How to Buy Land for Rewilding
Part of our series on How to Rewild a Field.
A clear and helpful guide which explains how to find land in the UK, what the right price is for farmland and how the buying process work, step-by-step.
As I’ve bought land for rewilding recently myself, I’ll break this down into simple steps and try to give you a bit of context from my own experience. The field plot I purchased is in Somerset, UK – 3.5 acres in size and it wasn’t advertised when I found it. Alongside the typical processes, I’ll also let you know how I managed to find something that wasn’t on the market and how you could do the same to buy your own rewilding land.
Caveat: This article is not legal advice – I am not a lawyer. I will not be held liable for any decisions made based on the content of this article, though I have done my best to make sure it is accurate.
Can I Build On My Land?
Just to be extremely clear, right from the start, if you’re buying land in the UK, you’re incredibly unlikely to be able to build on it unless:
- A structure already exists on the land that you could extend or rebuild
- Planning permission already exists
Both of those things will make the land much more expensive. Living or building on your land will require planning permission, and even parking a caravan requires permission. Failure to seek planning permission is likely to result in the forced destruction of the building or structure by the council. Even camping is only permitted for a limited number of days per year. If you weren’t previously aware of this, I know it can come as a bit of a blow.
Where Can I Get Money To Buy Land?
It’s more difficult to get a mortgage on land than on a house – it’s hard to persuade a bank that buying land for rewilding is a good investment. Most land buyers use cash, and auction houses may require proof of funds before bidding. If you’re not sure how to access a large amount of cash, one potential way to do it, if you’re lucky enough to own a property, is by remortgaging your house (WARNING – this may result in your house being repossessed if you are unable to keep up repayments).
Your lender may be able to offer a cash lump sum if your home has gone up in value due to changes in the market or house improvements. However, this is only available from certain lenders and can come with restrictions on how you spend the money. Speak to your mortgage advisor for more information. This is not legal advice.
If you’re thinking of doing it this way, I recommend Alexander & Co as an advisor, who were able to secure me a cash lump sum as part of a remortgage. They managed to work their magic despite difficult circumstances. Please mention that you were recommended by How to Rewild, as this helps to support the website.
Where Can I Buy Land?
Work out whether you want to buy somewhere expensive, closer to home, or somewhere cheaper that you won’t visit as often. Usually those are the two choices on offer. You can often get more space by looking further afield in places like the valleys of Wales or remote parts of Scotland.
How Much Does Land Cost?
This is very much a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question, but according to Farmers’ Weekly, in 2020 the average price per acre varied from £3,500 for a poor pasture in Wales to £9,871 for prime arable in the South West. But if you’re trying to work out what affects the price of a plot, these are the main factors:
- Planning permission (big effect on value if it’s granted)
- Existing buildings (very valuable – can increase price massively)
- Total plot size (smaller plots are more expensive per acre)
- Woodland (the older it is, the more valuable it is)
- Soil type (fields with better soils get higher yields)
- Access (direct highway access is valuable)
- Water (natural pond, spring or piped water is valuable)
- Electricity (access to this adds value)
- Terrain (flat land is more valuable, being easier to farm)
- Thick hedgerows or new fences (these are expensive to install)
- Proximity to town (closer makes it more valuable)
- Quality of neighbours (e.g. nature reserve, quad biking or shooting range)
- Views (good views make it valuable to horse owners)
- Invasive species (e.g. Mares Tail makes horses sick and is hard to kill)
It’s important to spend a few months, ideally longer, browsing the market, including past auction records which you can find on local land auction websites. This will allow you to get a feel for what different types of land in your area of interest are worth. That way, when it comes to bidding in an auction, approaching an agent or a landowner, you know what to offer and won’t get ripped off or make them feel insulted. Landowners can be a tightly knit community, so it’s wise to avoid annoying anyone in the area you’re intending to buy.
What Are The Hidden Costs Of Buying Land?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the price you see is the price you’ll pay. Here’s a list of many of the hidden fees you might expect to pay when purchasing land:
- Auction entry fee (to place a bid – this is usually only refunded if you buy something)
- Auction fee (if you actually buy land, you pay a big fee to the auction house)
- Survey (to check the land and local area aren’t hiding any nasty surprises)
- Solicitor (the vendor usually requires you to hire a solicitor)
- Stamp duty (if land is over the threshold price)
And then here are some of the ongoing costs which you might not have considered:
- Drainage rates (obligatory fee to clear drainage ditches in many areas)
- Upkeep of boundaries (this may be legally required e.g. replacing fences)
- Public liability insurance (in case a trespasser injures themselves on your land)
- Water bills (if water is plumbed in)
- Electric bills (if electric is available)
- Private road maintenance (if access is via private roads)
How To Find Land Which Isn’t Advertised?
