How to fight the enemy of the hills; Talks on controlling bracken'foe'.
Land experts and members of the agricultural community met academics at Stirling in July, 1939, to discuss an ageold farming problem. They came together at Touchmollar Farm to focus on the problem caused to growers and animal rearers of bracken.
West of Scotland Agricultural College and the Bracken Eradication Committee organised a demonstration of bracken-cutting equipment at the farm. Fifteen machines - some horse-drawn and others petrol-driven or tractorhauled - were demonstrated before the college's principal Professor WGR Paterson told those gathered at the farm that an estimated two million acres of land in Scotland was 'overrun' with bracken.
The professor said the problem was not new and papers of the Highland Society, dating to 1837, referred to the encroachment of fern on grassland.
It had been said that the spread of bracken was the result of an absence of cattle on the hills and the decline in crofting, he added.
But Professor Paterson was of the view that mixed grazing - which had been tried at Touchmoller - was a 'very great help' as cattle not only ate young ferns but also trampled the bracken.
Dealing with methods of eradication, the professor said that cutting bracken would keep it down and over a number of years kill it.
However, 'bracken was a foe they must never under estimate'. It was a difficult plant to kill because the portion of it they saw above ground was a 'fraction of what was below the surface'.
He advised farmers wishing to control the plant to start cutting in the second week of June and continue cutting until the third week in July. Cutting should start 'just as the last curl unfolded'.
The professor said labour costs made use of the scythe out of the question, except in places were it was difficult to use machinery.
Experiments had been carried out in which sulphuric acid had been sprayed on bracken - and had killed it - but this was judged too costly.
Professor Paterson concluded by saying that if the agricultural community did not face up to the problem of bracken, he saw no future for sheep farming in Scotland. Bracken had got such a hold that it was going to ruin the best of sheep farms, he added