Inverness, 13 October 1883 - Duncan Macdonald

DUNCAN MACDONALD, Butcher, Inverness (52)—examined.

42106. The Chairman.
—Are you a farmer?
—I am an arable farmer.

42107. Do you appear as a delegate in any degree?

42108. You appear to make an independent statement of opinion?
—Yes. ' I desire to speak on the injurious influence of the existing system of deer forests in the Scottish Highlands. In the first place, the system is grossly injurious to the interests of the nation at large. It necessitates the laying and the keeping waste of extensive and valuable tracts of good land, and is thus locking up land particularly suited for the production of corn, turnips, potatoes, and for the rearing of sheep and cattle. If this land were in. occupancy as farms in moderately sized holdings—in holdings that could be worked by heads of families independently of hired labour —it would certainly be rendered more productive than it is at present. I am perfectly well aware that, under no circumstances, could the land of this country support the population, even supposing that all the available soil was put under tillage. Yet, I am of opinion that if ground capable of cultivation, and now waste under deer and sheep, was reclaimed and cultivated, some of the millions of money now sent abroad to purchase food could be retained in this country. Our national expenditure on the purchase of foreign articles of food could, in other words, be greatly lessened. If land be turned into waste which is capable of producing green crops and corn, sheep or cattle, in proportion to the extent and the value of that land is the yearly loss to the nation. In the second place, the existing system of deer forests threatens to injure very seriously the agricultural interests of the Highlands. During the past forty years or more, the Highland sheep farmers were in the habit of sending their young sheep stock into the lowlands to be kept and fed during the winter. The sheep thus sent from the hills to the lowlands used up the lowland turnips, and the Highland sheep farmer paid to the lowland arable farmer a certain rent for his surplus grass and turnips. This custom was the source of a constant and a steady revenue in the lowlands; and it promised fair to be continued. The lowland farmer depended upon the letting of his wintering as a means of meeting a great part of his rent, or, in other words, as a means of disposing profitably of the grass and turnips over and above what his stock, means, or premises could enable him to keep. Within the last two or three years, however, in consequence of the extent of sheep ground cleared for deer in Inverness and in Ross, the demand by sheep farmers for lowland wintering has greatly lessened, and is lessening. I have personal knowledge of cases in which lowland wintering could not be let within the last year or two at nearly the same figure as that at which they could be let formerly. And the only reason for this remarkable fall in the value of the lowland winterings is the scarcity of sheep stock in the Highlands, because of the continued process of clearing sheep lands for deer. But the system of deer foresting is at the present moment injuring Highland agriculture, in another and equally important direction. With the present insecurity and the desire of landlords to draw immediately large rentals by turning lands either under deer or into large sheep runs, the tendency of the able-bodied men is to remove from the Highlands, the reason being that in the Highlands they enjoy neither home nor comfort, and have no security for the labour which they might be able to put into the soil. Every one knows that the existence of a deer forest is incompatible with the existence on that land of a population of human beings. Whenever a piece of land has been cleared for deer, there was found to be no room for people on the land so cleared, except, perhaps, in remote and barren corners, and even there with a grudge. This is one of the reasons for the depopulating process at present going on. The following description of the county of Inverness, in the Highland Sportsman, illustrates thus :—
" This great county, the largest in Scotland, and the second largest in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, is 92 miles long and 52 wide, embracing an area of 2,723,501 acres, or about 4255 square miles, being rather more than one-half the extent of Wales, and about one-seventh of that of Scotland. The population, however, is insignificant, being only 90,546, according to the census of 1881, of which rather more than one-fifth was resident in the county town. This gives an average of 21 to the square mile, or, deducting the population of the county town, 17 to the square mile. It is therefore, one of the most thinly populated districts in the world. Besides all this, the best, the most skilful, and the most energetic of farmers are leaving the country with their capital, and this state of things bids fair to leave in Scotland only a second ary class of men and an undue proportion of paupers. The craze that formerly existed on the part of the rich classes in towns to have farms has now entirely ceased; and, therefore, the loss of labour caused by the removal from the Highlands of the best men of the country, and the loss of capital caused by the removal of the most energetic of the farmers cannot be made up from the towns. Every able agricultural hand that leaves Scotland who might be employed with advantage in Scotland, and every penny of agricultural capital that leaves Scotland which might be employed here with advantage, are losses which the town population cannot supply. On this account, the agricultural outlook is, in my opinion, very unsatisfactory, and to no class more so than to the proprietors. I will give an instance. The man who, fifteen years ago, would predict that in the year 1883 sheep farms in the Highlands would be without demand, and absolutely tenantless for lack of offerers, would be laughed at. But the fact remains that, from various causes, sheep farms that have recently fallen out of lease could not be let to practical farmers. Many, in this district, although offered during many months for let, have had to be taken over by the proprietors, or let to sports men. What will be the result should the turn of events prove the same during the next ten years as regards deer forests Ì The result will be disastrous to the landed interests. For, if the system of things now existing be allowed to continue, there will be no labour or capital in the country to cultivate the land that would demand cultivation, should the demand for deer forests lessen as has done the demand for sheep farms. The existing system of deer forests hence threatens very seriously more interests than those of the common people. As I have said, during the last few years sheep farms that have fallen out of lease have failed to obtain tenants. They have had to be taken over by the landlords or to be let to sportsmen. This is one of the results of the depopulating policy which has been going on in the Highlands during the past seventy-five years. That policy has been one of clearing small farmers off the richer lands, and of combining their holdings into one vast sheep run. Landlords have now found out that in adopting this policy they committed a great mistake. To stock many of these great sheep runs requires as much as from £15,000 to £20,000. From various causes, there is no capital among practical farmers in the Highlands to meet those vast requirements—or those who have capital will not invest it to such an extent in an enterprise so precarious as Highland sheep farming has of late years turned out to be. Had the land been subdivided into small holdings, it would