One of the areas where the zeal for improvement manifested itself
was in farming. The old touns and clachans of Scotland,
which worked the land communally, were ingenious adaptations to
Scotlands natural farming conditions; they were also relatively
profitable, but the fundamental system of farming had changed little
since the Middle Ages. Crops were grown in the runrig system: elongated
s-shaped plots that were divided between the local community around
the farm settlement in an intensively cultivated area known as the
infield. Beyond this area was the less-intensively cultivated
outfield, where livestock could be grazed on pastures. They
were effectively islands of cultivation, surrounded by more infertile
areas that were never tilled.
The onset of
the Enlightenment brought dramatic changes in land management. Landlords
introduced improving leases to larger, single-tenant
farmers in return for cash rents. The old system was swept away
as fields enclosed by windbreaking hedgerows and trees were introduced.
New principles of farming developed as the latest scientific knowledge
was applied. Crop rotation rejuvenated the soil, and larger expanses
of land were brought into production through the drainage of marshes
and clearing of peat bogs. The profitability and productivity of
the land soared, but within the actual farming communities (basically
the majority of the population) there was greater stratification.
For those who succeeded, the rewards were great, but many failed
to meet their landlords' demands and the landless Cottar class was
slowly squeezed out of existence. Agricultural improvement had an
enormous social impact. In 18th century Scotland, the Lowlanders
were the first to experience the agricultural revolution, and those
who lost out were forced to move to the ever-expanding
towns and cities, or sought new lives in America.
In the Highlands the impact of improvement came later and more rapidity.
After the 1745 Jacobite Rising the clan system had been dismantled
and the Highlands were increasingly commercialised. By the early
19th century, landlords found that sheep were more profitable than
In the first
phase of the Clearances the estates forcibly cleared the communities
off the land to make way for sheep. Many people were moved into
small single-tenant crofts, often on the most unproductive land,
ensuring that they had to work part-time for their landlord in kelping
or fishing to survive. The
second phase of the Clearances came in the 1840s after the
collapse of the kelp industry and the onset of the Potato Famine.
A redundant population was forced by their landlords
to either emigrate to North America, Australia or New Zealand or
leave for the industrial cites of the Lowlands. Their were many
winners in the Industrial Revolution, but many more losers.
BBC is not responsible for the content of external Web sites.