A General View of the Agriculture of the County of Leicester (1794)

John Monk

PARING AND BURNING

It is the general opinion, that paring and burning will answer for two or three crops, but that the land suffers by it ever after. When practised, the land is pared in May, and burnt as soon after as possible. The ashes are then spread, and ploughed in, and sowed with turnips. Sometimes, after the paring and burning, the land is sowed with barley.

Mr. Wilkes is (I believe) the only person that practises burning upon a large scale, and he, I should suppose, has carried it farther than any man in England. I was informed by his bailiff, that they ploughed the land eight or ten inches deep, and burnt it with the refuse coal from their pits. By this method they get a sufficient quantity of ashes from one acre to manure several. If I am to judge from the appearance of the land, and the crops of turnips, &c. I should suppose this method answered to a very great degree. Mr. Wilkes has practised paring and burning for several years; and it is not likely a man of his sense would persist in a thing if he did not find it answer. One grand thing in favour of Mr. Wilkes's practice, in my opinion, is the great command of refuse coal, which, when burnt to ashes, of itself must be an excellent dressing for stiff lands.

Mr. Wilkes thinks the generality of farmers make improper use of the land after the operation of burning, by taking too many crops of corn following, which runs the land out of heart, and then they blame the practice. Many are of opinion, that the action of the fire reduces the quantity of soil; but, if this was the case, I should suppose, that in many parts of Devon, where paring and burning has been practised (and with success) for centuries, there would be no soil left. It is true, indeed, that the Devonshire farmers are very careful to pare as thin as possible, and harrow out as much of the earth from the sod as they can.