Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Forester
Chapter I. Value of Land under a Crop of Wood



The value of land, as generally found under a crop of wood, varies according to the nature of the land planted, and, at the same time, according as the locality may or may not be conveniently situated as regards a ready market for the sale of timber. A plantation of trees, of whatever species it may be composed, is always of more value to the grower when in the neighbourhood of a thriving sea-port, than the same plantation would be in a far inland district. The reason of this is obvious; for in the neighbourhood of a ready market for timber, the distance for cartage is not necessarily much calculated upon by the purchaser, consequently he is enabled to give a fair price to the seller. For example:—were I to purchase good ash timber from a proprietor whose plantations were within two miles of a shipping port, I would he enabled, upon consideration of the short distance, to give him 2s. 3d. per cubic foot: in this case I would calculate upon selling the same wood at 2s. 6d. per foot, allowing the 3d. which I would receive extra, for the expenses of cartage and my own profit. Again, were I to buy the same quality of ash timber from a proprietor whose plantations were thirty miles from a shipping port, I could not give in this instance more than Is. 6d. per cubic foot; because I would have to calculate, that although I got 2s. 6d. for this wood, it would take Is. per foot to cover my expenses of conveying the timber to market, and at the same time to have a little profit for my own trouble. And thus it is in all cases, that for every mile of distance from the market, the purchaser of wood is obliged to give less to the seller; and this because he has to meet the extra expenses incurred in each mile of cartage, previous to getting it brought to market.

However, I may here state, as a general rule, which I have verified from my own experience, both in the lowlands and highlands of Scotland, that land, under wood, will at the end of sixty years, under good management, pay the proprietor nearly three times the sum of money that he would have received from any other crop upon the same piece of ground.

This assertion, I am aware, will he considered extravagant by many proprietors; but to those who may consider what I have here said as beyond the truth, I beg to say that although it may be in reality beyond what they have themselves experienced as to profits from their plantations, yet I must say, that where good management has been introduced, what I have said will be found a practical truth; and in order to illustrate the point, I shall here give two examples, derived from my own experience in the felling of wood upon gentlemen’s estates, both in the highlands and lowlands of Scotland.

Upon the estate of Craigston, in Aberdeenshire, where the plantations are, for the most, of larch, Scots, and spruce fir, I have thinned them at all stages, from that of sixteen years old up to that of sixty, when they were cut down as ripe; and, having taken a valuation of the trees as taken from an acre of plantation ground, at all the different stages when thinning was required among the different plantations between sixteen and sixty years, I make the value of an acre of land, as found under mixed fir-wood, in the district of country mentioned, L.190. The annual rent of the land upon which those plantations grow was reckoned at 10s. an acre, as compared with land of the same description held by farmers in the neighbourhood ; and had tins land been occupied by a farmer, the proprietor would have received only L.30 for an acre during sixty years ; but as occupied by plantations, we see that he received by the end of sixty years, when the crop of wood was cleared olf, no less than L.3, 3s. for each year of the period the land was under a erop of wood ; and upon deducting original outlay, in the form of fencing and planting, as well as labour in keeping good the plantation and in cutting down the trees for sale, and also compound interest upon the original outlay and rent progressively, during the periods no return was received, it will be found that such land occupied by wood will pay three times the amount of money, at the end of sixty years, that it could do under the hands of a farmer.

Again, upon the estate of Arniston, in MidLothian, where the plantations are hard wood of general sorts, with a mixture of firs to act as nurses, I have calculated upon the same principle as that above mentioned, and find the medium value of an acre of land as under wood upon this estate to be, at the end of seventy years, L.570.

The land in the same neighbourhood lets at 30s. for farm cropping. Now, dividing this L.570 by seventy, the number of years the ground lay under wood, we have, instead of 30s., L.7, 8s. as the rent of the same land under a crop of wood; and even after deducting all necessary expenses, as well as compound interest progressively, the proprietor has about three times the income from his land as under wood, that he would receive from the same had it been in the hands of a farmer.

These examples I consider quite sufficient for the present purpose. And further upon the same point, I beg to say, that it is not alone the simple value of the timber that makes plantations of so important a nature upon a gentlemen’s property. There is the shelter that they afford to all agricultural purposes: for where no plantations are, there is invariably an inferior crop of grain upon the fields, as well as an ill-fed live stock, which should all be taken into account; and in doing so, lam of opinion that upon any landed property, well managed plantations are incalculably of more value than land three times their extent in the hands of a farmer, but without trees to give shelter; and it is well known by every proprietor of land, that he receives by far the highest rent for those parts of his lands which are most sheltered by his best plantations; and further, of whatever value land may be in the hands of a farmer, without plantations to give shelter to the same, it is of very much greater value when properly sheltered by them.