have been more profitable. I would recommend the breaking up of those great sheep runs into smaller holdings, and thus to encourage the residence on the soil of a population of smaller farmers. A system of moderately sized holdings might preclude the possibility of landlords being driven to turn good land into deer forests by inability to let the land as sheep or mixed cattle and sheep farms. Statements have been made on the west coast to the effect that the larger farmers pay a rent more per acre than do the small crofters. Assuming the truth of this, I desire to point out that the explanation is simple. Throughout the whole Highlands, the large sheep farmers possess the very cream of the land. The small crofters possess the very meanest of the land—they are, generally speaking, congested on rock and moss. If you take the whole acreage occupied by hundreds of these small crofters, and divided by the sum of their individual rentals, you may, perhaps, find that they pay a smaller sum per acre than does the large farmer; but considering the relative value of respective holdings, the poor crofter unquestionably pays the higher rent. I know that the crofters who pay from £ 8 to £15 put as much into the pockets of the landlords for their lands as do the large sheep farmers. The system of deer forests tends to deteriorate the quality of the land in the Highlands. I am of opinion that hill grazings under the pasturage of sheep and deer are deteriorating in quality, and that much more rapidly, under deer than under sheep. This may be proved thus:
—If you remove sheep from a grazing in the neighbourhood of a deer forest which has been from twenty to thirty years in the occupancy of deer, you will find that in the course of five or six weeks after the sheep have been cleared off, the deer will remove to the once sheep covered land, and occupy it exclusively. I have paid considerable attention to this subject of the deterioration of hill pastures under the exclusive occupancy of sheep and deer. And, besides, I have received information on this subject from people whose ability and veracity I can guarantee, but whose names, for obvious reasons, I cannot give in public. One of whom I designate " A " says
—"My uncle was tenant of the farm I now hold for forty years before me. I have been tenant for thirty-two or thirty-three years. I have the same boundaries as had my uncle. My uncle never sent hoggs or any other stock to wintering. But the farm at that time kept more sheep than it will do now by 400 head. Not only did the farm keep 400 head of sheep more then than it does now, but, with my smaller stock, I am compelled to send the whole of my hoggs to the lowlands for wintering. From my own observation, the ground is going back. At the time of my entry, the farm could keep more sheep than it can do to-day, and the deterioration of the soil has been more marked within the past ten years. I am now falling back on the old system of putting cattle on the land in summer, as I am of opinion that this is the only way of bringing the soil back to its former standard of fertility." "B” says
—"On one large sheepfarm here the ewe hirsel fifty years ago numbered 2000 head with their lambs. In 1883 the hirsel on the same land numbered only 1000 head. The land cannot carry more. On another holding here the ewe hirsel fifty years ago numbered 1400 head. In 1883 all this land was under wedders, and the soil had so deteriorated that it is not suitable for ewes. The keeping capacity is now only about 1100 head. The ewe hogs were wintered at home fifty years ago. Now, however, the hoggs (wedder) must be wintered in the low country. The extent of land is the game now as it was fifty years ago. On another farm in this district there was a mixed ewe and wedder stock of 1800 wintered at home. To-day, however, this same land can maintain only 1500 head, and that only during summer. The hoggs have to be sent away for wintering. There are farms in the district, the soil of which has deteriorated to an even greater extent than that of the above." At the time the hills were cleared of cattle and horses to be put exclusively under deer, there is evidence that the pastures were vastly richer than they are now. I am of opinion that the change from mixed farming to exclusive sheep farming accounts for this. Ground grazed by cattle receive back in the shape of manure a full equivalent for what is taken out of it. Sheep, while grazing, return to the soil very little, and deer still less. It is well known that in the cultivation of white crops or cereals that if you do not restore an equivalent for what the white crop takes out of the land, the soil will become of less value. The same applies to grazing, but the deteriorating process takes the longer to tell. My opinion is that on grazings certain natural ingredients required for the growth of young stock—for the formation of bone—become exhausted. Unless an equivalent be returned to the soil, such as could be returned by cattle grazing, the damage must be permanent. A system of mixed farming, a system of rearing on the land a mixed stock of cattle, sheep, and horses would arrest this backward progress, and might in course of time restore the land to its' original fertility. Hence it is absolutely necessary that there should be a mixed system of farming, and this can be best secured by the breaking up of the present enormous sheep farms and deer forests, and letting the land out in moderately-sized holdings to a population who could live on the soil. As regards the sporting interests of the Highlands, I am old enough to recollect the time when an exclusive system of grazing and shooting combined formed the sporting system of the Highlands of Scotland. That system may be carried on with little damage to the grazing tenant, and with little possibility of ill-feeling between the sporting tenant and the farmer. Half a dozen or more grouse shootings could be established in the space occupied by one deer forest, and these half-dozen shooting lodges would, from a commercial point of view, be of far more benefit to the district than the solitary lodge which is the centre of the one deer forest. I am in favour not only of maintaining the existing lodges attached to grouse shootings and fishings, but of increasing them to the utmost capacity of the country. And, further, the rent that would be derived from grouse shootings and grazings combined, cannot in any quarter of the country fall far short, if indeed it do fall short, of the one rent which may be derived for the land let exclusively as a deer forest. I name the district of Strathnairn as a fair example of a district where sport exists side by side with numerous farms. Shooting and grazing are there carried on on the same land, and the rents derivable from the soil are as large, if not larger, than could possibly be received had Strathnairn been parcelled out in deer forests. In Strathnairn the shooting lodges are very numerous, and each occupant is commercially and socially of as much advantage to the neighbourhood as could possibly be the one occupant of the one solitary deer forest lodge. I am of opinion, there- fore, that sporting in the Highlands should be encouraged. But it should be a system under which grouse shooting and fishing may be carried on side by side with grazing, so long as no elements are introduced to create a conflict between the two interests. But sporting ruins the country the moment the system is made one of clearing off the population of a whole region in order to place it exclusively under deer. With this system deer would still be in the country, for red deer were never extinct in the corries in the Highlands, although not so tame as at present in some places.'