Now, normally at this stage I would say go and find a property that you like in an auction or on Rightmove and bid on it or make an offer. And if you can find a great plot, then go ahead, do it!
If nothing is coming up in your price range, or you’re looking for something in a particular area and haven’t seen anything available, then there’s another way of potentially finding buyers. This may not work for you, but it’s how I spent £15 on advertising and got several leads, one of which was the land I bought (that wasn’t yet on the market).
I created a micro advertising campaign inside of Facebook, by posting on a page that I already owned (you might need to create a new Facebook Page), as shown below. I used the easy ‘Boost a post‘ tool and selected this very specific campaign setup:
- Gender: Men and Women
- Age: 30+
- Location: Towns and villages near my area of interest
- Interests: ‘Horse care’, ‘Show jumping’, ‘Dressage’, ‘Eventing’, ‘Horse breeding’, ‘Horse training’, ‘Equestrian facility’, ‘Horse & Rider’, ‘Horse racing’, ‘Horse show’, ‘Stable’, ‘Horses’, ‘Horseback riding’
- Goal: Direct messages
Promoting the post to this audience meant I very cheaply reached most of the wealthy, land-owning individuals in my area. The positive message and bright, colourful images inspired people who didn’t have land to reach out to those they knew who did.
It’s worth noting that a lot of the individuals who reached out were part of the local parish council or local parish Facebook group. I might have been equally successful by reaching out directly to them. However, the landowner of my land was not in either of these groups.
This campaign reached 3,093 people for £14.83 of ad spend.
What Should I Look For When Viewing Land?
If you’re planning to rewild land, there are a few things that are worth considering when you view a plot. A property survey will help reveal some of the answers to these questions, but they’re expensive, so if something will stop you buying, get a provisional answer before your survey:
- Setting (is it close to other areas rich in wildlife?)
- Private access (how easy is it to get in and out with e.g. fencing supplies?)
- Public access (can other people legally walk or drive over the land?)
- Invasive species (e.g. Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam etc)
- Terrain (lumpy land or ponds support more habitat niches)
- Neighbours (are they polluting, is a housing estate planned next door?)
- SSSI, AONB etc (labels like these may make rewilding legally tricky)
- Boundaries (do you need to spend money erecting fences?)
- Deer population density (these eat tree saplings)
- Tree preservation orders (these oblige you to protect certain trees)
- Ransom strips (your land is accessed across another plot, that could be sold)
- Covenants (these limit what you can do with the land)
- Hidden fees (drainage rates, water bills, private road upkeep etc)
How Much Should I Offer?
How much can you afford? How much is the land worth to you? How often does this type of plot come up, and how suitable is it for your needs? There are a range of factors feeding into how much you should be willing to pay. The asking price is just one of them. Of course, you shouldn’t overpay, but if you’re planning to rewild the land, this is a long term investment, not something you’ll sell on after a few years, so making a profit won’t be as important to you.
In fact, you may well be reducing the value of the land by letting it go wild. I know unsolicited advice from a stranger is as welcome as fleas, but it’s unwise to buy land for rewilding unless you already have a home, a steady career and a substantial rainy day fund.
How Long Does It Take To Buy Land?
Once you’ve made an offer and it’s been accepted, unfortunately that’s not the end of the process! It can take from weeks to months, and most likely the latter, for a land transaction to complete.
If anything, buying land seems to be slower than buying a house, as there’s less urgency, even if you don’t have the complication of ‘chains’ to worry about. A typical land purchase is said to take about three months from offer to completion, but it may take much longer than this (in my experience, 6-12 months isn’t unlikely), so the best approach is a laid-back one.
What Should I Do To Prepare For Completion?
The period between making an offer and completion is a great opportunity to get to know your land. For rewilding, it’s important to understand the species that live there already and how the land behaves through the seasons. How dry does it get in summer? Which parts flood in winter? Are there any areas of hedging so thin that the neighbours or their animals are coming through? See if the landowner will allow you to put out some camera traps, so you can monitor which species are visiting, day and night.
You can also use this time to look into grants and plan out any changes you intend to make, whether that’s fencing or landscaping. Adding ponds will often dramatically increase the biodiversity, but if your water table is too low, you’ll need to use pond liner, which is expensive. You can determine the height of your water table by looking at drainage ditches or digging pilot holes (with permission).
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