Scotlands History

Agricultural changes

In Scottish agriculture, as elsewhere, the 18th century was the great ‘age of improvement’. There were wealthy pioneer farmers - the ‘evangelists’ of improvement - such as Grant of Monymusk, Cockburn of Ormiston, Fletcher of Saltoun, Mackintosh of Borlum, and the 6th Earl of Haddington, a tree-planter at Tyninghame. 

The work of these ‘leading-edge’ practitioners was copied widely and thus ‘rolled out’ across the countryside. A scientific approach to ‘best practice’ was common. Many books were written on the subject: from Lord Belhaven’s ‘The Countrey-man’s Rudiments’ (1699) to Haddington’s ‘Short Treatise on Forest Trees’ (1756) and James Donaldson’s four-volume ‘Husbandry Anatomiz’d’ (1795–6).

In the first half of the 18th century, liming of the outfield was introduced: this enriched the soil and improved grazings. Enclosure by stonewalling and dyking between neighbours (as well as within farms) also improved arable conditions, with fewer beasts going astray. Huge and widespread drainage schemes were undertaken, so that croplands were improved as well as extended. A scientific approach to crop rotation was introduced. The breeding of improved bloodstocks was beginning. 

Mechanisation arrived in the shape of swing ploughs, reaping, binding and threshing machines. The layout of farm buildings was also carefully studied and improved; farm buildings arranged around a central square with central midden were favoured.

Specialisms began to be recognised in the early 19th century: dairying in Ayrshire and Galloway, beef in Aberdeenshire and Angus, root crops in Fife, market gardening in the Clyde valley and on Tayside, grain crops in East Lothian and Moray. This development was very dependent on improvements in transportation to the main markets.

  • Image of a field in sunshine

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