42109. Mr Cameron.
—Might I take the liberty of asking you first, how far the system of deer forests, which constitutes the principal subject of this paper, affects you yourself in your trade as a butcher. Does it affect you favourably —the system of sportsmen coming to this country and holding deer forests, or does it affect you unfavourably?
—It affects me favourably so far as they will buy from me, but unfavourably so far as I may be required to pay from 10s. to 15s. over the net value of stock.

42110. Will you explain how the system of deer forests compels you to pay 10s. or 15s. over the net value of stock?
—By decreasing the number of stock available for the consumption of turnips and grass in the Lowlands.

42111. Have you ever made any calculation as to what extent the number has been decreased by deer forests?

42112. Don't you think that the quantity of sheep which could be raised or fed in the present deer forests must form a very infinitesimal number compared with the sheep reared throughout the United Kingdom?

—I am perfectly well aware of that, if you take the United Kingdom, but in the North Isles it is very considerable indeed, and the want of it is felt.

42113. But in these days of railways from one end of the country to the other, the void created in one part of the country is immediately supplied from another part of the country, where the article exists in superfluity?
—It is quite true that cattle and sheep may exist in superfluity in another part, but you are aware of the severe restrictions now in force to exclude them from this country. Therefore the void cannot be made up so easily as it might otherwise have been.

42114. But surely we may hope these restrictions are only temporary?
—And the deer forests too.

42115. As you give that for a reason why the void cannot be filled up, I suppose you admit if there were no restrictions the void could be filled up by sheep brought from other places?
—May I ask from where?

42116. From the rest of the United Kingdom, wherever sheep are bred?
—It appears to me that they are exceedingly anxious to get hold of the balance of ours. If they are so plentiful in other parts of the country, why are they so anxious to carry off ours?

42117. Why should they not buy them wherever they can get them? But you have never made any calculation as to the number of sheep that have been displaced in the Highlands by deer forests, as compared with the rest of the country?
—I have looked into it, but I did not follow it out. I said already I don't dispute that the amount may be very small for the United Kingdom, but it is very large for us.

42118. Suppose that deer forests, for some reason ceased to exist altogether, and the number of sheep increased in the Highlands to the extent that the price would be reduced, would not the Glasgow butcher at once find that out, and would he not buy the sheep here in such quantities that the price would be at once equalised?
—I would not object to that; if all could be supplied, the more the better.

42119. What I point to is that in these days of railway communication prices must be equalised by the surplus being conveyed about from one part of the country to the other?
—Nothing more reasonable.

42120. Then, if the number of sheep displaced by deer is infinitesimal compared with the number over the whole of the United Kingdom, it would make very little difference in the supply of animal food either to yourself as a butcher or to the community ?
—The difference would not be very great over the whole kingdom, but here, if we do not get stock
near hand at reasonable prices, what are we to do with our grass and roots?

42121. You stated there was a difficulty on the part of the farmers in the Lowlands in finding sheep to consume their turnips?
—I stated they are exceedingly anxious to get the remainder of our sheep.

42122. Now, the demand, you say, by sheep farmers for Lowland wintering has greatly lessened during the last two or three years. Have you had that on the authority of sheep farmers?
—I have it on better authority; I have it on the authority of the Lowland farmers.

42123. Surely no authority could be better than the authority of the parties who had to pay for the wintering; they must know whether the price is increasing or decreasing?
—Well, I pay as much for wintering as perhaps any one in the north at the present moment, and I can speak from personal knowledge.

42124. Going back to fifteen or twenty years ago, before the system of deer forests was carried to the extent to which it is now, what was the price paid per week per hogg for wintering on turnips?
—I have no great experience of hoggs; it is aged wedders that I know about.

