General View of the Agriculture of the County of Northumberland, 112-113 (1797)

J. Bailey and G. Culley

Sect- 2.—Paring and Burning.

Paring and Burning is not much practised in the eastern and northern parts of the county; in the midland and southern parts it is most prevalent, but even there it is confined to old swards, and coarse, rough, rushey and heathy lands; for the first breaking-up of such ground, it is certainly very convenient, and preferable to any other mode we have ever seen; but tho' we are fully convinced of its beneficial effects in such situations, yet we have our doubts whether it could be used with advantage upon lands that have lain a few years in grass, and that would produce good crops of grain immediately on being ploughed out, which is not the case with coarse, rough, heathy lands, or even very old swards on rich fertile foils; it being found that crops on the latter, are frequently very much injured by "leaping for two or three years; which paring and burning entirely obviates, and ensures full crops to the farmer; who need not be under any apprehension of his soil being ruined by it, provided he pursues the following course:1. Turnips.2. Oats. 3. Fallow, well limed for turnips.4. Barley, sown up with clover and grass seeds, and depastured with sheep for three or four years, and afterwards (if not intended to lie in grass) continue it in the rotation mentioned page 64: It is the injudicious cropping, more than the ill effects derived from paring and burning, that has been the chief cause of bringing such an odium on this practice, which is certainly an excellent one in some situations, and properly conducted; but like the fermented juice of the grape, may be too often repeated and improperly applied.

The popular clamour against this practice, "that it destroys the soil," we can by no means admit; and are inclined to believe, that not a single atom of soil is abstracted, though the bulk of the sod or turf be diminished: this arises from the burning of the roots or vegetable substances, which, by this process afford a considerable portion of Alkaline Salts, phlogistic or carbonic matter, and probably other principles friendly to vegetation; as we find those ashes produce abundant crops of turnips, which fatten, stock much quicker than those after any other dressing or manure we have ever seen, and the succeeding crops of corn are so very luxuriant, as to tempt the injudicious cultivator to pursue it too far; and for the sake of temporary gain, may be said to rip it up, as the boy did with his goose that layed golden eggs.