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 V. The Management of Oak Coppice-Wood



Plantations of the description termed oak coppice, are now so common in Scotland, that there are few landed estates of any considerable extent upon which there is not less or more of them. In the West Highland counties there are many extensive plantations of oak coppice; and within the last thirty years many fine old oak forests have been cut down in the midland counties which also are, for the greater part, now converted into plantations of this description—the same being trained up from the young shoots which have arisen from the stocks of the old trees which were cut down. And seeing that this description of wood crop is upon the increase upon the estates of landed proprietors, I consider that it may not be out of the way for me here briefly to detail the best modes of management of the same, more particularly with the view of pointing out the most profitable manner of going to work in the converting of old oak forest ground into healthy young coppice-wood.

When a plantation of old oak-trees is cut down, and when it is the Intention of the proprietor to convert it into an oak coppice-wood, for the purpose of raising a crop of oak bark upon the ground, after the old wood has been disposed of, the work must be proceeded with in the following manner :—First, the whole of the wood of the old original trees, when cut down, should be removed immediately, as also all the bark taken from them — and this, in order that no damage may be done to the young shoots as they arise from the newly-cut stocks; for, if the wood be allowed to lie long upon the ground after it is cut, the young shoots will have grown to a considerable height, and they, being extremely tender, will be easily broken in the act of removing the wood at a late period. Therefore, in order to prevent this state of things taking place, if the wood have been sold to any neutral person, say about the 1st of May, he should be bound by the articles of sale to have the whole of both wood and bark removed by the 1st of July at the latest; and if this be not done, much loss will no doubt be sustained in the after crop of the coppice-wood, seeing that it is impossible to remove heavy timber from the ground without rolling it over the suckers in their tender state.

This part of the work is always best done by the proprietor’s own servants, and under the superintendence of an experienced forester; because in such a case, the people who cut the wood are paid by the proprietor, and being so, will look more to the interest of the work, or at least will attend more to the orders given them, than strangers from a distance would do, whose only interest is that of getting the wood cut down at as little expense as possible, without any regard to the future value of the plantation. It is also necessary to notice here, that in cutting down any large oak tree, the stock of which is intended to push up young shoots for the formation of coppice, great care is necessary to see that the bark is not injured below that part where the tree is cut over; for if the bark be hurt and ruffled there, so as to separate it from the wood, moisture will be lodged between it and the wood, and consequently a rot at that part will be apt to take place. In order to prevent this, it is always a good plan, previous to commencing the operation of cutting down the trees, to employ a cautious trustworthy man to go before the woodcutters, who, with a hand-bill and wooden mell, should be instructed to cut the bark right through to the wood, in the form of a ring all round the circumference of the tree, just about three inches above the surface of the ground. This first ring being cut all round the bottom of the tree, three inches above the surface of the ground, another should be made in like manner about twelve inches higher up on the boll of the tree, when the piece of bark situated between those two cuts can be removed, and the woodmen made to saw each tree across exactly by the lower mark, or bottom of the peeled wood; this forms a guide to the men not to injure the lower part left with the bark upon it, as well as, when any difficulty is experienced in bringing the tree down, avoiding all waste of bark.

As soon as the wood and bark have been removed from the ground, all rubbish and useless underwood should be carefully cleared away, excepting any young healthy shoots, or young plants which may be considered worth leaving upon the ground with the view of their ultimately becoming trees. And immediately after the ground has been cleared of rubbish, the stocks or stools of the old trees will have to be dressed with the adze, in order to cause the young shoots to come away as low down, and as near to the surface of the ground as possible. If the young shoots of the oak, which are intended to grow up into coppice, be allowed to proceed from that part of the old stock which rises two or three inches above ground, these shoots will always partake more of the character of branches than of trees, and never will make a valuable plantation; but if the shoots be made to eome away from that part of the stock where the roots join with the main stem, and which lies immediately under the surface of the soil, they will partake of the character of trees, and independent of the nourishment that they will receive from the parent stock, they will also send out roots of their own, and derive nourishment from the common earth, and form pretty large trees if desired. Now, in order to cause the young shoots to issue from this point, the long grass should be all cleared away round the stock, and itself dressed off with an adze. In executing this, care must be taken that the part where the roots issue from the main stem be not injured; but supposing that three inches of wood have been left above ground upon the stock, the workman will commence by levelling his tool upon it fully two inches down upon the wood, and hew off this part all round, gradually lessening the depth of his eut as he nears the centre or crown of the stock, which is left untouched, thus leaving a fall from the crown of the stock to its circumference of fully two inches, and forming a convex crown. This form prevents the lodgment of moisture, as well as causes the young shoots to come away as near to the earth as possible, which should always be aimed at; and in this manner, each and every stock which may be intended for the rearing up of coppice-wood should be managed. The sooner that the operation is done after the trees are cut, the better is the hope of a good crop of healthy shoots; therefore, the forester ought not to delay this until all the other work of clearing away the trees and rubbish he finished; the whole of the work ought indeed to be gone on with according to the time that I have above stated, but still, the whole may be proceeding simultaneously. My way of proceeding with work of this kind is:—I have a party of men with horses and carts, who begin upon one side of the ground, and clear away all the valuable wood as they proceed, which is delivered to the sawyer, or otherwise as the case may be: immediately following this first party, I have a second, consisting of women and boys, headed by a man to superintend them, who gather up all the rubbish that is left by the men with the carts, and carry it to convenient openings, and burn it at once, unless some other more valuable use can be made of it: the ground being cleared by this second party, I have a man, or men if the grounds be extensive, following them dressing the stocks in the way described;—and in this manner the whole work can be made to go on at once without losing any time.