42125. But surely the class of sheep which the sheep farmers winter most are hoggs?
—I was informed that at one time they paid as high as 10s, per head for them.

42126. As long as fifteen or twenty years ago?
—No, ten or twelve years ago.

42127. Is it not a fact that fifteen or twenty years ago the Highland sheep farmer used to get his hoggs very often wintered for 1 ½ d. or 2d. a week?

42128. Are you sure of that? What used it to be?
—3d. or 4d.

42129. Have you not heard it stated by sheep farmers all over the Highlands that one of the principal reasons why they are not able to carry on their farms to such profit, is that the price of wintering their
sheep has increased very greatly of late years?
—That is perfectly true in some years, I know.

42130. But you stated quite the contrary?
—Yes, within the last two years, observe.

42131. I suppose in the last two years there happened to be a particularly good turnip crop?
—Not this last year certainly; I should rather say, under the average.

42132. Surely last year's turnip crop turned out remarkably well?
—Fairly an average, I should say.

42133. I suppose you are not what is called a Protectionist?

42134. You are a Free Trader?

42135. You don't think the British farmer should be protected by any artificial restrictions against the introduction of foreign sheep or foreign cattle?

42136. Then why do you wish the Lowland farmers in the south who grow turnips to bo artificially protected against the Highland sheep farmer?
—I don't wish him to be protected artificially.

42137. You wish deer forests to be abolished, in order that the Lowland sheep farmer may get a higher price for his turnips?
—Not particularly that, but I glanced at it in passing as one of the injurious effects of the system. I don't care so much for them myself. I am a buyer.

42138. And a seller too?

42139. Now, in the beginning of your paper, you state that the system of deer forests 'necessitates the laying and the keeping waste of extensive and valuable tracts of good land, and is thus locking up land particularly suited for the production of corn, turnips, potatoes, and for the rearing of sheep and cattle.' Do you mean seriously to say that in the deer forests which are situated in the higher pastoral ground, what used to be wedder farms, are particularly suited for the growing of corn, turnips, and potatoes?
—And under sheep. The real land under deer that could be reclaimed would not be so large, and I take in the land under sheep as capable of cultivation. I maintain that is a very large area.

42140. I don't understand your explanation of this paragraph, which is perfectly clear—that the system ' necessitates the laying and keeping waste of extensive and valuable tracts of good land, and is thus locking up land particularly suited for the production of corn, turnips, potatoes, and for the rearing of sheep and cattle.' That surely means, if it has any meaning at all, that deer forests contain valuable tracts of land which are suited for corn, turnips, and potatoes, and for rearing sheep and cattle?
—Deer forests and land capable of cultivation under sheep as well; both are included.

42141. Both are included, and I am taking the deer forests, and asking you whether deer forest alone is suitable for producing corn and potatoes?
—Combined with land under sheep.

42142. Does the particular land now used for deer forests contain ground suitable for the production of corn, turnips, and potatoes ?
—Under sheep, yes.

42143. Will you mention any deer forest you are acquainted with that could raise corn, turnips, and potatoes?
— Yes, Fort-Augustus; there is plenty of reclaimable land thereabout.

42144. That could raise corn ?
— Yes.

42145. Deer forest?

42146. But I suppose most of the deer forests, you will admit, in the upper region of Ross-shire and Inverness-shire, where neither corn nor cereal crops will grow?
—Corn and cereal crops will grow in any glen in Scotland under 700 feet above sea-level, and there are numerous river sides and haughs that could be occupied as small farms. I know hardly any glen at such an altitude but could raise all these.

42147. Have you any idea what proportion of each forest would be capable of raising these?
—I should say all that can be reclaimed with advantage would raise these crops.

42148. But what proportion in each forest?
—I am not aware.

42149. That makes a considerable difference, because there might be 20,000 acres, and there might only be half an acre, but that would be hardly worth talking of?
—Yes, but one in five would make a thousand.

42150. Do you think there are many forests in Ross shire and Invernessshire where the proportion of arable land is one to five?
—No, I would not say that.

42151. You will not admit there is any forest where there is no arable ground or land capable of being made arable?
—It is quite possible, but I don't know any.

42152. Have you ever thought of the cost of reclaiming these small patches in the uplands of the higher hills of Ross-shire, and whether the cost of production would not be so great as to destroy the profit either of the individual who did it or the nation at large?
—Yes, if you are going to reclaim it with steam engines and that sort of thing. My idea is that the land should be reclaimed by families. A man with three, four, or five strong sons about him would soon reclaim all that was worth being reclaimed, if he was permitted to do so.

42153. Do you think, if the crofters had given them the choice to-morrow of taking land in their neighbourhood —whatever they liked to get—supposing they had the option of taking land to cultivate with their families, at a fair rent, do you think they would immediately go to the forests and choose land there, or would they naturally get lands nearer home that are under sheep?
—I would fancy they would choose the best land.

42154. That is the land under sheep which is nearest their homes?
—Wherever they got good land. I suppose there is no difficulty in finding willing hands to reclaim it.

42155. But would they be most likely to take the sheep farms first, or would they go to the deer forests first?
—They would not be particular. Give them a good bit of land anywhere, and you will find plenty for it.

