The Living Field has supported local crop landraces and traditional varieties. We have grown them, saved their seed, used their products to make food, promoted them on open days and shared them with growers and gardeners.
Grains are the staple diet of any settled population. Neolithic ancestors brought them to these islands thousands of years ago. People have sustained themselves on locally grown grain crops such as oats, wheat and barley and di so in Scotland through the 1800s.
Today, most grain grown in Scotland is used for livestock feed and malting (alcohol). Apart from oats, which occupies a small area of arable land, and a few fields of special barley and wheat, the cereals people eat are grown elsewhere and imported as products of wheat, pasta, rice and maize. Of these, the UK as a whole is close to sufficiency in wheat – for bread, biscuits, cakes, and similar – but the once-close links between growing and eating grain have been severed. [Ed: this paragraph revised 4 April 2022].
So it is specially good to hear the continued and growing interest in projects like Common Grains  and Seed Sovereignty . They operate outside the conventional channels of crop varietal breeding and depend on local and often unfunded commitment for their success. Here we pass on some recent news and upcoming events from both projects – with images of the Living Field‘s cereal landraces and some old methods of grinding and milling grain.
With emphasis on both growing and baking, Common Grains is showing that short food chains work. It aims to reduce the physical and commercial distance between seed, crop, harvest, (saved seed), processing, baking and eating. As a result, the eater will likely appreciate the growing and have an vested interest in soil health and biodiversity .
Common Grains is developing ambitious annual and five-year plans, where again the joint emphasis is on growing grains and supplying nutritious food. Several farmers are experimenting with crop mixtures as a means to reduce inputs and improve the agricultural environment.
A summary of their conference in late 2019 is given on the We Knead Nature web site . Long term plans include a hub for growers, customers and businesses, a Seed Bank of local saved-seed grain crops, and greater community engagement through formal education and kitchen skills. Contacts through Facebook and Instagram .
Seed Sovereignty UK and Ireland Programme
The Programme’s web site explains its aims and purpose: “The Seed Sovereignty Programme of the UK & Ireland aims to support the development of a biodiverse and ecologically sustainable seed system here on home soil. Working closely with farmers, seed producers and partners across the seed sector, together we want more agro-ecological seed produced by trained growers, to conserve threatened varieties and to breed more varieties for future resilience.”
One of the main aims of the project is to establish regional and national hubs, networks and collaborations. Contact details of regional coordinators are given on the web site’s About page . Activities include raising the main issues and current difficulties around saved seed, encouraging networks and support hubs, training, databasing, field trialling and participatory plant breeding.
There’s an upcoming Seed Week. Sinéad Fortune, Programme Manager, writes “From 18th – 22nd January Gaia will run our fourth Seed Week, which aims to raise awareness of local, open pollinated, agroecological seed being grown and sold in the UK and Ireland. The timing coincides with growers shopping for seeds for the coming season, and we hope to raise general awareness of the importance of agroecological and locally-grown seed with a wider audience.”
There’s ample opportunity to get involved and if you use social media then here is the tag #SeedWeek.
Sources / contacts
 Common Grains is on Facebook and Instagram. A note on the Common Grains Conference Scotland in 2019 is published on the We Knead Nature web site. Thanks to Rosie Gray for recent updates.
Maria Scholten introduces the Seed Sovereignty Programme, managed at the Gaia Foundation and aiming to boost local and organic small-scale seed production.
The majority of the ‘organic’ products we purchase and consume are grown by organic methods, but not necessarily from organic seed, as demand for organic seeds is bigger than supply. The UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme seeks to address this by supporting small-scale growers in steps towards a more resilient agroecological  seed system with regional diversity at its heart.
The UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty programme
Small-scale seed producers are often maintaining varieties that are too ‘niche’ for larger seed companies. The focus on hybrid seeds has led to dramatic reductions of open pollinated varieties – for example, see the Open Pollinated Seeds web pages . Countering this trend, small-scale seed producers have an important role in the conservation of horticultural biodiversity!
