1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Reclaiming of Moorlands

(Part 94)


Reclaiming of Moorlands

The improvement of the second class of these unreclaimed lands is now much facilitated by the readiness with which portable manures can be obtained for them. Draining and enclosing here necessarily demand the first attention. In some cases the land is so encumbered with stones that careful trenching of the whole surface is the only way of getting rid of them. In the north of Scotland many thousands of acres formerly useless have been converted into valuable arable land by this means.

In nearly all parts of the country there are extensive tracts of this muiry soil, producing only a scanty and coarse herbage, which are susceptible of remunerative improvement. We are happy in being able to submit to the reader the following detailed account of a successful instance of this, kindly furnished to us by George A. Grey, Esq. of Millfield hill, Northumberland: ---

"It is said that ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ I was told by some of my friends that I hade given too high a price for this estate, and that it would be dearer farm to me now than when I rented it from Lord Grey. To overcome this opinion or fact, I thought of several plans of making it more remunerative, and decided on that which I am now about to describe.

"On the high part of the farm, at an elevation of from 400 to 500 feet above the sea, I had upwards of 100 acres of moorland of a poor description, which had never been under the plough. This consisted of short heath, bilberry bushes, and dry white bent grass, and a soft dry deep moss, delightful as a Turkey carpet under foot, and excellent excursive ground for old hunters, with a small portion of spratty grass and rushes in the damp hollows. The soil is of a free turnip and barely loam on the rotten whinstone. By planting on the west side, and in some places suitable for shelter, I reduced the quantity to about 100 acres. This I divided into three fields of about 33 acres each.

"My great dread was the length of time which such a rough dry surface would require to decompose sufficiently to allow of cultivation, having seen heathery moors in many parts of Scotland lying for two, three, and four years before crops could be obtained, owing to the great cover of coarse vegetation preventing the furrow from lying over, and keeping the land so open and dry through summer that if a braird of corn or green crop was obtained, it would wither away in dry weather.

"I had heard of paring and burning, but knew nothing of the process. I, however, obtained the necessary information very much from Mr. Langlands of Bewick, who had practiced it to a considerable extent. With what I saw there I was so much pleased that I determined to proceed at once.

"I also saw Mr. Langland’s work done by a paring-plough, such as is used in the south of England, with a wide plate to cut a furrow of 10 to 12 inches in width. On the point of this is an upright piece of steel, which cuts and divides the heath, --- the mould-board turns the furrow over flat on its back, and from end to end of the landing the furrows lay side by side like planks from a saw-mill, and were about half an inch in thickness.

"I must, however, remark, as a caution to others against falling into the same error as I did, that this land had been in tillage at some former time, and was in ridges with a regular surface, so that when the plough was set, it cut the whole furrow at a uniform depth, and was drawn by two horses with ease, and at an expense of about eight shillings per acre.

"I got this plough, and gave it a fair trial, but from my land never having been laid smooth, it cut one part as thin as was wished, and the next year perhaps six or twelve inches thick, which caused a great extra expense in drying, lifting and burning, and wasted more soil than was necessary or desirable. Also my land having a great deal of small whinstone below the turf, the steel plate frequently got injured and broken. It was therefore with great reluctance laid aside, and the ordinary method of paring by hand adopted, which is slower and much more expensive, but very perfect. It saves soil and cheapens the burning operation, the paring being so thin when the heath, &c., was divided, that light could be seen through the sod, which was only held together with the roots and fibers.

"I began with No.1 field in July 1849. I let the paring and burning to a company at 25s. per acre, but they made low wages, and after getting more than their work came to, gave up the job. I then got some experienced hands to pare, and paid them the usual wages, at the time 9s. per week, and gave them their food, say 13s. per week, the work being very hard. The total cost of this averaged me 24s. 9d. per acre. A portion of the top part of No. 1 was left undone owing to the lateness of the season. This was dry benty turf. It was ploughed in the common way, and grew no oats in 1850. it was again ploughed and much harrowed and rolled, and sown with the remainder of the field in 1851 with rape, and has grown only a few plants at wide distances. It is still in such a dry undecomposed state that although it is on the high part of the field where sheep draw to lie, I do not expect that it will grow a crop of corn next year; while a portion which was pared down the middle of it grew good corn and rape.

