Hon. THOMAS CHARLES BRUCE, M.P., Commissioner on the Seafield Estates (58)—examined.
43790. The Chairman.
—You have a statement you would like to make?
—Yes. I have no written statement, but I have certain notes which I wish to read to you illustrative of the management and general state of Lord Seafield's property in Strathspey, and which will have some
bearing on the principal questions which you are considering. I would like to go a little way back so as to explain myself clearly. I may add that I have been for thirty years in charge of this property, and I think I know it pretty well, and that the changes which have been made, and which I shall describe, have been made almost entirely on my responsibility. When I first knew it thirty years ago there were a large number of tenants, as there are now. They held patches of arable land, and they held a considerable amount of common pasture. In addition to that there were certain plantations, and the great forests of Duthil, from which, according to the regulations on which they held their farms, they were excluded. But as a matter of fact all these regulations have been neglected, and they used the pasture in those forests and also in the plantations. This state of things had existed, I presume, for a considerable time, but I think the pasturing had increased very much within the last fifty or sixty years. Previous to that, in Sir James Grant's time, when there was nothing like bad harvests, it was frequently necessary for Sir James to spend large sums of money in bringing meal up to the inhabitants, else they could not have lived. The last time that happened was in 1822, so I hold the progress of the country since that time has been very great. When I was first in this country there was a peculiar arrangement here that all the leases fell out at the same time, and when I first saw it in 1853 the whole of the country was under lease, up to the year 1863 or 1864. There were a great many of these common rights of grazing and others which were very much intermingled, and it was very difficult to do anything with them; and, accordingly, during these years there was no change made. But I had had during that interval an opportunity of considering very maturely what could be done with the property; and it appeared to me that injustice, not only to the landlord but to the country, must consider how I could make it available for the district and for the country at large. Now I found this peculiarity about it, and it is limited to the area of that county, viz., that along the course of the Spey from Craigellachie and Aviemore to near Sir George Macpherson Grant's march, the land is almost exclusively of a very gravelly character. The result of that is that there is very little grass on it, and that it is available, the better parts of it, for arable land—it makes very fair arable land, what is improvable—but that the moors are excessively dry and very barren. It is of very little value as a summer grazing at all. Where we have, grazings we estimate that five acres are required for a sheep, which at 1s. 3d. a head, makes 3d. per acre as the value of the land. But that very quality makes it very valuable as wintering, because in winter the water does not lie so much as it does in other districts, and it becomes valuable for wintering sheep on the low ground. In addition to that, it is extraordinarily adapted for the growth of trees. I suppose there is no district in Scotland equal to it. The most of these dry moors were available for plantation, and in these forests the trees came up naturally; in fact, they were only kept down by burning and other means, and it occurred to me that to do proper justice to it the real thing was to keep in view the production of wood as much as possible —to encourage as far as possible the arable land, and not to attach to the summer grazing an importance which it did not deserve. I may add that a good deal of the land was held in common, but there were constant disputes among the tenants about the commonties; and when two men have undefined claims to a certain thing, and one is strong and rich and the other is poor, I defy any law or regulation to keep the one from infringing upon the other. That was what happened, and there were constant complaints on the subject. As to the natural forests on Abernethy and Duthil, this was the state of affairs. There were a large number of sheep kept there by the tenants, but as the putting of sheep there was illegal they paid no rent for it, and the whole rent of that district of Abernethy was £90, though there were some thousands of sheep—not 70,000, but, I suppose, about 5000 or 6000. These sheep were kept on the top of the hills in summer and in the woods in winter. But they were absolutely destructive to those woods, because there is a difference between planted woods and natural woods in that respect. If you enclose a plantation the plants are all the same age, and they get on uniformly, and after a certain number of years you may open the plantation as soon as it has got well out of reach of the sheep and cattle. But in natural woods the trees are of all ages at the same time, and you cannot open any of it, because you destroy the small trees even if the large ones can take care of themselves. The sheep were entirely destructive to these small trees, particularly in winter. In summer, when they had other pasture, they did not eat them much, but in winter, when the tops of the trees came up above the snow, they cropped them, and though they did not kill them they retarded the growth. That was the case with the natural fir and with the larch and birch. Now, these being the circumstances— I am afraid I speak rather egotistically—at the time the leases came out I determined I should do what I could to put the ground in the most available condition possible. I accordingly first had a plan made of the whole place, with the existing farms. We then marked upon that plan whatever was available for wood, and