42156. But which would they be most likely to take?
—I don't know. I have no doubt, if you offer them fair, good land, they will be ready to take it.

42157. And where will they find it—in the sheep farms or forests?
—They will find it in both.

42158. You will not say which?

42159. You are very severe upon deer forests. Supposing you were a proprietor, and you admit sheep farms are almost unlettable at this moment—suppose you were the proprietor of a farm with a stock of 5000 sheep, and the farmer cleared out to realise the high price he could get for his stock, what wotdd you do with that?
—It is a very serious matter, but you are forgetting entirely that you have brought it upon yourself.

41260. I am asking you, as a witness who stated very strongly that deer forests are a wrong system, what, under present circumstances, could be done with some of these high lands that are thrown on the hands of the proprietor, which he cannot, by your own admission, get an offer for as a sheep farm, and wliich are totally unsuited for crofters. I asked you what you would do with such land, as proprietor?
—I suppose under the circumstances I would do the best I could.

42161. If you got an offer for it as a deer forest would you let it as a deer forest, or let it lie idle?
—I will not say I would do that, but 1 think it is time to consider now whether the thing is on right lines or a right basis at the present moment.

42162. Do you consider it a wicked thing for me, as a proprietor, if, having a sheep run that I can do nothing with, and a gentleman offers to take it as a forest, I let it as a forest? Do you consider it a wrong thing to do?
—I consider that under certain circumstances a man should do the best he can for himself, but at the same time we must consider, are they on right lines or wrong lines entirely, down till now?

42163. There was a gentleman examined here, the Rev. Mr MacTavish who holds very extreme views on the land question. He was here yesterday, and he admitted that a deer forest, provided the deer did not injure the arable ground of the crofter, was not a detriment to the crofter, but was an advantage to him,—that it was more advantageous to the crofter that the land should be held as a deer forest than as a sheep farm, because the deer forest would turn in a higher rent, and the crofter was to that extent relieved from rates and taxes. I suppose you will agree with Mr MacTavish about that.?
—No, I do not quite understand that deer forests returning larger rentals really relieve the crofters from taxation.

42164. Yes, because if a sheep farm returns £500 and the same ground as a deer forest lets for £ 1000, by that means the rates and taxes on the remaining ratepayers are diminished?
—Yes, but what do you say as to the grouse shooting? If you can have £500 for the grazing, you have the grouse to fall back upon.

42165. But suppose there are no grouse on the forest?
—Where is that forest?

42166. Leaving Mr MacTavish and the rates and taxes out of the question, do you consider that the high land occupied as a deer forest is any disadvantage to the crofters, putting aside any damage done to their arable ground, which can be prevented by fencing? Do you consider it has the slightest injurious effect upon the neighbouring township of crofters, that a forest should be made five miles away from them on the high land?
—Well, no, if you keep them four or five miles away from them, but what if they come down to eat their corn?

42167. I said that was a separate question which is to be decided by a deer fence round their arable ground. Putting that out of the question for a moment, what possible harm does the deer forest do to the crofters?
—It excludes land from useful occupancy.

42168. But not useful occupancy by a crofter. You see I am still going upon this imaginary (I am sorry to say it is not imaginary) case of a large sheep farm falling into the proprietor's hands, and I want to ask you whether you think it wrong that he should turn it into a deer forest, and I am putting i t to you whether his doing so would have any injurious effect upon the crofters in a neighbouring township. If it has not any injurious effect, why do you think it wrong to turn it into a deer forest?
—I have strong views on that question. What are the deer really worth from a national point of view? What do they produce to the common stock of the country?

42169. Then you will not give me any reason why it is'wrong?
—I have given you my reason—that I consider, for the land occupied, they contribute very little to the common stock of the kingdom. That is one of the main reasons.

42170. But then in this particular case what would you do with it?
—I allow you to do the best you can under the circumstances, but mend your ways in the future, and don't have your farms so large again. Divide them into smaller holdings. For a farm of 20,000 acres you will have only two Duncan or three offers at the best. If it were divided into farms of 500 or 1000 acres you would have fifteen or twenty offerers. A farm of 20,000 acres requires £20,000 of capital, and you can only get one or two to offer, whereas you can get fifteen or twenty offers for a farm of 1000 acres.

42171. I still ask you what you would do under particular circumstances, and you say—Do the best you can. What is the best way? Am I to leave it absolutely unoccupied by sheep, or deer, or crofters?
—Oh, no; make the best you can in the meantime; but mend matters as soon as you can. I would not ask anybody to sacrifice money for an idea like that.

42172. I have just to ask you one question about something that was said by one of your colleagues in the flesher trade. Mr Elliot stated, when under examination, that if land was divided into smaller holdings, the necessity for what he calls middlemen and dealers would be done away with to a great extent; do you agree with that view?
—No, I do not agree with it at all. It is impossible to do away with middlemen altogether.

42173. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You complain that there has been a decrease in the price paid for the wintering of stock in the lowland part of the country?
—I do not not complain at all. I simply point out that it is one of the consequences of deer forests. I state it as a fact, and can prove it.

42174. And you say it is a consequence of deer foresting?

42175. Is it principally due to deer foresting, do you think?
—Wholly, in my opinion.

42176. Fifteen or twenty years ago, were there many sheep wintered in Aberdeenshire from the Highlands and this part of the country ?
—I should say not.

