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Staying within the law whilst collecting firewood

PUBLISHED: 15:00 28 October 2015 | UPDATED: 16:30 17 November 2016

We clarify the guidelines that control our right to pick up firewood from land other than our own…

Collecting your own firewood can be very cost effective – even fun – but, as ever, there are rules and restrictions in place that you need to know and stick to (no pun intended).

Times were much simpler pre-2008, when the Magna Carta statement still stood that: “Every common man was allowed to pick up and take home deadwood from his unwitting Lordly purveyor for purposes of firewood, building materials, wife-impressing and vault-pole” (or words to similar effect).

Sadly this simple, all-encompassing law no longer applies. You can thank health and safety for that one… how did we ever manage to avoid stabbing ourselves in the eye with a twig for 7,993 years? Obviously medieval folk had quicker reactions and were a bit more street savvy…

Anyway, times change; so do the rules. We have little choice but to learn them and follow them closely, or risk the stocks and a face-full of soggy cabbage. So, here are the guidelines to stick to when collecting firewood in the UK.

You cannot legally take fallen wood, seeds or leaf from Forestry Commission land. (You obviously cannot take a large axe and a Land Rover through the woods happy-hacking-down branches, either). It is worth noting that much of England’s public forests and woodland will be owned by Forestry Commission. Try not to get too sour – this law is in place partly because decomposing wood and leaf is so important to replenish the nutrients in the soil and provide food/habitats for insects and birds. (It’s also partly in case we poke ourselves with a twig… just sayin’)

You cannot legally take fallen wood from privately owned forests without seeking permission from the woodland owner. (Again, nor are you allowed to let yourself onto someone else’s land to chop down and remove wood, unless they’ve given the all-clear first). Removing fallen wood without the owner’s permission is technically theft, which means you could technically be convicted for the offence – imagine that! Just make sure you ask first, and if the answer is no then, unfortunately, the answer is no!

Scavenging permits are available in some areas. Namely parts of North England, Central England, and Yorkshire. The permit would need to be purchased at the local Forestry Commission office. However, they are often limited to keep dead-wood removal within sustainable limits, and are issued at the discretion of the office overseeing that particular area of woodland. If you did manage to purchase a scavenging permit, only hand tools, no power tools, are allowed to be used and you usually have to collect the wood from a designated area.

Our advice would be to visit as many woodland owners as possible and politely ask if you can strike a firewood deal. Many landowners welcome dead-wood removal and are happy for you to take it off their hands. Some might want you to come in and take down certain trees for them – often the ease of having someone else chop down and remove unwanted trees is well worth trading for a bit of firewood. Just remember – always be polite and respectful to any landowners you choose to speak to.

This link takes you to a map where you can find the Forestry Commission office that deals with your area

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