It is admitted by every person of a refined taste, that no object is so ornamental upon a gentleman’s estate as an extensive healthy plantation, situated upon a well chosen spot, and having a well defined tastefully bending outline; and this being a point of the first importance in arboricultural architecture it ought to be well considered by all who would wish to excel in the profession. I am aware that many think, and indeed say, that forest trees will grow as well in an untastefully defined plantation, as they will do in one laid out upon the first principles of refined taste, provided that the soil be good enough,—which is a false estimate of what good taste is capable of doing : and in order to contradict this erroneous opinion, I do assert, that a young plantation laid out according to scientific principles, combined with good taste, will succeed much better than one laid out in a careless manner, as will be shown by and by, under the present head.

As the future welfare of a plantation is considerably affected by the manner in which it is laid out, no man ought to attempt the laying out of ground for one, who is not naturally possessed of good taste for that sort of landscape scenery which is based upon the laws of nature, which will enable him to lay out the proposed plantation in such a manner as to give the greatest possible effect in ornamenting the neighbouring country. It is also necessary that the person who would lay out ground for a new plantation, should be possessed of a knowledge of the nature of the growth of each sort of tree when planted upon any given soil or situation ; which knowledge will enable him to judge rightly as to the effects that certain trees will have when planted in any given spot; and he will also be enabled from such knowledge to say truly, whether or not trees will grow well in the situation chosen for a new plantation. And it is further necessary that the party, in the laying out of a new plantation, should be acquainted with, or at least have in view, any local peculiarities of the district, relative to cold and destructive winds from certain points. From such knowledge he will be able to lay out the proposed plantation in such a manner, that it shall have the greatest possible effect in giving shelter to the surrounding fields, which is the principal end a proprietor aims at in having woods upon his estate.

The larger that any piece of plantation is, the sooner will the trees therein come to useful size, and answer the desired end; and the smaller it is, the more likely are the hopes of the planter to be disappointed. And the reason of this is obvious:— for the young trees growing in an extensive plantation, as soon as they rise a little above the surface of the grass or heath, begin to shelter one another; whereas, if the plantation be narrow, the young trees can hardly be said ever to come the length of sheltering one another — for every breeze of wind blowing through the whole breadth, acts upon every single tree almost as powerfully as if each tree stood singly and alone. Therefore, it is most profitable for proprietors always to plant in large masses.

Trees planted in a mass of one hundred acres extent, will be more healthy, and come sooner to profitable size, both as affording timber and shelter, than they would if planted in a mass of ten acres. From this it follows, that if a proprietor wishes to plant one hundred acres upon his estate, he will raise more healthy timber by planting in one mass, than he would do by planting the same extent in four masses of twenty-five acres each.

No young plantation, upon an exposed situation, should be less than one hundred yards broad at any given point; and, where the soil is of a light, thin, mossy nature, and not apt to raise trees to good size, one hundred yards may even be too little for breadth. If there be much mossy ground upon the site intended for a new plantation, or if there be much of it consisting of poor, thin, gravelly heights, as is often the case in unimproved districts, a narrow or small plantation will not succeed profitably. A small plantation may succeed upon a good loamy soil in a sheltered situation; but upon a bad soil, and an exposed situation, I would advise not to plant at all, unless it be done in large masses.

Almost every gentleman’s estate lies in a manner peculiar to itself; the wind that might prove hurtful to one estate, might not do so to another marching with it: therefore it is, that the particular winds which prove most hurtful to an estate, should always be taken into consideration in the laying out of a plantation upon it.

I have already said above, that the welfare of a young plantation depends in a great measure upon the manner in which it is laid out. I also said, that a plantation laid out according to scientific rules, combined with good taste, will succeed much better than one laid out in a careless unscientific manner. The following are the rules by which I generally guide myself in the laying out of a new plantation :—

First.—In laying out its boundary line, avoid all straight lines upon the exposed sides, and, if possible, make no straight lines at all upon any side. They are disagreeable to the eye of taste, and are without meaning when applied to natural objects : in nature there are no straight lines, and that for a wise end, for they are without strength to resist outward pressure.

Second.—The greatest extent of a new plantation should be laid off against the prevailing wind of the district, and at the same time, the greatest extent should be kept along the highest part of the ground to be planted.

Third.—The best possible form of boundary line which can be thrown out against the wind, upon the most exposed side of a plantation, is the convex. Such a form of boundary line weakens the strength of the wind when it hits upon it: the strength of the storm is, as it were, divided, when it hits upon the projecting bend of a well defined convex.

Fourth.—Upon the most sheltered sides of a plantation, the boundary line may be made to bend one way or another, as good taste may direct; but in all cases, making a concave bend only where there is a good breadth of planting immediately behind it.

Fifth.—The highest parts in a neighbourhood ought to be chosen for the site of a plantation. By choosing such a situation, the greatest possible shelter is likely to be attained for the neighbouring fields; and, at the same time, a plantation situated upon a height always forms a prominent and a pleasing object to the proprietor. A bare height always carries along with it the idea of barrenness, but when planted with trees, it forms one of the most pleasing objects in the landscape of a gentleman’s estate.

