Permissions to create a new woodland?

Do I need planning permission? This is a recurring question that I see from people considering planting new woodland.

I’m not a qualified expert to offer advice on this. I didn’t seek any kind of permissions for the two woodlands that I created on what was existing agricultural land. They are roughly 5 acres and 7 acres of new native woodland respectively.

My understanding is that on existing agricultural land no permission is required to plant trees on a “small” scale for non-commercial usage as it’s not a change of use. If your project involves using the land for something that’s fundamentally different from agriculture, like a campsite or woodland burial ground or leisure facility or a residential site or commercial forestry will more likely require change of use permission.

However, for larger woodlands or in certain areas you may need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) before creating new woodland. In many cases it appears that you will be required to notify the Forestry Commission rather than gaining permission.
Details here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/assess-environmental-impact-before-you-create-new-woodland

There are other less formal permissions that you could seek. For example talking you your neighbours (or prospective neighbours). I think it’s rare that people would object to nearby land being turned into permanent woodland but I’m sure there will be exceptions to this. People like to see grassy fields, people like clear views, people might have been to “informally” use the field in ways they you’re not aware. This can be especially true if there’s a public footpath and you’re expecting people (and their dogs) to keep to the footpath where previously they have been able to stray from it. I experienced instances of vandalism over the first couple of years when I put a new fence and hedge alongside a public footpath.

There’s a good argument that good quality agricultural land should be kept for agriculture, woodland doesn’t need prime fertile ground. You can check the agricultural land classification (ALC) using Magic Map. There’s a wealth of helpful information there. For ALC switch on layers under “Landscape / Geology and Soil / Landscape Classifications”. Look for “Agricultural Land Classification – Provisional (England)” and “Post 1988 Agricultural Land Classification (England)”. Unfortunately I don’t know of similar resources for other parts of the UK.

Magic Map, provided by DEFRA

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