9 August 2002

Tree plans are shot down

By John Burns

PLANS to establish a large block of native hardwoods on an Exmoor farm have been abandoned because the sporting rights are owned by another party who wishes to dictate how the planting is done.

When Maurice and Judith Vellacott bought Tabor Hill Farm, near North Molton, Devon, the deeds made it clear that the estate which had sold off the farm some years earlier had retained the sporting rights, except for deer, "together with all necessary ancillary rights over the said property to enable (the vendor and successors) to exercise such rights in full".

Since they bought the farm, Mr Vellacott has become aware of the full implications of those words.

"It seems the owners of the shooting rights can dictate how we farm. We did not appreciate this when we bought the farm and although I did ask our solicitor at the time whether there was anything to worry about concerning the sporting rights, he simply explained that I could shoot the deer and the estate could shoot the rest."

After previous disputes with the estate and the syndicate to which the shooting is let, the Vellacotts notified the estate of their plans to plant 52.6ha (130 acres) of trees. The estates agent replied that it would not object provided a specified area was left unplanted. If it were planted it would adversely affect the shooting, the Velacotts were told.

Mr Vellacott decided to abandon the plans. "Even though they have said they will not object to most of the scheme, it will involve legal fees getting it all watertight. Having been caught the first time round I have no intention of being caught again, with some sharp lawyer claiming the trees were interfering with the shooting rights, and forcing me to dig them up and restore the land. I would then be liable to repay grants and ongoing payments plus interest going back years. I dare not risk that."

Mr Vellacott would be interested to hear whether other owners of land without sporting rights have similar wording in their deeds and whether they realised the full implications.

"I find it annoying and unbelievable how far they can go. I have been told by their solicitors that their rights take precedence over mine. I can now see that all sorts of diversification plans could fail because of shooting rights taking precedence."

Oliver Harwood of the Country Land and Business Association said: "If you have a right of way over someones land or an easement for, say, a water pipe, there are limits to what the land owner can do without interfering with those rights. It is the same with sporting rights, and I presume this farmer paid a lower price for the farm because it did not include the shooting rights."

"We are sorry to learn the parties have not been able to sort it out by friendly negotiation, because in most cases they do. Shooting rights do not on the whole cause a problem provided the parties approach it rationally and in a friendly frame of mind. All potential buyers of land should remember that in this country, land law is based on caveat emptor – buyer beware. &#42