Thursday, 31 January 2008

Lying on a Bed of Bracken

Impossible to be 100% certain of course but I'm fairly confident this is the young deer previously seen in a family group with the hind and stag, the one assumed to have been born on Blacka last year. I've not seen hind or fawn for 6 weeks or so before today having been used to seeing them almost daily.

As I watched it moved away from the trees where it was browsing and walked into the sun soaked bracken well sheltered from a cruel wind from the north west and lay down.

For some reason this was very touching. Seeing a young animal, no longer under the protection of older beasts, alone and making its own way emphasised the vulnerability of wild creatures.

The nearby barbed wire fence installed three years ago was supposed to become invisible and non intrusive to the views by now; it obstinately refuses to hide and remains an eyesore:

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Playing God

A post suitable for Sunday. Thankfully I won't get the opportunity to play God. It's a responsibility I wouldn't want. But the nature conservation lobby is doing it all the time. They prefer some species of birds, animals, plants and insects to others and manage habitats to encourage them. This rarely gets questioned. Hardly a wildlife or countryside programme is broadcast without us being told how certain species are doing well because things have been well managed. Going wild would never do. But we shouldn't forget that every bird that does well in a habitat means another is not getting a look in. Selectivity is built into the conservation management industry and the economy that sustains it. So for instance they bring along farm domestic animals to eat plants so that the 'right' kind of vegetation attracts the 'right' kind of birds. And the process of management of these sites can be a good living and a pleasant occupation for those who like producing forests of paper work. But what does that mean for other birds, and importantly other mammals? Wild mammals are rarely a priority - in fact downright discouraged sometimes because they can conflict with the currently fashionable priority and also with the desires of other land managers such as farmers or the game industry.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

False Pretences

When SWT applies to a national funding body for grants to carry out some work on Blacka an issue arises as to whether this money is being put towards a project that carries the support of the local people who use the site.

Usually the funds are public money in one form or another. Even money coming from private companies through grants via the Landfill Scheme can be seen as public money - it's there to compensate through a government scheme for environmental damage caused by companies that profit by burying harmful waste.

There is usually some stipulation or assumption that what is being done is supported by local people. In the case of SWT on Blacka it's clear that this has not been the case for some time. A petition in 2005 showed considerable support for a different approach to SWT's as did the Icarus Process. And SWT was so determined to override the views of local people that it banned local people from attending its meetings. Do those who administer these grants schemes 'in the public interest' know about these things? Or do SWT wave airily when questioned and refer to a small totally unrepresentative group with a chip on their shoulders? Or do they just keep mum?

Friday, 25 January 2008

Positives and Negatives

Those who are not prepared to listen to fair comment and valid criticism often level the charge that one is being “negative”.

This question of being positive and/or negative is interesting. Obviously when dealing with children it is wise to be balanced and diplomatic lest one damages the confidence of the little sprats and nobody likes to experience sulks, tears and tantrums. So a fair way forward might be: “Hasn’t the handwriting improved since last time?” (meaning “ I can almost read some bits of it”), “Now all we need is spend a bit longer on the spelling and we’ll be really getting somewhere”.
But with adults and organisations? Should not a little more robustness be assumed?

This leads me to my news which is that I’m told SWT are putting it about that the comments from myself and others on what SWT are doing on Blacka Moor are “negative”. As such one has to assume that once so categorised this justifies the comments being ignored or dismissed. The logic is that you will only be taken seriously if you say what they want to hear even if privately you don’t believe what you’re saying. Which creates a bit of a dilemma but achieves their objective of ignoring all viewpoints except those of a clique of publicly salaried employees in the conservation industry – an industry rapidly being exposed as self-serving.

The context for this is the process by which the wildlife trust has carried out its consultation before finalising its management plan. Readers of this blog will already know that the Friends of Blacka Moor, regular users of the site were banned from attending meetings at which the management plan was being discussed. Nevertheless comments and criticism positive and negative were put forward. No reply has been received and only a second hand comment has been reported that the high handed reserve manager has dismissed the submission as being ‘negative’.

Riders in the pasture land on Friday afternoon.

Blacka Blogger believes firmly that it is SWT and Natural England and others who wish to pursue their brutal interventionist policies on places like Blacka who are the really negative ones. We are the positive element who value the place for what it is. They are the ones who claim it’s all out of condition and that it must submit to invasive surgery with chain saws, poison and barbed wire. Trusting nature is the positive option.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Access Impeded

A year ago there was no gate here. Gates were unnecessary because the whole of this land was open to the public as it had been for many years. A fence and stone wall were constructed to service SWT's cattle grazing fad. As a concession to those who objected because they regularly walked across the land at this point SWT put in two gates, one a 'kissing gate' for walkers and one a large gate for the farmer, his cattle and his vehicles. As the cattle are not on the site during winter it seemed reasonable for the large gate to be unlocked - and this has been so since October.

Meanwhile the walkers' gateway has become predictably more and more muddy, even treacherous if you don't grasp the timber for dear life. So in order to make life as difficult as possible for visitors SWT has decided to put a padlock on the large gate making it impossible to avoid the quagmire. How thoughtful of them!