that we reserved, including the natural forest. The farms were very much disjointed. The marches were very bad, and we straightened the marches as much as we could. We then divided the commons as far as possible between the separate tenants, as we found the tenants both liked it better and got a better advantage of the piece they had themselves than of a piece divided with others. In some places it was impossible to do that, and we still had the commonties of two or three farms; but these commons have invariably been the subject of discontent, and whenever it was possible to divide them we had to do so since. That was done in the year 1864—in three successive years ending in 1866. We endeavoured to supply an arable farm to every tenant we had, and we succeeded, because nobody was evicted. I instructed Mr Mackay, whose name you may perhaps have heard, and who was a very eminent surveyor and valuer, to go over the whole thing, and re-distribute the farms and value them on these conditions, taking away the woods and dividing the commons, and that was done, and the result was that the rents were fixed by him, that the whole of these farms were re-let on these conditions, and at the rents so fixed, and there has been no change since. That they have been entirely satisfactory to everybody I shall be surprised to hear, because I don't know anything that is satisfactory to everybody in any part of the world that I have been. But on the whole I have not heard any great complaints. I am certain the property has increased immensely in value, not only to the landlord, but to the people occupying it, and I am certain it has a very different appearance from what it had then. We attached to the farms all the land which by the wildest imagination we conceived would be improvable, and the tenants undertook to improve these parcels. They have not done it entirely. They have done the easiest parts, and we never pressed them any more about it. This occurred two years after the greatest improvements that have taken place in the country, namely, the opening of the railway from Inverness to Perth and the other railway that goes up the Speyside, so that the condition of the tenants was very much improved by these circumstances, and I can give you an instance. I remember, when I was here first, I used to see people selling a three-year old beast at £8, and now they sell a one-year-old beast at £9. Such were the conditions under which I put the place. I quite admit that some of the holdings are too small. I would willingly have enlarged them. I quite admit it; I have no hesitation about it; though on the whole when they are industrious they manage to get on, but it was the express wish of the late Lord Seafield that none of his tenants should be removed in carrying out this operation, and accordingly we had to divide the land according to the number of tenants, and not according to the way one would abstractly like to do it. Then came the great difficulty —if these people were to take to arable farming. They had neglected their arable farms as long as they had these commons. It was necessary to give them some facility. Formerly all the buildings belonged to the tenants, and they held them on a condition that when turned out at the end of the lease they were entitled to two years' rent as compensation. As they never were turned out they never got compensation, but the claim remained, and the buildings were partially theirs, and nothing could be done for it. You had a difficulty between what was your part and what was the tenants, and as a matter of fact, both farm houses and buildings were perfectly miserable from one end of the property to the other. I did away with these claims by giving a reduction on the valued rent equivalent to what would, in fact, be a terminable annuity, which would pay that amount during the lease, and the hoases reverted to the proprietor. But they reverted to the proprietor in this condition, that nine-tenths of them were quite unfit for any decent system of farming. They were so bad that the larger class of cattle could not be accommodated, and we were accordingly obliged to make a very large expenditure on these subjects. I find that during the twenty years which' have elapsed since then we have spent £85,000 on buildings alone. The system we went upon is this. Where there was a farm that required a totally new steading—remember the thing was taken and valued as it stood—we built the steading and charged interest upon it. This is the great difficulty with all small farming —the buildings. If you build steadings and charge interest, you raise the rents so much that the people cannot pay, and so in many cases we were obliged to abate a great part of the interest. Then we took this system of giving tenants wood and slate to build their houses, they being able to build the walls or get them built, particularly the smaller ones, the principal outlay being the wood and slate, and the wood work of the farm; so we saved them most of the outlay they would have had to sustain. The stones were at hand, and they could generally get them built easily enough. A good many of the houses were built in that way. There was no interest charged on that. The tenant did his part and we did ours. If one was evicted it would go back to the landlord; but, as I said, they were never evicted, and we need not consider that agency. In addition, there was a great want of roads and of outlets for water on the wet ground, and on that we expended £25,000 in twenty years, besides £10,000 which we repaid to the tenants for the value of their tenant rights. I think I may say that was the position in which we placed the agricultural tenants. I should be very much pleased to make the conditions better, but as a matter of fact for the last twenty years we never evicted anybody. There was one case where we summoned three people in the forest of Duthil. They said they would like to remain on from year to year, and we paid them back the expenses of