If the stocks of the old trees which were cut down are not numerous upon the ground, as is more than likely to be the case if the trees were of any considerable age, there will not be enough for a permanent crop upon the ground. If, for instance, they were eighty years old, there will not be more than one hundred and twenty trees to the acre, making them about twenty feet one from another. Now, to have a piece of forest ground with that number of stocks upon it to the acre, would never pay the proprietor the common rent of his land : therefore, in order to take advantage of the ground forming the vacant spaces between the stocks, and to make the whole pay ultimately as any other plantation would do, the ground should be properly drained wherever found necessary, and a crop of young oak-trees planted all over it wherever there is room. In this case, the young oaks which may be put in, together with the old stocks, may be made to stand, as nearly as possible, eight feet apart: and again, all the intermediate spaces between them should be tilled up with larches, so as to make the trees over the whole plantation stand about four feet one from another; that is, taking the old stocks into account also.

By filling up the ground in this manner, the old stocks will ultimately become of more value than if they had been left in an exposed state; and again, from their growing more rapidly than the young trees, they will produce shelter to the latter in their young state; so that, putting the whole together, a plantation of this kind grows more rapidly than one altogether planted with young trees.

When the young shoots from the old stocks have been allowed to grow undisturbed for two years, they should then be carefully looked over, and all small ones removed, leaving the strongest all round the circumference, not closer than six inches one from another : these again should be left for other two years, when a second and final thinning should be made, choosing the strongest and healthiest shoots to remain, and in no ease leaving more than six shoots to stand as a permanent crop upon any individual stock, or fewer still if the health and strength of the parent require it.

I am aware that many foresters are in the habit of not thinning their oak stools at all, until such time as the shoots have attained a large size, when they thin them out and peel the bark from them, supposing that by this system there is a gain from the sale of the young bark produced. Now, as regards this system, I am quite of a contrary opinion; for, when the shoots are thinned out as I have advised, they very quickly attain a large size, whereas, when they are not thinned out until a late period of tlicir growth, the shoots become stunted, and shortly indicate a want of vigour in their constitution ; consequently, at the end of a given number of years, instead of an advantage being gained by letting the shoots grow up until they are fit for peeling, there is a decided loss. I have compared two plantations which were managed upon these two different systems, and found the one managed upon that which I have recommended, at the end of twenty years, worth nearly a half more than the one managed upon the opposite system.

When the young trees have received their second course of thinning, as has been pointed out, they should at the same time receive a judicious pruning, and that in the same manner as has already been recommended for the pruning of young oak trees : the larch firs, as they grow up, should be thinned away by degrees, in order to give room to the oaks as they advance, whether that may be to relieve the old stools or the young trees; and in every respect this thinning of the firs should be done as has already been recommended for the management of oak plantations generally.

