Farmers across East Anglia and south-east England are being urged to generate extra income from woodland by entering the market for rural recreation and leisure pursuits.

A new initiative launched at Thetford Forest, Norfolk, seeks to provide advice to landowners who want to make the most of their woodland assets financially while creating opportunities for people to enjoy their local environment.

There are 45,000ha (111,000 acres) of woodland on East Anglia’s farms – enough to cover a city the size of Cambridge five times.

The Forestry Commission believes much of the land could support better returns as well as timber production.

Steve Scott, the commission’s conservator for the East of England, said:

“There is a huge range of untapped opportunities in our region to develop recreation, particularly in woodland.”

A special website ( www.naturallyactive.org) includes step-by-step guidance to help farmers decide which kind of enterprise would best suit their situation.

Case studies include ideas such as extreme sports, horse-riding and woodland gardens.

Richard and Rebecca Coke, for example, recently secured Rural Enterprise Scheme funding for the creation of a tree-top rope walk near Fakenham.

Called Extreeme Adventure, it is expected to create at least 10 jobs and attract 15,000 visitors a year.

DEFRA is keen to support similar initiatives.

Eastern region rural business adviser Michael Mack said: “This is a great example of how funding can be used by farmers to set up diversification businesses.”

Meanwhile, farmers in Oxfordshire and Kent are also being encouraged to open up their land to the public as a tourist attraction.

Two seminars to be held by Tourism South East next month will explore the profit potential from public access.

Rural development manager Rachel Simpson said:

“The diverse amount of opportunities available to farmers and owners of land and woodland are considerable but not everyone is aware of the potential that their own land represents.”

Advice will be given on a range of issues including the conversion of farm buildings into holiday accommodation; how to develop a caf, restaurant or farm shop selling local produce and how opening up farms to the public can generate income.

fwnews@rbi.co.uk