The Seed Sovereignty Programme aims to boost seed-saving skills and offer models of diversifying vegetable growing with seed production for agro-ecological growing. Our objectives are:
support and cultivate regional and national connections and collaboration to provide coherence across the food and seed sector,
support farmers and growers with further skills, resources and information,
foster a more supportive environment for a biodiverse and ecologically sustainable seed systems to thrive.
Small scale seed producers
There are few small scale seed producers in Scotland. One of them is the herb nursery & herb seed producer Duncan Ross at Poyntzfield Herb Nursery on the Black Isle . Duncan has collected widely and during his 40 year work built up an impressive collection of herbs and salads adapted to Scottish growing conditions.
The only remaining seed producers association in Scotland is the Scots Timothy Seed Growers Association who maintain a landrace of Timothy grass Phleum pratense . They were formed in 1962 to conserve and promote this last remain grass landrace.
Scotia Seeds is a small-scale seed company, based at Mavisbank Angus, and specialising in wild native plant seeds & mixtures . Many species of known provenance are bulked annually and offered for sale.
There are still a few landraces around with seed produced and distributed locally. A good source of information can be found at www.scottishlandraces.org maintained by SASA .
The seed programme in 2018
In Scotland in the first year of the programme in 2018 we delivered basic vegetable seed saving trainings in Aberdeenshire, Lothian and on the Black Isle. Over fifty persons, commercial growers, community growers as well as allotment growers attended these well-received events.
The seed trainings covered seed plant reproduction biology; inbreeding/outbreeding crops and implications for number of seed plants required to avoid inbreeding depression and to maintain genetic diversity; different types of pollination and implications for seed crop isolation and spacing; seed crop husbandry and seed borne diseases; seed harvesting, processing, drying and storage.
2019 events : a series of four seed saving workshops in Glasgow in collaboration with Glasgow Local Food Network is starting 30 March; selection workshop at the Cyrenian Farm near Edinburgh on 31 August, and events around traditional grain growing in Lochaber.
Heritage grain growing
Interest in heritage grain growing among crofters in the Highlands led to a visit to Uist in November 2018 for a crofter-to-crofter technical meeting on traditional grain growing. The trip included a visit to the Blackland Centre to study redeveloping neglected croft land . This was not a one-off touristic trip but will actually lead to reintroducing traditional grain growing in Lochaber in 2019 – the first time in decades. The grain experiment is planned to link in with the Plant Teams project at James Hutton Institute and facilitated by the Soil Association Scotland.
For the traditional crofters’ mixtures of rye, small oats, and bere – the interest is widespread and more crofters and smallholders have come forward with an interest in growing. The interest is shared by a Welsh growers group keen on starting to grow traditional oats. This has raised issues such as where the seeds can be sourced and also what is a traditional Welsh oats?
In Scotland this seems to be less of an issue as oat landraces are still grown – more widely on the Uist than on Orkney and Shetland, in the form of coirce beag, Orkney Traditional Black oats or Shetland Aets respectively – different names for the same species, Avena strigosa .
However, for those crofters with an interest in common oats or porridge oats, Avena sativa, the questions arise: which varieties are traditional Scottish oats and where are the seeds? To start with the latter: the seeds are in genebanks and will years of multiplying before they can be reintroduced to field scale grain growing.
It can be done. Andrew Whitley did a sterling job with Scotland the Bread  and set a good example with his Scottish heritage wheats multiplied by community groups and individual growers throughout Scotland.
 Author’s note: Agroecology applies ecological concepts and principles to food and farming systems, focusing on the interactions between microorganisms, plants, animals, humans and the environment.
 Open Pollinated Seeds www.open-pollinated-seeds.org.uk provides explanation, educational material and many useful links on the value of maintaining open pollinated seed production as a means of promoting biodiversity and making seed accessible to all.
 Poyntzsfield Herb Nursery www.poyntzfieldherbs.co.uk been ‘growing herbal plants and seeds including native species since 1976’. They grow a global collection of plants for seed mostly on site, including Scottish native plants with herbal properties. A short video about their work can be seen on vimeo.com/video/303756632
 The Scot’s Timothy web site www.scotstimothy.co.uk (Ed: website unavailable 2019/04/18, will check and update) describes work on maintaining the Timothy landrace – ‘the only landrace grass seed variety still grown for commercial production in the UK’. Their web site has useful information and links on ‘Biodiversity and conservation’ and ‘Landrace Farmers’. Seed is available via the web site from their farm at Menstrie, Clacks.