42177. Are you aware whether many are now sent down there?
—A great number.

42178. Has that not had a tendency to reduce the price of wintering here?

42179. I suppose you read the local papers?

42180. Do you remember, at the beginning of this year, that the sheep farmers of the north had considerable difficulty in getting their sheep back from Aberdeenshire owing to certain rules made by the local authority under the Contagious Diseases Act?

42181. Do you remember seeing imputations on members of the local authority as to the reasons which induced them to make these rules so stringent?
—To prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.

42182. Was it not said that the members of the local authority belonged to the low country class of farmers, and it was to punish the hill farmers for going down to the cheap wintering in Aberdeen?
—I am not aware.

42183. You did not see that in the papers?
—I have no recollection of it.

42184. But you are aware they do go for cheap winterings to Aberdeenshire ?

42185. And that has been a considerable cause of reducing the price of wintering here—it has had an effect in reducing the price of wintering here?
—It had an effect in keeping them from going higher.

42186. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I believe you are a native of Glenmorriston ?

42187. That is a large glen from one end to the other?
—Yes, a large and beautiful glen.

42188. Are there any forests in it now?

42189. How many? Are there one or two?
—There are two or three.

42190. Do you recollect the time when there was no forest?
—I do.

42191. How far back does your memory carry you?
—For forty-six or forty-seven years.

42192. And there were no forests then?
—Not one.

42193. Was the proprietor of Glenmorriston in olden times a man of very considerable importance in the country?
—Yes, and yet.

42194. Had he a patronymic of his own in Gaelic?
—Yes, Mac-Phadrig.

42195. Did he use to come out independently to the field with his men?
—I am not aware, unless he went in with the laird of Grant.

42196. Take the battle of Culloden, and 1715. Did the laird of Glenmorriston not go out with his men in favour of the Stuarts?

42197. While the chief did not come out with the Stuarts?

42198. And he had a very respectable following in those days?
—Yes, he had a very nice company, I am told.

42199. Has the population of the glen not fallen back very much in your days?
—I should say it has.

42200. Were there not at one time what might be called gentlemen farmers in the glen?

42201. Are there such people now?
—Very few, if any.

42202. In fact, may it be said that as far as population is concerned, the glen has been dwindling away for many years?
—Quite true.

42203. You were asked by Lochiel whether you could point to any case where lands now under forest were capable of cultivation; may I ask whether or not within the bounds of the forests of Glenmorriston there is not a good deal of land that was once under cultivation by tenants and crofters?
—There is some such land undoubtedly.

42204. Was there a time, so far as you have heard, in old times, when there were no sheep farmers in any part of Glenmorriston?
—They had sheep in smaller numbers.

42205. But no big sheep farm?
—It was all carried into effect in the time of my father. I know it is the case.

42206. Have you ever heard of a Gaelic piece of poetry, addressed to the Glenmorriston of the day, pointing out the miseries that would occur by the introduction of sheep?
—Which of them? There are several.

42207. 'S'olc a rinn u, Mhic-Phadrig'?
—No, I have not heard of it.

42208. I put it generally. Have you heard old people and others repeating Gaelic verses condemnatory of the system of large sheep farms in Glenmorriston and those upper glens?
—Yes, I have heard some such songs.

42209. And you have now lived to see the mischiefs that have occurred, first from large sheep farming and now from foresting?

42210. In the old times, did the people in Glenmorriston find it necessary to take wintering at all?
—Not at all. It was necessary for the lowlanders here to send their cattle west to them. That was the
system that obtained one hundred years ago and more.

42211. So, while the large sheep farmers in Glenmorriston and such glens are obliged to pay large sums for wintering now, in old times it was the people of the glens that got large sums for summering?
—Yes, summering cattle from Inverness and Nairn shires. I think I can show that.

42212. In your younger days were the people of Glenmorriston fairly comfortable in their circumstances? Were they a happy and contented people?
—There is really very little change in the crofter population since I was born in Glenmorriston. They are much about the same as they were then.

42213. Do you occasionally pay a visit to the Glen still?
—I have not been there for twenty years, but my brothers go there occasionally, and I have the whole history of what is going on.

42214. Have you heard there is at this moment a very great scarcity of milk in the Glen among the poor, and even of potato ground?
—No, I have not heard that, and I am very sorry to hear it now.

42215. In your neighbourhood have there been forests constituted within your own memory?
—All within my memory, the whole of them.

42216. In the statement you have read you have particularly dwelt upon the prejudicial effects of deer as regards pasturing?

42217. Have you paid particular attention to that subject for some years?
—-Yes, I have.

42218. And you are perfectly satisfied in your own mind that what you have stated, which is corroborated by the cases of these two farmers A and B, is correct?
—Yes. I have not been much in the hills myself for the last twenty-five years, but I am still in the sheep line, and some years ago I began to make inquiry of prominent men what was the cause of the inferiority of the sheep now, compared with what they were twenty years ago.

42219. And you have paid particular attention to that matter?
—I have, and prosecuted inquiries in every direction. I am quite satisfied that the ground and the sheep are in very unhealthy order at the present moment, and if it is of any consequence that I should name one of my informants I can do so.