Sixth.—In the laying out of a new plantation, intended for the protection of live stock, there ought to be several rather deep sinuosities upon the most sheltered sides. These sinuosities ought to be upon a bold wide scale, so as not to cause any weak point to project from the body of the plantation; for, if this he the case, such weak points would not thrive, and consequently always have a mean appearance.

Seventh.—If in the general arrangement of the boundary line, it should be found necessary to make a bend having its concavity to the storm side, care should be taken to construct such a bend in a hollow part of the ground, or, at least, as low as possible, and it should be backed by a good breadth of planting behind.

In the laying out of a new plantation, there is much room for the display of good taste. Every person is pleased with the effect of well arranged figures upon grass in a flower garden; and the several plantations upon a gentleman’s estate ought, in like manner, to be well laid out figures upon a large scale. Many have told me, when speaking upon this point, that it is superfluous to lay out a piece of plantation with as much view to taste as is necessary in garden and pleasure-ground scenery; but I have always maintained, that taste is as necessary in the one case as in the other, and that any proprietor has a right to tasteful arrangements, and is pleased therewith when surveying Ins farms, as much as with the other, when surveying his pleasure grounds. If, in the general arrangement of a young plantation, a display of taste were to be injurious to the welfare of the same, then I would say, let taste have nothing to do in the matter; but the truth is quite the reverse of this. All true taste is based upon the works of nature: therefore, when we make the bendings and turnings of the boundary line of a plantation in conformity with the securing natural strength to resist the storm, we at the same time give the most pleasing effect to the mind of the person who looks upon it.

The bendings in the outline of a plantation should always be made to follow the natural rising and falling of the ground; that is, where any lateral heights may project from the main body of the ground laid out for a plantation, make the fence line take a bold convex turn in the same direction, and that just so far as may be considered necessary for the extent in view; and where a hollow of the ground occurs, make a fence line take a bold concave turn there, coming up again in the form of the convex where the ground begins to rise. In the laying out of a new plantation, if it is at all to be seen from tlio windows of the proprietor’s mansion, or from any part of his pleasure grounds, great care should be taken to make it have the most pleasing effect when viewed from such points; for if it should be badly laid off it will prove a continual eye-sore, and if well laid off it will prove a constant source of pleasure.

The method of laying out plantations in the form of strips, so often to be met with in Scotland, gives a poor and mean appearance to a gentleman’s estate, particularly when found about the home grounds. The form in which they have generally been made is in straight lines, from twenty to thirty yards broad. In such narrow belts of wood the trees are very seldom found in good health; and, upon a little consideration of the matter, this is not to be wondered at—because, from the narrowness of such strips, the proprietors were always afraid to thin them, wishing to keep them in a thick state, in order to give as much shelter as possible, and the natural consequence is, from being left too thick, the one tree soon kills the other. And even where such strips have been well managed, it cannot be expected that they could produce either good healthy timber or make a good shelter; for, being so narrow, the trees never come to shelter one another. But it is a happy circumstance in the history of arboriculture, that few such strips are now planted : gentlemen are now beginning to see the impropriety of such a method of raising plantations; and now, almost in all cases of good management, we see the old-fashioned narrow strip giving place to the well defined, extensive plantation, which is, indeed, the only profitable way of rearing trees for any useful purpose.


It is absolutely necessary that every piece of ground laid out for a plantation should be fenced in some way or other, previous to its being planted. A fence not only prevents the inroads of sheep and cattle, but it at the same time tends very much to shelter the young trees, and to bring them on rapidly. It is, indeed, surprising to observe the difference that a very low fence makes upon the growth of young trees, as compared with those which are not protected by one. Any proprietor, or forester, upon looking through his several plantations, will observe that, in all young plantations, the most rapid growing, and at the same time the most healthy trees in it, are to be found immediately behind the outer fence; and, upon the other hand, in all older plantations, the best grown, and at the same time the most healthy trees, are to be found in the centre of the same, or, at least, a considerable distance back from the fence. Now, it may be asked, what is the reason that the best wood is found in the inner parts of old plantations, while the most rapid growing trees are to be found, when young, behind the boundary fence? The reason, as proved from experience, is this:—

During the first eight or ten years of the age of any young plantation, the boundary fence is the only shelter that the young trees have; and it is evident, that those trees which grow immediately behind the fence will receive most of the benefit of its shelter; consequently, from the circumstance of their receiving more shelter than their neighbours further off, they must grow more rapidly, until such time as their tops begin to rise above the level of the fence, when they are considerably checked by the cold winds. At this stage, they begin to grow thick and bushy, rather than advance in height, and, immediately upon their becoming so, they begin to shelter all their neighbours inside, which, again, begin to have double the advantage of their neighbours outside; for the trees upon the outside had shelter only so long as they were below the level of the top of the fence, whereas those inside have now a shelter which every year increases upon them for their advantage, in height as well as in thickness. All this comes in to prove that a fence is a great mean of furthering the healthy development of a young plantation, independent of its protecting from the inroads of cattle at the same time. I always calculate, that a plantation with a good fence is ten years in advance of one without such protection.

