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RICS and the ICF (Institute of Chartered Foresters) were delighted to work together on their “Creating Value from Woodlands” event which took place in Oxford on the 17 April. This was the first event collaboration for the two organisations who have been engaged with each other on forestry and woodland matters for very many years. Both Professional bodies also have the added interest of having some members with dual RICS and ICF professional qualifications.

The USP of the event was the marrying of key parties in the property and forestry sectors. Attendees were wide ranging –  from those with existing woodlands, to those with an interest in developing or investing in woodlands, to those engaged with valuing, purchasing and selling woodland, to those in the timber supply chain. In addition, there were a host of other attendees with varying property, land, forestry and woodland interests.

We were fortunate to have a diverse selection of excellent speakers including Shireen Chambers, Executive Director of the ICF, and several Rural Chartered Surveyors including John Lockhart of Lockhart Garratt Ltd, a former RICS Rural Board Chairman.

While the high environmental value of woodlands has been recognised for some time, more recently we have seen a rising awareness of the social benefits of  woodlands, with particular focus on their role in maintaining and enhancing health and wellbeing. On the third pillar of sustainability – economic, forestry also delivers with forestry consistently outperforming other asset classes in the MSCI IPD UK Forestry Index.

What this Conference succeeded in doing was drawing attention to the fact that the creation and good management of woodlands can deliver more “value” across the three pillars of sustainability.

Dr Jason Beedell of Stutt and Parker did a superb job of linking the myriad of benefits with the enhancement of all values. He began by outlining the more traditional financial market value of woodlands which on average falls in the range of £4k to £5k per acre and which is traditionally derived from the amenity / privacy, shooting and timber values.

He went on to cite the myriad of additional environmental benefits which those in the sector are very well versed in, for example, regulating climate and air quality, mitigating flooding, contribution to noise reduction, provision of wildlife habitat and then posed the key questions “What would the market pay for all those benefits?” and “Who would pay for all those benefits?”. The underlying question here is really one of “What values can we use to justify investment in woodland?” mindful that the benefits extend over local regional and national boundaries and that the nature of woods being what they are means that woodlands have both private and public benefits.

The contribution of woodlands to farming was highlighted and with the advent of a new British Agricultural Policy on the horizon it’s time to ask if woodland should help entry into an environmental scheme and should woodland be linked to future cross-compliance.

Other presenters went on to outline the revenue generating opportunities from contracting the services provided by woodlands – the development of Payment for Ecosystem Services Schemes (PES), some of which are in place in the UK with others being trailed.

The current and future demands for more homegrown timber for a variety of uses was illustrated and the opportunities that this presents were highlighted.

The breath of subject matter covered means that it is impossible to attempt to summarise the wide-ranging content but the clear messages from all the presenters is that there has never been a better time to invest in woodland than now and it’s time to grasp the opportunities.

RICS and The ICF look forward to further collaborations.

Article prepared by Fiona Mannix, Associate Director, RICS Land Group

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