Seeing that the value of oak bark has fallen so much during the last twenty years, I do not consider the [growing of oak coppice so profitable a crop as it has been. About twenty-five years ago, the price of oak bark was £16 per ton, while this year (1847) the highest price that has been given in Edinburgh is £5, 10s.—making its value at the present time only about one-third of what it was twenty-five years ago, and consequently reducing the value of oak coppice plantations in the same ratio; and, upon this consideration, I do think that proprietors should not, at the present time, rear up oak plantations with the intention of converting them into coppice, as has in many instances been done of late. I have seen plantations of healthy oak trees, about thirty-five years of age, cut down for the sake of the bark they produced, and with the view of converting them into coppice-wood, so as to have a crop of hark every twenty-five years afterwards. Now, had those trees which were cut down at thirty-five years of age, been allowed to grow for other forty or fifty years, they would, of course, have attained their full magnitude, and been worth to the proprietor, at the end of that period, more than three times the money that he could get as the produce of the same plants if cut down and disposed of in the form of coppice-wood, at periods of twenty-five or thirty years.

The safest and the best plan, with regard to all plantations, is, to allow the trees to attain their full magnitude in the usual way, when the timber will in all cases find a ready market, and at a fair price. No doubt, where old plantations are cut down, it is right and proper that the stocks of them should he converted into coppice-wood; for this is taking advantage of growths which can be converted into use, and which would otherwise he lost; hut to raise up trees to a certain age, and then cut them down prematurely for the sake of their hark, is, at best, an enormous loss to the proprietor, as well as to the country in general.


It is my opinion, that there is no tree cultivated in Britain more worthy the attention of landed proprietors than the larch. I am not aware of any purpose for which oak is now used, for which larch would not answer as well. It is a rapid-growing tree, and attains maturity long before the oak. I have seen larch trees, little more than thirty years old, sold for 60s. each, while oaks of the same age, and growing upon the same sort of soil in the same neighbourhood, were not worth 10s. each; and this at once points out the advantage of planting larch where immediate profit is the object. The larch has been held in high estimation in former times, as we learn from several old authors. The first mention made of the cultivation of this tree in England is by Parkinson, in his “Paradisus,” in 1629; and Evelyn, in 1664, mentions a larch tree of good stature at Chelmsford, in Essex. It appears to have been introduced into Scotland by Lord James, in 1734. But the merit of pointing out to the proprietors of Scotland the valuable properties of the larch as a timber-tree for our climate, appears to be due to the Duke of Athol, who planted

it at Dunkeld in 1741. The rapid growth of these, and of others of the same species, afterwards planted in succession by that nobleman, as well as the valuable properties of the timber of the trees that were felled, realised the high character previously bestowed upon the larch by foreign and British authors, who were followed in their opinion by others, such as Dr Anderson, Watson, Professor Martyn, Ncol, Pontz, Lang, and Monteith—all confirming, and further extolling, the valuable properties of the tree. It is 110 wonder, therefore, that the larch has been planted so extensively in Scotland of late years, in almost every kind of soil and situation, and under every variety of circumstances capable of being conceived in forest management, seeing that its culture has been so much recommended by men in whose opinions landed proprietors put much confidence as regards forest matters. I say that it is in a great measure owing to the advice of such men as 1 have above named, that the larch has been so extensively planted within the last fifty years in Scotland. According to their opinion, it was one of the hardiest, and most easy of culture, among our forest trees; and proprietors, relying too implicitly in this matter upon the soundness of the opinions of such authors, planted larch too indiscriminately, upon all kinds of soil, without having due respect to the nature of the tree; for the larch, as well as every other tree, is influenced by a natural law, which restricts it to particular states of soil, in order to develope itself fully and perfectly; and it is upon this point that the cause of the disease now so prevalent in the larch rests. It is well known that, in many instances, whole plantations of larch trees have died, I may say almost suddenly; and, in many instances, plantations of it have failed in making a return of the expected advantages, far inferior even to the Scots fir.

For some years past, much has been said and written relative to the nature and cause of that disease, now so prevalent among our larch plantations, generally termed the heart-rot, or, as some writers term it, dry-rot (merulius destructor); but, for all that has been written upon the subject, I am not aware that any thing as yet really satisfactory has been the result, at least in so far as to cause any likelihood of a really permanent improvement in the cultivation of the tree for the future : therefore, in consideration of this, I may here be allowed to give my opinion, as a practical forester, of the cause of a disease which appears still to prevail extensively among the most useful of our timber trees. Many who have written upon this most important subject assert that, from the circumstance of the larch not being a native, it is fast degenerating in our country; and, in illustration of their argument, they point out the healthy development of many old original specimens yet remaining in different parts of the country. Such a weak argument as this is scarcely worthy of being confuted ; for we may as well say that the plane tree, which is not a native of Scotland, ought to be fast degenerating also, which wo know is by no means the ease. Another argument against this assertion is, that in many places we find healthy larch plantations, and in other places unhealthy, both, nevertheless, being of the same age. Now, I would ask such as hold the above opinion, if the larch be degenerating, why is it found to succeed well in one place and not in another,—and that, too, even within the bounds of the same gentleman’s property ? The only reasonable answer that they can give to this question is, that, wherever the larch is found thriving well, it must he growing in a state of soil agreeable to its constitution; and wherever it is found not thriving, it must be growing In a state of soil not agreeable to its constitution. Therefore, in our further Inquiries after the cause of the rot in the larch, we must first ascertain the nature of the circumstances which affect the tree in both cases.

