Sunday, 23 December 2007

Where Are They?

I've not seen the red deer for more than two weeks. Before then the family group with stag, hind and one young deer had been regular sights on the morning walk.

I hope I'm not worrying unduly but it was reported that a local farmer had shot a deer some time ago and it's not unusual to hear early morning gunshots. I know some farmers do love to have an excuse to use their weapons. It's not as if they are a large presence, and the family group was a welcome and delightful addition to Blacka's wildlife. Not that one could expect the wildlife trust to bother much. They are far too busy trying to find ways of subsidising their jobs with national grants.

Early Morning

Early at this time of year is 8 am which means more people can share the experience without making much of an effort.

The rain and milder air yesterday seemed to have brought a change but then clearer overnight skies resulted in another frost, black ice and a welcome fog free aspect to the hills. This was not the case for lower places like Chesterfield which could be seen miles away under a blanket of fog.

I'm not a fan of vapour trails but this morning's were more dramatic than most.

All rime had been washed away leaving only water droplets on the branches.

Saturday, 22 December 2007


The rime on the trees at Stony Ridge was about an inch and a half broad this morning. A breeze had just begun to get up and was shaking ice down onto anyone brave enough to pass that way at 7.45 am. A car in the car park echoed with the sound of ice on steel.

Further down the poisoned birch looked haunted with white ghosts of once live trees - not a comforting experience.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Winter Landscape

Early morning views over the pasture land. Not much to comfort the poor sheep who still remain on the site. It can't be pleasant having to look forward to something like 16 hours with no proper daylight. Thank God for the woolly coat.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Much Rime But Less Reason

Shards of Rime under the trees covering paths in crystal.

Some spectacularly seasonal views especially on Saturday morning when a cold and foggy atmosphere the previous evening then turned to a still frosty night leaving the sun to rise on trees encased in rime. Only the slightest breeze is needed to deposit all onto the ground below which has happened on the succeeding mornings.

Reading through SWT's latest minutes takes one into a world devoid of reason and overflowing in wish fulfilment. That meeting was an 'on-site' meeting and one has to imagine a party of consultees wandering about Blacka Moor producing collective wisdom. Alas there's not much of that. But plenty of self deception which presumably they wish will become a similar deception for those with time to read it. First it's not a consultation or a minuted meeting at all. It's a 'report' from two people telling the reader a story which they want to put across. If the things reported were actually said it must have been something like a lecture. Just to take one example: according to SWT's manager it was a spectacular year for bog asphodel. No, it wasn't. The last two years have been good but this year it was a poor show because SWT had dammed up the streams making people walk off the path onto the bog asphodel beds. Then they came along themselves and trampled it worse while they laid paving stones down. So why say it was 'spectacular'? Because they know they made a mess of it but want to persuade outsiders that all was well. What do you call this - spin, PR, or just storytelling?

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

At Its Best

Blacka is seen favourably on these cold, clear mornings if you can get there before the sun rises.

I am still of the opinion that one of the most spectacular wildlife sights is the morning exodus of jackdaws towards Derbyshire from the region of Sheffield just to the east of the high ground. This is remarkable for the virtuosity and exuberance of the flying, skimming low over the ground as they reach the highest part of the Hathersage Road at Stony Ridge sometimes swooping down in between the cars as people commute in towards Sheffield and the motorways beyond, headlights blazing. The sheer numbers of the birds take the breath away as well as the mix of anarchy and discipline shown by the huge flocks, similar to the roosting of starlings still to be seen in parts of the country.

It's not a sight I've ever been able to get anything like a satisfactory photograph of. For one thing it takes place when light levels are very low; for another the essence of it is movement.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Frosts and Paths

A clear frosty morning brings many pleasures to compensate for numb fingers

The way each section of path takes on a new look and a new feel underfoot is among them. Freeze drying is not confined to instant coffee. There is an open texture and a separation of each of the elements, twigs, leaves and crumbled bracken.

Cyclists who stray off the bridleway ruin all this and make walking along quiet informal paths difficult. Frozen ruts are at best awkward and at worst dangerous for walkers. Cycles are allowed on bridleways but as with so many things a concession means some who benefit from it only want to take more. I've never been fully happy with the mountain bike phenomenon in the countryside. But to allow them on bridleways seemed a reasonable compromise.

