activities ancillary to forestry were the rough processing of planks and poles. 4

There does not seem to be any agreement about whether on-site processing, charcoal burning etc. are ancillary uses (which would not require planning permission) or separate industrial uses (which would). Hence the discrepancies in appeal decisions. There needs to be clarification and firm support for value adding in England's woods.

The objective of establishing a sustainable and diverse forestry sector has been accepted at both national and international policy levels. Internationally the 'Agenda 21' document advocates 'promoting small-scale forest-based enterprise for supporting rural development and local entrepreneurship'. Nationally the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS) agreed in June 1999 enables UK wood producers to certify their products as environmentally friendly, and use the FSC logo. Around 75% of Britain's woodlands are likely to be certified by the end of the year, including the Forestry Commission's 800 000 hectare public forest estate. The UKWAS was designed to comply with the international standards in Principles and Criteria for Forest Stewardship laid down by the Forest Stewardship Council.
These principles include local processing of the forest's diversity of products to strengthen and diversify the local economy, and avoiding dependence on a single forest product (principle 5). This makes it essential that regulations like planning are assessed to test whether they are acting as barriers to those trying to deliver sustainable forest management as defined by the Forest Stewardship Council and adopted by the government.

It is not only the owners and managers of large forest estates who will deliver the vision of FSC accredited sustainable forestry for the UK. Around half the broadleaved woodlands in Britain are small (under 10 hectares). Of these there are approximately 175 000 hectares of derelict woods which have had little or no management for over 30 years (National Small Woods Association). A working woodland provides benefits for wildlife as well as livelihoods for rural workers. 'All woods need management to thrive and it is the working woodland that has the best chance of survival' (National Small Woods Association).

Woodlands do not have to be large to support an income; even small woods can be profitable if products are processed and value is added. Wood can be sorted and sold as firewood and other wood fuel such as kindling, woodchip or compressed brash. It can be made into furniture or charcoal, restoring traditional skills such as charcoal burning and the use of pole lathes. Food stuffs such as berries, chestnuts and forest honey can be harvested seasonally from woodlands, and year round income can be provided from cultivating edible fungi such as shiitake, which can generate considerable income throughout the year from a small area of woodland.

However in planning it is unclear whether these uses are ancillary to forestry or industrial processes. If they are industrial then all charcoal burners should have planning permission, which they do not and never have had. If they are ancillary uses then sheds and workshops in which to do them should be permitted development.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that nowadays woodland is regarded as a recreational and educational asset for the nation. Woodland owners are encouraged to open their woods to the public and some grants are only given on condition that they do so. Recreational and educational pursuits are increasingly becoming an integral part of woodland management regimes. According to Tony Phillips, Chairman of the National Small Woods Association, 'Recreation and educational use are incidental to woodlands, and the generation of short term income from such activities is one of the mainstays to underwrite the long-term growing of timber crops'. (In the case of rearing game for shooting, this has been the case for many years). Such activities are analogous to the farm diversification outlined in paragraphs 1.7 and 3.4 of PPG 7. However they are often particularly crucial for woodland management because the crop cycle is so long term, and because pressures for public access to woodland are greater than for public access to cropped farmland.


a) This issue could be cleared up by providing a broad ranging definition of forestry and/ or by amending the General Permitted Development Order Schedule 2 Part 7 (Forestry) so that specified activities of low environmental impact are identified as 'permitted development'. This would have the advantages of being specific about the activities and normally allowing them to take place without the need for planning permission, but also allowing local planning authorities to require the submission of planning applications through the making of Article 4 Directions removing the permitted development rights where appropriate or through the extension of the prior notification procedure.

b) Planning Policy Guidance could be amended to include words of support for value adding, local wood products and the provision of appropriate educational and recreational facilities, so that if planning permission were to be required, Local Authorities would be guided to approve it. This would bring forestry in line with agriculture by mirroring the support that exists for local food in PPG7 (1997, paragraph 3.4).

c) Specifically the wording of PPG7 Annex C paragraph 23 could be expanded to:
'To help ensure the long term sustainability of small woodlands, the government wishes to maintain and develop markets for woodland produce and to encourage woodland-based enterprise that adds to rural diversification. Small scale processing and woodland craft activities (such as charcoal burning, hurdle making and small- scale sawmills), where they are reasonably necessary to make the product marketable or disposable for profit and where they are consequential on the operations involved in producing timber grown upon the forestry unit, should be regarded as ancillary to the forestry activity and therefore do not require specific planning permission. Woodland can be particularly suitable for commercial recreation, catering for numbers of people and activities that might be intrusive in open countryside, and for educational pursuits. Such activities may sometimes play a significant role in underwriting the economics of sustainable woodland management and timber production. The Forestry Commission can advise local planning authorities on woodland recreation and education'

Listing the activities to be permitted as ancillary in this way would remove any danger of undesirable activities being conducted in woodlands under this waiver, for example producing coal tar oil, or building roads, or stacking large quantities of timber.

3) Forestry Dwellings

Up until earlier this century it was usual for bodgers and charcoal burners to live on site in woodlands. Only in the last few decades has this lifestyle died out. Modern forestry management systems, based on monocropping and clear felling, tends to employ a peripatetic workforce consisting of a small number of highly mechanised contractors.