the summonses, and they are there from year to year. Of course farms have changed hands from the death of the tenant or abandonment. In almost every case we allow the tenants, when they wish to retire, to find a successor, and make their own terms; and I am informed that generally speaking, the successor pays a grassum —namely, a premium to get into the farm—which shows the bargain is not so bad as some people say. This, of course, goes to them, and with that we have nothing to do. There has been a considerable increase in the price of cattle, and of produce. There has been a considerable addition to the prosperity of the country since these buildings were made, and large numbers of people come there in summer—because, apart from the shooting people, there are large numbers who come and fill every farm house, and who spend a large amount of money in the country, principally in the purchase of chickens, eggs, and so on. Then the shooting tenants of the grouse moors, of whom we have several, also spend a good deal of money in the country. I daresay your Lordship is not aware that, of late years, there has been a complete change in the system of shootings. I remember when people taking shootings went into the next cottage and lived six weeks there, and went away again. Now everybody who has a shooting wants a country house, and we have had to build them. They bring their families and visitors, and spend a great deal of money in the place, and all that has been to the advantage of the district. But the greatest source of future prosperity, to my mind, has always been the wood. I think, in time, when the forests as we have them get into proper order, the wood will be even more than it has been a great source of revenue and of employment in the district. I have a paper here with reference to these woods which may be interesting. This is the result; that, during the years from 1854 to the present time we have spent £83,000 in labour in these woods. Almost the whole of it has been spent in labour by the people of the district. We have sold timber to the amount of £200,000, and I am informed by the people who deal with this that it is our practice to sell the wood standing. We never manufacture or interfere with it. It is done by the purchasers, and I am informed the amount paid by them is about equal to the amount paid by us; that is to say, if they paid say £200,000 to us, they must have spent nearly as much again in the district. Now, the wood as a great industry in this district is only beginning. In old days they had these forests. The grandfather of the present Earl cut down a very great part of them. When I saw them first nine-tenths of the good trees were cut down, and they had done nothing to restore them. During that time I have no doubt a great deal of money was spent in the district; but that was a system which could not go on for ever. The sums spent by the late Lord Seafield on wood were, so far as he was concerned, practically unremunerative. What we cut down was what remained of the old woods; but they will all go on increasing, and I have no doubt that in future years the amount of money spent in that district, owing to the woods, will be very much in excess of all the rental otherwise ; and it has always been my view that if we wish to make the best of that place, we should encourage the production of wood as much as we can, not for the immediate advantage of the landlord, for it is not so, but future advantage of the landlord and the whole district, both his own tenants and the rest of the country in general. In coming to this question of the woods, I come to the question of the deer forests. I found that the lower part of the forest of Abernethy was entirely fitted, with the exception of a few morasses, for the production of wood. But wood is more or less growing on a large proportion of it, and a very large proportion of it would also grow it, so that if I had cut off from the forest all that is valuable for wood—which I certainly would not have done, for I would not have left it to be destroyed as it was before —I should only have left for grazing the higher ground above the 2000 feet line, a great part of which is barren, and is not suitable for any grazing except for a very short time of the year. To have attempted to do that would have cost an immense sum in fencing and trying to separate the different portions. I found that this very high grazing was really not of very great value, and that the wintering of the lower ground, as I was informed, was more valuable when taken by foreign sheep than it was for the sheep that had been grown there principally, as they were obliged to be kept for a very short period of the year on the hill pasture; and that the common rights that existed in some of the tenants up there were not of very great value, and under the new lease they were excluded, and the new rents wereformed upon that estimate. Then, having done that, it naturally followed, having cleared the upper part, that the deer came in, and I can assure your Lordship and the Commission that the forming of the deer forest up there was not my original intention. It was the consequence, not the cause, of the enclosing of that forest, and the results financially you have before you. But I wish to explain on what ground we took that course. The same applies to the forest of Duthil, which has been enclosed in the same circumstances, though it is not adjacent to other deer forests in the way the forest of Abernethy is. Now, as to the land which Lawson talked about, the whole of that was a sea-bed of natural trees. We enclosed and planted a good deal of it, and the rest of it was coming up with trees. We enclosed it, and put up an additional wire to prevent the deer coming out again; but the upper parts of the hills are perfectly barren and it was impossible to make a sheep grazing there if the woods were enclosed. We have, as I say, a certain number of these small tenants—not very small tenants. We have a great