Many different methods of fencing have been adopted for the inclosing of young plantations upon gentlemen’s estates, and, no doubt, different methods will still continue to be adopted, according to the different sorts of materials to be had in abundance in the neighbourhood of the plantation to be constructed.

Under the present head, it will be enough for me to enumerate the principal sorts of fences, as in common use in Scotland; and, giving an idea of the cost of raising these in each case, I shall leave it to the discretion of the parties planting to judge for themselves which sort of fence they may adopt, which, of course, must be in most cases determined according to the kind of material most conveniently to be had.

The first is the thorn hedge, which is a fence well known throughout all Britain. This sort of fence is very much improved by having one-third of beech plants mixed among the thorns in planting, particularly upon high situations with a light soil. There the thorns are apt to die early, but when mixed with beech plants, which thrive well in a light soil, the fence is much improved, both in health and appearance.

The hedge is a fence well adapted for all situations where a neat, cultivated, and clothed appearance is the object, but is not to be recommended for a soil of a mossy or sandy nature upon a high exposure. In such a situation, and under such circumstances, it will not live long; but upon a clay soil, or loam, it will survive well, and have a very ornamental appearance.

The cost of planting a thorn hedge, including a ditch four feet wide by two deep, where the ground is of a wet nature, including plants from a nurseryman, will average about one shilling and eightpence per rood of six yards; and where the ground is dry and does not require a ditch, the same work may probably be got done for one shilling per rood.

Second.—The most extensively used fence, in the high inland districts of Scotland, is the Dry-stone Dyke. From the nature of the country in those high districts, stones are plentiful, and, of course, easily attainable, from which circumstance it is a fence much in use for all purposes. Stone dykes have the effect of affording considerable shelter to young plantations as soon as they are put up for that purpose; as also giving shelter to cattle in the adjoining fields, which, of course, is not the case with a young hedge fence. The dry-stone dyke used to be built entirely without the addition of any lime or mortar to bind it, and consequently it was always apt to be broken down by cattle, or any other strong pressure coming in contact with it; but within ten years past, a great improvement has been effected in the building of them, by having the top, or cope stones, all put on and bedded in lime, which keeps the dyke altogether in a more firm and compact state than that built upon the old principle.

The dry-stone dykes are generally built, including the cope, about five feet high, thirty inches broad at bottom, and tapering regularly upon each side to about twelve inches thick at top of building, which is four feet high. They receive the addition of fully another foot in height by having the cope and cobble placed on the top of the regularly built part.

The price of erecting a stone dyke depends entirely upon the conveniency of getting stones for the purpose. If stones are to be carted far for the line of fence, the expense becomes considerable; but the stones being laid down, it is generally got done for 2s. 6d. per rood of six yards, including the cope and cobble well put on with lime. This is the price generally paid in Mid-Lothian, but in many other districts, where lime is more expensive, 3s. per rood may not be an over-estimate. The stone dykes make a very desirable fence upon high districts, where, upon account of their immediate height, they at once give shelter to young trees in a new plantation, but they are certainly not to be recommended as an ornamental fence; therefore, they should be excluded from any gentleman’s home grounds, for in such a situation they always give a stranger a mean idea of the place.

Third.—In many high-lying parts of Scotland, where stones are not easily got at, and where, upon account of the nature of the soil, it would not be advisable to plant hedges, a very neat and good fence is often put up for the purpose of inclosing young plantations, termed the Turf Dyke. I have seen these turf dykes answer the purpose extremely well, both in the lowlands and highlands of Scotland. In building them, the turfs are cut from the surface soil, upon each side of the line of fence, which turfs are generally cut about five inches thick, or less, according as the surface will or will not admit of that thickness. The turfs being cut, they are built the one above the other to the desired height, which is generally about thirty inches, and all firmly packed together.

The turf dyke is generally made about thirty inches broad at the bottom, and tapering regularly upon each side to fourteen inches at top. The body of the dyke is built with the turfs grass side under, but the top turf has the grass side uppermost.

In order to prevent sheep or cattle of any description from getting over the turf dyke into the young plantations, which they are meant to protect, one or two bars of paling are generally put along the top, which are nailed to stobs, driven into the dyke, so deep as to go through the dyke into the solid ground under it. This makes a very good fence where stone dykes are not easily attainable, from the want of materials, and can be put up, including paling and stobs, and men’s time putting in the same, for fourpence per yard.