42220. Certainly?
—It is Donald Macintyre, Mains of Flowerburn, and tacksman of the sheep farm of Laggan; and Finlay Macdonald, Kintail, authorises me to declare to this Commission to-day, that since he went to Kintail thirty-two years ago, the keeping capacity of his farm is down one-third exactly. He impressed upon me to state that before the Commission, and he is prepared to stand by it and substantiate it.

42221. And is this prejudicial system going on from year to year?
—Yes, Mr Donald Macintyre declares that within the last ten years the deterioration is more pronounced.

42222. Mr Cameron.
—You are referring to sheep farms now?

42223. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you consider the time has come to face the question boldly and do something to prevent the country becoming a wilderness again?
—Yes; I am particularly anxious to give an indication to the Commission in this direction, for if it is proven, and I think it is easy to prove, that the ground is being ruined—if that will not rouse proprietors to a sense of their own interest, I don't know what will. And I should like if I could bring it home to them that the ground is in very unhealthy order, and getting worse from year to year.

42224. In regard to the deer forests, I think you stated here, that though the rent from a forest may be larger, and is larger, than the rent for an agricultural subject, yet the production of the deer forest is of very little value to the country generally?
—Very little value indeed.

42225. To whom is it of value; who benefits?
—Except those who get the rent, I am not aware of any other, and those who may acquire health in the pursuit of the deer.

42226. But I am speaking of the carcass of the deer; is it of any perceptible value as an article of food?
—Not at all, in my opinion.

42227. Is it sold generally ?
—Yes, it is sold.

42228. By whom?
—By game-dealers here and elsewhere.

42229. Where do they get it from?
—I don't know. They have plenty of it.

42230. Can you state that venison now is a matter of sale by the tenants of deer forests?
—I don't know. If you want venison, there is plenty exposed for sale.

42231. You don't know where the dealers get it, but they have it?
—They have it in plenty. I don't know where they get it.

42232. Have you any idea what the price is?
—It is supposed to be from 6d. to Is.

42233. The Chairman.
—With reference to the alleged deterioration of the soil and its diminished power of supporting stock, you mentioned the case of a farm which used to winter its young sheep and which used to keep a full stock. It cannot now keep as numerous a stock and it cannot winter its young sheep. With reference to that, I should like to know what is the nature of the stock on that farm?
—Cheviot sheep.

42234. A pure Cheviot stock?

42235. With reference to the inability of the young sheep to stand the winter as they formerly did, may it not be in part at least that there has been deterioration in the hardy quality of the Cheviot stock? Have the Cheviot stock not been bred heavier, and softer, and tenderer, than they formerly were?
—They take rams from the south undoubtedly, but of course the climate will affect them.

42236. I do not say you are deficient in a desire to give a direct answer, but I have observed in your examination generally, that you do not give very direct answers, and I would like if possible to get a direct answer. Do you think the Cheviot stock in the Highlands is more delicate than it used to be? We complain in the south very generally that it is?
—I am not aware, but it is quite possible.

42237. W'ell, for one reason or another the Cheviot stock kept upon a farm is not so numerous and not so hardy as it was. I don't know whether in the district you are acquainted with there are many blackfaced stock kept?
—They keep blackfaced stock on the higher grounds, the worst ground, and Cheviot on the lower ground.

42238. Sometimes you find on the same farm both a blackfaced hirsel and a Cheviot hirsel?

42239. Are the blackfaced stock as heavy in number on the ground as they used to be?
—I am informed not.

42240. Can you give me an example of a farm where it is said a blackfaced stock cannot be fed in the same number as formerly?
—I am afraid I cannot give that, for I did not separate the inquiry. I did not pay attention to that.

42241. With reference to the deterioration of grasses and pasture under sheep alone, of one kind or another,—the general pasture of a farm,—do you think there is a deterioration all over the area of a farm, or do you think that this deterioration, if it exists, is upon those portions of the ground called green ground, which was in old times under arable cultivation?
—I should think so. That is my opinion —that it is more so upon that.

42242. Then that could be rectified by restoring cultivation to those portions?
—Yes. I may remark that the old Highlanders were very wise in their day. They had a very good system of going to sheilings with the cattle, and another good system of folding them here for a week and folding them there for another. The rains came and diffused fertility in all directions. They shifted their quarters, and that had a great tendency to keep the pastures in a sound, healthy condition.

42243. Well, for the restoration of the quality of the pasture, your remedy would be a re-cultivation of certain grounds, and re-adoption of certain methods of pasturage, and putting cattle on the ground?
—As many cattle as winter fodder can be raised for in the low glens —the more the better.

42244. Could not that reformation of culture be practised by the large farmer on the present areas as well as, or nearly as well as, by dividing the large farms into smaller farms?
—Yes, but in such large areas how are they going to provide for their cattle in winter? If you plant a moderate sized holding here, with houses and byres, a certain amount of winter fodder is provided and raised in the place j and in the absence of that I do not see how the large farmers could do it unless they go in for cultivation, which they are not likely to do.