many under £30. I think we have something like two hundred and forty. We have not very many of the very small crofter class; and I confess I am not very much inclined to increase that class. We tried that by improving land in some places, but it did not answer very well. I think, in a country like this, where you have easy means of communication, and where there are centres of population, the men do better as labourers altogether than as half labourers and half farmers. It struck me very forcibly in connection with another matter which does not concern this country. I have seen a great deal of what occurred before you as to the fishermen on the west coast wanting more land. I don't give an opinion about the west coast, but we have a great number of fishermen on Lord Seafield's property. They have houses on a tenure as if they were freehold. There are lotted lands which they can get, but they don't want them; and their idea is that the business of a fisherman is to fish, and they have built fishing villages which compare favourably with any villages in Scotland. They are very well off. They stick to their work, and do nothing else. All they ask is better harbour accommodation, and they stick entirely to their business. I don't think the class of crofters is a very desirable class to increase in a country like this. The number of tenants paying £ 30 and upwards is eighty-five, and the number we have under that is three hundred and forty. Then we have, in addition to that, a number of tenants in villages like Grantown who occupy pieces of lotted lands, which are given from year to year to tenants of the houses there. In addition to that, we have about fifty-three tenants who occupy sites on which they build houses and pay 10s. a year for the house and garden. These people have one hundred years' leases, and seem quite contented with things as they are, and don't seem to be afraid of being turned out. In addition to that, we have a certain number of cottars who hold from the tenants themselves. We have no control of them except this, that no tenant can discharge a crofter without the consent of the landlord. I may add, with reference to emigration, that in this district the young men have been in the habit of going out of it. They used to go very much into the army. I remember being told, fifty years ago, that most of the farms were occupied by old half-pay officers, and the young men went greatly into the army and into other professions, and a great many of them have risen to eminence in all professions. There is a certain amount of migration of that nature which goes on now. We don't interfere with it in any way, but we don't promote it. However, some of them go and some come back, and the state of things is sufficiently healthy in that respect. I don't think I have anything further to say. I wished to explain generally how I had acted with reference to this locality, and what the results generally had been, and particularly in regard to the question of deer forests, how it came that we had any of them, and the reasons we had for taking those steps.
43791. I understood you to say that, when the estate was re-lotted and the rents were fixed, it was about twenty years ago ?
—It was nearly twenty years ago.
43792. Then a new order of things having been established about twenty years ago, the people have been living under leases since at the same rents?
43793. But with advantages gradually growing up around them such as you have described?
43794. I suppose it was a nineteen years' lease?
43795. Then the leases are about to be renewed?
43796. There has been, then, upon the small tenantry or agricultural tenantry generally no increase of rental since that period?
43797. What system do you intend to pursue in the way of revaluation at the end of the lease which is now about to expire?
—I shall pursue the same system as I did before. I shall get some competent person to examine things, and to report to me what he considers to be a fair and easy rent—not a pressure rent, as vre would never think of that. We shall then negotiate with the tenants, and shall see if they will accept it, which they probably will.
43798. Dealing with every case individually?
43799. In the course of this long lapse of years there must of course have been some accidental vacancies?
43800. When these vacancies have occurred what course has been pursued in re-letting the holdings to new tenants?
—When a vacancy occurred from a man wishing to go away and give up his place, it has been our usual practice, almost universally, to say —' If you can find anybody to take your farm up, do so, and as a matter of fact, in many instances where that has occurred, they got a premium from the person coming in, which is what the last witness called a grassum. That represents his idea of the value of the holding.
43801. Then, any increment of value which has accrued has gone into the pocket of the tenant who goes away, and not into the pocket of the landlord?
—Certainly, up to that point.
43802. But, as a matter of fact, have small farms, in case of vacancy, been relet at an increase of rental or not?
—There have been very few of them re-let. Most of them have been handed over from one tenant to another at the same rent. In a few instances where we have taken offers, I think I may say we have always had offers beyond our present rent.
43803. Always had offers?
—I think so. I would not be too sure, but I know we have had it in several instances.
43804. Have you had considerable competition to obtain a footing on the estate?
43805. So, judging by the market value of your holdings, they have not been re-let above their value?
—No, I don't think so. There have been very bad years. There was one year when we made a reduction of 15 per cent, and there have been, as there are always in those large bodies, men who work and men who don't, and the men who did not work sometimes got into arrear, but the amount of the arrear is not so large as it was under the old system.
