[From T.Quayle Agriculture of IoM, 1812]
THESE are indeed numerous ; and several of them are difficult of removal. Next to the evils resulting from the diversion of farmer's capital and attention, and of his men's labor to the herring-fishery, may be reckoned the defective fences, and faulty system on which the insular law has placed them. Until some re-form of this evil is devised, no man's land can be called his own. As long as the boundary fence belongs in moieties to the contiguous proprietors, it signifies little what internal precautions are taken in the subdivision of farms, often long and straggling, as originally laid out, if by your neighbour's suffering his side of the boundary to decay, his half-starved sheep and cattle may cross it by night. It is too often suspected that this is done wilfully and knowingly ; but where your sole security is in a tumbling-down earthen bank, of which only your own side can, without an appeal to a magistrate, be kept in repair by yourself, the risk, uneasiness, and disputes which this system produces, place a constant thorn in the side of the farmer. A singular remedy is indeed provided by the local laws, against wilful or clandestine trespassing. At the instance of the sufferer, a jury of six men is impanelled, who summons before them not only witnesses, but the parties who are owners of the sheep or cattle supposed to have trespassed. To all these parties an oath is administered, and they are compelled to disclose, under the penalty of being deemed guilty in case of refusal, whether their stock have, to their knowledge, trespassed or not. If found guilty of wilful trespassing, the offender incurs four-fold damages ; for every tree injured or destroyed, a fine of 20s. and 10s. extraordinary damages. Prevention is however to be preferred to remedies; some legislative provision might perhaps be attempted to apportion to each farm, and convey to its proprietor, one half of the whole boundary fence, with the obligation on each, to keep in constant repair that given portion of the whole length of the fence, instead of his main-taining an undivided moiety on his own side, as at present. In case of the parties coming to an amicable agreement, then the ratification of commissioners to be appointed by the legislature, to be given without ex-pense to that agreement; but in case of their not agreeing, then the expenses of the examination and decision to be defrayed between them, or by the contumacious party, at the commissioners' discretion, and their decision to be final. Whether this mode, or any other, were adopted, in order to put it into the occupier's power to construct proper fences, and to keep them in repair, still the earth-bank fence, if persisted in alone, must ever prove an inadequate security. Were its summit of sufficient width to support a double row of furze, to be cut down alternately, it would be then less objectionable: In some respects, perhaps, it would even be superior to a thorn hedge. It would become a fence more speedily. Less harbour would be afforded to the smaller birds, with which the island abounds ; and the young shoots of the furze, cut and bruised by means of a stone revolving as in a malt mill, or by a mallet, have been found to afford no despicable resource as spring provender for cattle.*
Whether the preference be given to furze fences, to stone walls, or to quick-fences, it were to be wished, for the sake of the agriculture of the island, now mak-ing rapid advances, that some effectual means were taken for their improvement. Winter green crops, in particular, will ever remain at hazard whilst depen-dance is to be placed on your neighbour's diligence in lanketing, and keeping up his side of the fence, in order to exclude his own sheep and cattle from your turnips.
The defect of planting in the island originates in a great degree in its imperfect fencing. In 1667 the then Earl of Derby notices in a letter to his council, in how high a degree it would be conducive not only to the beauty, but to the health and riches of the island if they encouraged planting : but he observes justly that it is impossible to preserve wood where grounds are made common. In the present state of the fencing, that term may still be applied to the greater portion of the island. Were beltings and plantations on the side of eminences made, and these, with hedge-row timber, duly protected and allowed to rise to maturity, the agriculture of the country would receive important benefit on account of the shelter they would afford in winter from the severity of the winds, and in summer to the cattle grazing abroad, which suffer at present materially, under the influence of the mid-day sun.
