Monday, 31 March 2008

Perfect Spring Morning

An advantage of the clocks changing in Spring is that it's easier to get out early and enjoy the best time of the day. Blacka was looking superb. Deer have become more established and change the atmosphere of the place dramatically. Until 12 months ago the deer were only a little known feature seen in very small numbers by a few people very occasionally. Now many more people will have seen them and must have experienced the thrill that comes from knowing a place supports such large genuinely wild beasts. This morning the pleasure was to see them on the brow of Blacka Hill in the middle distance while at the same time even further away on the ridge of Wimble Holme Hill we could see the outlines of two more stags against the morning sky.

Earlier I had seen the herd at closer quarters. There were ten of them, a mixture of stags and hinds and younger animals including calves. The stags occasionally locked antlers briefly.

Following this it was time for a rest in the sun on a favourite seat.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Predicted Consequences

This is one of numerous paths around Blacka Hill. They all used to be narrow, pleasantly soft and a pleasure to walk on; they were not always dry after rain of course but even then the experience was acceptable. Last year SWT put cattle on the moor which, as cattle do, walked along the paths more than they did among the heather and bracken. They ate the grass at the edges of paths and they trampled and compressed the soft middle areas. The result is that the grass around the paths has not been there to soak up the water in winter even when the cows are not there. The paths are some 30% or 40% wider than previously and whenever there is rain they become flooded.

The situation is not helped when SWT themselves bring vehicles onto the moor driven by those with no sensitivity to these issues. They have now stated their intention of putting larger cattle on the moor which will have a greater impact on the paths. The whole messiness of the decisions and their predicted results is a symptom of the confused and ill thought-out policy of conservation grazing.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Where Wild Things Are

Not the ones in the Maurice Sendak children's book, but our own native creatures. The little valley here is delightfully unmanaged and long may it remain so. Let's hope the philistines are too lazy to get down here. And let's hope their bovine allies keep away too.

There were four or five deer here this morning just out of the picture.

Thorny Question

One trouble with sheep is that they can't be ignored. They don't ever seem to 'fit' into the place they inhabit yet their presence somehow controls it. Hence the sense of this part of Blacka as a place in its own right is always qualified by the sheep that are nearly always here. As it happens they have all been taken off now because of lambing. The result is a quite different atmosphere. Even the thorn trees are the better for it.

All sheep have been removed except these two who were left behind and are now on the main part of the moor enjoying its wildness. Actually I was sure there were two, but studying the photo I seem to see three. Puzzling! Another question: assuming these sheep are due to lamb, are they just left to their own devices?

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Morning Light

Yesterday's dismal transformed to today's dazzling, almost uncomfortably for those of us who wear specs. So little chance of spotting anything on the side of Bole Hill, unlike yesterday.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Eagle Cliff

An old map from about 1830 shows the stream going down to the stepping stones as Eagle Cliff Dyke. It's more commonly called Blacka Dyke today. The earlier name would seem to come from this prominent rock overlooking the stream, a vantage point for viewing the water cascading below after heavy rain.

Picnic Party on Bole Hill

If the morning had been brighter the early sun coming over Bole Hill could have made it difficult to spot these. A keen eye and a pair of binoculars were necessary to see ten at least browsing the north facing slope at eight this morning. It would be interesting to know if they were the same or extra to the numbers seen yesterday afternoon in the thickest parts of the woods on the other side of Blacka.

Dank and Dismal

Even the least promising mornings usually reveal something, but it took a while. The curtains of low cloud and mist always hang around in this spot.

The mood was significantly worsened by a view of Poison Gully where on one infamous day SWT poisoned many trees (a minimum of eighty) and wandered off leaving the victims still standing while congratulating themselves on sensitively managing the landscape.

Many have now fallen some are just left looking ravaged occasionally throwing out a couple of leaves and then losing another branch. (Expletive deleted)

Then further on another more recent assault on native trees is seen.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

How Long Does It Take?

This should be one of the finest approaches to a city in the whole of UK. But such is the state of mind in Sheffield that no pride exists that can be offended by a symbolic Tesco bag in a tree or this barrier that has been here as long as I can remember.

And when a dreadful accident occurred a few yards away in November such was the outcry for something to be done that we waited with baited breath. Yet five months on no sign on the road, no warning of danger. What does it take?

Wild Place (2)

Deep in the thickest woods walking is impaired by bramble and fallen branches but there are rewards. Tracks can be seen and signs that deer have passed this way, often.

Distantly, movement can be detected, seven or eight, even more.

Honeysuckle doesn't flower till later on, June or thereabouts. But it makes a strong impression now, taking advantage of the lack of foliage in the trees around to get a good start.

Wild Place

Several contenders for the claim to be the wildest place on Blacka Moor. This one is quite accessible with a path of sorts running close to the Lea Stream.

This is where you find the real character of Blacka, quiet isolation, healthy neglect and surprises at every turn.
This morning only one deer could be seen, a very young one staring at us from the trees.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Helicopter Incident

Back in August last year I was in position to see a helicopter land on Lenny Hill. I went along to ask what was happening and was told by a truck driver for SWT that one of their volunteers had had an accident and needed the air ambulance. This wasn't quite true. There is an account of the incident in the current edition of Dore to Door which tells a different story.

Apparently two women had set out on a walk and on the way up the bridleway from the stepping stones one had slipped on the loose stones and broken a leg. This meant a helicopter rescue and then some time in hospital. The person writing the account is the woman who had been walking with the casualty. She thanks SWT people who had been there and gave some assistance. (Incidentally the landing place was Lenny Hill, not Bole Hill as stated in the article.)

There is an aspect to this which is not pointed out. That stretch of bridleway was repaired very badly by contractors for SWT two years previously leading to complaints about the poor standard, the use of brick rubble, and the mess left behind. Following this, SWT came back and tried to do the job again but once again ineffectively leading to erosion and the track being covered with dangerous loose brick rubble. After these two attempts at repair the area around the bench was left appallingly despoiled by vehicle tracks and piles of rubble. It is only just beginning to recover. The writer of the article in Dore to Door says thankfully that SWT have told her they will look to making the track safe. I can't wait.

It would be interesting to know how much public money was spent on these 'repairs' and what sort of sum would have been involved in any insurance claim if it had gone ahead.

Distant Views

The highest point of the land called Blacka Moor is hardly famed for its beauty, consisting only of a broken stone wall and some rough sheep pasture.

But there are compensations in the views. To the west lies Higger Tor and, further away, the higher land at Kinder and Bleaklow.

While to the east on a suitable morning you may be rewarded with a sight of a small pimple on the horizon. This is Lincoln Cathedral seen on the right in the picture below.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

White Easter

Mostly black, grey and white, but where other colours do show through it's quite striking. Scots pine always looks fine under snow.

Also the reddish quality in new growth on deciduous trees, here contrasting with the snow clinging to lower parts of the trees

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Poor Thing?

...................... and we shall have snow,
And what shall the robin do then, poor thing?

He could follow the lead of this one who has better ideas than putting his head under his wing. Instead he waylays any walker fool enough to be walking in a blizzard with bits of cheese in his pocket.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Young and Free

I have to continually revise my ideas of the number of wild deer on Blacka. This morning there were six seen from the footpath climbing west from Lenny Hill. Two of these are young (pictured above), while the others were young stags. The larger stag seen yesterday was not there, nor the hind. so it's questionable whether one of these young deer is the calf usually seen in a family group. Several of the young stags had simple horns, unbranched, one was a few years older with fuller antlers and very shaggy around the neck, and also present was the young stag with a single horn only on one side.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Wild Wood

A chapter in Wind in the Willows describes Mole's frightening journey to see Badger. This morning early sun made the wood feel more benign. But in the glades and amongst the trees there was plent of wildness to experience as the mistle thrush whistled.



Which is the odd one out?

All of the above acronyms (save one) are bureaucratic devices used to give control to deskbound officials who wish to exert power over our landscape. They are legal national or European designations lobbied for by publicly employed officers wanting to exert a stranglehold on the countryside. Using this they can use the weapons of clipboard and tick list to decide that what nature wants just will not do. And it keeps them in employment, the first duty of any bureaucrat.

SSSI= Site of Special Scientific Interest

SAC = Special Area of Conservation

SPA= Special Protection Area

LBAP= Local Biodiversity Action Plan

(I can't remember what the other one is.)

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Deer and Bracken

The stag we saw today had probably been watching us for some time and we could easily have walked straight past him. He was standing among the trees on the edge of the wood bordering Hathersage Road.

Reading the Richard Jefferies book it's clear that there's an association between red deer and bracken (or 'brake').

"Brake is later on the moors than in the warm southern counties; for although Exmoor is in the same latitude, it is so exposed that grass and flowers are behind the time usual elsewhere. Brake, however, grows rapidly when it first rises out of the bare ground at the sides of the coombes, or between the oaks of the covers, and soon has knots or other branches ........................ The deer are fond of the fern to hide in and they sometimes take a little of the tips of the fronds. All the deer country is full of ferns - on the slopes, in the woods, the hedgerows, the walls and the sides of old buldings.
The hinds seek the cover of the ferns when their calves are born, and there hide them; and the little creatures lie through the heat of the summer day among it."

The one seen below (in January) had found that the dry dead bracken also was a suitable place to enjoy the warmth of the winter sun.

Perhaps we should be more tolerant of the bracken fern. Much of the wildlife trust's attempt to sell the idea of their cattle grazing to local people was based on the supposed effect in reducing bracken. We have shown this to be fallacious anyway. So why not embrace the wilding and welcome the red deer who love it?

Monday, 17 March 2008

Characterful Birch

The conservation mafia have tried to justify their persecution of the birch by claims that it will produce a dense and impenetrable wood if not ruthlessly controlled. This is of course a mix of half truth and nonsense. There are certainly some examples of young dense birch woods and useful they can be for mammals like deer to hide away during the day. But there are also many places on Blacka where single birches have established well ahead of others leading to a patchwork of spaces sometimes with rowan and oak or pine. I have spent happy times wandering amongst these newly rewilded areas enjoying the isolation they provide, and the sense that at any time there could be a new surprise.


If you're a stag in need of a rest in the open, soaking in some warmth from the sun, your antlers can attract unwelcome attention. They do show up so well against the sky that you might wish you were a hind. The solution is to spend time on a place like Blacka Moor where you cannot so easily be seen. Not only does the bronze colour of the bracken litter help to camouflage the reddish timbre of the stag's coat. But antlers can also be mistaken for the typically low shrubby growth of trees like rowan.

I've seen stags lying among this shrubby growth so often now that I'm sure they are aware of the helpful disguise provided. I'm also sure that many people have walked very close to stags without them having any idea of their presence.

Sunday, 16 March 2008


Soon after the foggy morning walk yesterday the rain stared giving extra fun to those who found the fog lacked something in excitement. The result is evident this morning with every path flooded. This stream at the hollow is for much of the year a mere trickle. When it's like this it's worth taking some time to walk through the trees to view the steep drop down to the woods below.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Daws and Thrushes

One of the quietest Saturday mornings, mild with no wind and poor visibility. But the air above was full of the sound of the jackdaw on the first leg of the cheap day return into the fields of Derbyshire. Other birds were not to be outdone. There seem more mistle thrushes than previous years singing their monotonous song which promises to be a fruity blackbird then fails to deliver. Fruit, though, may be the reason why they've been increasing here recently. I once counted a party of 30 rising out of the bilberries in late July.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Richard Jefferies

I was fortunate to be given a book for Christmas written by the great Victorian naturalist and writer Richard Jefferies. This is a now out of print second hand copy found in an Oxfam shop. The original was written in 1871 and this is a reprint from 1948 produced "in conformity with the Authorised Economy Standards" post war. The part that interests me is the second half of the book the section entitled Red Deer containing Jefferies' writing about the subject in ten chapters. It is a mine of information and country wisdom from a man brought up in a rural setting with access to people who knew and understood the outdoor life in times before industrialised farming and hyperactive lifestyles were the rule. A flavour of his style:

The green stem of the brake fern as it rises unrolls at the top, and when these coils appear in the spring the stag's horns begin to grow. Fern and antler start together; the fern is easily found for it is soon taller than the thin grass, but the stag conceals himself in the cover, and it is not easy to know what stage he has arrived. But his new antlers grow with the fern, and as that reaches a good height so his horns begin to overtop his ears.

Wild and Secret

Having said in the morning that no deer had been seen for three weeks we decided to try an afternoon expedition and followed a hunch. Evidence was soon found (above) that they were still around in a rarely visited area. No prints had been seen on other paths visited so they were keeping to this more secluded part.

We were lucky. Patience and quiteness paid off. The family group first seen months ago is still together. And the stag is still fully antlered.

It' s salutory to think that the birch wood where we found them is just the sort of place SWT and other conservation freaks dislike so much and would gladly sacrifice. How do we get through to these woodentops?


The pastures seem to be free from the woolly mowers, presumably because they've gone off to the maternity ward. But these two have decided they want to take a different option. They've got into the main section of Blacka and were happily munching on the side of Bole Hill.

Does this bother the grazier at all? My impression is that these days sheep fetch such low prices that there's less care taken of the odd individuals than used to be the case, especially on hills where so much effort is needed to retrieve them. It's been common for many years to find sheep on the highly dangerous stretch of the A625 bordering Blacka, yet nothing seems to be done about it.

Another consequence of stray sheep is trouble with dogs. Walking dogs here is popular due to the normal absence of farm animals.

Going Underground?

Wondering what had happened to the deer recently, not having seen any for three weeks, I had come to the conclusion that they had 'gone underground' during the time when antlers are shed. There are numerous places on Blacka rarely visited even by awkward characters like me.

It's unlikely they would have tried to emulate the local moles who have made something of a subterranean city in this corner of the pastures. If gardeners could only harness all this energy and persuade the moles to leave when the job was done it would make for less backache in the vegetable patch.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Holding Stakes

Cronies and Others.
(Are all Consultations Like This?)

Further to the previous post about CPRE `(Campaign to Protect Rural England), a problem which surfaced early on in the Blacka Moor ‘consultation’ was the cosy nature of relations between certain people taking part. Some of these have been designated as ‘stakeholders’. Why do some folk qualify as stakeholders while all the others are dismissable as also rans? Maybe all consulations are prone to this discrimination. When local people who walked daily on Blacka found out about the Reserve Advisory Group, claimed by SWT to be open to everybody to attend, the group had already been established and important decisions taken. The meetings had been scheduled for the 'convenient' time of 2 pm on a weekday afternoon. No notices had been displayed on the moor at any access points by SWT or by the council. Who then constituted the ‘public’ who were allegedly being consulted? There were representatives of various groups. Among these was CPRE and Ramblers, also English Nature as it was then. It was interesting that the man representing CPRE sometimes introduced himself as representing Peak and Northern Footpaths, but we later discovered he was on the board of SWT. Later he was replaced with a new man from CPRE who turned out to have a personal connection with the SWT Reserves manager. The level of questioning and scrutiny from these people left much to be desired and this was not helped by those chosen to represent local residents being distinctly sleepy. None of these people in 30 years of walking on Blacka have I ever seen there.

By the time Blacka Blogger and one ally had got the group to agree to posting meeting notices on the moor and holding them at 7 pm, when more people could get to them, the 5 year management plan had been written and all was sown up.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


It’s interesting just how narrow are some people’s ideas of landscape and the countryside. In general the CPRE are a worthwhile outfit, if rather tame, and the country would be the poorer without a lobby of its kind. Many times I find myself wishing they were more outspoken but instead they give the impression of being quite happy to sit back and wait until some overwhelming disaster is looming before making any pronouncements.

But my real complaint is about the local branch of CPRE also known as Friends of the Peak District. This group had noble beginnings with many vital campaigns to its credit. But the current bunch from my own experience are woefully conformist and lacking the imagination to see the countryside as having anything much to contribute beyond farming. Not that I’m against farming. But the upland moors of the Peak District and beyond cry out for a more diverse approach than the wall to wall aesthetic desert of treeless heath. Yet here on Blacka where there has been a chance to develop an alternative approach CPRE has simply fallen in behind the dead self-interested view of management led by Natural England and the landscape managing industry.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


Nothing tidy about a thorn tree nor about this old broken stretch of wall. Once the wall must have been proudly surveyed by those who made it, stepping back to admire their work before adjourning to the local hostelry. The narrow stone slates now covered with lichens would be the envy of any present day wallers.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Futile Gesture

It felt futile anyway. Striding over forty yards of rough ground to unwrap the streamer of plastic that had been annoying me every walk this week. After all there are more strong winds forecast in the next day or two and experience says that more litter pollution will be offending my eye following the gales.

But I'm of a generation that gets upset by litter. I suspect younger people don't bother so much; they've grown up with it always being around. Perhaps some of them even feel unsettled when there's none to be seen, in the same way that the apologists for piped music tell us many people can't stand quiet.

I've never seen so much litter on Blacka. Much of it is plastic bags but an increasing amount is drinks bottles and cans. Cyclists are definitely the culprits here. It seems to go with the gear and all the trappings for some cyclists. And of course the faster you progress through the landscape the less it matters to you what it looks like.