43806. With reference to the system of buying up the tenant's interest in his buildings, of which you spoke, the tenant's interest in the old building has been entirely extinguished by gradual repayment on the part of the proprietor to the tenant; was that system of repayment to the tenant introduced at the very beginning of the lease, or has it been introduced more recently?
—It was introduced when the farms were re-let. The agreement with the tenants was this —' This is the rent; we deduct so much a year from it,'—that so much representing the amount of his claim for buildings.
43807. Was that a contemporary arrangement? These arrangements were made together'?
—They were made together.
43808. I think you may have heard a question I asked a previous witness about an improved house, when an improved house is constructed on the estate what element in the house is contributed by the landlord and what by the tenant ?
—I really cannot give you the money value of the two. The idea we have is this, that the tenant can generally get his walls built very much cheaper than we can do it, but what he has to pay money for, such as wood or slates, we can do better than he —at least we can do it with greater ease—and that is the way we divided the expense. As I said, on the large farms where we erect new steadings altogether, our practice has been to build the steadings and charge interest; but there, I say, is the great difficulty with small farms. It is the expense of buildings, which increases every year in course of time as the breed of cattle improves.
43809. But what I point at, and what I think I see, is this, that whereas you have with one hand extinguished the proprietary right on the part of the tenants in the old buildings entirely, you have allowed the tenants to acquire a new interest in their buildings?
—No, because, as to the new interest, the tenant does that under the condition that the building belongs to the proprietor when he goes out.
43810. Is that a written condition, or is it just the custom of the estate?
—I really cannot tell you. It is so habitual that I suppose it is a custom.
43811. But still the tenant does practically seem to have sold his buildings to the incoming tenant in a certain measure in connection with this grassum?
—No, because practically the incoming tenant was the same person.
43812. But suppose he was not the same person?
—If he had not been the same person, in all probability —that is what we have done in other cases—we should have bought up the outgoing tenant's right ourselves at once, and then we let the thiug free to the new tenant.
43813. Then the system of indemnifying or compensating the outgoing tenant has been, in exceptional cases, attempted and practised?
—It has been practised on other parts of the estate much more largely, where the tenants don't remain so continuously as they do here. I cannot call to mind whether there was any instance of its being applied on this property, because I don't at this moment remember anybody who went out. In fact, at that re-letting nobody did.
43814. But, the compensation for improvements being an interesting point at this moment, may that question not be raised in connection with the new leases? Supposing —which I don't believe to be the case—there was any considerable number of tenants at the end of the present lease who really wanted to shift and move off, would not the question of the value of their houses arise?
—No, they have no interest in the houses.
43815. That is distinctly understood?
43816. Yet, you say upon other parts of the property the interest has been recognised?
—On other parts of the property, where we have more changes of tenants, we bought up the right of the outgoing tenant, on this ground, I may say, almost universal in this country and all through the north of Scotland, that a man who goes into a farm has not more money than is necessary to stock it, if so much, and if you call upon him to pay meliorations to his predecessor you cramp him at the very beginning of his lease. That is why we were not doing it.
43817. Suppose a case should arise of a man having spent in labour or value £50 or £60 upon a new house, you of course spending your own proportion—say £20 or £30—and suppose he died, and did not leave a family capable of retaining the holding, and the family expressly desired to go, and went, the proprietor would have some difficulty, would he not, in a case of that kind, in declining to recognise his claim to compensation?
—I don't think we would have any difficulty in declining to recognise it. I think in a case of that kind we should do something for him, but I don't think there would be a legal claim upon us. I say it has very seldom occurred.
43818. With reference to the woods and the introduction of this great branch of industry, had the woods generally, as a mass, been formed upon ground which did produce woods naturally before?
—Well, the forests, of course, were the old wood forests, and besides, a great part of the ground which we planted had some trees on it. I mean we rather took that as an indication that it was a good place to plant —not universally so —but the growth of trees is so common about that district that the bare places which we took to plant, as a general rule, had some few trees about them, although we planted them up with fresh ones.
43819. Then the large values obtained for wood which you mentioned, I presume, were for the trees as planted and grown long before your own time?
—Of course. There were three or four large plantations made towards the beginning of this century. Thereafter there had been hardly any till within the last few years, and there had been certain parts of the old forest that had not been cut away which were ripe and available, and these were sold. We have still some. We have not got the thing, and we shall not have it for several years to come, into the condition in which it ought to be, where there would be a regular rotation of different woods going on simultaneously to be cutting down in regular rotation.