However the pendulum is now swinging the other way. Ecologically sustainable woodland management requires a different style of management from that adopted by modern commercial forestry. The emphasis is returning to a more varied harvest of timber, forest products and crafts, with greater employment opportunities, whilst monitoring and maintaining wildlife and biodiversity have become a priority. Continuous cover systems are now preferred to clear-fell monocultures - and continuous cover requires continuous human attention. Sustainable woodland management involves a closer and more permanent relationship with the wood, which in turn suggests a greater need for on-site dwellings.

There are a number of practical reasons why some woodland workers need to live on site. Tree nurseries require year- round protection. When making charcoal in a kiln, each burn can last up to 36 hours. Charcoal burners need to check and adjust the ventilation of the kiln, opening and closing different chimneys around the kiln depending on the colour of the smoke from the chimney, in the same way a shepherd has to check on their ewes during the lambing season. As the burn lasts throughout the night it is not reasonable to expect a burner to travel in at 3am from the village. Ensuring the safety of members of the public around the kiln is also of paramount importance. Public access in a working woodland is best managed by a resident forester, who can monitor equipment and operations out of hours. Human presence on a woodland site has been shown to be beneficial in deterring deer grazing on newly planted trees and regenerating coppice.

Beyond any singular functional reason lies a more general imperative. The keeper's cottage was traditionally sited within, or at the least on the very edge of the woodland. Today's woodland stewardship is perhaps more likely to be concerned with conserving biodiversity than with conserving game, but the requirements are similar. To do the job to the highest standards requires an intimate knowledge and regular surveillance of what is happening in the wood. And a lot of what happens in woods, happens at night.

There are also important economic benefits to be obtained from residence on site which can help to underwrite the economics of an otherwise marginal enterprise. Woods provide goods in kind to those living in them such as free firewood, building materials, and seasonal foods. Planning guidance (PPG7 1997 Annex I paragraph 1) encourages rural workers to live in villages and commute to their place of work. This immediately places enormous costs on the worker, such as rent (which is often expensive and in short supply in desirable villages) and the need for a car (since public transport in rural areas is often poor and unlikely to lead to the place of work). These expenses can be avoided by those living at their place of work. The juxtaposition of employment, retail and residential uses is advocated in PPG13 which promotes the mixing of uses in order to reduce the need for travel.

The General Permitted Development Order 1995 Part 5 allows forestry workers to live in woods on a seasonal basis in caravans. It does not specify which seasons are permitted. The winter months up until the end of April are the main season for coppicing and planting; hazel work, such as hurdle making, is done around April; oak bark peeling is done in May. New plantings and fresh coppice stools need to be kept free from weeds throughout the growing season. However, conifers can be felled at any time of year, and management of rural rides, timber processing and craft activities require work all year round. In short, diverse sustainable woodland management does not have set seasons and permanent on site accommodation would be beneficial.

PPG 7 1997 Annex I paragraph 17 states that under conventional forestry methods a dwelling is unlikely to be justified, which presumably indicates that unconventional forestry enterprises may justify one. However applications and appeals for dwellings associated with forestry have continued to be turned down. A clear statement is needed to the effect that sustainable forestry management may require permanent on-site accommodation.

In January 1992 a revised version of PPG7 was issued by the Government which contained new policies with the aim of lessening the abuse of planning concessions for agricultural and forestry dwellings. Since then planners have applied tests to applications for agriculture and forestry dwellings to assess whether the business is financially viable and whether the dwelling is functionally necessary. However these tests were designed for conventional methods of agriculture and forestry and are inappropriate for those wishing to live on site and practise sustainable forest management, (or indeed associated activities such as permaculture or forest gardening). Guidance on both tests needs to be adjusted, but we recognise that this can only take place in the context of a revised approach, not only to the needs of sustainable forestry, but also to sustainable agriculture as a whole.
The recommendations made in the following three paragraphs are therefore long term and with implications which reach beyond the remit of the Forum, but we feel it is important to raise them.

The functional test needs to be modified so that it does not simply refer to one isolated functional requirement (such as attending to animals or surveillance of charcoal kilns), but so that it takes into account the sum total of benefits that might accrue from living on site. If on-site residence significantly improves the sustainable management and economic viability of the site holding (and one factor in this equation will be the amount of time and petrol spent commuting to and from the site) then this should be regarded as a material consideration in its favour.

The financial test needs to be modified to reflect the recent decision in the Court of Appeal (Arthur Sidney Petter and Monica Mary Harris v. SoS and Chichester DC, 1999) that 'The financial test is only relevant in the determination of whether the grant of permission, in whatever terms it may be granted, would, because of the uncertain future of the agricultural activity, threaten to produce in the future a non-conforming residential use that would pass with the land a use that had lost its agricultural justification'.
Under certain modes of agricultural production, the judges viewed that 'profitability was no guide to the genuineness and a poor guide to probable continuation'. In the case of Mr Petter, his subsistence-based unit 'was sustainable in his hands and in that sense viable and likely to continue so'.
A significant intermediary step in this direction could be made by taking into account, in any valuation of the enterprise, the value of goods in kind at the retail price that they would otherwise have to be acquired, rather than at 'farm-gate' or 'roadside' price.