 Scotia Seeds www.scotiaseeds.co.uk based in Angus, is one of the largest wild plant seed providers in the UK. Along with the James Hutton Institute, Kew and a range of wildflower seed producers they were partners in the EU NASSTEC project Native Seed Science, Technology and Conservation Initial Training Network www.nasstec.eu/home.
 More on bristle oat or black oat Avena strigosa is given on the Living Field page on Cereals.
 Scotland the Bread scotlandthebread.org is ‘an innovative social business, owned by its members’ aiming ‘to establish a Scottish flour and bread supply that is healthy, equitable, locally controlled and sustainable’. The page on ‘Heritage four and grain’ describes their work on regenerating wheat varieties from the 1800s.
The Living Field project has been sharing knowledge of ancient and modern cereal grains for over 10 years . Here we look back at how things evolved from field studies in barley on the Institute’s farms to growing our own range of cereals and finally using bere barley and other flours to make bannocks, bread and biscuits.
The sequence is shown here for bere barley. Seeds are sown, crops are grown. Bere plants support reproductive heads or ears holding grain. Plants are harvested and the grains removed and cleaned. They are ground into meal or flour, then used alone or mixed with other flours to make bread, bannocks and biscuits.
This sequence has sustained people for thousands of years. Today the grain we eat in Scotland, except for oats, is not grown here – the main cereal products from local fields are alcohol and animal feed. But whatever the future of agricultural produce, the grain-based cycle will remain essential to settled existence. In this retrospective, we describe the Living Field’s shared experience of ‘seed to plate’ over the last 10 years.
School visits to the farm’s barley fields
We began by introducing visitors to the James Hutton Institute’s fields where barley is grown both for experiments and for commercial grain sales. From 2007, the Living Field has been using the farm’s barley to give school parties a first taste of life in the crop.
The larger image above looks down from a barley field at Balruddery farm to the Tay estuary. The school children in the pictures were visiting fields of young barley at Mylnefield farm just above the Tay. This was in May 2007. They walked along the ‘tram lines’ looking at plants and finding ‘minibeasts’ – the first time many of them had been in a crop. They were fascinated with small creatures found crawling on the plants or walking over the soil .
The public interest in crops and their ecology in those early visits encouraged us to explore a much wider range of cereal plants than presently grown in commercial agriculture.
Ancient grains at the Living Field Garden
So began a small collection of grain crops which were sown, tended and harvested each year in the Living Field Garden . We began in 2010 by growing bere barley from Orkney, black oat, emmer and spelt wheat, alongside modern varieties of barley, oats and bread wheat. Rye and a landrace of bread wheat from the western isles were added later, then several other barley landraces and old varieties .
The collection of photographs above shows (top right) a general view of the garden including a tall cereal plot in the middle of the photo, then c’wise from upper right – a barley landrace from Ireland, rye, black oat, emmer wheat, young spelt ear, spratt archer barley and a bread wheat landrace.
By 2011, the Living Field had combined its practical experience on the farm with the collection of ancient and modern grains in the Garden. Gladys Wright and Jackie Thompson had perfected the way to grow all these different species. We now needed a means to demonstrate processing the grain and making food from it.
Milling and baking
The harvest from the small plots in the garden was too little to make flour enough for open days, road shows and exhibitions. Additional grain and flour (or meal) was begged or bought from a range of sources, notably Barony Mills in Orkney and ‘Quaker Oats’ in Fife.
The Living Field then bought its own rotary quern for grinding the grain into meal and chaff, which is the name given to the other bits we don’t usually eat, mostly the protective sheathing around the grain and the awns.
Now to make a loaf! Fortunately one of the team, Gillian Banks, was already an experienced bread-maker and after some experimentation turned out tasty loaves made from various mixtures including bere and modern barley, oats, emmer, spelt, wheat, rye …. and more !
The whole chain from sowing seed in the ground to making food could now be demonstrated from first-hand experience. We did this at various open events beginning 2012.