43820. You don't cut down in regular areas completely, and re-plant ?
—In the plantation we do. In the forest we don't, because things are too irregular, and we must take the trees as they are.
43821. But in the plantations you mean to cut and plant—not to depend so much on gradual thinning, but cutting the whole?
—That depends on their ages. I suppose these plantations will be thinned every five or six years from the time they are twenty years old till they are eighty or ninety. They probably will not get to complete maturity till they a r e eighty or ninety. It varies with the constitution of the trees.
43822. Then, as to those trees planted on pasture grounds or lands, at what age can the grounds be rendered available for pasture grounds ?
—It is not a question of age. It depends on the rapidity of the growth of the trees. The trees must be 12 or 15 feet high before they are safe, and what we would do with them then would be to let the woods to the neighbouring tenants as a general rule as pasture, and they are more valuable than they were, partly because they give shelter, and partly because they are fenced.
43823. Then the practice of pasturing is admitted as early as when they are 12 or 15 feet high ?
—Yea; I am speaking from memory, but I think that is so.
43824. Under what sort of tree do you find the grass best for the purpose of sheep pasture?
—Well, the best grass, I think, is in the birch woods.
43825. These I presume, are natural woods?
—These are all natural.
43826. And in the planted woods?
—I really can hardly say—I think the fir, perhaps. The great majority of our woods are fir. We have very little planted larch. We have some natural larch, which is a curiosity. Otherwise it is only the fir and the birch.
43827. You mentioned that, in connection with the system of felling wood of the older race of trees, you felled the wood and did not manufacture it?
—We don't fell it even. It is sold standing; that is to say, when there are pieces cut clean away we always sell it standing. When they are thinned we do nothing else than knock them over, in case people take the wrong trees.
43828. What kind of parties are employed in the work at the trees? Where do the contractors come from who do that work?
—There are certain large merchants who come from the south who do that work—firms from Glasgow, Paisley, and other places.
43829. Do these firms bring people with them or employ the people of the place?
—I don't know. I think they employ a good many of the people of the district. They bring their machinery with them and horses; and whoever they bring must be fed here, and it creates a market.
43830. So there is local employment and local purchase or local sale created in connection with the wood industry?
—Yes. We employ, of course, entirely natives of the district, and when we fell or thin trees we employ natives. We have men accustomed to that work, who take it on contract, and do it at so much per dozen. The purchasers, I think, themselves employ a certain number of people, but I never inquired carefully how they did i t; but they bring their own machinery. The wood trade is now run so close that you cannot make any good of it unless you get large quantities.
43831. You have no saw-mids where boarding is cut up or rafters are prepared?
—There are several in the district, and they are let.
43832. You have devised this system not to manufacture, but to leave that to others?
—I have deliberately adopted it, and I had before me what happened on this property before when they cut down a large proportion of the wood and never got anything for it after all the expense had been incurred. Of course, the railways have improved the market very much compared with what it used to be.
43833. During the course of your administration, has there first and last been a sort of rent got for the land occupied by the older timber?
—There has been a considerable rent for the surface of those plantations which were old enough—I mean those which were forty or fifty years old when I first saw the country. There has been a considerable return out of them. As to the forests, I cannot say there has been a large return on the whole area, because the forests have been almost entirely denuded; at least three-fourths of them were destroyed. But I can give you an illustration of what may happen. I don't say it will, but I say it might. There was a wood of Lord Seafield's down the Spey in the district of Rothes, which is thirty acres in extent, about eighty years old, and in very good order. It had been always kept in order by the late Mr Brown, and it was sold all standing at the rate of £120 an acre, which, if you capitalise it, would be a capital of £ 5 an acre for that ground which was not worth Is. otherwise.
43834. Was it larch?
—Fir. That was a very exceptional price. I never heard of anything so high.
43835. That was old natural timber?
—No, it was planted timber about eighty or ninety years old.
43836. Is there no regular income or what may be called rent derived from the natural copsewood and brushwood of the country?
—There is an uncertain income derived from that, and we sell a good deal from time to time, but we have not a very great deal of it. The worst of the natural birch is that it has been all pastured, a great deal of it, and the trees have grown into bushes, and it is only if they are trained and the sheep kept off them that they grow into regular trees, but they are valuable when they are so treated.