Fourth.—The common wooden paling—that is, the fence consisting of wood stobs driven into the ground at regular distances, with bars of wood, sawn for the purpose, nailed horizontally upon them—is very much used as a fence for all purposes, and is so well known throughout Britain as to need no explanation from me here. However, I may say, that, owing to the open nature of such a fence, it is not at all adapted for the protecting of young plantations upon high grounds, and ought to be used only in rather sheltered situations, for the subdividing of fields, and protecting young hedges. The cost of erecting a wooden paling, with three horizontal bars, is about sixpence per yard, including workmanship and nails.

Fifth.—The wire fence, upon wooden posts, has often been recommended as a substitute for other materials where those are scarce ; but I can by no means agree with those who recommend wire fences for young plantations, upon a high and exposed situation. The wire fence is most admirably adapted, by its invisibility, for all purposes upon a gentleman’s home domains; but as a fence where shelter is an object, it is by no means to be recommended.

I am not aware that any practical planter has as yet come forward, presuming to recommend the wire fence for his purposes upon high grounds. The wire merchant, who has the material for sale, is the only person who has yet ventured to recommend wire fences for all purposes; but I here beg to state, that proprietors in general will do well to be cautious as to how far they introduce wire fences upon high and exposed parts of their estates. No fence is more ornamental for a gentleman’s home grounds ; but at the same time it must be remembered that no fence gives less shelter. The price of erecting wire fences upon wooden posts, for the purpose of protecting from sheep and cattle, is about Is. 6d. per yard.

The above are the kinds of fences most generally in use for the protection of young plantations. The proprietor who plants extensively must judge for himself how far he is with propriety to adopt one fence in preference to another—and that, of course, must always be decided by the nature of the soil and situation, and the convenience as regards materials: observing in all cases to erect a fence that will combine shelter with durability upon high and exposed situations; and where the situation is low and naturally sheltered, the taste may more reasonably be consulted. In all cases of fencing for the protection of young plantations, the work should he particularly well executed; for if it be badly done, and a part of the fence be broken down by any slight accident, cattle may get in, and do more damage in one night than could be well recovered in the course of some years. This I have experienced so frequently, that I here beg to advise all proprietors to be most strict in the executing of such a piece of work, where, in fact, the wealth of their estates is at stake. If the fencing should be set by contract, as is often the case, the contractor should be bound to keep his work good for three years after it is finished; under this engagement, he will, for his own sake, be anxious to do his work well.


Some practical foresters have maintained that all ground, previous to its being planted with young forest trees, ought to undergo a course of preparation by trenching or ploughing, and by having lime or manure in some way or other applied to the land. Such a course of preparation as cither of the above may be very proper in some cases, but is by no means always either necessary or profitable in the end. As I have very often been questioned by proprietors relative to the utility of trenching, ploughing, or manuring of land previous to its being put under a crop of young forest trees, I shall here state very briefly my mind upon the matter.

First, then, trenching has frequently been recommended as a proper preparation of the soil for the reception of young forest trees. The expenses necessary to be incurred in the act of trenching ground for forest trees is the most prominent point that occurs to the mind; and, indeed, it is a very formidable point to get over. It is evident that, however much good might arise to trees from the trenching of the ground upon which they might be planted, it could not in practice be carried to any useful or great extent. In ordinary cases, land cannot be got trenched under eight pounds an acre; and where trees have been formerly, and huge roots have to be taken out of the ground, even fifteen pounds would not be too much for the trenching of an acre in such a condition. Therefore, in general practice, it is entirely out of the question.

The trenching of ground, as a preparation for young trees, may be very proper, and even necessary, upon a small scale—near or about a proprietor’s policy grounds in a sheltered situation— particularly where large trees may have been newly taken down, and where it is desirable to have old roots taken out previous to replanting; but it is only in such a case that trenching, in my opinion, ought to be recommended in the cultivation of forest trees, and even then only if the subsoil he naturally good. There is no advantage gained by trenching ground for forest trees -which is not decidedly better attained by a well conducted system of drainage.

Many practical foresters have argued, that all land newly cleared of a crop of old wood should be trenched, and the old roots taken out previous to being replanted with another crop of forest trees; and I do confess, that at the first glance, such a proposition appears feasible. Those who argue for this pitch of refinement in the cultivation of forest trees, wish to cultivate them much in the same manner as we at present cultivate corn; but such a system of forestry is, in my opinion, altogether superfluous, and nature points out the same tiling to us if we will but observe her manner of proceeding in this work.