The larch is a native of the south of Europe, and also of Siberia. It inhabits the slopes of mountainous districts, in the lower parts of which it attains its largest dimensions. In its native mountains, the larch is never found prospering in any situation where water can lodge in the ground in a stagnant state; nor is it ever found of large dimensions in any extensive level piece of country having a (lamp retentive bottom or subsoil. Upon the other hand, the larch in its native localities is found luxuriating upon a soil formed from the natural decomposition of rocks; for there the surface soil rests upon a half-decomposed stony subsoil, through which all moisture passes freely in its descent from the higher grounds. In this state of tilings, the roots of the trees always receive a regular supply of fresh and pure moisture, and, at the same time, the ground in which the trees grow is kept in a cleansed and sweet state, not having any stagnated particles of gas or water lodging in it; and this forms, in my opinion, the perfection of soil for the cultivation of the larch.

On making some inquiries at a gentleman who travelled among the mountainous districts in Germany, where the larch is found in its native state, I am informed that, upon level and dry-lying parts of the region mentioned, the larch does not succeed well, being upon such parts always more stunted in its growth, and apparently not enduring so long, as when found with moisture passing freely among its roots; and this assertion is exactly in accordance with the state of our larch plantations in Scotland, for, wherever disease is found to prevail, there is either a want of or too much moisture in the soil.

Now, until upon inquiry I was made aware of these circumstances relative to the larch as found in its native localities, I never eould satisfy myself as to the cause of the disease which has appeared among the larch plantations in Scotland ; but since I have been made aware of the above circumstances, and have compared them with examples of healthy and unhealthy plantations upon several estates, where I have had the opportunity of examining for myself, I am now perfectly convinced as to the cause of the disease in question; and I am further convinced, that any man who will compare the state of the ground upon which a healthy plantation of larch is found in Scotland (that is to say, one which has arrived at a considerable age, and is in a sound state) with what I have stated relative to the healthy state of trees of the same species as found in their native regions, will at once see the same circumstances acting in each case. Thus :—In all eases of healthy larch plantations in this country, where the timber has attained large size, and is sound in quality, we find them growing upon a soil through which the water that may fall upon it can pass away freely; as for instance, upon the slopes of hills, and even in hollows, upon a strong clay soil, but where there is a proper drainage for the ready and free passage of the superfluous water; and I have even cut down larch timber, of large size and sound in quality, growing upon a light sandy moss, two feet deep, which rested upon a stiff clay. In this case the moss was drained, and the water passed freely through the light soil; and the situation being upon a slope, there was a continual circulation of moisture passing along upon the top of .the sub-soil, or clay. In short, I have found good larch timber growing upon almost all varieties of soil; hut I never found it upon one which had not its particles constantly cleansed by the continual circulation of water passing through it, either by natural advantages or by artificial drainage. Upon the other hand, in all cases of diseased larch plantations, where the trees have become stunted and rotten in the hearts prematurely, we will find that the soil has either been badly drained, or not drained at all. There must be ingredients lodging in the soil, which act against the health of larch trees growing upon it, and which can alone be carried off by an effective system of drainage, in order to make it fit for the healthy rearing of larch.

In a plantation on a level piece of ground upon the estate of Arniston, I had occasion to cut down some larches, in the way of thinning; the plantation is about forty years old, and consists of a mixture of larch and Scots firs. Upon cutting a number of larch trees in the central parts of this plantation, I found them without exception all rotten in the heart, which was exactly what I anticipated, for the soil had never been drained; and upon cutting some trees upon one side of the plantation which formed a sloping sandy bank, I found every tree sound, and of excellent quality of timber; while at the same time, every tree in this position was at least three times as large as those planted in the interior level parts of the plantation, although all were of the same age. Now, the cause of this superiority of the trees which grew upon the sloping bank may at once be seen, from what I have already said upon the point. Again, another side of this plantation was bounded by a deep ditch, forming a fence upon the edge of a held ; and all along this ditch upon the side of the wood, larch trees of excellent size and quality were growing. Nothing can be more convincing than this, that in order to grow larch timber of sound and good quality upon land which formerly grew diseased trees, all that is required is to drain it, when success will be the result.

