General View of the Agriculture of the County of Devon (1808) p. 310-311.

Charles Vancouver



However, the practice of paring and burning may be admitted under certain circumstances of restraint and limitation, and even recommended as a safe and effectual means of bringing coarse moory land, when effectually drained, into a state of profitable cultivation, still its pernicious consequences on the sound dry stapled lands in this county, are such as can never be repaired but by the total abandonment of a system so generally practiced in this county, and which is fraught with the means of producing such incalculable mischief. It will readily be admitted, that this operation can produce no diminution whatever of the earthy parts of the soil; but as all soil is more or less composed of the earth of vegetables, its exposure to combustion is fatal to it. The small portion of alkaline salts produced from the green vegetables are soon washed away, and the residuum is converted into charcoal, which must for ever lie dormant and insoluble in the ground: hence those energies which the peculiar nature of the climate has been the means of accumulating in the soil for unnumbered ages, become lost and dissipated; Nature is crossed in her design, and deprived of the means she uniformly manifests through the county of Devon, in preserving a permanent and increased fertility.

CybeRose Note: In previous decades the paring and buring, or baitburning, was known elsewhere as Devonshiring or Denshiring because it was first widely practiced in Devonshire—apparently without causing permanent damage. It is amusing to note that Vancouver was aware that the charcoal remained in the soil indefinitely, but that later writers, particularly the chemists Sir Humphrey Davy and Prof. Leibig incorrectly taught that the charcoal was the source of carbon for plants.