In all parts of the world corn can be had good only by carefully cultivating it—at least I am not aware that corn of any sort can be found in a state of nature nearly so good as it is found under the hands of the husbandman; which points out to us, from nature herself, that in order to have corn good and in sufficient abundance to answer our wants, we must cultivate it, and that carefully; and, accordingly, we in this case proceed in the manner pointed out to us by nature. Upon the other hand, I beg to ask those who contend for the trenching and taking out of all old roots of trees from any piece of ground previous to having it replanted with other trees, where do we find the best crop of timber trees—in the natural forest or in the cultivated one? We have only to compare our home plantations with the natural forests of America or Norway, and we at once find an answer for ourselves. It is a fact well ascertained, that the natural forests upon the continents of Europe and America have, for ages past, produced in succession many crops of heavy timber, and yet we know well that there was no trenching of ground there. Let us cultivate as we will, by trenching or otherwise, we have not yet produced trees in our home woods equal to those in a state of nature; and the simple reason is, that in the growing of trees in our artificial forests, we are continually aiming too much at what we term cultivation. We are always anxious to improve upon nature. This may, indeed, do in many things; but unless we shall follow the direct path which nature points out to us for the growing of forest trees, we most assuredly never will succeed.

In the natural forest we never find two successive crops of the same species of tree upon the same soil; by attending to which principle in nature relative to forest trees, a great part of our success in cultivating them in our home woods depends. All that nature requires of us, in order to produce a second crop of wood upon the same piece of ground, is to change the crop—for this is always done when nature is left to herself. Therefore, in conclusion, upon the head of trenching, I have to say, that it must be, and has indeed been found to be, an unnecessary operation. I could, from my own experience, point out many instances where it has done more harm than good to young trees; therefore it is that I cannot approve of it. All that is necessary, in order to grow trees upon any soil, is to drain; and if a crop of wood have been upon the same soil formerly, and is but newly cleared off, change the species of tree for a crop, and success will be the ultimate result.

Second.—The ploughing of land has been much recommended as a preparation of the ground for young forest trees. In my opinion, where the soil is naturally good, there is no necessity for the ploughing of it previous to its being planted; but where the upper stratum of soil is naturally poor and thin, with moorhond-pan under, a deep ploughing is absolutely necessary in order to break the pan and mix a portion of the subsoil with the upper. The fact is, that a soil of the nature of moorbond-pan is naturally unfit for the growing of forest trees ; but where the proprietor of such a soil, in the general arrangement of his improvements upon his estate, may wish to plant such a piece of ground with forest trees, the trench-plough must first be used, in order to open up the soil and break the pan. I am not aware that ploughing is advantageous to tlie growth of forest trees in any other case. I am aware that fir-trees, planted and growing upon land which has been frequently ploughed previously, seldom live long, or attain to any considerable size free from disease, which at once points out that nature wishes no interference of such a kind. Generally speaking, trees for a few years grow faster upon ploughed land than upon the natural undisturbed soil, but do not live nearly so long; therefore I again beg to recommend that all artificial cultivation of the soil ought to be avoided when healthy timber is an object.

Third.—Liming, and otherwise manuring of . the soil for young trees, has beeii recommended by some, and disapproved of by others : in my opinion, and I speak from experience, all artificial excitement of a young tree by the application of manure is ultimately injurious to it. I have seen small plantations grown upon the system of trenching, liming, and otherwise manuring; and in such cases I have generally had occasion to observe, that the trees grew rapidly for a few years at first, but, as soon as the exciting influence of the manure had begun to fail, the trees fell into a bad state of health, and seldom attained that confirmed state of maturity which is the case when nature has her own way. However, I cannot say as to what state of perfection trees might grow were manure added to their roots at stated intervals ; nor do I think it necessary that we should know the results of such a system of training, because it could be of no real use to grow trees upon such an expensive system.


There is no preparation of the soil so advantageous to the welfare of young forest trees as that of draining. Draining not only dries the soil from all superfluous moisture, but it also cleanses it of many bad ingredients which might otherwise prove injurious to the health of trees, and prevent their full development. To the want of draining may be attributed the greater part of cases of unhealthiness in plantations for forty years past. The disease in the larch, which has been so prevalent in Scotland for some years past, may be almost entirely attributed to the neglect of this precaution, as shall be particularly explained when I come to treat upon that subject in this treatise. I have, within these last ten years, seen very many plantations in Scotland fast going back from the want of draining; and having been often called upon to give my opinion relative to the unhealthy state of such plantations, I have, in almost all cases, found damp to be the principal cause, and therefore recommended an efficient course of open draining as the only means by -which they could be recovered; and wherever my plan for the recovery of the health of such plantations has been put into operation, a recovery has been the result, excepting in some cases where the trees were too old and stunted to indulge any hope of their recovery. Since I came to be forester at Arniston, I have, by draining alone, brought several young plantations into health, which, before that operation was done, were fast going back; and from experience I find, that if the constitution of trees under twenty years old be not too much injured by the effects of dampness, they will show signs of recovery the second year after the ground is drained about them,—that is to say, as soon as the young roots begin to draw nourishment from the dry and improved soil.

Draining is quite as necessary for the profitable rearing of young trees, as it is found advantageous in the profitable growing of corn, which we now see so much improved every where by that most excellent art. Such as our corn fields were fifty years ago, such are the most of our plantations of the present day.

