Monday, 30 June 2008

The Slot

The hoof print of a red deer is called the slot. It's been the only sign of the presence of stags on Blacka for several days, until yesterday when two were in the distance showing up very red in sunlight against the dull heather.

The slot was a very important way of gaining information for those involved in stag hunting on Exmoor. The key person was known as 'the harbourer'. His job was to find where a 'runnable' stag was on the morning of the hunt. This stag had to be preferably at least five years old and with at least two points on top. An experienced local man would have been able to tell from the size of the slot the age of the stag he was tracking, the time that he travelled that way and the speed at which he was moving. In that way he could trace the animal to the particular copse or part of the wood where he was lying for the day.

His "bed" - the space he selects to lie for the day - is usually on the most level piece of ground he can find in the copse. He does not mind if it is a little damp, so long as it is level. He merely lies down and makes no nest as a fox will, turning round and round till the grasses are fitted to his body. But as the stag will lie in the same place day after day, there is a depression in the fern or grasses corresponding to his size. When he has settled himself down he is said to be "in harbour", and it is curious that if once a stag has chosen a part of the copse, the next that comes will generally go and lie very near the same spot, though the first may have left it weeks. (Jefferies)


There's something regal about a lone Elder in full bloom. It's commonly thought of as being poorer stuff than Hawthorn and Rowan and the wood as being weedy but to stand beside it as it is now with the perfume filling the air you can briefly forget the midges.

Meanwhile the Rowan's berries are the fastest to change colour.

Whitebeam's berries are less hasty.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Berries and Ferns

The first bilberries picked this morning. Just a few because there are so many unripe ones amongst the ripe that you have to harvest individually rather than use the rake technique. The benefit of year on year bracken pulling is there to see, with some of the fruit beds largely free from fern.

Here we can see that someone has been along the path swinging a stick at the bracken leaving the stem showing. This will probably suffice for the season but there's a better chance of having a long term impact by pulling.

It's not hard and much more satisfying. You simply have to get over the top of the shoot and pull vertically upwards with two hands. No real force is necessary. it should slide out taking a decent chunk of brown root with it.

SWT claim to be conducting trials of bracken control. In some places they bring along a tractor and harrow once a year for several years. In others they use herbicide. In a third they bring volunteers and pull the bracken in a measured area, again for several years. Their problem is getting the volunteers to do the work which is not much fun. I think they have got this wrong in a number of ways. But as far as the volunteers are concerned people will not feel much involvement in a sterile exercise like this. Much better to do something which they see an obvious purpose in and which affects them directly. My plan would be related to the paths people actually walk along and to bilberry picking. If you pull bracken along the sides of paths where you sometimes walk, you benefit from it yourself - you don't get wet from the overhanging fronds. As you move back from the paths into the bilberries you carry on pulling bracken and expose the fruit for easy harvesting later. In fact I would encourage walkers to 'adopt a path' in this way, just pulling a few as they go along. The problem with this is that it relies on SWT being on good terms with the regular walkers on Blacka and they have shown very clearly that they would prefer to antagonise them!

More Chatting

This time it's whinchats who scold us, doubtless because they have young in the vicinity.

Thursday, 26 June 2008


The parties of mistle thrushes are already out over Blacka in their dozens foraging on the bilberries that have ripened. Most of the fruit has still some way to go but you can find purple berries if you're patient. The beds of bilberry are now swollen with new growth, about double the volume of a few months ago.
Bramble flowers are rarely named as anyone's favourite wild flower, but many a rose fails to achieve this level of beauty; they are of course from the same family.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Under Surveillance

Having set out along the Lee Stream we had hoped to come across evidence of the deer. They had not been seen for some time. The paths are still clear despite bracken and the deer traffic in places has helped navigation. But there were no droppings and no fresh prints in the soft ground near the water. It was only a slight movement in the trees some way off up the bank that raised the question. The stag must have been watching us as we weaved in and out of the low trees and shrubs. And he didn't wait around when the camera came out.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


There may still be time to stop SWT from destroying scores of trees but I have to say so many people have simply given up on them because of their addiction to misinformation. Anyone who is uncertain about that should consider their latest statements about cutting trees. I've referred to this before but it needs saying again.

