« AnteriorContinuar »
Otherwise, the advantages of planting up some of the moorland tracts of Scotland have been clearly recognized by the highland landlords themselves.
During the months of November and December, 1893, the attention of the House of Commons was, on several occasions, directed to this much-needed reform, and not only with regard to Scotland and to England, but also to Ireland. Thus, on 19th of December, 1893, the following question was asked with reference to this matter:—
“Dr. Macgregor asked the First Lord of the Treasury if the Government would consider the desirability of encouraging local authorities, by means of loans and otherwise, to plant the waste moorland in the Highlands and other parts of the country, thereby creating work for thousands of the unemployed, besides the future advantages of profit and improvement of climate, &c.; and would the Government, with as little delay as possible, initiate legislation for this purpose?
“Mr. Gladstone said this important subject had been taken special notice of by the Commission now sitting on Lands in the Highlands, and that being so, it was obviously the duty of the Government to wait and see what was reported on the subject by the Commission.’
A week previously the Government had been asked to
‘consider the expediency of enabling County Councils to clear waste moorland in the Highlands, at prairie value, for the purposes of forestry, at the same time empowering the County Councils to assist the ratepayers for the necessary operations of planting and maintaining such lands.’
No justification exists for such an extreme measure. But any concessions to landowners in the way of advances or in the fairer rating of woodlands, or by modification of the existing laws of entail, so as to ensure reasonable liberty, though not license, to the heir in possession, would undoubtedly benefit the community at large and the general national economy of the
United Kingdom. Until the present year Scottish landowners have only been able, with the sanction of the Board of Agriculture, to charge their estates with the costs of planting woods and trees, when such planting was expressly for the purpose of providing shelter. But by the ‘Improvement of Land (Scotland) Act' of 1893, the Board of Agriculture is authorized to sanction charges on estates for the costs of plantations, whether formed for shelter or otherwise. This is a step in the right direction. But still more good would be done if the Board were at the same time empowered to grant advances for the purpose of planting, as comparatively comparatively few heirs in possession of entailed estates possess ready money to invest in plantations, no matter how clearly they may see the ultimate advantages, both to their own family and to the community in general. It would, of course, be desirable that in such cases some guarantee should be obtained by the Board of Agriculture that the plantations are to be formed on sound sylvicultural principles; but at present no officer of the Board of Agriculture is fitted by professional training to occupy the responsible position of technical adviser on matters relating to Forestry. If extensive planting operations were immediately to be conducted in the Highlands of Scotland, or on the moors of Yorkshire, or in any other portion of Great Britain or Ireland, where large tracts of waste land at present lie uncultivated, then it is quite possible that the climate might be affected to such an extent as to prejudice the productive capacity of the agricultural land, and especially of the arable land, in the immediate vicinity of these new woodlands. This is a matter upon which our own existing knowledge cannot be relied on to furnish a safe guide. We can only argue from the data that are being furnished to us from time to time by continental scientists. Thus we learn from Endres" that ‘the question whether woodlands can influence the rainfall is one of the most important from a national-economic point of view. Even if this could be distinctly affirmed, the beneficial action of forests would only be established in the rarest cases; for throughout Central Europe at present the number of too wet years exceeds that of dry years. In districts where the rainfall is over forty inches, any increase is undesirable. For agriculture, very dry years are, on the whole, less disastrous than extremely wet years. The precipitations of any district are influenced mainly by the position of the mountain ranges with reference to the cardinal points of the compass, by its elevation above sea-level, and its distance from the sea.’
This is a point of vast importance. It is one that certainly must not be overlooked by those who, like Mr. Munro Ferguson, M.P., and Dr. Macgregor, M.P., wish to re-afforest the waste tracts throughout the Highlands of Scotland. Between the average rainfall of less than twelve inches per annum at Lowestoft, on the east coast of Norfolk, and the unknown quantity with which the western coasts of Ireland and the mountains of Skye are deluged, there must be very many districts throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland where the average amount of rainfall during the summer months is already just so much, that any great augmentation, through
• op.cit. p. 607. extensive extensive increase in the woodlands, might ultimately prove unprofitable from an agricultural point of view. This suggestion is here merely thrown out, however, for the express purpose of showing that schemes like this, suggested broadly by politicians for the settlement of a burning question with regard to the Highlands of Scotland, should not be lightly embarked on without a due consideration of their possible ultimate results. The subject of Forestry is one of those that is wont to receive spasmodic and periodical attention. It is admitted on every hand that we are far behind the continental nations of Europe as regards Sylviculture, although, with regard to Arboriculture, there is probably no country in the world which produces such beautiful trees as may be seen more particularly throughout the southern parts of England. Practically, however, nothing worthy of mention is being done by Government to disseminate sound knowledge respecting Forestry. Ten years ago (1884), an International Forestry Exhibition was held at Edinburgh with the view of securing funds for the establishment of a professorship in Forestry at Edinburgh University. Although successful in other ways, it did not secure the object in view. Public attention was, however, thereby attracted to the subject; and a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed in 1885 to consider whether, by the establishment of a forest school or otherwise, our woodlands could be rendered more remunerative. The Committee sat again during 1886 and 1887, and finally submitted its Report on 4th August, 1887. The gist of the Report furnished by this Committee is contained in the following short extract:—
“Apart from the question of actual profit derived from treeplanting, its importance as an accessory to agriculture is shown by the effects which woods have in affording shelter and improving the climate; and your Committee are of opinion that, whilst on public and national grounds timber cultivation on a more scientific system should be encouraged, landowners might make their woods more remunerative were greater attention paid to the selection of trees suitable to different soils and to more skilful management after the trees are planted. ‘Your Committee have had evidence that, apart from any immediate pecuniary benefits, there would be considerable social and economical advantages in an extensive system of planting in many parts of the kingdom, especially on the west side of Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland. This subject is one of great importance, and well worthy of early consideration. . . . ‘Your Committee recommend the establishment of a Forest Board. They are also satisfied by the evidence that the establishment of i. SCh901S, schools, or at any rate of a course of instruction and examination in Forestry, would be desirable, and they think that the consideration of the best mode of carrying this into effect might be one of the functions entrusted to such a Forest Board.”