I have always found larch trees succeed better when growing among hard-wood trees, than when growing by themselves, or among other hrs, even although planted upon soil in the same state in both cases; and the cause of this, I conceive, to be that the roots of the hard-wood, from their penetrating deeper into the earth than those of the fir, have a tendency to divide the soil, and open it up for the more ready circulation of the water through it. It is, indeed, well known to almost every forester, that the roots of the hard-wood trees will penetrate through the stiffest soil, and considerably break up and improve it, to the depth of about two feet; and when the trees are of any considerable age, with their larger roots spreading far and wide, I have often seen the water running along the beds of such roots in considerable quantities, showing that they acted as conductors for the water though the soil: it is to this, that I attribute the superior health of such trees found growing among liard-wood, as compared with those among their own species upon the same quality of ground.

Upon the south lawn, at Arniston House, there are about twenty larches yet growing, of very large dimensions. They are generally above eighty feet high, and a few of them contain upwards of a hundred cubic feet of timber; one in particular contains one hundred and fifty cubic feet, and the tree is apparently in good health. The soil upon which these trees are growing, is a light sandy loam of about fifteen inches deep, and resting upon a stratum of yellow sand; they are, as nearly as I could calculate from the appearance of one which was cut down lately, nearly one hundred years old, and must have been among the first of the species which were planted in the lowlands of Scotland.

These fine specimens are growing among older hard-wood trees, as tall as themselves, but probably at least twenty years older. My opinion is, therefore, that the hard-wood trees had been a considerable length before the larches were planted among them; and owing to this circumstance, the ground would be well prepared by the roots of the hard-wood for the reception of the larches; which must, in a great measure, be the reason that most of our original specimens are the finest trees of the kind at present in the country, —they having always been planted in favourable localities, and near the residence of the proprietors.

From what I have said above, it will appear evident, that the disease in the larch is attributable to the want of proper drainage of the soil. Since I came to Arniston, to act as forester, I have recovered a considerable extent of young larch plantations, which were fast going back, and that simply by draining the soil, in order to draw away from ^it superfluous water, as well as to cleanse it from bad qualities which were natural to the soil, and formerly prevented the healthy development of the larch tree. These young larch plantations were under fifteen years of age when I drained them; but I cannot say if draining would recover plantations of an older standing. In all cases where it is desirable to cultivate sound larch timber, the land should be drained with open cuts at eighteen feet distance, and not shallower at first than eighteen inches deep; and as the plantation advances in age, the drains should be gradually deepened, and kept properly clean, and stagnant water never allowed to remain in them: for however well land may be drained at first, if those drains are not kept in a clean running state, in order to prevent stagnant water lodging in them, they will ultimately be of very little benefit to the rearing of healthy larch timber.


The valuing of plantations is a point in forestry which, to be done properly and justly, requires the exercise of the judgment of a man who has had long practical experience in the matter. He who gives himself out as a valuator of plantations, in the settlements and divisions of landed property, must be possessed of an accurate knowledge of the prospective value of all the plantations that can possibly come under his notice, under the age of full-grown timber. He must have an intimate knowledge of the habits of growth of the different species of forest-trees, and of the influence of soil and local climate on their periodical increase of timber; these properties being absolutely necessary in the valuing of young plantations, while they are under the age of full-grown timber trees: and seeing that such properties are only attainable by a pretty long course of experience as a practical forester, I shall here state only the general method of going to work in valuing plantations.

In taking the present transferable value of plantations, they are divided into three different and distinct classes, namely:—

1st, Plantations not thinned for the first time.

2d, Ditto, which have been thinned, hut are under full-timber size.

3d, Ditto, full-timber size.