The panel above shows (bottom left, clockwise) – visitors experiencing a range of ancient grains and flours, demonstrating the rotary quern, a sheaf of spelt, making things from sourdough, and a four-panel set showing oat grain in a bag, sieving and sorting meal from chaff and finally bread.
Open Farm Sundays
The highlights of our outreach over the years has been LEAF Open Farm Sunday. The Institute is a LEAF innovation Centre , so on the first Sunday in June, the farm and science come together to host the event. One of the main attractions is the hub of activity around the Living Field garden, cabins and tunnel. Typically 1000-2000 people visit the hub during the day. We’re mobbed ….. thanks to all!
The essential structure of a successful open day is, firstly, to provide plenty of things to do for young children, to keep them occupied and allow time for older children and grown-ups to talk about what’s on view; and, second, hands-on activity with natural products, things such as living plants, and grain and flour that can be touched, felt and smelled .
Group activities are usually located in the garden’s polytunnel, just in case of rain. The panel above shows (lower left c’wise) examples of grain and flour, a ‘tasting’, making things with grain and other natural materials, an activity table for children and their grown-ups, and bags of grain from the garden with young scientist sitting on the rotary quern fascinated by oat grains.
Cooking with bere barley – more than bannocks
The thread linking exhibits through the years has been bere barley – Scotland’s barley landrace, an attractive plant, easy to grow. Bere as a crop declined in the late 1800s and is now restricted to a few fields in the far north. Like most of the world’s landraces, bere faded in competition with modern crop varieties and production methods. Yet it remains a favourite here. Its story continues .
Bere and other barleys were traditionally used to make a flatbead or bannock, either on its own or mixed with oatmeal or peasmeal, but bere meal has many uses when mixed with other flours.
The Living Field has friends and correspondents like Grannie Kate who regularly experiment with different uses of ancient and modern grains. Scones, shortbread, batter, porridge, soups can all include bere as a unique constituent. One of the team regularly adds a a spoon or two of bere meal to their morning’s rolled-oat porridge.
The images above show (top left, c’wise) bere and oat bannocks, a bag of bear meal in Grannie Kate’s kitchen, bere fruit scones and bere shortbread .
On the road
Following the Living Field’s appearance at a ‘biodiversity day’ run by the Dundee Science Centre in January 2016, we were invited to join the exhibition trail organised in 2016 by the Centre as part of The Crunch . By this time, we could take take the whole process on the road – seed-plant-grain-flour-food.
Gill Banks and Linda Nell, with Lauren Banks and Geoff Squire, ran the grain to plate events at The Crunch venues. One was in a darkened auditorium at the Dundee Science Centre, another at a local community Centre.
The Science Centre suggested we bring some bread made in the usual way from cereal grain and some made from insects. Gill bought various whole insects and flours and made some insect loaves that several of us had a pre-taste of and concluded they tasted just like nice wholesome loaves.
Anyway, the insects went down a treat at the events and started many a conversation of what we eat and what it costs – insects gram for gram need much less energy and cause much less pollution than most other forms of animal rearing.
The panel above shows scenes from the (top right) the January event) and bottom right (The Crunch) both at the Science Centre, then (top left, down) sheaves of spelt and black oat, globs of gluten extracted from wheat by Gill, mixed-flour bread with dried crickets laid on, and (at the bottom) dried insects for cooking or eating and (centre) barley grain.
Ancient grains in Living Field art
Through working with artists, the team were able to see the plants they had grown become part of artwork. Jean Duncan for example was able to place grain not just as a food but as essential to the development of farming and human society since the last ice. In her work, grains and plants appear close to circles, barrows, landforms and field systems.
Some extracts from Jean’s creations are shown in the panel above. Various ears, spikelets and grains appear commonly alongside mounds and barrows (example right). At top left, ancient cereal plants are stylised as fans, drawn near the centre of a circular design, used to create a revolving backdrop for an opera. At bottom left, a section of her ‘teaching wheel’ shows a range of cereal species grown in the region since the neolithic .
At Open Days, children like drawing things, messing with paint and pencil: better then just looking, it helps to give them a lasting memory of what they saw and touched.
Nearing the end of 2018 and the project will continue its work on bere and other grains, ancient and modern. The Living Field is connecting to the swell of interest in local food and recipes.