Stags Return

Walking along wondering why I had seen no deer on Blacka for several weeks I spotted a hoofprint in the mud. Minutes later two stags appeared ahead. This photo was the best of a poor set.

Shortly afterwards a walker reported seeing four the previous day in the woods near the road.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Arresting Visions!

Some months ago I was worrying about the possibility that this new structure might finish up with a flat roof as had the new King Ecgbert School. This fear has proved groundless, but the final appearance of the building is bad news: the more substantial complaint remains - about the size of the building and its intrusion on the view.

As for the architecture this is hardly the quality design called for in such a prime site. Despite the large scale of the design there's something prissy about it, lacking in either imagination or adventure, while sticking out in the landscape. From a favourite viewpoint it now hovers over the top of Lenny Hill seeking attention for itself only to irritate and disappoint. And those awful window frames, confirmed as bog standard pvc.

Within a few years this area has received two serious blows to the appeal of the view. It is now clear that the block of appartments is completely out of proportion with the other housing in the area and it is impossible to walk on Blacka Moor without being aware of this. The uglier of the two new structures is the King Ecgbert School a total abomination in design terms. I defy the architect and developers to walk on the moor without blushing!


It takes a lot of rain to persuade me to forsake my walking boots for wellingtons. But when the usual route looks more like a series of lagoons with the odd island to hop onto then its time to consider a new approach. The spates are summed up at the two waterfalls on Blacka. The first is so close to a popular path but has been difficult to access. Now near to the Ramblers commemoration of their long serving officer, just through the trees you can reach the top of the sudden drop to the gorge of Blacke Dyke.

But the more elegant of the falls is on the Lee Stream well away from normal human traffic. Just above the falls at the moment are several minor falls and a mad rushing of water all adding to the appeal of this secluded area.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

A Mess

Until recently this was a narrow path which became only slightly wet at this time of year. Two things have happened to turn it into a broad quagmire both resulting from Sheffield Wildlife Trust's taking over the lease of the land from Sheffield City Council.

One is the introduction of heavy cattle onto the site last year. The other is the bringing of vehicles over the soft peaty land - done a year or so ago when, ironically, they were installing a barrier further back to prevent walkers from eroding the path!! Once more words fail me.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Chain Saw Massacre

Can they really be wanting to cut down all birch on Blacka Moor? This would be fundamentalism gone mad. But every so often a group of SWT assassins appear armed with power tools and indulge themselves at the expense of natural evolution.

It amounts to a kind of control freakery of which there's much around in the conservation and land management movement and not enough trusting of nature to know best. Also playing a part are centralised decision making and policy funded by major business interests via opaque quangos .

30 years ago the Ramblers Association commemorated one of its long serving officers by planting a small grove of trees alongside the top area of a stream (Blacka Dyke). This has become a pleasant area through which an informal path meanders and a number of healthy birch trees have reached full maturity to supplement the planted ones. They are not in the middle of the heathland which has become a fixation of Wildlife Trusts because of the funds they can rely on accessing to maintain it.

Mature Birches on Blacka Moor

But that's to no avail because at least a dozen of these mature birches were cut down by scoundrels with chainsaws last week. There's no knowing with these people because they keep their motivation close to their chests. But they could have been planning to do this for some time. Or they could have been simply sent up to cut some birch scrub and decided that it was better working here where there was more shelter rather than in the cold wind in the middle of the heather. Any protest will I'm sure be greeted with some convoluted self justification which you will struggle to be able to repeat at a later date or even after five minutes.

I've now been back to this spot several times and just cannot begin to understand why these trees were removed. In landscape terms, for visual appeal they were there looking natural and fulfilled a valuable role. Apart from anything else the close presence in certain parts of the site aid the shading out of bracken and that was certainly observable here. The birch will regrow from the base unless a considerable amount of strong herbicide is applied - a process which I oppose and which SWT themselves had not supported earlier. And there has been no clear notification that this was about to happen.

Perhaps this represents a new phase of hard nosed management from these people who have decided that they have weathered the criticism and no longer care what local people think of them. Their exclusion of Blacka's most loyal users from their consultations at a key point of evolving the new management plan was part of this, 'justified' by storytelling which was pure invention of a kind only previously found in the school playground.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Table for One

Today's menu:

Starter: Mixed Seeds
Main course: Peanut Cake and Lancashire Cheese
Afters: Dried Mealworms.

Saturday, 5 January 2008


The tree-haters have been out playing with their new toys after Christmas. The invitation to local people to come and join in the destruction didn't bring many volunteers. Why this part of the site was targeted God knows. These were mature birch, not on the heathland that conservationists are so obsessed with. and the pleasant copse which is now much reduced was a favoured place giving some welcome variety on a round walk. The birch was also helping to shade out the bracken.

But if you complain they become all emotional and threaten you with the police!! Somewhere in all this there's a situation comedy waiting to be written.


It seems at least one deer is still around.

Winging West

The jackdaws excelled themselves. At times only two feet from the surface of the road and oblivious to dangers from traffic.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

A Dusting

One of the features of heather is the way that light snow picks out the paths leaving the expanses of low shrub much as usual.

Feeding Station News

"Not the kind of crumbly cheese I'm accustomed to."