It is at present too visible that the capital in the hands of the cultivators, whether as owners or occupiers, is insufficient. The state of their farming offices and implements clearly proves the defect. Until the buildings which are to receive the farmer's cattle, and the fences which are to keep out his neighbours, are in a better state, it cannot be admitted even that preparations have been made for proper farming. It is certainly the interest and duty of a prudent landlord to provide for every incoming tenant adequate buildings; complaints are made by some occupiers in the island that the owners either refuse to erect them, or throw the burden on the tenant, who probably has already considerable difficulty in finding means to stock the farms, and has none to spare for permanent erections. In either case it must be taken for granted that a proportionate defalcation is made from the rent on account of the deficience of these requisite accommodations, or for the inconvenient advance of capital made by the tenant in their construction, and it is by the landlord principally that the loss is sustained.
The more general dissemination of agricultural knowledge, would certainly be attended with important benefit to this little community. The eagerness too general to receive by means of incessant white crops, immediate profit at the expense of the staple of the land, might then be corrected. In dictating the terms of their leases, proprietors would insert covenants, preventing the recurrence of exhausting crops ; and when farming themselves, they would still more dread the consequences of seeking premature gain. Another effect resulting from increased knowledge would be a better acquaintance with the most valuable races of sheep and cattle, and due attention paid to preserving those races pure. At this moment there are found in the island individuals of the breeds of sheep and cattle in the greatest estimation ; but the requisite attention to their crosses, or to the preservation of any one breed in its purity, is yet to be paid.
As the agriculture of the island advances, in those parishes in particular in which tithes fall with the heaviest pressure, the injury to agriculture will be more and more felt. By diminishing the number of grain crops, and by not mowing for hay ; cropping the land as often as possible with plants not tithable by the insular law, the farmer may evade their payment ; but the natural effect of this will be found in the reduction of the quantity of corn raised in the most fertile portion of the island.
Swarms of small birds, much exceeding in number those to be observed in any part of England, infest the island. The black-birds in particular, are numerous, and a real pest ; destroying the fruit, even the pears on a garden-wall, before they ripen. Perhaps the mild and open winters contribute to the preservation and increase of these birds. So far from taking any measures to thin their numbers, hardly any are taken to preserve the grain, when ripe, from their inroads. As it is not the fashion of the country to employ persons to scare the birds, they light where they please, being of course most destructive to the crops which ripen earliest. Rooks are but few ; being nearly or quite confined to the grounds of one gentleman in the northern part of the island. There are no pheasants ; no nightingales; landrails are rather numerous: partridge and growse were imported in the course of the preceding century, but have not multiplied considerably. Another importation, for which the island has little obligation to the importer, was that of magpies. These find themselves much at home, increase considerably, and take greater liberties than become visitors. About the same period,* for the first time, frogs also were introduced, which are now numerous ; but there are no toads nor snakes of any description. Nor have foxes, hedgehogs, or moles, yet found admittance.
* In Ireland, it appears that " in seasons when hay is dear, furze are a common resource, and brought even to a sort of trade; the lower orders of country-people sometimes making a livelihood by selling chopped whins to the inhabitants of towns " for their cattle, by the bushel." Observations on the occasional Scarcities and Poor Laws in England, by W. Richardson, D. D. London,1811.
The author of this tract has, it seems, adopted the practice of recurring to this species of food, in order to economise hay when dear. Four men and a boy collect in one day, and prepare by pounding for the food of cattle, twenty bushel of furze. With the cost of tools and the carriage, this may be reckoned 10s. making the expense about 6d. a bushel.
The weight of a bushel stricken is 141b. when moderately heaped 181b.
The patriotic author suggests the expedience of increasing the quantity of potatoes at present ordinarily given to horses and cattle. In years of deficient produce of grain, the potatoes may be retrenched and applied to the food of man, the deficiency of hay and straw necessary, in that case, for the supply of cattle, being in part supplied by prepared furze, which experience proves to be a food both grateful and salutary to animals; and which may, in most places, be procured for the labor of collecting and preparing it.
s History of the Isle of Man, subjoined to the works of Dr. Wilson, Bishop of Man, vol i, p. 479-