Few others can demonstrate the whole chain – not just grain to plate – but from sowing the seed to eating the food and, crucially, saving some grain for the next year’s crop.
The James Hutton Institute has recently been awarded funds for an International Barley Hub. Let’s see what the 2019 season brings!
…… warm bere and crickets?
The idea of ‘insect bread’ always raises interest, even if to some the thought is less than appetising. But insects and bread have a long history together ……
At one time and even now in many places, a bag of flour can have resident insects in the form of weevils. They live and reproduce in it, eat it and recyle it in one form or another (probably best not thought about). They add a little crunchy something to a baked loaf .
That’s insect bread ‘by accident’. For several years, and as shown above, Gill and Co have been experimenting with bread made from insect flour mixed with grain flour. The insects tried so far are mainly crickets, raised especially for the purpose (though not by us). Insects as alternatives to fish and meat in European diets is a hot topic now .
Sources, references, links
 Geoff Squire and and Gladys Wright developed the ideas around a seed to plate theme not long after the Living Field garden began in 2004.
 The Hutton farm staff have been partners in the Living Field since its making in 2004. They manage the crops, drive the tractors and explain what’s going on to visitors.
 Gladys Wright and Jackie Thompson grow the Living Field cereals from seed each season. They have been helped by several other people in earlier years, especially Linda Ford.
 Thanks to Orkney College and SASA Edinburgh for giving the original seed. The Institute’s barley collection was the source of several landraces and varieties grown in 2015: see Barley landraces and old varieties.
 Gillian Banks experiments with bread making and has regularly baked a range of ancient grain loaves and biscuits for open days and road-shows: see Bere and cricket.
 Open Farm Sundays have been well supported by Hutton staff – Gladys Wright and Jackie Thompson prepare and run the Living Field ‘space’; other regular contributors to the ancient and modern cereals theme include Gill Banks, Lauren Banks, Linda Nell, Linda Ford, Mark Young and Geoff Squire. Students and family have helped time and again on the stalls and exhibits. For more on LEAF Linking Environment and Farming, see LEAF innovation Centre.
 The Crunch was a UK-wide series of events held in 2016, coordinated locally by Dundee Science Centre: Gill and Lauren Banks, Linda Nell and Geoff Squire, among others, offered a range of exhibits on themes of grains and bread: see Bere and cricket, The Crunch at Dundee Science Centre. Thanks to DSC for inviting us to take part.
 Jean Duncan is an artist who has worked with the Living Field for many years. For examples of her work and links to her wider presence from the neolithic onwards, see Jean Duncan artist.
 Geoff reminisces – ‘lived once in a place where the flour bought to bake bread had live-in weevils; you could pick the big ones out, otherwise they got baked.’
 Crunchy bread made by Gill Banks from insect flour: photographs and details at Bere and cricket. Later, Gill, Geoff and Linda F found when investigating an infestation of weevils in grain, that insects in bread, whether by design or accident, bring a high-nitrogen (high protein) addition, insects being about 10% N by weight – little nuggets of protein in your low-N loaf!
Contacts: this article, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org; growing the cereals, Gladys Wright has since retired from the Institute. Any enquiries through GS.
Remote, extensive rig system (lazy beds), north Lewis; historical records of crops from 1690s; bere and barley; subsistence farming on the atlantic edge.
One of the remotest field systems in Europe lies near Eoropaidh (Eoropie) on the north-west coast of the Island of Lewis, facing the Atlantic at 58 N. Continue round that parallel and you’ll cross Quebec in Canada, the Gulf of Alaska and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
The Butt of Lewis lighthouse  lies at the northern tip of the Island. As you walk south west from there, the soil and grassy vegetation appear to be slipping towards the cliffs and into the sea.
A little farther south, and the cliffs descend to a rocky shore where the rigs or lazy beds were cultivated close to the tide. It’s a stunning position – go west and there’s no more land until north America. And what Atlantic storms there must be. Yet corn and other crops were grown here.
As testament, the rigs remain as long, grass-covered mounds 5 to 6 m between the furrows, some at more or less right angles to the coastline, others parallel to it. Earth was dug and piled from both sides into the centre and seaweed carried from the beaches and heaped on as fertiliser. Excess water ran down the furrows.