42245. I do not want to discourage your idea of breaking up the farms and making moderately-sized farms, but could not the large farmer, if he found it profitable, or was bound in his lease to do it,—could he not break up the same amount of arable ground that the small farmers eould? Could he do alone as much as they did separately, or do you think there is something in the separate cultivation by small farmers which would induce and enable them to do more?
—I think so, and the fact is that the large farmers are not fond of breaking up ground at all. Their tendency is to put what is under plough now under grass. That has been their practice and tendency for a long time back. It is a matter of expenditure, and I don't think they have any will or aptitude in the other direction.

42246. And yet we heard yesterday the evidence of a large farmer in Sutherland who was bringing a large extent of ground under cultivation, with the encouragement of the Duke of Sutherland'?
—I am very glad to hear it.

42247. Will you say there is really in deer forests a certain quantity of ground susceptible of arable cultivation? Have you yourself walked over large areas of deer forests in different parts of the country?
—Not since they became deer forests, but I have walked over a good deal of the ground before it was turned into deer forests.

42248. I think you put the elevation of 700 feet as the limit of cultivation?
—Yes, or thereabout—600 or 700 feet

42249. Is there a good deal of land of Jess elevation than 600 or 700 feet under deer exclusively?
—I should say there is a good deal below from 700 to 800 feet, —no doubt of it.

42250. I would rather you did not shift the limit to 800?
—Well, take 700. I put it this way. If you travel by the Caledonian Canal to Fort-William you will see many a deer forest right and left, and I do not think any of them at the commencement are anything like the limit I have given.

42251. You think there is a good deal under 700?

42252. And on such an area you think there is a considerable proportion of ground upon such a slope or in such a position that it is susceptible of cultivation?
—I am sure of it.

42253. Do you think that a person walking over ground within that boundary line of elevation would find the ruins of old houses, and the traces of old cultivation to any considerable extent?
—Innumerable traces, and traces of their existence formerly.

42254. Well, about the deterioration of pasture by deer. You have spoken of the deterioiation of pasture by sheep alone, and you proved that by giving examples of farms which carry a smaller stock and cannot feed the stock in winter; have you any evidence at all of the deterioration of pasture by the exclusive use of deer? Do you know any case of land that was exclusively under deer, and which has been restored to sheep?
—Well, I don't believe that there is any sane man at the present moment with a knowledge of the business, and money in his pocket, who would risk sheep on deer land. I am of opinion, and it is the general opinion, that the mortality among sheep would be excessive for a long time till the grass was again reduced to order.

42255. Do you know any example of the experiment having been tried?
—No, I can only give it as the general opinion of practical farmers in the north of Scotland.

42256. I have heard of a person who bought sheep for wintering upon ground exclusively occupied by deer at other seasons of the year, and did not find any bad consequences for it?
—But how long was the ground in that occupancy ?

42257. I cannot say. You say you have not recently walked over land occupied as forest?
—No, I have not.

42258. Then I am afraid I cannot ask you to give a personal opinion on the subject of the forests. What I want to know is, whether there is to the eye of a judge a manifest deterioration in the quality of the grass, and whether there is a tendency in the original forest to spring up in the ground where it is occupied by deer more than where it is occupied by cattle or sheep?
—Well, it is quite possible that the natural process of restoration may begin.

42259. But you have not walked over the ground?
—No, but I rely on the evidence of people on whom I have the utmost reliance.

42260. Well, taking the people whom you consulted on the subject, in what respect did they discover the deterioration of the pasture by the occupancy of deer alone?
—I think I proved that in my paper, and it is the most natural proof I can give to your Lordship. 'If you remove sheep from a grazing in the neighbourhood of a deer forest, which has been from twenty to thirty years in the occupancy of deer, you will find that in the course of five or six weeks after the sheep have been cleared off, the deer will remove to the once sheep-covered land, and occupy it exclusively.' I hold that to be a natural and conclusive test, that the deer know the better and sweeter soil.

42261. May that not be the difference of elevation—that the deer will come down from the loftier places, and also because at the lower elevation they are more likely to find green ground?
—Well, I think if you will clear a space of ground here that has been occupied by sheep, at any elevation, the deer will soon find it out, and in fact it is matter of complaint that when a space is recently cleared of sheep it carries away the deer.

42262. Mr Cameron.
—Did I understand you to say, in answer to Lord Napier, that blackfaced stock were of late years diminishing in the country?
—I did not separate the inquiry.

42263. Have not farmers discovered that Cheviot sheep are not so well adapted to this country, now the price of wool has fallen, and are they not substituting blackfaced to a great extent?
—Yes; but my opinion is that as long as the ground was in good heart and fertility, Cheviots throve, but when the ground is exhausted Cheviots are dying off, and as blackfaced are hardier they replace the Cheviots.

42264. But as matter of fact, don't you admit that sheep farmers are changing their stock to a great extent from Cheviot to blackfaced?
—I am aware there is a tendency in that direction.

42265. Then can you suggest any other mode of improving the pasture on sheep farms beyond that of putting people on them? "Would you say cattle were a great improvement?

42266. Is there any other way of improving the sheep pastures so as to restore them to their former fertility?
—Not without tremendous expense, which no one would care to face.

42267. Putting lime on it?
—Lime and phosphate.

42268. But you think cattle the best remedy?
— I think it is easy to prove that they are the only remedy.

No comments:

Post a Comment