Twenty years ago, it was considered a piece of superfluous work to drain land where young trees were to be put in; therefore it is not to be wondered at that we have at the present time so many unhealthy young plantations. During my apprenticeship I have planted young trees in ground where, when I made a pit for a young tree, I had to plant it immediately, for fear of the pit filling with water; and yet the person who had the management did not appear to think that draining was necessary. And such was the case with foresters generally at that time. However, the foresters of that period are not to be blamed for not draining their ground previous to its being planted, any more than farmers were to blame for the same neglect before they became aware of the advantages of draining. But the case is altogether different now. Every farmer and forester is now aware of the advantages of draining land, whether it may be for the growing of corn or of trees ; and yet we have often occasion to see this knowledge taken no advantage of, both among farmers and foresters.

Any farmer who now sows his fields without first draining them, is, by his more intelligent neighbours, considered unworthy of holding his land ; so, in like manner, the forester who would attempt planting a piece of ground naturally wet, and not first have it thoroughly drained, would certainly be unworthy of holding a situation as forester in any gentleman’s establishment.

The land intended for a new plantation being all well fenced, the next important step to be taken, in order to fit it for the reception of young trees, is the draining it, which draining must be executed in such a manner as to free the land from all super-flous moisture, and to keep it in a free open healthy state. I may here remark, that all drains made in plantations among trees, whether these may be old or young, ought to be left open. To cover drains, where the roots of trees have access to them, is the most effectual way of ultimately rendering them useless. They might, indeed, answer the purpose for a very few years; but as soon as the roots of the tree began to spread themselves firmly into the soil, they would collect about the drains more than any other part, and the consequence would be, that in a very short time covered drains would be entirely choked up with the roots, and rendered useless.

It is seldom found necessary to drain every part of the ground that may be laid out for a new plantation. There are, it is most reasonable to suppose, many spots quite dry enough for the rearing of healthy timber trees, in almost every district of any considerable extent—which spots the experienced eye can at once detect by the general appearance of the plants growing upon the surface; but for the guidance of those who may not have had experience enough for this purpose, it may be necessary here to lay down something like a rule, by which they may distinguish land in want of draining from land not requiring it. Attend, then, to the following hints:—At certain distances throughout the whole of the intended plantation, say at twenty yards, cast pits rather more than twelve inches deep; and if, in those pits, water should appear to gather within ten hours after being made, the land there is unfit for the growing of healthy trees without being drained; and where no water appears in the pits, the land there may be reckoned dry, and may be safely planted with forest trees without being drained.

The distance at which drains should be put on the ground, depends entirely upon the nature of the soil to be dried: that is, if the soil be a stiff clay, or a retentive moss, the drains may require to be laid on as close as fifteen feet apart; and if, upon the contrary, the soil to be dried be of an open sand or gravel, through which the water can pass freely, thirty feet distant may not be too far separate. In all cases where I drain for the planting of forest trees, of whatever nature the soil may be, I never put on drains closer than fifteen feet, nor wider than forty, if the soil require draining at all. If the soil for a plantation of trees be drained more frequently than at fifteen feet, the trees are very apt to be blown up by the roots when they come to be heavy topped, particularly if the drains are not kept in a clean state ; and if land requires draining at all for the growing of trees, it is my opinion that forty feet should be the greatest distance, for beyond that distance between drains, land cannot be said to be drained efficiently.

The depth and general size of the drains must in a great measure be regulated by the nature of the soil to be dried. In a heavy clay soil, I have found that wood drains should be at least twenty inches deep, and upon a light friable soil, fourteen inches may be quite deep enough; and according as the soil may be inclined to be light or heavy, any intermediate depth between the two extremes above specified may be fixed upon—always observing, that the more the soil is inclined to clay, the deeper the drains should be made.

The breadth of all such drains, at the surface ot the ground, must of course vary according to the depth required. The rule which I have laid down for my own practice as regards this is, to make all open forest drains one-third wider at the top than the depth intended: that is, if the depth of a drain be fixed upon as fifteen inches, the breadth of the opening at top will require to be twenty inches, and so on with any other depth. The breadth of all forest drains at bottom ought to be sufficient to allow a common spade free room to pass along for the purpose of cleaning.