Extensive field systems
The rigs in the images are one of several field systems around Eoropaidh and Butt of Lewis. The Canmore web site  describes the field system in the photographs here, which lies south west of the lighthouse and facing west, and several others (round the ‘top’) to the south east of the lighthouse. All are abandoned.
They are considered to be post-mediaeval but period uncertain.
Aerial photographs are given for each location on the Canmore site  and other pages on that site tell more of the history of the area .
Lazy Hardly. Lazy beds in various parts of Scotland and Ireland were constructed to different designs. They are of various widths and heights. One explanation of the word is that they are made, not by digging up and completely turning sods of earth and grass, but rather cutting the sod on three sides, then flipping it over the uncut side to form a double layer – soil, vegetation, vegetation, soil. The method is shown in some recent videos .
But the most likely meaning is indicated by Fenton  as ‘from an obsolete sense of the English word (lazy), meaning uncultivated’, and refers to the fact that the raised bed is made on top of a strip of uncultivated ground.
Maintaining fertile rigs of the extent seen today around Eoropaidh was a major undertaking, needing the work of (according to Martin below) probably hundreds of people each year.
The method by which this land was managed is known as runrig, ‘a system of joint landholding by which each tenant had several detached rigs allocated in rotation by lot each year, so that each would have a share in turn of the more fertile land’ .
Fenton and Veitch (2011) give explanations and many references to the runrig system in different parts of Scotland.
Several accounts of the area were made from the 1690s onwards, but they make no mention of the field systems and give little information on the crops and methods of husbandry.
Why this omission? The extensive rigs must have been there during one or more of these accounts, The landforms look impressive to us today, the result of decades, centuries, of hard work, and continued upkeep.
Martin Martin’s visit in the 1690s
Martin Martin, from Skye, visited Lewis in the 1690s and reported his findings in the Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, published 1703 . On soil cultivation, he reported that the people turned the ground with spades; and with wooden harrows for breaking and smoothing the earth, drawn by a man ‘having a strong rope of horse hair across his breast’.
He writes ‘the island was reputed very fruitful in corn, until the late years of scarcity and bad seasons. The corn sown here is barley, oats and rye; and they have also flax and hemp.’  He continues to relate that the main fertiliser is sea-ware but that soot is also used, reportedly causing jaundice in those who eat bread from corn grown on land so treated.
However, there is no mention in his chapter on Lewis of rigs, lazybeds or any means of land-sharing.
Potato is often associated with rig systems but it was not grown in Scotland until several decades after Martin Martin wrote his journal, so it would not have been on the Island when he visited.
A note of caution is due – Martin is not always credible. What a pity when reliable records from that time are so needed! At various places, he related what we would today consider fabulous or supernatural occurrences, without question, as if they happened.
He was knowledgeable about many things, so was he tempting readers with fake news, or did he not check his sources?
Old Statistical Account, 1797
The Rev Donald Macdonald wrote ‘not a single tree, or even any brushwood, to be seen in the whole parish’. The crops were black oats, bear and potatoes, sown April and May, reaped in September and October. (Ed: black oat is Avena strigosa and bere a landrace of barley, Hordeum vulgare).
He confirms the use of soot as fertiliser as reported by Martin a century earlier. He writes that the roof of each house is thatched with stubble and heather ropes (stubble presumably being cereal stems) which become covered in soot due to the burning of peat within. He writes that in the latter end of May when the barley blade (first leaf) appears, the people take the soot and stubble and strew it over the crops as fertiliser.
Many domestic animals were reported – horses, sheep and black cattle, all small in stature. The region was very isolated, things had to be carried to and from Stornoway.
Potato came to the area between Martin’s visit and this account, but there is no mention of rigs or lazybeds. Just that many crude ploughs are found in the parish, consisting of a small piece of crooked wood, guided by a side handle held by a man walking alongside, and pulled by four small horses.
New Statistical Account, 1836
The Rev William Macrae notes also the absence of wood or tree, but that roots and trunk of fir, oak and hazel (with nuts) are ‘imbedded in a great depth of moss, such that wooded land must ‘at some remote period, have undergone some sweeping and desolating revolution’.