The latest justification for cutting down mature trees is that the trees encourage bracken to grow. This is so extremely wrongheaded that alongside so many other nonsensical statements ("cows eat bracken"! etc.) that we have to take nothing they say on trust. The truth is that trees create shade which inhibits the growth of bracken, the very opposite of what they say. I invite SWT to come with me onto Blacka and I will show them exactly what happens.

For the benefit of readers here is the evidence: Picture one shows land outside the trees, with bracken thriving.

Picture two shows the scene underneath the nearby birch trees where there is grass and almost no bracken.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Totley Approach

Strawberry Lee Lane branches off from Penny Lane and Hillfoot Road and is the approach to Blacka from Totley coming past The Cricket Inn (now faddishly and unnecessarily shortened to The Cricket). It's a fine old fashioned lane and goes through farmland and fields getting increasingly wild and remote.

Hallfield Farm, under its new owners is getting a facelift, the drive and its surround being landscaped. Views here are very fine.........

The one blot on the landscape is unfortunately a very big one, another badge of dishonour for the planners......

It's to be hoped that the land along the approach to Blacka does not have its vegetation too tidied up. Little pleasures are to be found in the wildness of native plants and trees as in the honeysuckle here....

Moss Road, branching off, is a public byway, for too long a temptation for sensation seeking motor bikers but this has now been officially discouraged. It winds round the back of Bole Hill to join Wimble Holme Hill in the direction of Stony Ridge.
The car park at the end of Strawberry Lee Lane is less used than the access points on Hathersage Road, although evening use by younger elements has become common lately.They tend to sit in steamed up cars with loud music playing adding nothing to the appeal of the vicinity. Their cultural activities sometimes extend to a trip beyond the car door to leave food and drink wrappers scattered around and their literary efforts on the gates........

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Sky Drama

After the longest day comes the windiest. All restlessness and cloud architecture.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Before the Rain

Distant fields stood out early on in an unusual light to the east. This was before the day woke up to the fact it was the first of summer and hurried to bring on the drizzle and rain.

This dog rose is in an odd friendly cluster with a horse chestnut and a hawthorn near the Lenny Hill bench. The horse chestnut is believed to have seeded from one (unbaked) conker that fell out of a boy scout's pocket. History does not record whether there was a string attached.

The young robin inspecting us is proof that they are inquisitive from the moment they come into the world.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Landscape Gardening ?

The trees in the above picture are due for the chop. One or two may be left standing because birds quite like trees. This is a decision taken by SWT, non negotiable and with no role in the decision taken by the R.A.G. In fact the complaints at the recent meeting were dismissed. To the right of this scene is the area where a similar group of trees was poisoned about 5 years ago. In that incident the destruction of mature trees numbered over 60 specimens.

In these decisions no account is taken of the aesthetic value of the trees or of the wishes of those who walk here. SWT have no qualification in aesthetic matters anyway so any claim that they will take this into account when choosing to leave some trees standing would be nonsense.

There is a detectable confusion about the underlying justification for this action. We are told that the trees encroach onto heathland which is a prime conservation target. But this is not lowland heath it is upland moor vegetation of which there is plenty around here. And heathland anyway has no purpose today apart from to service the narrow agenda of conservation organisations. Its origin was a now defunct economic need, certain species of wildlife adapted to it and natural forces are now moving in. Those who want to cut trees to recreate a now outdated artificial vegetation should be subjected to a rigorous audit before any more public money is put to this dodgy project.

Wildland or Farmland ?

A group of sheep burst through the fence more than a week ago and have since spent much of their time near the bottom gate gazing longingly at their colleagues in the enclosure and wishing they knew how to get back. Current practice in hill sheep farming seems to mean that they will just have to sort themselves out. Sooner or later there will be an incident with a dog and irresponsible dog walkers will be blamed.

A recurring theme in the disagreements between SWT and regular walkers here has been the question of trust. Why don't they trust us they say, we've given them much of what they want and still they don't like us. Disingenuity is applied with a trowel. One just has to look at what they say and what they do.