I've had arguments with some cyclists along the lines of "You're a walker, we're cyclists, you just want to keep the place for yourself". It's easy to get exasperated with this kind of nonsense. Walking of course is not a hobby or a lifestyle choice. It is a condition of humanity. And cyclists share that condition too - they don't have to take their bikes.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Cup Fungi

Now's a good time to look out for odd kinds of fungi on old wood. these cup fungi are only one of the many that are around on Blacka.
There are even still some waxcaps in the pasture land.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

SWT Plottings - An Update

In July SWT excluded a number of local residents who are regular walkers on Blacka Moor from attending their so-called public consultation meetings. I am one of those excluded. They knew this was anti-democratic and they expected to be criticised for it. So they invented a pretext for their action. They made up a story, one which was a total lie, that those people they did not want at their meetings had behaved impossibly badly to the extent of being aggressive to other people at the meeting they had held in June. There is not a shadow of truth in this. They compounded this disgraceful act by communicating the lie to local councillors and the local MP, apparently in order to warn these public figures to expect complaints. They have caused considerable offence in taking this action and few of the people involved ever want to go near any of SWT’s staff again.

Now it has become even clearer exactly why this unfortunate organisation decided to do what they did. They did not want to have an open and intelligent discussion about their plans for Blacka over the next 4 years. They knew that we have definite views and that these views are well founded and based on regular use of and observation of the site over many years; they also know that we have been able to challenge successfully some of their own ill thought out ideas in the past.

It is now abundantly obvious and should be brought to the attention of visitors to Blacka Moor and other local residents that SWT are not to be trusted.

Reference to the minutes of their last meeting – in September but the minutes only circulated in December illustrate this again. They are intending to increase the number of cattle on Blacka Moor next year and they will probably be older cattle. This exposes what Friends of Blacka Moor believed all along – i.e. that when they were claiming that the opponents of grazing were being unreasonable in objecting to cattle grazing because there were only 11 heifers, this was only the thin end of the wedge. They will increase the numbers, slowly at first but we fear a continuing year on year growth in livestock numbers. We have no doubt that when Sheffield councillors were asked to grant a lease on the land to SWT they would never have agreed to do so had they known about their plans. We believe that on an area as large as Blacka a required number of beasts to do what SWT say they want would be nearer 100 – a number of course which would be unacceptable to users and others and a number which would cause considerable damage to the character of the moor and the fabric of its paths, its bilberries and many other problems.

Being Kind

Ever a sentimentalist Blacka Blogger has strung up a small bird table for our seasonally hungry feathered friends. This is near an entrance to Strawberry Lee plantation.

So far the most persistent visitors are a robin and a great tit.

More Water

After another day of relentless downpours, the morning is as noisy as it gets on Blacka. Getting close to the torrents cuts out all sounds other than the roar of water. This feature below "electric terrace" I see as more of a cascade than the falls in the previous post. As Blacka is a designated public pleasure ground I feel there is an excuse for a little sensitively done landscape engineering here - not much, certainly not enough to compromise the wildness of the atmosphere here. Just the clearing of two or three trees which impede the view of the water from above and perhaps a little levelling below the edge to make a good site for picnics.

As for the power line nearby which gives us the name "electric terrace" that should also go but that may take some time. The campaign should start now.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Watery Walk

Those who rarely venture in the area to either side of the Lea Stream may not have yet discovered that this is where SWT's pet cattle spent a lot of their time during the summer. The evidence is clear to see. A once charming path formed by only human feet and the occasional imprint of a wild animal is now unpleasant to walk over, testing the wax on your boots when wet and threatening ankle damage when frosty.

The falls are in pretty good form at the moment although not up to the drama of certain days in July.

The rain over the last days has left many paths like streams and the streams like torrents.

The Lea Stream can be a mere trickle during a dry or even a normal summer but this year has more than once enjoyed itself with lots of showing off.

A number of paths appear and then disappear in this secluded part of Blacka.

More Likely Lichens

Lichens come into their own when other organisms become seasonally dormant.