Within the context of sustainable land management, the financial and functional tests, as they are phrased at the moment, are very blunt instruments. To safeguard against abuse and prevent the proliferation of rural dwellings for those not working on land, a more sophisticated criteria-based approach could be used. This would ensure that only those engaged in genuine sustainable land based activities could benefit from it. It would also guarantee that sustainable operations could never lapse into unsustainable ones (for example though a change in ownership). The mechanisms are already available in planning law in the form of planning obligations (section 106 agreements), but have yet to be used to their full potential by local authorities.

By stating a list of criteria in a local plan ('development will be permitted provided that') a local authority could use this as the basis for a conditional planning approval, with a section 106 legal agreement ensuring that the criteria be met. Model criteria have been prepared by Chapter Seven in their document Defining Rural Sustainability: Fifteen criteria for sustainable development in the countryside (1999, see annex). The use of criteria in planning has recently been endorsed by the Countryside Agency in Planning for Quality of Life in Rural England, the interim planning policy of the Countryside Agency (1999).
This takes forward the work on Countryside Character developed by the Countryside Commission, and recognises that criteria provide a method for delivering developments of a specified type while blocking those developments deemed undesirable.


a) That paragraph 16 in Annex 1 of PPG 7 is amended to read: 'Local Planning Authorities should normally apply the same criteria to applications for forestry dwellings as to agricultural dwellings. Under conventional modern methods of forestry management, which use a largely peripatetic workforce, a new forestry dwelling is unlikely to justified. However current forestry policy recognises that there is a large area of neglected woodland in England which requires management and which could contribute to the local rural economy. In special circumstances where it is necessary for the sustainable management of woodlands, residential development should be permitted. Initially this would be only on a seasonal or temporary basis. Residential structures should be of a siting, scale and design appropriate to the surroundings and the scale of the operation; and environmentally sound management of the woodland should be secured by condition or legal agreement.'

b) That policies are written into local plans stating that on-site accommodation for forestry workers will be permitted subject to adherence to certain criteria which would be enshrined in conditions or a section 106 agreement. For example, the woodland worker would be legally committed to engage in sustainable woodland management, use renewable energy, restrict their use of fossil fuel powered vehicles, and build the house and workshops from local natural materials. Additional criteria should apply in the case of ancient woodlands to ensure that the location of a dwelling and the access to it would not have a negative impact on the integrity of the site.

c) That the value of goods in kind provided by the wood are discounted in any calculation of financial viability at the full retail value (which is what they would cost if bought in from outside) rather than at 'road-side' or 'farm-gate' prices. This is important, because ADAS do discount subsistence production, but at production prices rather than retail prices. This change could be explained in a Good Practice guide, and ADAS staff and planners could receive advice and training on the sustainable rural livelihoods model.

d) Update GPDO Part 5 on caravans to include 'wooden structure which can be easily dismantled' in line with PPG7 1997, Annex I Part 14. This would give seasonal workers the option of living in low impact wooden self built structures; modern equivalents of the simple dwellings built by bodgers and charcoal burners in the past. Since these homes are made from materials sourced from the woods themselves, they are more appropriate to their setting than a conventional caravan and revive a vernacular British housing tradition. They also have a very low embodied energy (the energy used in the manufacture, transport, use and disposal of a commodity) so are extremely environmentally friendly.


1. The definition of agriculture, section 336 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990: 'agriculture includes horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming, the breeding and keeping of livestock (including any creature kept for the production of food, wool, skins or fur, or for the purpose of its use in the farming of the land), the use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery grounds, and the use of land for woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes'. Confusingly 'agriculture' includes some activities which might now be referred to as forestry, for example 'osier land' is short rotation willow coppice used for basketry or biomass production. The Forestry Commission gives grants for the planting and management of short rotation willow coppice, and osier land might be better placed under a definition of forestry.

2. Appeal by Mr R. Waterfield, ref APP/R6830/A/99/512773/T

3. The definition the planner used may have been derived from the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, ss 30A (19) which states that 'forestry means the growing of a utilisable crop of timber'. However the Act specifies that this definition only applies to section 30A, which deals with aftercare on mineral sites, so it was not suitable in the context the planner used it.

4. Appeal ref APP/M3645/G/85/17, A/85/36993, Planning Appeal Decisions 1986, 410-415. The opinion of the Inspector was that '"Forestry" included the growing, management, cutting, and uprooting of trees and clearing undergrowth. Conversion of trees into logs and rough hewn poles would be ancillary to forestry, as it assisted the clearance of forestry land. So might the initial sawing of logs into baulks and planks and their storage in the open air. However, planning, shaping, or sawing into specified dimensions would be "carpentry" rather than "forestry"'.

For further information contact
Lucy Nichol, School of Planning, Oxford Brookes University, Gipsy Lane, Headington, Oxford, OX3 OBP or telephone 01865 484065

Last updated: 2009-04-22

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