He mentions that people eat oat and barley meal, potatoes and milk, but laments the state of farming: that people have not attempted draining or trenching because they were just too hard up, while short tenancies of 6-12 years did not making it worthwhile. It was a subsistence economy with no exports and in no season was produce more than ‘barely sufficient, and sometimes not adequate, to supply the necessities of the tenantry’.
There is no mention of field systems or rigs, and the comment on the absence of drainage is not consistent with what we see today, but he may have been generalising to the whole of Barvas parish rather than these rig systems.
The Rev Macrae commented on many other aspects of life. His account is entertaining, but you feel his mind sometimes strays: he is patient to note among the statistics of population, produce, and adherence to the faith, that ‘The women are modest, comely and many of them good-looking.’
Modern field strips
Visitors today will see the agricultural land in crofting townships on Lewis divided into long thin strips, usually separated by fences. The OS 1:25,000 maps show these bundles of linear features covering much land near the coast.
One of the stated characteristics of linear farming of the type shown above is that, provided the strips run perpendicular to the main gradient in slope or soil, no one strip gets the best land and no one gets the worst.
This sharing of good and bad appears to be one of the reasons why crops, especially in the tropics, are sometimes mixed in a field, not in clumps but in long straight lines .
A note on bere and barley
The Living Field has a biding interest in when bere and barley were noted as being different things, e.g. that bere was a primitive landrace of barley. The story unfolds on this site at Bere line – rhymes with hairline.
There is nothing definitive in any of these historical accounts as to whether bere and barley were considered different. In the Old Statistical Account of Barvas parish , as noted above, both names are used for the barley crop but neither is defined.
In 2015, the Living Field team grew a range of old barley varieties in the garden, including some bere landraces originating from various parts of the north.
We had none from Lewis, but shown above are bere from North Uist in the Outer Hebrides and from Eday in Orkney. Barley grown in the lazy beds around Eoropie would have looked like this.
The land was farmed in this way for centuries, in isolation from much of the rest of the world. Given the location, the rig systems in north Lewis and elsewhere should be seen as a major achievement rather than something to be dismissed as backward (as some travellers did).
Crop production was limited by plant nutrients – nitrogen, phosphate, potash and the many minor elements. Legumes that provided much needed nitrogen by fixation from the air were not mentioned in the historical accounts, and were unlikely to have been planted as crops here as they were during the Improvements era after 1700 in the lowlands.
Apart from seaweed and soot, and probably animal dung, there was no other source of nutrients. To have survived for so long on so little was the achievement.
Author and contact for this article: email@example.com. Thanks to gk-images for allowing us to use some of their photographs.
 Field systems of lazy beds around Eoropie and the Butt of Lewis on the Canmore web site: the one shown in the photographs here is west of Eoropie, Canmore ID 129505. Others include ID 270561, ID 270560 and Dun Eistean ID 4417.
 Lazy beds: Guthan nan Eilean short video on making lazy beds in Uist (in Gaelic and English versions). A article from Ireland: Lazy beds in the Cooley Mountains. From the Louth Field Names project. The origin of the word lazy, from ‘uncultivated’, is explained by Fenton A, Ch 27, p 673 in Fenton & Veitch 2011 .
 Fenton A & Veitch K (eds). Farming and the Land. 2011. Publ: John Donald & European Ethnological research Centre. This multi-authored book has many references to runrig and lazybeds, including photograph of lazybeds at Eoropie (p 125); and a note that the runrig system in north Lewis may have been managed by small groups of people, rather than individuals.
 Martin Martin, 1703. A description of the Western Islands of Scotland. Printed in London. Available online: search Google Books for the author and title; also the Undiscovered Scotland web site offers the book online (with adverts). Undiscovered Scotland web pages: biography of Martin Martin, died 1719.
 Martin is probably referring to the Ill Years, the 1690s when a run of very bad weather caused repeated crop failure and consequently hardship and famine through the north of Britain.
 Old Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99: Vol XIX dated 1797 for the Parish of Barvas. Online at Old Statistical Account.
 New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45: Vol XII for the Parish of Barvas. Online at New Statistical Account and also at Google Books.