The show of lichens is likely to be greater than in the years when J.G. Graves first gave Blacka to the people of Sheffield which was before the smoke control legislation came into force from the 1940s on. Certain species survived better under the conditions than others which had a very low tolerance of sulphur dioxide.
This powdery grey covering (below) is on the lone beech just to the east of Cowsick.

The hopes that a few of us have to see more of the beech seedlings develop into trees here are likely to be dashed by the intrusive management of SWT who will continue with their "we know better than nature" policy of bringing in more and more livestock to eat up all unwanted growth.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Managing the Vegetation

It is a commonplace on this blog that I think the local conservationists are utterly misguided and that they have not been honest with the public about their intentions. The recent 'minutes' of an on site meeting reveal this in a number of ways. This kind of mix of vegetation is what they would like to return the site to. It's quite nice but totally artificial, no less so than the garden in a public park. This is actually part of the fire break from where they cut the long leggy heather mechanically a few years ago. There is now a pleasant collection of cowberry with some younger heather and bilberry. But the work that was necessary to develop this has been a complete negation of the sense of wildness which some of them claim to value here. After it was cut hundreds of small trees, mostly birch, started to appear and were quite tall until only weeks ago. An army of helpers had to be recruited to cut them down..........

..............and later to burn them...............

Meanwhile there is a profusion of the leggy heather all over the moor, all 'out of condition'. It is slowly being colonised by trees a mix of birch, rowan pine and oak. The conservation people think that this is bad and needs managing. Can one trust people who first of all cut the fire breaks, then had to cut back what grew afterwards, then say they will have to have cows grazing in perpetuity to stop the regrowth of birch? (..........exit sadly shaking head)

Friday, 30 November 2007

In With The New - Out With The Old

The open space on the bridleway crossing below Lenny Hill has always been a pleasant place to rest for a while. An old bench was replaced three years ago by SWT and was doing quite well although one of their vehicles chipped a bit off the corner and their contractors made quite a mess of the area when doing some grant funded work to bridleways. It's still not fully recovered from this.
Now that bench has been replaced with another new one. The excuse for that would appear to be that funds could be obtained for a "project". The seat is certainly a decent piece of timber and is further decorated with some words scratched around the perimeter seeming to be from a childrens' creative writing effort.

I wonder what happened to the 'old' bench which was still in fairly serviceable condition?
Oh I's been thrown behind a tree a few yards away.

Why do I think that this is somehow symptomatic of a certain attitude?

East Facing

The afternoon sun leaves earlier here than a short way to the west, Blacka being mostly east facing.

It means that areas under the shadow of the hills feel envious of those still basking in daylight.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Late Afternoon

At this time of year daylight is in short supply even on beautifully clear days.

Fortunately the moon chips in with a contribution.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Woolly Madness

Further to these posts, here and here, another danger on Hathersage Road at the Piper House bend is frequently seen by those who use the road regularly.

Today driving up towards Hathersage just at the point where the latest fatal accident occurred, three sheep calmly walked in front of cars coming towards Sheffield. Drivers cannot possibly see this beforehand. There is no local speed limit. Sheffield City Council is the main owner of the land where the sheep graze and where the fence is never adequately maintained.

One obvious thing the council could do is to ensure that sheep cannot escape onto the road. A more radical and longer term solution is to make the whole stretch of road a 40 mph limit properly enforced and with signage warning of sheep (and deer). Roads should never be used as race tracks - they are for people wanting to get simply and safely from A to B.

Thorn tree on Thistle Hill

Questions Being Asked

Why do such demonstrably silly ideas get accepted so easily? The upland conservation grazing nonsense is supported by supposedly responsible bodies like Natural England and National Park Authorities.

I have a theory which goes like this: the more people tell you something is right and go on telling you it's right the more you should question their reasoning and their motives. And when they tell you that it’s ‘obvious’ start looking around for vested interests. Every time I hear a BBC radio programme about the countryside or see a TV programme I get told the story that our landscape has been ‘made’ by certain farming practices and that it will only survive if it is managed in a certain way. And a key component of that management is grazing the uplands with livestock; the implication is always made clear that some sort of catastrophe will ensue if we don’t encourage sheep and/or cattle to graze on our hills moors and mountains. For God’s sake, we are implored, if you take away the grazing the whole of our countryside will ‘look different’. And people come to the countryside to experience the countryside looking the way it does now.

