[From T.Quayle Agriculture of IoM, 1812]
ONE third of the island, at least, is at present uninclosed, and mountainous sheep-walk. Some part of this is undoubtedly reclaimable; but the stony, bleak, and sterile soil of other parts will for ever preclude its being disturbed by the plough, or its application to any better purpose than that to which it is at present dedicated, unless to planting. A portion of the waste remaining uninclosed, and open to the commonable sheep, is already private property, but not hitherto thought by the ownersof it worth the expense of fencing. Their property in it is undoubted, and it may be reclaimed when they think proper. A considerable proportion also consists of bog-earth, with a slight cover of verdure, and of land infested with water, the due draining of which must precede any attempt at improvement. There is almost in every part of it a sufficient fall, and in general a rapid fall for future drainage. In some in-stances, the deep open ditches, which must be sunk for the purpose of draining, may supersede the necessity of fences, in the event of a future appropriation of the waste.
The sheep by which the waste is at present pastured in the summer are, as it has been observed, the property of farmers resident in the more distant parts of the island, as well as of those is the immediate vicinity of the mountain. The few sheep kept there during the winter are the property of the neighbouring little owners ; who also take the opportunity of turning in inferior colts and yearling cattle, whilst a bite of grass remains.
The inconveniences attending a common without stint, appear to have been long since perceived in the island. An insular statute of 1691, notices that cottlers, intack, and cottage-holders, as well in market towns as elsewhere, keep cattle, sheep, and other live-stock, for the food of which they have not sufficient grass in summer, or provision in winter ; that by this means, such people become trespassers and pilferers. A standing jury is therefore directed to be impanelled, to enquire and inspect what provision of grass and fodder for their cattle is made by this description of persons. On the jury's report that the fodder is inadequate, their cattle unprovided for are ordered to be sold ; and the price paid to the owner, after deducting a shilling in the pound for the trouble of the coroner.
In 1748, the legislature again instructs this jury, (to whom the appellation of a fodder jury appears to be given) strictly to do their duty. Farmers, as well as the inferior orders of the peasantry, are put under their jurisdiction, and ordered, under a penalty, to furnish an account of their stock , but the duration of this act is limited to three years. On account of the inquisitorial powers exercised by the fodder-jury, it became unpopular, and is now rarely, if ever, convened. If resorted to in years of scarcity only, when the pressure of famine had commenced, for the purpose of confiscating the live stock of the poorer classes of peasantry, the injury done to them would much outweigh the benefit to the country.
As the elevation of this part of the island is not greater than that of some parts of Scotland, where sheep range throughout the winter, the experiment is about to be made of keeping on a considerable intack, a whole flock during the winter. Though the quantity of snow which falls in the island be not so considerable as in Scotland, yet the mists are probably more dense and frequent, as well as more injurious to the health of an animal less patient of moisture than of cold.
TIIE tracts of fenny land are not at present considerable in extent. The largest, which is in the northern division of the island, was anciently a morass, but the fall to the sea being sufficient, it appears to have been cleared of stagnant water, by means of a single open drain, about the termination of the 17th century.*
By the insular law, a provision is made for the appointment of commissioners, with jurisdiction over the drainage of fenny land. The ditches and drains, by means of which a redundance of water is carried off, are directed by this law to be kept clear by each person successively, beginning at the lowest part, through whose land they pass. In case of neglect or refusal, the work may indeed be done by the Commissioners' orders, but no penalty is inflicted on the defaulter, besides payment of the expenses incurred in carrying the drain through his land, on his refusal ; with one shilling a day to the person who directs and carries on the work.
At present, July 1811, the drain above alluded to appears brimful, and in a weedy foul state.
In the southern vale of the island a tract of meadow land, but much less considerable in extent and value, has also been formerly relieved from stagnant water by means of a simple drain of the same description. This was formed many years ago, and leads to the sea at a short distance, with an ample fall ; but it remains in a state equally neglected. Great part of this meadow is deemed capable of receiving the benefit of irrigation.
* Sacheverel's Survey, 1702, p.3;.