Round about this time of year The Ranger always gets a query or two about firewood. There’s the idea going around, rather conveniently, that there is a legal right for anyone to take fallen wood for firewood.
A typical enquiry was this one, from Ranger reader Graham:
I understand that common folk such as myself were given the right to collect firewood for personal use from common land as part of the great Magna Carta. Or have these rights gradually disappeared as land has been ‘stolen’ by the landed gentry?
So, is he right?
Actually, no. There is no general right in English law to collect wood for any purpose. In simple terms, all wood belongs to somebody, normally the person who owns the tree it grew on. You can’t lawfully take it away without their permission. It’s as simple as that. The fact that plenty of people do help themselves to fallen wood doesn’t make it legally right that they do so.
It’s a very practical way of getting rid of surplus wood, as any ranger or forester knows. If someone asks you for your employers’ wood, you have to refuse. But if you haven’t been told to bring back the firewood, then rather than sweat and gather all your logs up into the trailer and lug them back to the depot, just pile them neatly by the side of the path. Next morning when you return to the worksite they will have mysteriously evaporated. Very convenient, but not in any way a legal right.