The cost of making such drains as have been above specified, must always be regulated by the nature of the soil, and the price of labour in the neighbourhood where the work is to be done. In Mid-Lothian, I have got drams fourteen inches deep, and requiring to be picked in the under-half, done for one farthing per yard; and drains twenty inches deep, requiring extra picking, for two farthings per yard. A particular point to attend to in the draining of moor or waste land, for the planting of young forest trees, is the manner of laying on the drains upon the ground; they must be laid on in that position which is found to be the best adapted for drawing off and intercepting the superfluous water in its natural descent. I have seen several plantations of late, and those of considerable extent, drained in a very inefficient manner, the drains not having been properly laid down upon the ground. To those who may be unacquainted with the art of making open drains upon moor or waste land, the following hints may be useful:—Upon level ground — that is to say, upon ground not having any perceptible fall for a considerable distance, great caution must be used, in order to produce artificially a fall or descent for the water that may collect in drains made upon such a level. The manner of going to "work in such a case is as follows:—look for the lowest part of the ground, which, if it cannot be detected by the eye, may be determined by the spirit-level, which every drainer ought to possess; and having found the lowest part of the ground requiring drainage, ascertain by the spirit-level how deep a main drain can be made there, in order to have, at the same time, a proper descent to carry off the water from it; having fixed this point, cut a main drain along the lowest part of the ground, at least three feet deep, and endeavour to give it as good a descent as possible. The main drain being made, say three feet and a half deep, and five feet wide at the top, lay off your smaller or common drains at proper distances, and at right angles to the main drain; and in making the common drains, say that you wish to have them twenty inches deep, make them of that depth at the top, or the end farthest from the main drain, and proportionally deeper, as you approach it; and when you finish the small drains into the main one, you can have at least one foot and half of descent between the two ends of your drains, which is quite enough for a drain of any ordinary length. If this main drain have to receive water from a considerable number of small ones, as will be the case if it is of any considerable length, and if it have to receive water from drains laid off upon each side of it, great care must be taken to make it large enough. In many cases it may be found necessary to make a main drain even larger than the dimensions I have specified above; but this must in all cases be regulated according to the number of drains that may have to be emptied into it, and much also depends upon the length of the small drains themselves—for if these are of great length, and put in pretty close upon the ground, they will, during a flood, pour a great quantity of water into the main drain : but to avoid the consequences of too much water falling into any main drain, it is a better plan not to allow any small drain to run above one hundred yards without falling into a main, or at least a sub-main one, which again empties itself into a main drain.

In putting open drains upon land having a natural declivity, they should be run nearly at right angles with the descent of the ground; but at the same time, care must be taken to make every drain with a slight fall downwards; for if they have not at least one foot in a hundred of descent, they will be apt to become choked up with mud and other vegetable matter, which is sure to accumulate, if not carried away by a brisk run of the water in the drains. All drains made upon what is generally termed a dead-level, soon become useless; therefore, the great point to attend to for the keeping of drains in a clear state is, to give them a good brisk run for the water, as it issues from the sides. However, caution is necessary lest this should be overdone ; for if the ground be sandy or gravelly, a rapid descent would prove dangerous by undermining the sides of the drains: consequently, it should always be observed, that where the soil is light and sandy, just so much descent should be given to the drains as will carry the water briskly along, and prevent stagnation; and where the soil is stiff, a quicker descent may be given, if thought necessary.

All main drains should be made in the lowest parts of the ground to be dried, and they should increase in size, according to the quantity of water they may have to contain. All sub-main drains should be made in a position between the main drains and the smaller ones; and as they are intended to collect the water from the smaller drains, and convey it to the main ones, they should be of a convenient size between the two. All open drains in a wood ought to be examined and cleaned once in two years; for if they are not attended to in this manner, they are apt to choke by vegetable matter lodging in them.


In all plantations of any considerable extent, it is absolutely necessary to have vacant tracts left through them unplanted, in the form of roads; and in laying these off in a new plantation, care should be taken to see that no part of the wood should be above one hundred and fifty yards distant from some one of such roads. The necessity of this precaution will appear evident, when it is taken into consideration that the trees, when grown to any considerable size, will have all to be carried from the interior to some one of such roads, in order to have them taken away in carts; and when the trees become large, and require to be carried a considerable distance, much valuable labour must be wasted before they can be laid down cart-free by the men.

The roads in a plantation need not be made more than fifteen feet wide. In all cases, however, they ought to be so broad as to allow two carts to pass one another with freedom, when laden with wood.

When the roads are marked off, which of course ought to be done previous to the ground being planted, they ought to be divided from the rest of the ground by a drain of sixteen inches deep, running along each side of them, throughout their whole extent, whether the ground may be wet or not. The drains are meant not only to keep those roads in a dry, firm state, but to give them an appearance distinct from the rest of the plantation; and being thus drained on each side, they are not apt to be cut or damaged, by a cart or any other wheeled carriage passing along them; and when thus kept dry, they form a fine ornamental green ride, for the proprietor and his friends at all times, as well as answer the purposes of accommodation in wood operations.

If there be any particularly romantic-looking spot within the bounds of the plantation, the road should be made to take a turn in that direction; or if there be any particular height from which a distinct view of the surrounding country may be had, make a road to pass by it, with a narrow foot-path leading to such a height. In short, in making roads through a plantation, as well as in making walks through pleasure grounds, good taste and ornament should be kept in view; and it is as easy to do any piece of work well, as otherwise.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus