Wednesday, 27 February 2008


Further to "Trees in the Pastures", below, this is a clearer view of the Seven Trees. In winter they stand so elegant that it seems churlish to wish they were a genuinely native species like oak or scots pine. But sheep scoured landscape can be so bleak that we must be grateful that anything has survived.

To the west is the big amphitheatre that also gives cause for reservation. It could be so much more:again a bit more wilding would help. More trees, some gorse perhaps, but to my way of thinking there's just too much influence of grazing.

Very Long Words

Like most fairly young disciplines conservation and ecology are prone to an exaggerated use of complex multi-syllabic terms.These provide many functions but the most important one is that it identifies the 'in-crowd' who can claim a right to be heard because they understand the jargon. The rest of us can then be dismissed as small fry whose views have little consequence.

"Anthropocentric" is one of these words and it's relevant to Blacka Moor and the arguments that rage about its management. It means human-centred. SWT and its supporters are likely to refer to the heathland in the Peak District as anthropocentric for example, when they justify steps taken to prevent the area 'going wild' or reverting to woodland. The argument goes something like this: People like our landscape as it is. Look at the way they come out into the countryside at weekends. The way the landscape is now, they say, is the product of hundreds, even thousands, of years of man's influence. It is "anthropocentric". This landscape then has been managed for all that time and must go on being managed or it will be lost for ever. So letting it go wild is simply not an option. Presumably once that happens people will stop going out into the countryside and will stay at home at weekends and watch the box.

It really is not hard to pick gaping holes in this argument. It is of course based on so many assumptions which require examination. At what point, for example, in the history of man's interference/influence in the landscape did it become set in the shape and pattern of land use that it had to be conserved?

The recent article in the current Dore to Door by the SWT Reserve Manager is clearly pushing this agenda of anti-wilding. More later.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Trees in the Pastures

The sycamores are the only large trees in the area grazed by sheep, nothing else getting much of a look in when the woolly mowers are there. Personally I find the winter profile of sycamore quite satisfying. The rest of the year is a different thing. The foliage is coarse and quickly gets discoloured. It's in autumn that it fails to compete with the native trees; birch,rowan, beech and oak produce a display of autumn colours but sycamore rarely manages anything other than greys and browns flecked with unsightly black spots.

This land is never as welcoming as the rest of Blacka. Despite its history as a site grazed by sheep hundreds of years ago it has never seemed to naturalise. And the livestock themselves contrive always to look depressing. A good dose of re-wilding would help. The most natural-looking things here are the thorn trees, although some compensation is found when the waxcaps appear in October.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Grove of Trees

This cairn built to mount a plaque, was erected in the seventies by the Ramblers to commemorate a long serving officer. It draws attention to the small grove of trees planted nearby alongside the stream running into the plunge going down to Blacka Dyke. An attractive area of woodland has been developing around here over the years since then, only to receive a rude shock in January when some large mature birches were unthinkingly felled by SWT.

Simply calling yourself a wildlife trust is not good enough. It's by your actions that people will decide whether you can be trusted.

Sleeping Quarters?

Such a sheltered spot with soft dried bracken on the ground would be an ideal place for wild animals to spend their nights. As it's not far from a place where deer are regularly seen it could be.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Advantages of Restricted View

Most of my walks on Blacka are in the early morning. At such times the haze restricting the view can be both atmospheric and helpful. Some things we don't want to see, like the new appartment block near Shorts Lane. Later in the day it is prominent over the top of Lenny Hill from here.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Litter and Winds

There's little more depressing than litter hanging in trees in the countryside. Usually it's after gales when plastic bags go flying around. It's just that there seems more of it around recently. We don't hear so much about the Keep Britain Tidy Group these days. The last I heard it had been taken over by the packaging industry meaning it would never recommend genuinely useful action to control the problem.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Standing Proud - for the moment.

All change today, no frost and breezy. This mature birch is one of a number that dominate the south side of the main track leading to Beauchief. Let's hope the mad chainsaw brigade leave them alone!

I was interested to see in the minutes of SWT’s meeting of 10th January a little passage tucked away under “Work programme update”. It reads as follows:

Scrub clearance – three of the group had attended the recent
workday and questioned whether taking out the bigger trees had been the best thing to do.
Action: Annabelle to visit the area where the work was done.

This refers to the slaughter of trees I drew attention to earlier. Well, maybe these new recruits to the RAG are more independent thinkers than was thought. But think a little more. How come the “Reserve Manager” is not aware of this herself? Why does she have to go out specially to look? Does it not mean precisely what I suspected, namely that a group of workers with chainsaws were sent out with vague instructions to "cut some scrub" but decided to look for sheltered spot on a cold day where they could enjoy themselves with power tools?

We come back time and again with SWT to the big question of competence and then the covering up of their failings. I’m sorry, but they are simply not a serious organisation and their new volunteer workers need to realise this as soon as possible.

Woodland Values

Mark Fisher has once again produced an interesting and penetrating article on his excellent website. He speaks up eloquently for a wilder component to our landscape and for less emphasis on the over-prescriptive conservation of heathland. His latest piece draws attention to those often ignored wild flowers of woodland that just don't get prioritised in the same way as, say, flora and fauna of the artificial landscape of heathland. Two short quotes:

"It is clear that the loudest and most connected voices in Britain get to have their say on what is a priority in nature conservation – just look at the UKBAP process for confirmation of this, and the composition of the various advisory committees on species and landscapes "

"It is a tempting idea when you consider that pretty much all of the industrialised nature conservation going on around us is just gardening on a landscape scale! On the back of that suggestion, I could also make the case for leaving secondary native woodland regeneration uncleared and untouched on lowland heath since it is a natural reinstatement of what would be the rightful habitat for the May lily."

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Consultation of a Kind- 3

Another 'bleeding chunk' from recent exchanges about SWT's management plan. (Again normal coloured type is my original comments, blue is the SWT response and my reaction to that is in red.)

9 We continue to oppose the presence of farm cattle and of fences as entirely inappropriate to the spirit of this area. This is not the same as opposing grazing animals such as wild red deer and even some role for wilder cattle over a much greater area of the neighbouring upland. The foremost objection is to the enclosing of farm livestock on a public open space.
So you don’t want farm livestock such as cattle but you do want wilder cattle.
I don’t ‘want’ any cattle myself . I would infinitely prefer red deer and perhaps fallow deer and roe deer as well. If you read what I have said you will see that I would not oppose in principle a genuine rewilding which involved some role for a limited number of wild cattle over a much larger area. I might oppose certain practical ways in which it might be implemented. But I am opposed to farm cattle enclosed on Blacka both in principle and in practice.
Wild in what way? Appearance? Behaviour? What about ownership? Animal welfare? This would be for those who propose the policy to put forward. And for others such as myself to scrutinise. I think you are aware of the use of cattle in some areas where they are not controlled as are farm cattle. As you know I was perfectly happy with Blacka the way it was as a changing landscape that would always be influenced by wild animals such as deer.
Obviously we’re dealing with a small site in the National Park, for a short period of time so this isn’t something that is relevant here . But refer to the minutes too as we talked briefly about re-wilding and landscape-scale conservation.
But what is so worrying is that no thought seems to be going into the longer term from any of you conservation people.

Digital Danger

Hazards on this track are more often the floods after heavy rain. Today the temperature was -7 celsius and I need to take my gloves off to use the camera, thereby endangering my fingers. I counted them all afterwards to be sure.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Birch Magic

More evidence of the beauties that come with a changing landscape. Again the heroes are the maligned birch trees always under threat from those philistines in conservation who have never got into the habit of thinking and looking. How many hours I wonder would need to be added to the curriculum at school or university to educate such people in using their senses?

Monday, 18 February 2008

Pointing Finger

On top of Thistle Hill is this ancient gatepost, variously known as The Pointing Finger or Dickie Bird's Digit.

Consultation of a Kind-2

As promised, a first instalment of the exchanges around responses to the draft of the SWT management plan. Normal coloured type is my original comments, blue is SWT's response, and red is my reaction to the response.


I am opposed to chemical herbicides being used on the site. These could be acceptable in a very few tightly controlled circumstances given genuinely competent usage.

Which is precisely what’s planned.

By SWT??!

But evidence so far suggests the organisation is poor, communication is defective and flawed and users of the site do not trust SWT to use chemicals safely.

What evidence? Allegations such as there are taken seriously and unless you can substantiate these I can do very little.

Evidence has already been produced (and brought to the attention of the Reserve Manager) in relation to the mass poisoning of birches. This action was taken with no notification to users of the site, nor even to the RAG!! This was poisoning on a large scale. It was also incompetent because the poison was allowed to run down the sides of the trees and kill off the vegetation at the base and around. Why has there been no response to the complaint, even during the ‘evaluation’ we requested and were promised in 2005?

There should certainly be no spraying of bracken anywhere near places where wild fruit is harvested. There is only one way to reduce bracken effectively around bilberry – by pulling.

On this scale?

If you don’t like the scale then I suggest you don’t do it, or just do a small amount. I’m not asking for this to be done. If you cannot address the bracken without poisoning let nature deal with it by shading out as recommended by experts in bracken and DEFRA.

You could come and join us to help do this – we do have bracken pulling planned in – the glade in the woodland and possibly on top of Lenny Hill.

I have done much pulling of bracken around bilberry, probably more than anyone else apart from G.N. (local resident), but I choose to do it, as I say, adjacent to paths and around the fruit producing shrubs working in from the paths. This has a valid and comprehensible recreational purpose and means something to people compared to the rather sterile exercise SWT go in for.

We’ve been doing it for 5 years and it has had some effect though obviously it doesn’t eradicate it. Plus there is only a certain amount of time anyone can pull bracken before it becomes boring and tedious.

Which is why I do it the way that I say, pulling a bit each day. It works. If SWT came round to my idea of a site worker instead of a herd of cattle and an ineffective centrally based 'site team' this would be easy. I’m not interested in pulling huge areas of bracken where a better solution would be to allow trees to grow to shade it out. What SWT are doing is encouraging bracken by cutting mature trees. I can show you where.

Please get in touch at the beginning of July as we’ll have planned it in by then and can let you know (if not before).

No thanks. I don't believe I'm anti-social but I’ve learned that keeping company with SWT staff and members can lead to unfortunate results - such as being insulted, misrepresented and defamed.

All H & S precautions are taken when spraying takes place but you are welcome to receive a COSHH assessment from us if you wish – or you can look on the internet for a standard one.

You can have all the qualifications you like but what really matters is valuing and respecting the site on its own terms.

Consultations of a Kind

Early morning flossies (still in sleeping bags).

Back in December SWT sent round their proposed management plan inviting comments from those who had asked to see it, with a very tight deadline for people to respond. As doubtless anticipated, because of the timescale Christmas and New Year etc., not many would bother to send in comments especially as the ill mannered dismissive attitude of SWT staff was calculatedly off putting.

Nevertheless Blacka Blogger did contribute to a response albeit knowing there was very little point. The only point in fact was simply that if nobody did comment then SWT would come back at some future date with a statement to the effect that “there’s no excuse for people complaining. They should have spoken up before, when they had the chance”. We’ve been around long enough to know the style of management that is here being described.

Anyway there is nothing to suggest that there was much response from anyone else (apart from something from the archaeology person at PDNPA) so we might be able to claim that a large proportion of responses indicated opposition to, for example, cattle grazing and use of herbicides on the site.

When asked for SWT’s reaction to the comments made an email was received betraying fairly typical evidence of impatience and intemperance from the SWT officer responsible. I will try to give something of a flavour of this in posts to come. Some of the points had been discussed apparently at the latest SWT Blacka RAG meeting. This meeting we had not attended because we were excluded, having been given the choice of sending one representative if he/she undertook to swear some kind of binding oath to only speak about those things SWT allowed us to talk about (even though none of SWT’s cronies would be under the same injunction).

I intend to post excerpts from this peculiar correspondence in order to illustrate what is going on behind the scenes. Readers can then make up their own minds. Please let me know what you think.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Graves Park and St Luke's Hospice

This issue resonates with those of us who walk on Blacka Moor. A section of the park has once again been threatened with a plan which seeks to use it for a purpose for which it was never intended. As charitable land covenanted to be used as a public park this should simply not be allowed to happen. Very much the same thing has happened to Blacka Moor, which was hi-jacked by the vested interests of the conservation lobby who saw job opportunities in changing its use from a public open space and pleasure ground to a nature reserve. ( see LINK)

The Friends of Graves Park have been campaigning in my view in a very balanced and responsible way on this issue. It is crucial that they are supported by all who see this as a matter of principle, knowing that the council has previous form in flouting the clearly stated wishes of those who have benevolently given to the people of Sheffield.

Wadsley and Loxley Common

A letter in this week's Sheffield Telegraph reminds us that it's not just on Blacka Moor that valuable green spaces are being despoiled by professionals. It is seemingly a badge of faith for those who manage green spaces to refer to birch trees, even mature ones, as 'scrub' especially when this native tree spreads onto or is simply adjacent to land which has once been 'heathland'. It's this that enables conservation professionals to make common cause with other managers and come up with schemes which finish up making favourite walking places less welcoming and frankly just a mess.

I walked over Wadsley and Loxley Common recently and littered everywhere there were felled mature birch trees waiting to be transported and incinerated. Not the kind of industrial process that adds to one's enjoyment of a country walk.

Perfect Sunday Morning

Yes it was cold, but what is that beside the natural landscape and wildlife to be sampled early on a Sunday morning? After watching the stags at close range yesterday it was delightful this morning in the same place to come across the hind and calf not seen together for two months. I feel sure they are the same although I'm revising some of my assumptions about the hinds I've seen more recently. When you see them together it's somehow difficult to think that they may often be apart and/or in the company of stags.

This I'm now pretty certain is the calf born on Blacka last year. Is it possible to conclude from this picture that it's a female?

Again they were relaxed with our presence, to such an extent that the hind was performing a grooming contortion more often seen with dogs.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Beautiful Beasts?

What should be said about Sheffield Wildlife Trust? At times I lead towards feeling a touch sorry for them before remembering so much they've done that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Perhaps simply laughing is the best approach.

Not long ago they put a piece in the local paper with the headline "Beautiful Beasts of Blacka Moor". Now looking back over recent postings here what animals would anyone think were being referred to?

But you would be wrong. Not red deer but farmed cattle!! Think about it. The deer are wild, our largest wild mammal, are majestic in appearance and independent in habit, come and go at their own will, avoid people and cause no difficulties for anyone; they are here all the year and raise young in Blacka's characteristic wild woods. Cattle were brought here for the first time less than a year ago, are not wanted by the local people and users of the moor, and have brought with them the enclosure of the site with barbed wire and the erosion of Blacka's special soft footpaths.

Wildlife Trusts claim to be scientific and rational organisations, but what is this one up to? Let's be honest, it's pure shameless propaganda that treats people like children and insults our intelligence. They want to take on the role of mummy, who knows we don't like the evil tasting medicine so she pretends to taste it herself, while all the time talking about how yummy it is.

Good Lord protect us.

The Early Birds

Some mornings are certainly better than others and the last two have been pretty bleak with a bitter east wind that's had us hurrying back for the porridge.

But the compensation comes eventually and this morning was both beautiful and eventful. Hard frost on the dead bracken followed by bright sunlight and calm air, bringing out five stags the largest being, I think, a ten pointer. We sat down in the bracken for five minutes watching them. They may be losing their antlers soon. The biggest stags lose theirs first. Another point of interest was one of the smaller stags which I realised I had seen several times before: he has one antler, his left one, while the right side has a black line above the eye, perhaps a scar from some fight.

Later as we came up the hill we were ambushed by a young black labrador.

She and Bertie romped and chased oblivious of the presence of the deer who only made off after loud shouts from the owner wondering where her charge had gone. Another grand sight of the steam rising from their backs in the early sun.

Eventually we made for the bird feeding station rather later than usual. The birds had grown impatient and came 300 yards out onto the moor to hurry us along as a blackbird began tuning up in the woods.

Friday, 15 February 2008


Not just grey but cold.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Yet Another Day of February Spring

The perfect weather cannot last more than another day but some of us have been lucky enough to be here in this ideal setting to enjoy it. Much better than in the suburban streets and gardens despoiled by house alarms, chain saws and shredders and sundry other power tools beloved by modern man.

The 8 pointer above was relaxed about our presence. Less so his companion which from its size I would guess to be a very young hind.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Like Old Times

Unseasonal mildness during the day and frost overnight in the middle of a period of calm high pressure weather all seemed a bit old fashioned on Sunday morning. This was caused by the lack of noise: for once there was no wind and, at 7.30 am anyway, no traffic noise even in the parts of Blacka closer to Hathersage Road. Usually the motor biking fraternity take to the roads early on Sundays taking the opportunity when the heavy traffic making for the city and the motorways beyond is out of the way. Those of us who relish peace and quiet are thus normally denied even Sunday morning peace. But today was, for once, different. Birds were singing and all was still and gleaming.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Early Spring

Calm and mild almost unreal for February. A stormcock and a blackbird singing on the edge of the woods and this stag posing for photos, not really bothered by our presence

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Galoshes Compulsory

Not many people will be going this way today. It's a pretty quiet spot on a Tuesday anyway. Otherwise a profit could be made by anyone with an inflatable dinghy ferrying people across this temporary lake.

Even this wet blustery winter has exceeded itself this morning and a dry foothold is hardly to be found.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Early Monday Browsing

The five deer were fairly happy when we were upwind of them, but quickly dispersed when they realised we were coming towards them from the other direction later on.

At first it seemed like four stags and a hind or young deer, but a closer look suggests the young deer on the left may also have had antlers.

We came across them again running through the trees:

Friday, 1 February 2008

Wild Surprises

Blacka Blogger has tried to make it clear in this blog that what he values in this landscape is that it is changing. It does not stay the same year on year. A progression is happening and this brings surprises. All is dictated by the interaction of different natural processes often competing with one another. The joy of it all is that it is not dictated by that bane of modern life managerialism - office dwelling clones whose purpose it is to control everything, and when they are not controlling they are justifying themselves in weasel words.

Change is disturbing to many people who fear that what is round the corner may be what they do not like. Blacka Blogger deals with this worry very simply. We live in a world where change is unavoidable, a kind of change that is driven by human agencies and the economy. And depressing it usually is, dominated by greed and various forms of self interest. In nature the forces of change dance to their own tunes defying the best efforts of motivated and "driven" humans to control them.

The steep incline on the east side of Blacka Moor has changed when the managers were elsewhere with their eye off the ball. Heather has been replaced by bracken and birch and this has brought in other creatures, larger mammals who welcome the very absence of human management. This morning brought just the kind of surprise that wild landscapes bring. I recently drew attention to the way that light snow clings to paths leaving them white while the rest of the taller vegetation remains apparently untouched. Here is an example:

The delightful surprise this morning was the revelation of animal tracks normally unnoticed all over the eastern incline of Blacka, all picked out in the snow. Deer and badgers and foxes walking through the bracken litter have created their own routes and compressed the dead plant remains only for it to show up in high contrast when light snow picks it out. What joy.