This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The total area of woods and plantations in the United Kingdom is 3,069,375 acres, the trees, undergrowth and open spaces of which afford shelter and (to some extent) food for many wild and semi-wild land vertebrates, timber for fencing, structures, implements, and other requirements of civilized life.
"In the times of the Britons the whole of Great Britain was replenished with all sorts of game, and the Britons, who lived in a wild and pastoral manner without enclosing or improving their grounds, derived much of their subsistence from the chase, which they all enjoyed in common. But when husbandry took place under the Saxon government and lands began to be cultivated, improved, and enclosed, the beasts naturally fled into the woody and desert tracts, which were called forests, and not having been disposed of in the first distribution of lands, were therefore held to belong to the crown. These were filled with great plenty of game, which our royal sportsmen reserved for their own diversion on pain of a pecuniary forfeiture on the part of such as interfered with their sovereign. But every freeman had the full liberty of sporting upon his own territories, provided he abstained from the king's forests. However, upon the Norman conquest, a new doctrine took place, and the right of pursuing and taking all beasts of chase or venery, and such other animals as were accounted game,was held to belong to the king, or to such only as were authorized under him.
The right thus newly vested in the crown was exerted with the utmost rigour at and after the time of the Norman establishment, not only in the ancient forests, but in the new ones which the Conqueror made by laying together vast tracks of country depopulated for that purpose, and reserved solely for the king's royal diversion, in which were exercised the most horrid tyrannies and oppressions, under the colour of forest law, for the sake of preserving the beasts of chase, to kill any of which, within the limits of the forest, was as penal as the death of a man. And in pursuance of the same principle, King John laid a total interdict upon the winged as well as the four-footed creation, 'capturam avium per totam Angliam interdixit.' The cruel and insupportable hardships which these forest laws created to the subject occasioned our ancestors to be as zealous for their reformation as for the relaxation of the feudal rigours and other exactions introduced by the Norman dynasty, and accordingly we find the immunities of carte de forests as warmly contended for and extorted from the King with as much difficulty as those of Magna Charta itself.
By this charter, confirmed in Parliament, many forests were disafforested or stripped of their oppressive privileges and regulations were made in the regimen of such as remained - particularly, killing the king's deer was made no longer a capital offence, but only punished by a fine, imprisonment, or abjuration of the realm. And by a variety of subsequent statutes, together with the long acquiescence of the crown without exercising the forest laws, this prerogative is now become no longer a grievance to the subject "(Blackstone, Commentaries vol. ii. p. 415).
The great importance of wood to society, and the rapid decrease of forests in populous countries, if particular care is not taken of them, have led, in modern times, to a careful investigation of the subject of the management of forests and everything connected with it. The Germans were the first who treated scientifically of the management of forests, and established forest academies, in which all branches of the knowledge relating to them are taught. France has likewise paid attention to her forests, and has enacted a code forestier. And now that our own Government has taken afforestation in hand by purchasing the estate of Inverliever, in Argyllshire, owned by Colonel Malcolm, of Portalloch, consisting of about 12,530 acres, the price agreed upon being less than £30,000, and on which it is intended to found a State forest demonstration, there is a prospect of some of the 15,000,000 acres of mountain and heath land, with possibly a portion of nearly 10,000,000 acres of other lands, being reclaimed, and thus yield some, if not all, of the £30,000,000 worth of timber imported into this country annually, and also the 3,000,000 acres of woodlands in the United Kingdom, quite as much devoted to game, sheltering and beautifying the earth's surface, as to the production of timber, be so improved by judicious forestry as to contribute more than the £3,000,000 worth of timber annually, as at present, to the nation's requirements, while at the same time developing certain rural industries.
In England and Wales there are thirty-four local authorities with catchment areas owned or leased of 90,000 acres, and of these only 2,000 acres are in woodland. In these catchment areas there is, no doubt, as in the case of mountain and heath and also other lands, much ground not suitable for afforestation on account of soil unfitness, altitude and exposure of location, and to these considerations has to be given due weight in regard of profitable development. This is one of the chief difficulties in the way of large schemes of afforestation in this country, and above all the divided ownership of large tracts of contiguous land essentially desirable for afforestation. Add to these difficulties that of from 30,000 to 40,000 acres of land annually snatched from the agricultural domain of the United Kingdom for residential, factory and industrial purposes, the burden under which municipalities and private owners and through them the State labour in the matter of afforestation as compared with other countries, is made more apparent, particularly as not only the woodlands, mountain and heath, and other lands, are held quite as much, if not more, as sporting grounds as for timber and light grazing purposes.
Deer forests and lands exclusively devoted to sport in countries other than crofting counties in Scotland, represent a total of 557,544 acres, with a rental, as shown in the valuation roll, of £36,118. Surely, this area, and at least ten, if not twenty, times its multiple of mountain and heath, or other lands, could be reclaimed by municipalities and the State, who in former times have allowed large forests and large tracts of land to slip away either from ownership or control, for afforestation upon terms more advantageous to the present proprietors pecuniarily, and as a municipal and national duty to certain classes of labour as an immediate and practicable source of employment as well as in the near future development of national wealth, whether as rural industries, or water, or even aesthetic reasons, combined with timber production.
Foresty, however, may only be successfully practised where the conditions are reciprocal as between sporting and even fishing. Game, ground and winged, affording sport and food, and also vermin, ground and winged, affording sport in pursuing or capturing without value other than skins, furs, or feathers, must not be unduly numerous on the one hand, or tolerated on the other hand so as to prejudice the growth of the trees.