English Woodlands, the Sussex tree nursery, becomes 100% employee-owned following its sale to a newly created Employee Ownership Trust.

Announcing the transition to an employee-owned company, founder Michael Hardcastle said “We wanted to safeguard the independence of English Woodlands for the future whilst acknowledging the success and expertise of our talented team. We all feel this is a very positive step forward which recognises the commitment and capabilities of our staff who now become co-owners and share in the success of our special business”.

English Woodlands began to grow forest trees in the 1950s at Burrow Nursery, a 12-acre site in the heart of the Weald, at Cross in Hand, near Heathfield, East Sussex. In 1992 the business was purchased by Michael Hardcastle, who continues in the business today as Chairman.

The specialist tree and shrub supplier is well known for providing a wide range of quality tree and shrub species in various sizes up to 5m height. As well as the quality of its plants, expert advice and reliable delivery, top priority is given to ensuring that plant health management standards and biosecurity measures are in place. The nursery became one the first in the UK to be awarded the Plant Healthy Standard certification following an independent audit in 2022 and this remains a key feature of the business today.

English Woodlands serves a wide range of clients, particularly in the South East, including private individuals, farmers and landowners, landscapers, developers, conservation and environmental bodies, parish and district councils and many local authorities and public bodies.

The conversion to employee ownership is designed to secure the long-term future of English Woodlands as an independent company. Simon Johnson, Managing Director and Jo Carter, Sales Director continue to lead the business and are currently seeing a very strong demand for trees, particularly native species, as tree planting projects move into the mainstream. The shareholders have sold their shares in the company to the newly formed Employee Ownership Trust while remaining fully committed to the business and will share in its future success along with the 16 staff who have become beneficiaries of the trust, effectively co-owners.

While the concept of Employee Ownership is not new in the UK, it has received greater attention since 2014 when the government put in place various measures to encourage this form of business ownership model in which a trust owns the controlling stake in a company, on behalf of the employees. John Lewis & Partners is probably the best-known example, but many companies have followed in its footsteps including Riverford Organic Farmers Ltd, Arup Group Ltd, Connick Tree Care and Coolings Nurseries. The Employee Ownership Association recently confirmed that the UK employee-owned sector has grown by 37% in just 12 months to over 1,400 businesses.

Visitors, suppliers and customers will see no noticeable difference! English Woodlands is proud of its nursery, open to the public six days per week. In addition to the extensive range of container trees available, including interesting specimens, the company sells bareroot plants for hedging and woodland, which can be ordered now, for planting between the end of November and April. There is a full range of tree planting accessories including tree guards, stakes, tree ties, tree anchoring systems, mulching materials and compost in addition to mycorrhizal fungi, fertiliser, irrigation systems and lawn edging. Delivery is available across the UK.