ANXIOUS investors are waiting to find out what will happen to the money they ploughed into South American forestry through a collapsed Bournemouth firm.

Three bosses of Ethical Forestry took a total of more than £20million in pay between 2011 and the business’s liquidation earlier this year.

Now liquidators say they are close to finding a buyer for shares in the Costa Rican firm which manages the trees bought by investors.

The firm sold trees in ethically managed forests, into which some people put their self-invested pension money.

As recently as May 2014, Ethical Forestry Ltd chairman Matthew Pickard reported “yet another exceptional year”, with turnover of £28.4m, up an annualised 36.2 per cent pro rata in a nine-month period ending September 2013.

But in December 2014, 28 staff at the company’s Holdenhurst Road call centre were sent home and told they would be redundant by Christmas. The company said it had reviewed its business “from a risk management perspective” and was not prepared to accept the risks of running a call centre.

And in July last year, in the financial statements for the year ended September 2014, Mr Pickard warned that the company had experienced a “challenging time”, with a “volatile and unpredictable UK regulatory environment”.

This had led to the business splitting its sales and marketing activities from its forestry.

Remuneration to the three directors – Matthew Pickard, Stephen Greenaway and Paul Laver – were nearly £3.9m that year, down from £10.3m the previous year.

The financial statements included a warning that changes in legislation “could result in a going concern issue for the company”.

But the report added: “However, the directors have concluded that should this situation develop, they would endeavour to ensure that the liability arising on the company would be met and that they have a reasonable expectation that the company will have adequate resources to continue in existence for the foreseeable future.”

Liquidators were appointed in January this year.

A letter from joint administrator Shane Biddlecombe has stressed that the plantations where investors had bought trees were managed by Ethical Forestry SA, which is based in Costa Rica and continues to trade. Eighty per cent of the shares in that company were owned by EF Forestry Management Ltd and are in the hands of the liquidator.

Mr Biddlecombe wrote that he had “provisionally agreed a sale” of the shares and that none of the UK directors was the buyer. He said he and solicitors were in discussions to finalise a contract for the sale “and to enable the preservation of investors’ trees”.

“Unfortunately, in view of the differences between Costa Rican law and UK law, this is taking longer than originally anticipated. I remain confident, however, that the sale can be achieved and completed within two months.”

He added: “Whilst I am not suggesting that there has or has not been any wrongdoing, I would confirm that it is a liquidator’s duty to investigate the conduct of directors and to take appropriate action should there be any instances of wrongdoing, this duty also extends to providing the authorities with all information as necessary for them to consider criminal proceedings.”

Ethical Forestry’s website contains testimonials from investors and a financial adviser.

But the home page says four companies containing the Ethical Forestry and EF names are in liquidation and invites investors to email for updates.

"Worry is giving me sleepless nights"

ETHICAL Forestry’s promotional material held out the prospect of huge returns on investment.

“If you were to invest £18,000 in Acacia, your projected returns could be in excess of £93,000 over 10 years,” said one brochure.

“If you were to invest £18,000 in Formaleta, your projected returns could be in excess of £127,000 over 12 years.”

The company went on to say it used “very conservative figures in our projections”.

In 2013, the company employed 94 people in the UK and 408 in Costa Rica.

Investors, some of whom invested their pension money, have been voicing their fears on Ethical Forestry’s Facebook page – where the company’s most recent post is from last August, touting two environmental award wins.

Andy Jackson said: “This situation has really shocked me. Been with them four years, thought everything was going OK.”

Pauline Rattery said: “I am now having sleepless nights and worries as I put in a large sum.”

Paul Hagedorn said: “This is turning into the worst nightmare after simply wanting to invest in something that seemed good for the environment.”

Lindsey Lukehurst said she had received several cold calls from solicitors over the episode.

Ethical Forestry was in recent times based in the Ocean building in Holdenhurst Road (pictured).