Craigvinean :: Chapter 7 - Land Use

Chapter 7 - Land Use

The use to which the land is put in any particular part of Britain is the result of human decision. The range of possibilities in the upland areas may be very limited, due to the restraints imposed by relief and climate and other factors. In the Southern Uplands the land has traditionally been used for sheep farming though the area now used for commercial forestry is increasing rapidly. Water storage, in reservoirs, is a minor form of land use which may be developed further. The uplands are also valuable areas for public recreation. The various forms of land use may conflict with one another in the absence of an overall land use strategy.

Physical Factors

Before considering any one particular form of land use in the Towford area it may be useful to list a number of physical factors which have a profound effect on land use in the area.

  1. Altitude. The land in the Towford area lies between 200m and 500m above sea-level. This in itself produces temperatures generally lower than those at sea-level, with a loss of approximately 1ºC for each 150m in height.
  2. Climate. The effects of increased altitudes on local climates is very marked indeed. The much greater amounts of cloud mean that there is much less direct sunshine and therefore markedly lower temperatures. Winds also tend to be stronger at higher elevations, especially on hill tops and ridges. These combined factors lead to a very much shorter growing season in the uplands. At 300m in the Cheviot Hills there are approximately 185 growing days in the year, compared with approximately 240 growing days near Berwickon- Tweed, a difference of 55 days. Rainfall in the Eastern Cheviots is relatively low, at about 1000 millimetres per annum, at the Towford altitude. This is of less significance than temperature in affecting crop growth.
  3. Relief. The fact that there is little flat land in the upland areas precludes extensive cultivation. Sloping ground is always more difficult to work than flat ground and many of the hills are impossibly steep without highly specialised and expensive equipment. Cultivated land on steep slopes is also liable to sheet erosion, with complete loss of topsoil.
  4. Soils. A combination of factors has produced generally poor soils in the upland areas. Soils tend to be thinner on sloping ground, with no soil at all on the steepest slopes. These areas may be severely affected drought years, with the grass dying back completely. Wherever there is flat or gently sloping ground the soils are frequently waterlogged and may have an infertile covering of acid peat. The flat land in the valley bottom, the haugh-land, is liable to flood at any time of the year and is generally unsuitable for cultivation because of its high water table.

All of the above factors restrict the possibilities of using the land for growing crops. The obvious alternatives are the traditional use of the land for grazing and the more recent extensive planting of conifers for timber production.

Hill Farming

The farms in the Towford area are classified as Hill Farms and have many characteristics in common. They are generally large, averaging 650 hectares in extent. In spite of their size most have only a small area of improved “in-by” land, which is used to grow turnips, rape, oats or grass for winter feeding of the livestock on the farm.

The hills are generally grassy and usually carry a stock of Cheviot sheep, whereas the Lammermuirs are generally heather-covered, with Blackface sheep. The Cheviot Hills have always been noted for the quality of the upland grazing and the density of stocking is higher than in many other parts of Scotland, with one breeding ewe to about 0.6 hectares. The lamb crop is high at just over 90% of the ewe-stock, on average. This means that the hill farmer expects to produce about 90 lambs for every 100 ewes in his flocks. Apart from lambs retained for flock replacements most of the lambs are sold off at the Border markets to low-ground farmers for fattening. Five crops of lambs are normally taken from the ewes before they in turn are sold off to the low-ground farmer. The main sources if income for the hill sheep farmer are (a) the sale of lambs for fattening; (b) the sale of the annual wool-clip; and (c) the sale of tups for breeding purposes.

Most of the hill farms also carry a herd of cattle which feed on the coarser herbage and complement the grazing of the sheep. The number of cattle kept is severly limited by the amount of winter keep available on the farm. The cost of bringing in additional hay or other winter foodstuffs is prohibitive.

The hill cattle are generally Galloway or Blue-Grey cows which may be crossed with a Hereford bull to give a hardy calf suitable for later fattening for beef. The calves, like the lambs, are either sold to low-ground farmers or are taken to arable farm for fattening.

