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Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland
Report on a Plantation of Fir and Larch in Sand and Bent-Covered Hillocks, at Kincorth, in Morayshire


By Robert Grant, Esq., of Kincorth.
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The plantation is situated on the outskirts of the extensive range of Sand-hills of Culbin, which so strongly attract the notice of strangers in passing through Morayshire, and which are so conspicuous to the northwards of the town of Forres.

These sand-hills occupy a very extensive space of ground (perhaps 4000 or 5000 acres), and are chiefly composed of small hills, varying from fifty to one hundred and fifty feet in height, of loose white sand, perfectly void of vegetation, and liable to be drifted by every gale of wind. It is well known that these hills now cover what was formerly a large and fertile estate (that of Culbin), which was destroyed by the blowing of the sand from the westward about one hundred and seventy years ago. Bordering this desolate waste on the south, and separating it from the cultivated country, is a range of lower sand-hills, or hillocks, partially covered with bent, interspersed with patches of coarse grass, or sandy links, and in some particular places covered with whins and broom. This latter space, though partly covered with a thin crust of vegetation on the surface, consists to a very considerable depth entirely of pure sand, which has been blown there from the adjoining waste.

The author being proprietor of a portion of this tract, and having his residence in the immediate vicinity, was extremely anxious to adopt any probable means of improving it, which might diminish the disagreeable and dreary aspect which it presented.

In 1837, he resolved to make the experiment of planting a portion of it; and having enclosed about 20 acres, they were planted in the spring of that year, with plants of the Pinus sylvestris and larch, in nearly equal proportions, the plants being generally of one year's transplanted growth. Encouraged by the success of this first attempt, he has almost yearly since made small additions to the extent of the planted ground; until he now has the pleasure of reporting, that he has succeeded in establishing a very-healthy and vigorous plantation of 70 acres, which is rapidly giving an ornamental appearance to what was formerly a very unsightly object, and which promises well to effect, in the course of a few years, the principal object of his desire, viz. excluding from view the very dreary aspect of the sandy waste behind.

The author does not claim for himself the merit of an economical planter. From the very arid nature of the ground, undoubtedly a much greater number of the plants died than would have happened in a richer soil; but, at the same time, he is persuaded that the loss of plants would not have been so great, had he incurred a little more expense in adopting a more effectual mode of planting than was at first applied. The fence is a common wall of turf, about four feet high, having a ditch in front, and was executed at an expense of 3˝d. to 4d. per yard.

The author has already sufficiently stated that the soil almost throughout the plantation is of unmixed white sand; but as the surface varied considerably, and in such manner as materially to affect the first vegetation of the plants, he may more particularly describe it as consisting of three different kinds. 1st. Where the sand hillocks were but thinly covered with bent, and where the sand was loose and much exposed about the roots of the bent. 2d. Where the bent, having been originally thicker, had rotted, and had given place to a thin grassy surface; and, 3d. Where the progress from the original formation was more advanced, and the surface was covered with whins and broom. The smallest plants succeeded very well in the more open sandy places, and particularly if the weather was moist and favourable soon after planting; but in the grassy places, and when the weather was dry after planting, a greater proportion of them died than of larger plants, which was attributed to the less quantity of sap existing within the plant itself to sustain it in life until vegetation commenced. The large plants were planted in the places covered with whins and broom; and where proper pits were made for them, and the sand well loosened about their roots, so as to make them more accessible to moisture, they generally succeeded. On the whole, it was found much more difficult to establish the vegetation of the plants in the grassy places, than in either of those parts of the plantation which were covered with whins, or had merely a slight covering of bent. During the first two seasons of the planting, the work was executed by women, with small iron dibbles; but his experience afterwards led the author to incur the greater expense of employing men with spades, who made pits for the plants in the grassy and whinny places.

It has been already stated, that the plantation was first commenced in the year 1837, and that it has been extended by small additions annually from that time until 1844. The progress and state of advancement of the trees are therefore various; but the author thinks he is quite justified in stating that, comparing the whole plantation with others of similar ages in the same district, and under the most favourable circumstances of situation and soil, it presents an equally healthy and promising appearance.
In the most advanced part of the plantation, which is now eight years old, the plants average a height of at least six feet, so that a man walking among them can scarcely be seen; and the author may truly report, that the average growth of one year on the Scots firs, was a foot, and on the larches nearly eighteen inches; while all the younger parts of the plantation promise well to attain the same size at the same age. Whether or not trees may ever become valuable as timber, on such an arid soil, is a problem which can only be solved in future years (for he is not aware of there being any such existing under similar circumstances in this country); but he is sanguine that they will attain a size to be very useful for palings and other country purposes. But it was not in the expectation of profit that he was induced to plant, but entirely in the hope of obtaining shelter and ornament, and of giving an improved appearance to a very dreary prospect. In this object the author has every reason to believe, from present appearances, that in due time he shall succeed; and would gratify him much, if, stimulated by the knowledge of his success, any other proprietor of similar dreary and sandy tracts, which are so frequent along the coasts of Scotland, would be induced to plant them. He is glad to add, that an adjoining proprietor, Mr Grant of Glenmoriston, who is proprietor of the greater part of the Culbin sands, from observing the success of the Kincorth plantations, has already planted a large extent of sandy moor immediately adjacent to them, and he believes has it in contemplation to extend his plantations on the sands to a much greater extent.


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