But at no time in the past has anyone sought to make this point. All the years that the look of the countryside has been evolving and changing it has done so as economic forces and as natural change have dictated. There’s never before been a top down dictat from unaccountable people telling us that it must look just so. Now I would hate our countryside to be ‘spoiled’ in any way, but the funny thing is that I’ve seen many things that have partially spoiled areas of countryside which don’t get anywhere near as much publicity as I would like. One example is the excessive amount of plastic sheeting around farms, another is the yellow flowered oilseed rape fields, another again is the mess made by herds of livestock on footpaths and around access points; and there are many more. But I don’t understand the aesthetics of those who claim more native trees on our hills will significantly reduce the appeal of the landscape. I love trees and I don’t see a natural regeneration of broadleaved woodland doing anything awful to ‘the look’ of the countryside – unlike for instance industrial forestry.

Hill farming subsidies contribute £15 or so from our taxes towards each sheep. Sheep farming is completely uneconomic. The job the sheep are doing is to eat young trees to keep our hills and moors looking the same. This is nonsense and expensive nonsense. If trees were allowed to grow or even planted it would help to prevent fast run-off of rainwater which contributes to serious flooding problems in the valleys. So Environment Agency funding is contributing to Environment Agency expenses!!

In places like Blacka Moor where a previously groomed grouse moor has been allowed to go its own way without sheep the beauty of the land has been shown to increase and wild animals have returned to take advantage of the less managed situation. Yes, there are issues around how open or how wooded we want it to become but those are easily resolved with a routine cutting of unwanted growth; and none of this needs specialist input, just good sense.


With boots well waxed and making sure we are pointing in the right direction the intrepid explorers venture onto ground quite different to its appearance several days ago.

Paths are underwater, no views can be enjoyed and bracken has now received the coup de grace. The snow has been washed away with heavy rain and the peat and bracken litter is working overtime to absorb the water.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Stop The Mad Grazing Agenda

According to Professor Tom Coulthard, of the Department of Geography at the University of Hull we could help to prevent the worst effects of lowland flooding as seen this year by growing trees in the uplands.

Planting trees in the uplands that drain into rivers could slow down the transfer of water into rivers and thus reduce flood risk. Much of the UK (over 90%) used to be forested, and this has a far greater sponge like capacity to absorb water and then release it more slowly. By studying sedimentary records of how rivers have changed over the last 10 000 years, we can see evidence of flooding being reduced when forest levels were much higher. (BBC 13th November 2007)

Yet Defra who have some responsibility for subsidising conservation grazing in the uplands, thus preventing trees from growing, are currently short of funds due to the floods of the last year! Time for some joined up thinking!

Hathersage Road

More on last week's tragic accident on Hathersage Road just beside the Piper House access point to Blacka Moor. A report in the Sheffield Telegraph says that "it was not thought" that there was any problem at that stretch of road. I find this amazing. Is the Telegraph's reporter quoting a spokesman at the Highways Agency or some other local politician? And are the words used chosen to shield somebody who does not wish to be directly quoted?

It's always been felt by anyone walking along the footpath towards the Blacka Moor entrance that they could be taking their lives in their hands. And you would need to offer me a fairly substantail sum of money to persuade me to wait at the bus stop.

Let me explain that nobody in the police, accident services or the Highways Department itself can have any reason for being ignorant about the dangers of that point on the A625. There is a scheduled bus stop a few yards from the accident. This is more often to be found deposited some 10 feet below through the stone wall caused by vehicles losing control. The authority has now seemingly given up on repairing the walls because each time this happened in the past a new hole has appeared days later. In fact some of us have often wondered if the practice had now become established to leave holes in the wall and debris from crashed cars as a warning to road users - much cheaper of course than taking proper measures.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Baled Heather

Surely the area above Blacka to the west of Thistle Hill is one of the strangest places around. Not only do we have the desecration of Moss Road, brutally eroded by 4x4s and motor bikes, the lunar landscape around the tunnel ventilators and our odd accidental sculpture of the Truculent Sheep, but now the latest addition to the list is these large bales of heather newly cut presumably as an alternative to burning.