Local Examples

Buchtrig Plenderleith
Farmer Owner Tenant
Size 1030 hectares 750 hectares
No. of Workers Owner plus 1 Manager plus 1*
Area for winter fodder 20 hectares 80 hectares
Sheep stock Blackface Blackface
Breeding ewes 1600 960
Lamb crop 1800 1250
Lambs retained for breeding 400 250
Cattle stock Blue-grey Blue-grey
Cows 100 (summering only) 80 (breeding)
Bulls - 2 simmental
Calves - 1 per cow (March)

* Cultivations, etc., carried out by staff from second farm in hands of same tenant.

The greatest problem for the hill-farmer is the long winter, especially if there are prolonged snow-storms. In 1947 and again in 1963, snow persisted from February until the beginning of April, causing great losses of sheep stock. Several Border shepherds have lost their lives in tending sheep in such conditions. The sheep themselves may survive for up to ten days or more, completely buried in the snow.

The Cheviot hill grazings are regarded as “sound” and free from some of the commoner diseases of sheep. Lambing time is however still a critical time of the year, with the shepherd on call throughout the twenty-four hours of the day. It is imperative that the lambing ewes should not be disturbed and the Trust imposes special restrictions on Centre users during this critical period.

The Towford Centre lies at the junction of land worked by three different farmers, as shown on the map accompanying this chapter. It is important to realise that all of the land in the Towford area is owned, either by individuals or organisations, and is used for some purpose. Activities taking place outside the Centre grounds may be in conflict with the farmers’ needs or wishes.


The planting of vast areas of the Southern Uplands with coniferous trees is probably the most significant change in land use which has taken place since the original forest cover was cleared to make way for sheep. The appearance of the landscape in many areas is changing dramatically, to the accompaniment of much controversy. The eastern Cheviots, including the Towford area, possibly due to the high value of the hill grazings.

Fast-growing conifers, well adapted to cool upland conditions, offer a practical alternative to the exclusive use of the hills for grazing. Note that the narrow strips and small blocks of woodland on the open hill ground have been established primarily as shelterbelts for livestock and should not be confused with the large plantations established primarily for timber production.

The prime reason for the rapid development of commercial forestry is the need to offset the vast amount of timber, wood-pulp for newsprint, etc., imported by Britain every year. Government incentives led to large-scale investment in forestry between 1960 and 1975 but a change in government policy in 1975 has already slowed down the rate of planting.

Leithope Forest

Leithope Forest, to the south of Towford, was established by the Forestry Commission, as part of Wauchope Forest, managed from Bonchester Bridge. Planting began in 1949 and the forest extends to 930 hectares. The forest contains approximately fifteen million trees, all of which were planted by hand. Leithope Forest is a relatively small forest and should be compared with the vast extent of Keilder, part of which appears on the southern half of O.S. 1:50,000 Sheet 80. This forested area is believed to be the largest man-made forest in Europe. The main species planted are Sitka Spruce and Norway Spruce, both well adapted to poor soils and relatively cold climatic conditions. The trees add approximately half a metre to their height each year and will probably be felled at fifty years of age when they will be about 25 metres high. One hectare of such trees should yield approximately 650 tonnes of timber, half of which is thinnings and the other half from clear felling. After felling, the area will again be planted up with similar conifers, the cycle of operations resembling those on an arable farm but with a greatly extended time-scale.

Water Storage

The need for water in industry and in the larger conurbations is placing additional demands for space for water storage on the upland valleys. Catcleugh and Kielder reservoirs, just over the Border, are examples of larger reservoirs serving the Newcastle conurbation. Heatherhope Reservoir, 810167, used to supply Kelso with water but is no longer used for that purpose.

Land Use Conflicts

The various forms of land use may conflict with one another and may lead to controversy between the various users or potential users. Recreational use of uplands has not been described in any detail but is one obvious example of a potential conflict situation. It is possible that through time a long-term land use strategy for the uplands may be evolved to avoid such conflicts.