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 Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1907, practically the first recognition by the legislature of the national right to use of the land for the benefit of the whole community, appears opportune for referring to the natural and nurtured creatures, called wild, that roam over the British Islands, and concomitantly with mankind and domesticated animals derive their subsistence directly or indirectly from the products of the soil. Some of these, by their habits and nature of food, make for (called beneficial) - others exert no decisive influence on (termed neutral), and others again militate against (called hurtful) - the successful cultivation of crops, as represented in yields of animal and vegetable produce, upon which depend the stamina and life of the nation.
The object, therefore, of the present volume is to treat of the chief wild and semi-wild vertebrates - mammals, aves or birds, reptiles and amphibians - found in the British Islands in relation to the cultivation of crops, and in accordance with observation and experience from 1845 to 1907 inclusive. These embrace the garden, allotment, small holding, farm, and estate - its woods, commons, moors, mountainous tracts, and the waters of all to the foreshore of the sea. The cultures adopted are gardening, farming, foresting, sporting, and fishing. The practice of these pursuits is vested in the owner or occupier of the land, while the "lord of the manor" exercises certain rights, not only over the territory occupied by himself, or granted to tenants for stipulated rents or services, but over those portions of the estate known as common or waste, in some instances held conjointly, in respect of certain privileges, with freeholders and copyholders or their tenants, and in other cases vested entirely in the "lord of the manor."
Since the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) no manors, with all their incidents and franchises, have been granted in England. Land acquirement at that period for purposes of cultivation was unquestionably acute and resulted in the Peasants' Revolt (1381); and it was not till the time of Elizabeth and onward to Anne that relaxation was shown by lords of manors in keeping the peasants from working on the land to their own benefit, while they and freeholders lost no opportunity of inclosing waste land adjacent to and corresponding with the respective frontages. Thus the greens, commons, and lanes were much restricted by the land hunger of the privileged classes, and this condition of things continued more or less till legislative enactments intervened.
On the land enclosed from waste, many, if not most, of the cottages with their gardens and adjacent crofts or small fields were founded, and became by the time of George III - Farmer George - a feature of rural Britain. The landowners at the latter part of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century had, judging from the age of the standard fruit trees in the gardens and orchards in 1845, granted holdings of land on their estates proportionate to the requirements of the progressive labourers and other persons with agri-horticultural proclivities on which to employ their spare or whole time advantageously to themselves, while the landlord's interest was protected in respect of rent and influence.
At that date (1845) the sporting interest was limited to nature-produced game on many, if not most, estates, and the cultivators of the soil had practically a free hand in dealing with the enemies of crops other than those reserved by the landlords, which were protected against unlawful decimation by the Game Laws. There was no Wild Birds' Protection Act to prevent the schoolboy bird's nesting to his heart's content, the overseers of parishes paying premiums on house sparrows' eggs, young, and adults, and birdcatchers plying their avocation mainly through inciting town residents to keep in captivity the wild birds of the country and even some of its animals, such as the squirrel and dormouse. All the votaries of the cultures - sporting, fishing, foresting, farming, and gardening - vied with each other in destroying the enemies of their crops, and carried this to such extent that the "lover of nature" raised a hue and cry against the depletion of the wildings as being inconsistent with the interests of the nation and even of the cultures, inasmuch as no distinction was made between friends and foes, while apart from these considerations the rarer resident and migratory subjects were threatened with extinction.
The outcome of "lover of nature" agitation was the passing of the Wild Birds' Protection Acts, 1869 (32 and 33 Vict, cap. XVII), 1872 (35 and 36 Vict. cap. LXXVIII), and 1876, the latter having regard chiefly to birds forming important articles of food and commerce, while the two former embraced British birds under purely local names, others under different names for the same birds as if they belonged to different birds, while there are also omissions implying compilation by persons not well acquainted with the subjects. These matters, however, were subsequently amended, and power was given to County Councils for modification of such measures as related to their respective counties or districts.
The "lover of nature" efforts in protecting the wild birds had their reflex in an inordinate increase of game, and this so pressed on the arbori-agri-horticulture industries that legislators put down ground game by passing the Ground Game Act in 1880, and this so worked that the Hares Preservation Act was passed in 1892 in order to protect the hare from extermination. Meanwhile, and after these repressive and protective measures, winged game was multiplied; and it so prejudiced the agricultural interest that, in 1906, the legislature made provision in the Agriculture Holdings Act for compensation to tenants in respect of damage to crops by winged game, particularly hand-reared pheasants.
The Wild Birds' Protection Acts and the Game Laws referred to, together with the enforced attendance of children at school till the age of fourteen, have had their effect on the increase of small birds, particularly the beneficial; the neutral, or frugiverous and grain-eating, multiplying inordinately, and the hurtful, or rapacious, decreasing to the advantage of sporting and fishing, while prejudicing the foresting, farming (excepting poultry and pigeons) and gardening interests.
On these matters of vital importance to the success of the several cultures and the profit in full measure to the nation, my observations and experiences of the wild and semi-wild land vertebrates as aids and hindrances in those respects have particular reference. And these observations and experiences being in accord with the voluntarily expressed statements of careful and experienced observers responsible for their several respective charges, the deductions drawn from them may be relied upon as consistent with the several interests involved, in all of which success depends, other conditions being favourable, upon conservation of the Aids and limitation of the Hindrances so far as compatible with the national welfare.
The aids imply several protective means, and the hindrances various repressive measures, being adopted as befits the subjects of culture. In this connexion careful note has been made of the means and measures seen in practice, or vouched for by experienced practitioners; therefore the work, in this respect, is more or less a compilation - a feature which, in treating of many subjects and divers interests, can hardly be avoided. The endeavour, however, has been to keep as far from reference to authors of works on Natural History as justifiable; indeed the only book at command for many years was Wood's Illustrated Natural History, second edition, 1854, which, with The Popular Encyclopaedia, new edition, 1879, Blackie & Son, London, and Farm Vermin, Rider & Son, London, represent the measure of indebtedness. Excerpts from various periodicals and treatises relative to the subjects treated are acknowledged in the text, where reference is duly made to inventors and manufacturers of appliances intended respectively for protective and repressive measures.
And now the volume of The Balance of Nature and Modern Conditions of Cultivation is committed to the careful scrutiny of my fellow-countrymen, in the firm conviction of their verdict being unanimous for the land and water of the British Islands being devoted to all the cultures named herein, and regulated in such manner as may be most conducive to the benefit of the whole community of mankind.