"A portion of No. 2 field was also ploughed in the ordinary way. This was moist land, growing shorter and sweeter grass than any other. It grew a very thin irregular crop of oats in 1850, not within three-quarters per acre of the pared land, but is now (1851) bearing a good crop of oats, that field being a second time in oat crop. To return:

"I had a fair crop of rape in the autumn of 1849 on a considerable portion of No. 1, where it was sown in tolerable season during all August; after that it appeared to be too late. All was, however, ploughed up at once to secure the ashes, and was well harrowed and sown with oats in the spring of 1850. The pared land turned out to be much too thickly sown at four bushels per acre. Corn tillers so much on such land that in some parts it prevented it from coming to maturity. I have since sown much thinner, say three bushels per acre, and even in some degree I find the same fault, there being from five to eight stems from one root. My crop of 1850 turned out to be 30 bushels per acre, but it was on the point of being cut when the high wind in August devastated this district, and that lying high and fully exposed to the wind suffered most severely. I should say it was not below six quarters per acre, and the quality of the grain good.

"In June and July 1850 I pared No. 3 by the same hands who finished my work the previous year. I let the burning of it to an Irishman at 2s. 6d. per acre, binding him to burn it closely piled up in good-sized heaps like hay-cocks, to prevent the escape of the ashes in the shape of smoke into the atmosphere.

"This, with the paring, cost me on 36 acres 19s. 6d. per acre. I got 20 acres of it ploughed and sown with white turnips, broadcast in July and August. I had a close nice crop, though the roots were small, which kept a large flock of sheep for several weeks. This had the good effect of treading down the land and making it plough up better for oats.

"Nos. 1 and 2 were limed at the rate of 7 loads per acre. In June 1851 No. 1 was sown broadcast with rape, by mixing 4 lb. of rape seed with one bushel of oats shellings for an acre, and sowing them out of a grass-seed machine. The crop is very close and fine, and has kept twenty scores of sheep from an early day in August to this date (September 27th).

"No. 2 in 1851 was again sown with oats, which proved a very fine crop, as also did No. 3. The produce was about nine quarters per acre. The oats are very thick and tall, and have very long, large heads, and the grain is plump and good; the stalks being strong, the crop is not lodged so as to injure the yield. I estimate it at certainly 7 _ quarters per acre, but shall calculate it at 6 quarters.

"I sow on that land the sandy oat, being early, not liable to lodge nor to shake in moderately high wind, although it was not proof against that of 1850.

"Previously to breaking up I drained with pipes all the land which required drying, of which I shall give a statement, along with the expenses and profits of the whole.

"The result shows that if I had, some years ago, when prices of grain were good, done as a tenant what I have done now, I should have been amply repaid by the first or second crops, and have had my farm for the remainder of a twenty-one years’ lease worth fully £100 a year more than when I began.

"The result of my experience is, that I neither agree with the generality of Scotsmen nor with many Southerns. The former are of opinion that burning wastes the vegetable matter, which should be kept to decompose and enrich the soil, not considering that at once the land receives a rich dressing of ashes quite equal to two quarters of bones, or 4 or 5 cwt. of the best guano; and that, during the several years which such a slow process would require to take place, the land might be much more enriched by growing and having eaten upon it fine crops of rape and turnips, and by producing heavy corn crops, which would in a much shorter space be returned to it in the shape of manure; and also that by the process of burning the land is freed from the larvæ of insects, such as grubs, slugs, wireworms, &c. &c., which are engendered among the rough grass, and fostered for a length of time under the rough, dry, undecomposed turf; to say nothing of the length of time which the speculator is kept out of a large amount of capital and interest, instead of having the former returned with the latter after the first or at most the second year.

"The latter, again (the Englishmen), are too much in the habit or repeating the operation of burning, even after the land has lain in grass only for a few years, when it might as well be ploughed and cultivated without such expense, thereby unnecessarily reducing the soil, there not being the same difficulties to be overcome nor the same advantage to be gained from it.

"I should certainly burn all land with a rough harsh surface, and should certain portions of land capable of remunerative improvement, and I have shown that such improvement is quite within the scope of a tenant with a lease, without which no man can farm well, at least in the Northumbrian system. Would it not be better, then, for landlords, tenants, and the country generally, were tenants to employ labourers on works so speedily remunerative to themselves, rather than run to their landlord whenever they feel the screw, and ask for abatement of rent, or to be allowed to plough out some piece of valuable old grass, or otherwise cross crop their land, with a view of obtaining some temporary advantage, but in the end to the inevitable injury of all concerned? (Signed) "G.A. GREY.

"Millfield Hill, Dec. 1,1852."

From a statement of outlay and returns appended to the above paper it appears that the profits on the three fields were respectively £139,14s. 5d.

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