An astonishing year for forestry as values surge

The forestry market has had an ‘astonishing year’ with competitive bidding seeing average values rise significantly and the total value of the forestry investment market reach record levels, according to the latest edition of the UK Forest Market Report.The 22nd edition of the annual report, produced by Tilhill and John Clegg & Co, highlights that the forestry and woodland sector has a very positive outlook. It is an investment which over many successive years has steadily outperformed many other asset classes and one which has a key role to play as we move to a low carbon economy. The report shows that in 2020 a total of £200.18m of forestry properties traded, the highest value traded on record, with the average cost of a forest property more than doubling from £1.56m in 2019 to £3.28m in 2020. Key findings: 39% increase in forestry values from £11,749 per stocked hectare in 2019 to £15,962 per stocked hectare in 2020 58% increase in total value of forestry market from £126.5m in 2019 to £200.18m in 2020 16,595 ha (gross) of forestry traded in 2020 (61 forests) Increase in average size of a property sold from 136ha in 2019 to 206ha this year Scotland provided largest share of commercial forest market at 69% by value England shows welcome increase in planting with 2,330ha, up from 1,420ha last year Wales planted 80ha, the lowest annual figure seen in 50 years. Bruce Richardson, Head of Investment and Property, Tilhill said: “We have seen a truly astonishing year for forestry values. Despite the problems with the Covid-19 related restrictions, the UK forestry market has performed robustly through 2020, producing record results in scale and unit prices rising by 39% over the past year. The market in 2020 has been very competitive. This year most properties were sold above guide price.“The most striking story this year has been the level of interest shown in younger restock sites as opposed to the more mature forests. The younger forests are attracting higher unit prices per ha partly because the 2020 market included some very high-quality younger forestry in prime locations; we believe these prices show investor confidence in the future of the timber market, based on evidence that the improved varieties of spruce, a result of many years of genetic research, planted in recent years are performing as forecast with improved yield and form.“We have seen a well-balanced set of investor objectives attracted by long-term returns, a renewed interest from investors who are attracted by the contra-cyclical nature of forestry investment; and also new investors coming at forestry with carbon and wider environmental, social and governance objectives.”Fenning Welstead, Director at John Clegg & Co, said: “Forestry and land prices have moved ahead strongly again this year. The factors that appear to be influencing the strong upward movement include the low base rates (forecast to be in place for some time) and uncertain prospects for other types of investments, which make forestry look a very compelling investment. Other significant drivers for people owning forestry include moves to decarbonise the economy which are backed by government policy, the emphasis on renewable and sustainable raw materials and the desire for positive environmental PR. Statutory requirements for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) corporate reporting are also a factor.“Demand for timber as a raw material is also increasing, as is a desire to strengthen biodiversity and natural capital. We see a very positive future for forestry and woodlands.” Mixed woodlands There has also been an increase in interest for smaller woodlands, according to the report. The number of such properties which came to the market in 2020 was down on the previous year from 44 in 2019 to 30 in 2020, but with demand outstripping supply between June and September. There is an enormous variation in values of smaller woodlands, even within a region, with the differential between the lowest and highest value properties, per acre, being more than tenfold. The market for these types of woodland is strongly influenced by local factors such as ease of access, species composition, biodiversity quality and that elusive characteristic ‘attractiveness’. The online launch event, attended by investors and industry professionals from across the UK, also featured a presentation on ‘Natural Capital Accounting’ by Ece Özdemiroğlu, Founding Director of Eftec. Ece’s report shows how investing in forestry is financially, environmentally and socially sustainable. Ece said: “Forests are an excellent example of how natural capital provides a multitude of benefits – not just for the owner, but also for the rest of the society.” This year, the report also includes a guest contribution from Sir William Worsley, Chair of the Forestry Commission and a woodland owner, with a focus on the rapidly rising profile of woods and forests in the current social, political and environmental landscape. Sir William talks of the challenge in returning to levels of woodland creation last seen over forty years ago, as well as ensuring these woodlands are sustainably managed for the long term. Sir William said: “The government commitment to Net Zero emissions by 2050 is supported by an ambition to plant 30,000 hectares of trees per year, across the UK, by 2025. This was recommended by the Committee on Climate Change report Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK and spells out a step change from the current levels of woodland creation, of just over 13,000 hectares across the UK in 2019/20.” The UK Forest Market Report has been produced since 1988 and the data series now covers 23 years, incorporating 1,842 transactions which total some £1.46 billion and 289,000 stocked hectares (ha). As such, it is believed to be the most comprehensive publicly available record of forestry transactions in the UK. Full details of the findings in The UK Forest Market Report 2020 can be found by visiting: Tilhill: www.tilhill.com or John Clegg & Co: www.johnclegg.co.uk

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