7 NOVEMBER 1903, Page 27


:EXCELLENT progress has been made with a scheme for converting some of the ugliest features of the "Black Country" into beauty spots in a landscape apparently ruined beyond remedy. The change is due to the "Midlands Afforesting Association." Though its aims are rather less wide than its title suggests, its work is none the less successful. The Association, as it announced in its early days some years ago, determined to deal with the great heaps of pit-refuse thrown out and piled up at the " brows " of collieries and other mines in an area where industrial work had left singularly unlovely marks, because many of the mines were worked out and abandoned. Instead of showing the sub- stantial and comfortable, if ugly, masses of artisans' houses, and the big factories of other parts of the Midlands and North, much of the ground is partly abandoned. The old pit-heads are rotting, for the coal is all "got." Ugly brick cottages are falling into rains, uglier sheds and stores stand windowless and roofless, and the piles and mounds of slag, shale, ashes, or earth remain naked and hideous. Much of this land was once an old forest. The Association thought, quite rightly as the event shows, that they could replant all these unsightly mounds, and convert them into prettily wooded hills; and except where there are fumes actually destructive to tree life, they have succeeded beyond expectation. They have dis- covered what trees flourish in different areas, and have also noted what should be planted on different classes of pit- mounds. Sycamore and birch are the easiest to rear, and grow fastest. They are raised mainly by the inexpensive system of scattering seed broadcast. But our English trees have shown themselves most accommodating in this respect, and there seems no class of substance, from shale, ash, and coal " dirt " to broken bricks and slag, on which several species will not grow and thrive. The photographs produced in the Association's pamphlet speak for themselves. The plantations are healthy and flourishing; and in many cases beautiful turf grows up to the bases of the trees, and bright flower gardens adorn the little glades, in the centre of what were grimy mounds far more repellent than the ruins of

ancient Nineveh or Babylon, in a landscape which fills the ordinary Southern traveller with sheer despair.

The improvement of landscape in England outside the industrial areas has gone on apace in recent years, owing to the rapid purchase of residential land, and the building or modern rebuilding of country houses. But it would be too much to say that the tendency of changes made in the historical progress of this country has always been for the worse, though " industrial " progress is usually very dis- figuring. The gradual improvement of agriculture changed every yard of the surface of some two-thirds of England. It cleared the ancient forests, drained the fens, and substituted a new vegetation for the old. Where the ancient surface landscape was not only wild, but much of it open, as in the New Forest or on the Norfolk heaths, it was doubtless as beautiful of old as it is now. But the broad and golden corn- fields, the scented acres of pink clover, the crimson fiats of sainfoin, the hedgerows and 6eir timber, the ancient meadows (which are artificially produced, though the oldest of all fields), and the homesteads bowered in immemorial elms, in pink- flowering apple-orchards, and gardens of bright flowers, are probably no bad substitute for the primeval thicket, dark, damp, and trackless, which once covered the richer soils of our land. There is just a possibility of a parallel between the successful efforts made to convert the tall pit-mounds and ragged hollows of Wednesbuiy into tree-clad mounts and grassy playgrounds, and some of the remains of used-up industries in the South. Though the old iron industry of Sussex and parts of Surrey was never so extensive as to disfigure the landscape with soot and fumes, it must have caused a very serious denudation of timber when all the ore was smelted with wood or charcoal. But the timber has grown again since the iron was exhausted, and the only remains of the Sussex "Black Country" are the numberless "Hammer Ponds," where water in greater or less quantity was dammed up to work the " stamps " used in these mediaeval Johannes- burgs for crushing the ore. Thus, for instance, close to the shores of the Solent a vanished "industrial concern" has enriched the landscape with seventy acres of water, now known as Sowley Pond.

Opinion as to the picturesqueness of reclamations from the sea varies. There are those who might prefer the original Norfolk "meal marshes" of orach and sea-lavender, with their intersecting veins and arteries of brackish water, to the fertile and formal meadows into which parts of them are converted. But there can hardly be room for doubt as to the added charm where miles of unattractive hillocks of blowing sand have been covered with a growth of fragrant pines down to the very margin of the spring tides on this Norfolk shore. There can be little doubt that the reclamation of the six hundred acres of Brading Harbour, in the Isle of Wight, has im- proved the landscape as well as the health of a remark- ably pretty portion of the island. Doubtless at high tide such an estuary was beautiful; but the exposure of so many hundreds of acres of grey and weltering mud was not attrac- tive, nor did it offer even to the naturalist a tenth of the variety of interest which the growth of land plants on old marine beds, the half-marine life by the embanked streams and rivers, the spontaneous appearance of fresh-water-loving plants and bushes, and the addition of such an area to terra firma, gives, creating as it does a level of herbage, pools, and low plantation within an encircling margin of hills.

The nature of the ancient Caledonian Forest must be largely matter for conjecture. But there can be no doubt that the northern portion, of which parts survive round Rothiemurehus, was a splendid open forest in which the trees were Scotch fir. Whether it perished from natural causes, or by fire and cutting, does not seem certain. But the restoration of wood to the Highlands, due to the desire to improve the economic value of the large estates, has been eminently successful, and has reclothed the lower slopes of mountains, the margins of lakes, and the fringe of the natural moorland with mixed timber over vast areas, substituting a far more cheerful wood. land growth than that of the forests of similar latitudes in Continental Europe, where the mind is impressed, but also saddened, by the constant contemplation of what the historian has rightly called "the dark and funereal verdure of the North." But an the Continent of Europe, and more recently in America, the restoration of landscape has begun, on a gigantic scale on the former, and with increasing energy in the latter. Germany has for two centuries been replacing the ravages of the Thirty Years' War, the effects of which were nowhere more in evidence than in the subsequent felling of forests and the inability to replant them, by a system which is now said to give steady employment to a small army of thirty thousand hardy woodmen. In France both deserts and moun- tains have been converted into woodland areas. The "Landes" were as nearly an approach to desert as smiling France could show. Now hundreds of square miles of what was drifting sand are a waving pine-forest, a vast sanatorium were it used, as it might be, as a national recruiting ground for health, and the scene of many woodland industries, from that of the resin-gatherer to the modern sawmill and timber yard. Across the Atlantic, in the woods of the State of New York, the ravages of forest fires, which in a temperate climate are not repaired by natural growth in less than fifty years, are now promptly made good by replanting. It would be interesting to learn what provisions, if any, have been made for the safeguarding of the very considerable areas of woodland planted during the last fifty years by the great proprietors of Ireland. They are a feature which in the South-West, and in the Wicklow mountains, strikes every English visitor. A correspondent of the County Gentleman holds that the Irish peasant is no enemy to trees. As he has his turf for fuel, this is no doubt very largely correct. Neither is the wooded land an object of desire to the small cultivator, who, even if he possessed it, would be obliged to go through a process like that in the Canadian backwoods before it was of value to him for pasturage or crops. If so, who will become the purchasers of the Irish woodlands ? It seems just possible that the State might buy them up and inaugurate a Forest Depart- ment, which would provide one of the most necessary raw products in a farming community.