As each of these classes of plantations is valued in a manner different from the others, I shall here treat the manner of valuing in each case separately. With regard to the first, then—were I called upon to give the transferable value of any young plantation which had not been thinned for the first time when I saw it, I would in the first place calculate the original expense of fencing and planting; and having ascertained this point, I would next measure the extent of the plantation in acres, and put upon it a rent per acre, corresponding with the land in the immediate neighbourhood, but in all cases making an allowance for inaccessible heights and hollows. Then, the rule for finding the valuation is—to the cost of fencing and planting, and the rent of the land occupied for the time, add the sum of compound interest on the amount of these, and the result will be a fair transferable value between two parties.

With regard to the second class of plantations mentioned above, namely, those which have been thinned, but are under full-timber size:—

When trees attain a size when it is necessary to thin them for the first time, they will then afford certain evidences on which to found calculations of their ultimate produce and value. Therefore, at the time when young trees show evidence of their future health, and until they have attained to a full-timber size, the valuation of all plantations of such trees ought to proceed on the principle of prospective value, and the rule for doing so is this :—first, Determine the number of years the trees will require to arrive at maturity; second, calculate the value of all thinnings that are likely to be taken from the plantation before it arrives at maturity, and that in periodical thinnings of five years from the time that the valuation is taken; and third, estimate the value of all the trees which will arrive at perfection of growth ; and from the total amount of these sums, deduct compound interest for the period the trees require to attain maturity, and the result will be the present transferable value of the plantation.

With regard to the third class of plantations as above stated—namely, those which have arrived at full-timber size:—

As this is a class of plantations which every forester ought to be able to value at sight, I shall be more particular in pointing out the method of going to work in the valuation of such. Few foresters are ever called upon to value the two first-named classes of plantations, but the case is altogether different with regard to full-grown trees: these are the harvest of their labours, and they are almost every day called upon to cut down and value trees of full-grown dimensions. In this case it is not the transferable value of the unripe crop as found upon the land that we have to do with: it is the simple value of wood itself, the value of each tree in its perfect state, in so far as the ground is qualified to produce it. It is often necessary that full-grown timber trees should be valued previous to their being cut down; and particularly in the case of a transfer of property, it is absolutely necessary to have this done, seeing that the trees are a part of the property to be sold. In taking the value of timber in its growing state, two methods are in practice among wood-valuators: the one is to measure the height of each tree by means of a measuring pole with a ladder, and by actually girthing the tree in the middle with a cord, and finding the contents in the usual manner of measuring round timber: the other method is, that of judging by the eye the number of feet that each tree may contain.

"With regard to the first method—namely, that of measuring the trees by means of a pole with a ladder;—some suppose that this is the most correct way of going to work in the valuation of growing timber; and in consequence of this opinion having for some time past prevailed among the older class of valuators, much precious time has been lost by them, as well as useless expense entailed upon the proprietors who have employed them. I have myself seen three men, apparently busily employed for the space of ten days, in the measurement of four hundred trees, by the method in question; and even after all their labour, their valuation was disputed. A friend of mine being called in to make a second valuation, he did so by estimating the size of each tree by sight, and did the whole work in about half a day; and when those trees actually were cut down and measured, his report of the valuation corresponded to within five per cent of the truth, while the report given by the other party was thirty per cent beyond the truth;—this instance at once pointing out the possibility of being very incorrect in the valuation of trees measured with a pole and cord. From the many obstacles that are apt to come in the way, it is almost impossible to measure correctly any large tree in its growing state; and by a short sketch of the manner of proceeding in this kind of work, the impossibility of correctness will at once appear. In measuring trees in their growing state, the valuator has with him two men— the one carrying with him a pretty long ladder, in order to get upon the trees from the ground; while the other bears with him a measuring pole, generally about ten feet in length, divided into feet and inches for the sake of measuring the length of the trees, and a tape line marked with feet and inches for the purpose of taking the girth of the tree in the middle. With these assistants thus furnished, the valuator proceeds by causing the man with the ladder to hold it to a tree, while the other goes upon it, and with his rod measures the height of the tree as he proceeds upwards. Having ascertained the entire height, as far as may be considered measurable timber, he again measures downwards, one half of the height of the tree, in order to take the girth at that part, for the calculating of the side of the square; and in this manner the valuator proceeds from one tree to another, noting down the dimensions as he proceeds. Now, as to correctness, this method would do very well, provided that there were no branches upon the trees; and, no doubt, the operators always choose that side of a tree which is most free from branches; but notwithstanding, there are few trees which, in taking a straight line from top to bottom, have not several branches to intercept the object. And this is what makes their measurement so very incdrrect; for when the man with the pole has his line of measurement intercepted by one or two branches, he generally has to change his position upon the tree, and this often many times in the ascent of one tree;—often causing consequently a defect of several feet in the value of one tree, either less or more. Mr Monteith, the well-known author of the Forester's Guide, invented an instrument which wrought with a wheel, in taking the height of a tree, and with this instrument he himself practised, in the valuation of forest trees. But for the same reason that I have already mentioned,—that is, from the wheel being interrupted by the branches of the trees,—it soon fell into disrepute, and is now scarcely or ever used: besides, the time and labour necessarily required for accomplishing the work of valuation by the method above referred to, is very much against 2ts being used by active valuators of the present day. Such men, in almost all eases, accustom themselves to value any standing tree simply by sight— which is, indeed, when done by an experienced man, the method most to be depended upon. The eye is not easily deceived in the comparative magnitude of any two or more objects; and more particularly, if the action of the eye be long accustomed to compare the relative sizes of different objects of the same form, its judgment, if I may so speak, becomes almost indisputable: at least, a man is very seldom deceived by his eyes in the viewing of an object, if he have but accustomed them to act in accordance with his judgment; and this is all that is required in order to give a correct idea of the size of any tree. It merely requires that the eye should he accustomed to the work, and never to pass judgment on the size of a tree, until the mind be actually satisfied of the truth of the impression produced.