I suppose a decision was taken that it was environmentally more sound to do this. Certainly the hazard of smoke pollution on the roads is avoided but I wonder what they're going to do with the bales. Rather than simply leave them, should they create an artistic feature? Or are they intending to move them elsewhere to fulfil some role.

I hope they are not intending to use noisy shredders to grind the stuff into mulch.

Is This It?

A Friend of Beauchief Abbey told me that up on the moor on land once belonging to the Premonstratensians was a boundary stone showing the limit of their land. She had never seen it but knew there was no inscription on it. With little to go on I wonder if this might be the stone in question.

The Truculent Sheep

For some time I thought this feature on the moor just beyond Thistle Hill was a modernistic sculpture commissioned perhaps by the Peak District National Park to celebrate the role of sheep on the uplands.

It's only when you get closer that you realise it is just the way the ruined walls of an old brick building have fallen. Still the resemblance to a sheep I find is uncanny.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Too Straight

Whenever man intervenes in views be they landscapes or skyscapes he has to leave behind him straight lines in some form or another. Perhaps we should blame the Romans with their roads. As well as the vapour trails overhead Blacka has to contend with an intrusive power line and the unmentionable b****d w*re. But then it's the mission of many humans including SWT's Director to "improve on nature".

Even the pictures which litter these posts are bounded by the tyranny of straight lines. Curves are nearly always preferable.

In The Woods

Beech besieged by birch.

What was mid afternoon a few weeks ago becomes early evening now, so without any bright sun to penetrate even three thirty can feel gloomy.

Monday, 12 November 2007

A Shocking Waste

The accident on Saturday which killed two young sisters on Hathersage Road should cause many people to feel guilty. Every fatality and serious injury on our roads is the result of a failure on the part of the Highways Authority and just as much on the part of those whose duty it is to hold them to account. Yes of course individual responsibility for how we behave and how we drive is paramount. But anyone who has driven along that section of the A625 around Blacka Moor knows how dangerous is that bend. I cannot remember a time when the wall opposite the Piper House car park has not been broken down in one part or another from recent collisions.

In most areas of the country this stretch would have had signs in place years ago warning motorists to reduce speeds because of the hazard. I personally cannot believe that speeds over 40 mph are suitable anywhere along this road. Yet it retains only the national speed limit. A scandal and a tragic one.

A favourite path newly characterised by frost.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Managing Cold Fingers

The first ice of the season on the higher and more exposed (and windy) sections rather than the sheltered spots. Gloves are necessary but inconvenient when you want to use the camera to record something like this charming stonechat on the dying bracken and small birch.

Another reason for resisting the temptation to buy a more advanced camera. I can't do with carrying bulky packages. I'm a walker who takes snaps, and will never become a photographer. Still it would be good to get a really fine picture of birds like this.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Deer and Managers

In SWT’s first management plan for Blacka Moor the existence of red deer was not even acknowledged!

They were occasional visitors to the site even then but unknown to the trust and the majority of visitors. But since then the deer have established themselves as not just regular visitors but as a permanent presence and numbers have increased year on year. Their influence on the site’s vegetation is also increasing and will continue to do so. They browse on the low vegetation including birch and they occupy the bracken stands in ways that the cattle are unwilling to do.

They are there throughout the year and have started to breed on the site, at least one fawn having been born here this year. They are looked on by local people as their own wild animals however much SWT goes on about “Beautiful Beasts of Blacka” in various publications – meaning the cattle!!!

The astonishing admission from a 'wildlife' trust is that they don’t think that deer will do ‘the job’ properly. In other words deer don’t obey orders and conform to the management plan; more evidence if it was needed of the impoverished imagination of the trust. They seem incapable of the imaginative thought which means that wildness does not always give you just what you demand; in fact that’s almost a definition of it. But then what can you expect of those who want always to be ‘in control’?

Close Ups

I find I'm usually looking towards the middle distance when walking on Blacka Moor. This is to do with the qualities in the landscape and the chance to see red deer and other wildlife.

Down at one's feet and also sideways can be rewarding.

In fact it pays to look more than once at any view on Blacka.................


Sunday, 4 November 2007

More Spun Gold

The much maligned birch coming into its own on a bed of the even more maligned bracken. For those who have eyes.......................