The recommendations of the Forestry Committee of 1887 have not led to the formation of a Forest Board. But some of the functions of the proposed Board have been assumed by the Board of Agriculture, under the ‘Board of Agriculture Act” of 1889; and, at the same time, various minor sums are at present allotted to four different Institutions for technical instruction, amounting in all to 600l. per annum. Circulars have been issued by the Highland and Agricultural Society and the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society inviting subscriptions from landowners towards the formation of a Chair of Forestry at Edinburgh University; but the response in general can hardly even be called half-hearted. Up to the present, only 2,250l. have been collected towards the 5,000l. which must be in hand before the Treasury can be approached with any request to contribute a like sum towards the establishment of the Chair. Without a proper endowment the creation of such a Chair could not be sanctioned by the University authorities, as the fees of students would be too few to contribute substantially towards its maintenance. This want of response on the part of a majority of the landowners of Scotland makes it, however, all the more the duty of Government to move in the matter. Even the future well-being and improvement of our existing 3,000,000 acres of woodlands depends, to a very considerable extent, on the present dissemination of a sound knowledge of Sylviculture; and, from the economic importance of the subject in general, a reasonable outlay, judiciously incurred, should be productive of great future benefit, not only to the landowners, but also to the labouring classes, and to the industrial community at large. But, whilst it is highly advisable that Government should give some assistance towards the better management of private woodlands, they might also undoubtedly set the example of managing their own forests with some regard to economic principles. The Select Parliamentary Committee which was appointed in 1889 to “inquire into the Administration of the Department of Woods and Forests and Land Revenues of the Crown, delivered its final Report in 1890. The very valuable subjects under the management of this Department comprise ground rents in London, agricultural estates in different parts of the country, mines, and other property of various sorts as well as actual woodlands. So far as the the woods and forests are concerned, the national woodlands include a total of 115,293 acres, of which, however, only 57,304 acres are actually under timber crops in the New Forest, Forest of Dean, and other smaller tracts. Among the recommendations made by the Committee was the following:—
“The allotments set out and allotted to the Crown in severalty in Alice Holt Forest, Bere Forest, and Parkhurst Forest were by the Acts devoted to the growth of timber for the Royal Navy. As no timber is required by the Admiralty from these properties, the restriction as to their being devoted to the growth of timber, and also any similar enactments affecting the New Forest and the Forest of Dean, should be repealed.'
Oak is the principal species of tree grown, whilst there is but a small proportion of other kinds of trees (Scots pine, &c.), planted on land unsuitable for the oak. The woods are of various ages; but the majority of the crops are of the age of pole-forest and under. Before 1852, these woods had been very much neglected. Since then, however, considerable improvements have been effected in the drainage of the land and the tending of the crops. But the management cannot be said to be good. The system of patronage obtaining with regard to the appointment of the various Deputy Surveyors certainly does not tend to the best administration, as the appointments have hitherto been usually given to men having no professional training in Sylviculture. The finding of the Committee in their Report of July 30th, 1890, terminated with the following words:—“The Committee are of opinion that, on the whole, the estates are carefully administered, and that the Commissioners discharge their duties faithfully and efficiently.” Now this certainly does not tally with the finding of the Forestry Committee of 1887, which reported that “The woodlands belonging to the State are comparatively small, though, even as regards them, the difference between skilful and unskilled management would of itself more than repay the cost of a forest school.' This latter Committee even went so far as to call special attention to the unsatisfactory administration, and even the mismanagement of the Crown Forests, in the following words:—
‘Your Committee also think it right to call attention to the present unsatisfactory condition of the New Forest. Mr. Lascelles, the deputy surveyor, has expressed himself strongly on this question, and attributes it to the Act of 1877. “There are to be seen by the student of forestry,” he says, “over 40,000 acres of waste land lying idle and worthless. But by Clause 5 of the Act of 1877 no planting may be done there. He will see several fine plantations of oak, which are not only ripe and mature, but which are going back rapidly,