Every forester ought at once to be able to estimate the size of any tree upon first sight of it. But a course of training is necessary before being able to do this; and as I myself, in all cases of valuing growing timber, pass judgment of the size simply by sight, I shall here point out the course of training necessary to those who may wish to become active in this most useful point in forestry.

Those who never have accustomed their eyes to compare the relative sizes of different objects, may at first be led to think that it is impossible for any man to give a correct judgment of the exact bulk of one tree as compared with another. This opinion, at first sight, is natural; but the power of habit is well known to be incredible; and to those who may entertain the idea of there being great difficulty to overcome, I beg to say, that a few weeks of persevering practice will overcome all the difficulty. When I first commenced to train myself to value trees by sight, I was engaged in the thinning of plantations from twenty to forty years old. For a few weeks, I, in every case of cutting down a tree, first eyed it from bottom to top, and from top to bottom, and passed my judgment as to the number of cubic feet it contained, before I cut it down: and as soon as I had the tree cut down and pruned, I measured the length with my rule, and took the girth in the middle, and upon casting up the contents, I compared the truth with my previous judgment of the matter: and at the end of three weeks, which time I was employed in the thinning of the plantations mentioned, I could have told, to within a mere trifle, the actual number of feet and inches in any individual tree, before I cut it down. And in like manner, I practised myself when cutting down large trees, embracing every opportunity of improving my judgment upon the point, until I came to have perfect confidence as to the correctness of my decision.

But there is one remark which may be useful for me to mention in this place, relative to the correctness or incorrectness of the judgment of the eye in taking the size of a tree—and that is, the mind must be perfectly at ease. A valuator, with his mind uneasy upon any point foreign from his present purpose, is certain to commit errors; and this I mention, in order that any young beginner who may read this, and may commence his learning in the way I did, may be upon his guard at all times when valuing.

Having thus pointed out the way by which any forester may acquire the useful habit of valuing trees by sight, I shall now give a statement of the manner in which I generally go to work in the actual valuation of the trees in a plantation.

When called upon to take the valuation of a plantation of full-grown trees, or, as it may be, a thinning of trees from a plantation, I provide myself with a pretty large pass-book, containing, as usual, money columns on the right-hand side of each page, and the spaces upon the left-hand side of the money columns I divide into four equal parts, parallel with them; the first space upon the left-hand side is for entering the numbers to correspond with these as intended to be marked upon the trees; the second for entering the species of each tree as it is numbered ; the third for entering the number of cubic feet contained ,in the tree as marked; and the fourth contains the price, per cubic foot, of each tree as numbered. The following sketch of this form of book will more readily assist the learner :—

