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Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland
On the Improvement of Waste Land on the Estate of Barbreck, Argyllshire


By Rear-Admiral Campbell of Barbreck. [Premium—The Gold Medal.]

The following report has reference to the drainage, &c, on the farms of Leregychonie and Barvullen.

This is a plain of about 130 acres in extent, from 28 to 38 feet above the level of the sea, having the advantage of all day sun even in winter. It was, eight years ago, waste land, so soft as to be dangerous, and even sometimes fatal to cattle and sheep.

At the lower extremity a rude dyke was thrown across, to form a mill-dam, which was fed by mountain streams; and in very wet weather a great part of the land was submerged. On the water subsiding in spring, sheep from the neighbouring mountains died in great numbers from eating the herbage which had been under stagnant water.

The bases of the surrounding hills (for the plain is so surrounded) had afforded the only arable ground on the respective farms, and these were cropped to the edge of the morass, so that the best of the land, probably for ages, had been washed down to the plain below, where the sour and stagnant water of course prevented any healthy vegetation; and a deep bed of the richest possible loam lay there worse than useless.

Throughout this plain, with the exception of about 20 acres (where the moss is deep), the subsoil is gravel, and is covered by from 3 to 5 feet of loam and moss.

It was found that the levels admitted of the mill-dam being-placed close to the mill, instead of a quarter of a mile from it, and below the place chosen for the outfall of the drainage of this singularly valuable subject; and the whole plain was open drained preparatory to thorough drainage.

After two years the ground became solid enough to admit of this, and a leading drain 3 feet wide was taken up through the bed of the old dam (now dry rich land) for a mile and a quarter, gradually narrowing towards the head, but from 5 to 6 feet deep throughout, so that the sub-leaders have a clear drop into it. The small drains (4 feet) have a similar drop into the sub-leaders, and are carried up so as to terminate in the base of the hills, where the subsoil is very open gravel. By thus raising the heads of the drains a constant scour is secured, and that by the purest water. This open subsoil before the drainage was so full of water, which was kept on dam by the close loam below, that it used to rise to the surface as the only outlet, and sour the whole plain. The advantage of having the heads of the drains carried up as I have described has proved so great that fewer drains effect the same object, and not only is much outlay saved, but the pipes are kept as clean as gun-barrels. Of course, this advantage can only be attained in hilly districts, but in such districts it never should be overlooked. An additional advantage may be attained, as in the case I refer to, by placing field stones over the pipes to within 18 inches of the surface, for about 12 feet from the heads of the drains, the throw of water being much increased thereby.

The leading drain for so considerable an extent of ground must of necessity require a large duct (in this case its capacity at the outfall is nearly 3 feet by 15 inches), and it was found that pipes of the required size would be very expensive ; the plan was therefore fallen upon of joining open-ended boxes made of old larch, in the faucet joint form. These boxes are not only fastened with nails, but with wooden pins. The idea of using wood was taken from finding a plank under the foundation of an old bridge perfectly fresh, after being there upwards of 100 years.

The main outfall is upon a flat rock 2 acres in extent, over which the main stream runs, and the spread of the water being so great, the run from the great drain is never stilled even in the heaviest floods.

At the head, this drain is 2˝ feet below the level of the bed of the main stream, and by a few large pipes connecting the two, the whole of the water from the stream can in dry weather be turned in to scour out the leading drain.

This land had been let in very small farms, and most of the tenants had fallen into hopeless difficulty, which obliged the proprietor to take it into his own hands for improvement. The drainage was not quite finished when one of the largest sheep farmers in the country (without the lands being advertised) offered to take the greater part, at a slight increase of the old rent, and to pay 6˝ per cent. on the gross outlay, and he now holds them on these terms.

The fall in this plain from end to end is only 10 feet, so that in former days the water, after souring the ground, went off chiefly in evaporation. It is therefore not surprising that the air, which used even in summer to be cold and damp for a great distance round, is now warm and genial; the ground, which was as I have described it, being now perfectly dry.

The cost of a portion was L.6, 16s., and a portion L.6, 4s., so that the average was about L.6, 10s. per acre.

This outlay is large, but there were several causes of expense which do not commonly occur; for instance, a new course had to be cut for one of the mountain streams, and the main or centre stream widened from 7 to 14 feet. The large and deep leading drain, which takes all the drainage water on both sides of this stream, was of course expensive. There are two sub-leaders passing under the stream, one falling in about 1000 yards up the main drain, the other 100 yards from the outfall. The former is 2˝ feet under the bed of the stream, and is composed of fireclay glazed pipes, over which the gravel is merely filled in, the joints being perfectly tight; for where there is no shifting, gravel is as tight in a short time, if always submerged, as any puddling. The latter is one foot under the bed of the stream, and is carried across by 9-inch fire-clay glazed pipes, so that these are about level with the bed of the stream when placed. In laying them, the stream above the crossing was temporarily turned into the great drain, and the pipes were made perfectly water-tight by being enclosed in a casing of Portland cement concrete 5 inches thick. When this was hard, the stream was returned to its course, and now flows over the cement, which is harder than most kinds of stone. This sub-leader, before crossing the stream, passes through 30 yards of rock from 1 to 2 feet deep, the only rock met with during the progress of the work except on first breaking ground.

In the course of the work, some very heavy springs were found; one in particular, in the deep moss, throwing after heavy rains a body of water (enough to fill a 2-inch pipe) about a foot high above the surface, as if on force. When a drain was taken through this spring, it was found to have made a large and very deep hole under the 4-feet cut, and before it could be laid with pipes, a number of cart-loads of gravel and small stones were put in until a run for the water was got suiting the rest of the drain, which was laid with 8-inch pipes. Over these, for about 4 yards on each side of the spring, 6-inch pipes were put about half an inch apart, forming a drain within a drain. These pipes were then covered with field stones to within a foot of the surface, and turfed over to prevent earth getting down, and all heavy springs were dealt with in this way. This expedient has never been found to fail, either in the case of springs or old stone drains so often met with in old arable ground. If something of the kind is not done, the soil closes round the pipes, and the water must come to the surface as before.

The value of the land before drainage could not be more on an average than 4s.; but it must be remembered that on a great part of it, at certain seasons, the stock were subject to disease and accident. The present value is at least 25s. per acre, the flow of grass last summer on part of it, which was before the most wet and sour, having been beyond anything I have ever seen in the way of unsown grass. If it were not for the few acres of moss being of comparatively little value, this average might be stated considerably higher.

I make these few remarks to account for the heavy expense, but feel convinced that money could not be more profitably laid out.


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