43837. When you cut the natural wood do you do it in regular areas, or do you thin it?
—It is generally thinned out.
43838. Do you fence it afterwards?
—Not in these birch woods. We have some, but not generally speaking.
43839. Is there great dilapidation of the old birch woods?
—We only take out thinnings where they are thick. We preserve them more for the beauty of the country than for anything else.
43840. With reference to the deer forests on the estate, I understand you to say the deer forests grew up by a sort of necessity, but having grown up as a sort of necessity they have been administered, I suppose, for profit?
—I mean they have been let.
43841. Since they have become in that way a source of profit to the proprietor, has the area of deer forest been, at any period, studiously enlarged?
—No. The area is the same as it was originally made for the wood, and it has never been altered. There was a division fence put round against the farms, but otherwise the area was not altered. I believe there was a small addition with which I had nothing to do in one part of the forest of Abernethy where a village of crofters bounded upon it, and the late Lord Stamford got from them by private bargain a piece of their pasture which he paid them for, and I fancy, paid them very well; but that was entirely an agreement between them.
43842. I understand that, in your time, and for many years past, no tenant has been removed in connection with the deer forest?
—There were some removed from the forest of Abernethy into the other districts when it was enclosed for wood.
43843. But not specifically appropriated to deer?
43844. Had they any arable ground?
—They had little patches, and they lived principally on the sheep which they grazed in the forest, and when we stopped the grazing of the sheep in the forest we offered them other places.
43845. Then no sheep farm has been cleared and appropriated to the use of deer?
—No, we had not another.
43846. Have you any sheep farms out of lease now?
—No, we have practically no sheep farms on the property. We have one or two larger grazings, but the grazing is so bad that we never can get much for it.
43847. So, in connection with this estate, the question of clearing men and clearing sheep for the purpose of deer forests does not arise?
—No, we only cleared the sheep for another object, as I explained.
43848. And this was rather in the form of summer grazings, not regular sheep farms?
—Yes. They were summer grazings, and there was the wintering in the woods, which was the object for which I put an end to the whole thing.
43849. Has the general population of the estate increased or decreased in your term of administration?
—It has slightly decreased. The number of farms has increased, but the general population has done what, as I take it, it has done in every rural district of Britain—it has decreased.
43850. There has been a slight decrease by voluntary withdrawal?
—Entirely voluntary. A great many of the young men go away for a time and return.
43851. Mr Cameron.
—What do you suppose one of the witnesses previously examined meant when he said there was a hardship in Sir John Ramsden taking the grazings?
—I will tell you what that was. It so happened with regard to one of these woods, not very large, some years ago, that the tenant alongside of it refused to take it. I suppose he objected to the rent. Sir John Ramsden offered to take it for the winter, and he got it. It only occurred once. It was one of the plantations that we let regularly.
43852. I suppose you would have had no objection to let it to your own tenants?
—I would have preferred to do so, but they did not choose to take it.
43853. May I ask, with reference to these old forests, do you sell any of the fir cones to the seedsmen?
—We don't sell them, but some of the nurserymen in the south collect them for themselves.
43854. You allow them to collect them in the woods?
—Yes. I think the late Mr Gregor, Forres, used to collect a good many and plant them. The majority of our plants we don't grow from seed in our own nursery. We take them after they have been grown a year in the south, and put them in our own nursery.
43855. You buy them as seedlings from the nurseryman?
—Yes; to a great extent. We do grow some.
43856. How do you guarantee that these seedlings are native fir?
—We cannot be sure. We take our chance.
43857. I suppose most of these seedlings are native fir9
—Yes, and we find that when the fir is put in this soil it generally grows well whatever it is.
43858. You don't attribute much importance to the fact of its being native seed or not in this soil?
—That is rather a disputed point. I don't, but I know some other people have a different opinion.
43859. The Chairman.
—Do you plant all variaties of hardwood trees systematically?
—No, there are very few hardwood trees in this district that will grow. They keep in life, but they don't increase. The summers are not warm enough for them.
43860. What is the highest elevation at which you have got trees planted for profit?
—The highest is about 2000 feet.
43861. I don't speak of the natural woods, but of the planted ground?
—We have some planted ground in the forest of Duthil which is about 2000 feet, but I think they would grow perfectly well if they were sheltered. On the tops of the hills they will not do anything at that height.