In the act of valuing trees in the forest, I do not, of course, take time to sum up the value of each tree, but leave the money-columns blank until I have the work finished, or at least until the evenings when I get home, and then I have leisure to do so correctly. Having provided myself with a book of the description mentioned above, all ready and ruled, with the numbers filled in, and the uses of the columns written along the top of each page, I next engage three, or perhaps, if the trees are hard in the bark and difficult to mark, four men of active habit, each provided with an iron adapted for the marking of figures upon the bark of trees : one of the men I cause to begin by marking No. 1 upon the first tree to be valued, a second man marks No. 2, a third No. 3, and the fourth No. 4; and in tliis manner the four men follow one another, each of them marking his own number next in succession upon another new tree : that is, if the first man mark No. 1, his next in succession will be No. 5, if the second mark No. 2 his next in succession will be No. 6, and so on with the rest. When the men are properly arranged at their work of marking the trees, I next commence myself with the tree having the mark No. 1 upon it, and write opposite the same number in my book the species of the tree, next the number of cubic feet that I think it contains, and lastly, the price per cubic foot of each tree, as I think it would really bring in the market at the time of valuation—and in the same manner I go on with each and every tree that is to be taken value of.

I may remark here, that every valuator of growing timber, previous to entering upon the valuation of it in any locality with which he is not well acquainted, should in all cases make himself properly aware of the general prices of wood in that district; for if he do not, he will unquestionably commit gross errors in his work. If, for instance, a valuator were to be called from Edinburgh to value wood in the county of Peebles, or any other inland district, and he proceeded to value the same according to the rate of wood-sales in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, his valuation would, of course, be about one-half too high; because, in the county of Peebles, or indeed any other inland district, there is little or no demand for wood: consequently, before the wood could be sold, it would require to be carted by the purchaser a great distance to reach a market; and seeing this, the valuator should always regulate his prices per foot according to the prices that he knows will be given at the nearest seaport, deducting the expenses which will be necessary to carry the timber between the place where it is growing and the seaport where it is to be sold.


In order to the disposing of wood growing upon gentlemen’s estates to the best possible advantage, a few practical hints may not be out of place here.

All sorts of hard-wood, the bark of which is not used for tanning purposes, should be cut down for sale from October till March ; during those months the sap of the trees is in a dormant state, and when wood is cut in such a state it is of better quality for any permanent use than when cut in the summer months.

All oak, larch, and birch, the bark of which is used for tanning purposes, should be cut down and peeled just when the buds of the trees are expanding into a green state; but in all cases where the wood of these trees is wanted for permanent use, the trees should be cut from October till March.

All sales of wood should be conducted upon the principle of public roup. At public sales there is always a competition of purchasers, who generally set up the wood to its proper value.

Where there is a saw-mill upon a gentleman’s estate, for the cutting up of trees for valuable purposes, and where there is a good demand for wood, private sales of wood after being cut at it generally pay the proprietor better than when the wood is sold in its rough state and without measurement.

In preparing wood for a public sale, each sort should be arranged into separate lots by itself, and no individual lot should contain less timber than twenty-five cubic feet, in order that there may be a cart-load for the purchaser.

All timber of good quality should be lotted separately from that of indifferent quality. Let good timber be sold in lots by itself, and bad timber in the same manner; and if possible, whatever number of trees may be put into a lot, let them be nearly of an equal size.

All oak timber should be sold in its growing state, unless the proprietor wish to have the cutting and peeling of it kept in his own hand, which is advisable, seeing this sort of work is more likely to be done to the general advantage of the stock than when done by strangers. At all events, in all cases of taking down oak trees, the cutting, at least, ought to be done by the proprietor’s men, not only with a view to the safety of the stools, but also for the sake of other trees that may not be intended to come down. In the case of thinning out among large full-grown oak trees, I have seen much damage done to the standards from carelessness in allowing the fallen trees to smash the branches of those which were to remain; and in that instance the purchaser cut down the trees himself, and, not being a conscientious man, he had no respect to the remaining trees. Now, in all cases of like nature, were the work done by the proprietor’s men, it would be done with care.

All trees for sale should be cut down with the saw, when of a size above six inches diameter at the bottom; and all trees under that size may very properly be cut with the axe. In cutting a large tree with the axe much valuable wood is lost at the bottom part; but when cut with the saw, all the available wood may be preserved.

When trees are laid together, in the way of letting out for sale, the bottoms and tops should all be laid one way, and that in a regular manner.

The lots, as they are prepared for a sale, should be all numbered, and entered to a corresponding number in a book kept for the purpose; at the same time stating the kind of wood that each lot consists of, with the number of trees in it, and the value of the same. When this necessary precaution is used, should any dispute take place relative to the lots afterwards, such may be at once adjusted by referring to the roup roll.

All lots of wood prepared for public sale should be carried out of the plantations, and put upon road-sides for the conveniency of purchasers getting to them with their carts.


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