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Monday, 30 March 2015

Bushcraft and the Law: Woodland

This post really follows on from the Applied Bushcraft post from March where I discussed the overlapping skills between Bushcraft and Woodland Management, and how we had used them in our recently started woodland management project. This post discusses some of the legal considerations we had to make before we got stuck in with the actual management work, and some other more basic considerations for bushcrafters who use, or want to use, woodland for recreational purposes too.

A view of the bottom portion of the coup we cut in 'our' wood in February.
Notice for later than the vast majority of the stacked wood is relatively small.

As with any area of land there are some basic rules we must remember. With regards working in woodlands when that involves felling or removing wood or trees and other plants, there are certain restrictions. In practise these affect Bushcrafters very little thankfully because woodland is a prime place to practice and enjoy bushcraft, but are nevertheless worth bearing in mind. The most formal of these guidelines have been aimed at forestry workers or land owners and as such deal with quantities of timber and sizes or numbers of trees far greater than the average Bushcrafter would ever deal in. Nevertheless, a little knowledge goes a long way and this info may be useful, if for nothing else than being able to defend yourself with some facts to anyone who may challenge you while undertaking legal activity. 

1) Access and Permission: 
I hope it goes without saying that land owners permission is essential for any activity within woodland, even just being there. As nice as it would be if it did, a public footpath or other right of way 'through' a wood does not constitute free or unrestricted access to the whole wood or forest area. Woodland which seems unused or unmanaged does not mean it is un-owned, there will always be a landowner no matter how uninterested they are in the land. It may be that the owner has no problem with members of the public roaming the wood but never assume. (Geoff covered similar issues in his post: Stealth Camping).

FC guidelines on ensuring public safety
around their operations - don't make
their job harder!
Similarly, you may think removing a couple of hazel wands or picking a basket of edible wild fruits or mushrooms or whatever it may be will make no big difference to the wood or its owner, but at the end of the day without permission you still shouldn't. Having said that I doubt even the most unfriendly land owner will make an issue over someone picking a hand full of black berries while walking along a footpath or along a boundary. (Geoff again covered similar issues in his post: Legal Foraging). 

One other issue regarding access and permission is that of safety surrounding other operations being undertaken in the wood. Deer management is undertaken in many British woodlands to protect regenerating timber, commercial forestry operations or ground flora in conservation areas, or just as a sporting enterprise. The safety implications to stalkers of unauthorised, and therefore unexpected people in woodlands where they are working go way beyond the inconvenience of startled or spooked quarry! Felling operations are also potentially dangerous - while signs are often put up warning of ongoing forestry operations in woodlands where there is no public access this is a case of best practise not legal requirement. Falling trees and bullets meant for deer rarely take prisoners! Stay safe and legal.

2) Woodland Classification or Designation:
Not all protected areas are 'Nature Reserves'. Various levels of environmental protection exist (such as SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), SAC (Special Area of Conservation) and others) with many of them never widely publicised or documented unless you know where to look (DEFRA's on-line mapping tool MAGIC can show you a wide range of information on the protection status of an area). Some of these designations come with strict guidelines as to what management or activity can or cannot be undertaken in the wood. Felling or thinning operations, and removal or disturbance of other plant species, are commonly restricted or pre-prescribed. 

In these areas the most basic of foraging or material harvesting tasks can become illegal due to the site specific guidelines issued by the relevant nature conservation body (Natural England in England; Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland, Countryside Council for Wales in Wales), and there is a fine associated with damaging or disturbing these areas: ignorance will not be a suitable defence, even less so if you didn't have permission in the first place. The moral of this story is that even with landowners permission care should be taken to remain within site specific requirements; don't assume that because there isn't a Nature Reserve sign up the land is not protected.

Related to these protective statuses but even more unlikely to affect bushcrafters are Tree Preservation Orders (TPO's). This grants a specific tree protection, often due to some historical significance. The fine for felling one of these can be £10,000 per tree! 

3) Felling Rules and Reg's:
As coppice less than 15cm diameter
at 1.3m from the ground no licence
is required for this sort of felling.
When bushcraft activities blend into larger scale woodland management then Felling Licences have to be considered. These are sought from the Forestry Commission when required, but there are exemptions which allow some felling or woodland management to go ahead without applying for a licence depending on a number of things. Our woodland management work has not yet required the application for a licence because several of these exemptions apply as follows:

Type of Tree Work - Pruning and Pollarding do not require a licence.
Quantity - No licence required if felling less than 5 cubic metres of timber in a calender quarter.
Tree size - No licence required for cutting trees less than 8cm in diameter, 10cm in diameter if thinning and 15cm in diameter when coppicing (all diameters measured at 1.3m above ground level). 
Legal requirement - No licence required for trees which are dangerous or cause a nuisance. We have felled a number of dangerous trees with major rot in their roots in the early stages of the project and may yet have to fell a few more.  

(All above information taken from Forestry Commission web page on Felling Licences, anyone seeking additional information on the rules of large scale woodland management would do well to start here).

If you have read to the end congratulations - I realise these articles on law are not the most interesting to everyone but they are hopefully informative. This subject may not effect all bushcrafters but elements are well worth being familiar with and may be useful in the future. I hope it will prove to be useful for you as it certainly has for me recently!


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