Blacka Moor we said is valued for its wildness. What you want to do is contrary to that spirit. Farmification, over management and top down control: Barbed wire, gates fences walls, grazing animals, agricultural subsidies, poisoning vegetation you don't like, Single Farm Payment etc. etc. Nonsense, they said, you're paranoid. The Icarus consultation called for the land to be wild with minimal intervention. Only a few months later they were writing articles in local periodicals celebrating the farm animals that once lived in Strawberry Lee Pastures and praising the cute highland cattle they were just about to bring into the site. But for a wildlife trust never a word about the wild animals, such as deer, whose activities are alien to management plans.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Is it because they actually don't know?

Most people know this blog opposes the destruction of mature trees on Blacka. If people want to 'manage' the area by cutting the small trees ('scrub') that's another thing and if it can be done unobtrusively then we might be able to live with it. But I take exception to those who use spurious arguments to persuade those they obviously don't respect. This is patronising and insults our intelligence. Unless of course they don't actually know themselves - in which case what are they doing here?

We have been told that SWT are here to deal with the spread of bracken. But they have shown time and again they have no understanding of bracken. Last week SWT's manager said that the trees in the photograph above were going to be cut down because they encouraged bracken. This is not just mistaken it is diametrically the opposite of the true situation. All over Blacka the evidence for this can be seen. Bracken grows best in open areas. Where trees grow the shade reduces the vigour of the fern and even eradicates it in places. Yet SWT make these sorts of statements so often that they must persuade themselves they are right.


Not having looked at the statistics I just have the impression that the traditional British westerly has not been around much lately. But this morning it was here with all its freshness. Trees bent over, grass waved about, hats blew off and midges were temporarily routed. And the skies became a main feature.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Recreation and Conservation

Bilberries beginning to ripen

Once again I've been told that my insistence that recreation comes first on Blacka is misguided. The argument goes something like this.

"Calling the site a nature reserve safeguards it from those renegades who would want to do things here which would be inappropriate. The sorts of activities in mind would be trail riding, motor bikes, raves and a long list of other activities. We would be better advised to accept a strong conservation priority and certain restrictions because this would protect the place and quiet users like us from its being spoiled if people think they can do just what they like here."

Some of those who've tried to argue this way have been conservation minded and intelligent. But it surprises me that they cannot see the absurdity of the argument. Public parks are there for recreation first - does this mean that we shouldn't stop anti-social activities going on in them? Does that encourage those who want to trample the flower beds? If we say that certain land was given for the benefit of the people does that really mean that every person has the right to do exactly what they like here, flouting the wishes of the majority? And, just to be a bit pointed, I can't think of many things that come closer to vandalism than the mass poisoning of mature trees, the indiscriminate use of chain saws and the importing of vast quantities of barbed wire.

Cotton - and Wool ?

The area between Blacka and the Stony Ridge road is called Totley Moor on the map. This has always seemed a bit odd in that it's some way from Totley and there are other names for the stretches of land between. I have no knowledge who owns this area, now covered by a sea of cotton grass. Should sheep be put on here it could support a balanced textile economy.

Early in the morning the road is usually busy with commuters and heavy vehicles bearing quarry material away from the Peak. Traffic today was surprisingly light in the morning as if everyone's already spent their money and energy buying fuel and getting jobs done for fear of a lengthy extension to the tanker drivers strike. Now it's settled they can sit back and relax although they may have spent all they have on diesel.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Hot Air

The periods of silence followed by the rude blast of gas jets remind me that certain airbourne activities are not welcome over Blacka. The designation of the site as a "Nature Reserve"* caused inconvenience to a group of senior citizens who had been coming up to Blacka regularly for many years where they flew totally silent radio controlled gliders once or twice a year. They were told their previous activities were not acceptable as the ground nesting birds might become nervous and see the models as a threat!

* As it happens the site is actually one where recreation has precedence over conservation and there is no official "Nature Reserve" designation despite notices saying so at each entrance.

Monday, 16 June 2008


A selection of points from the Thursday RAG meeting:

1 The recent work done to sections of the bridleways: SWT said this was done by the council and funded from the budget of the Public Rights of Way Department. Concerns focused on the use of crushed housebricks urbanising the fabric of the tracks, the fact that some parts have now been 'repaired three times at least over the last five years, each time widening the tracks approaching the repairs and leaving it looking more suitable for a public road than the informal route it used to be.

2 The cutting of large numbers of trees. SWT were sensitive about this and gave mixed signals about how many were to be cut. The trees in question are those in this picture from 23rd May. Deer often use these to retire into after browsing the open spaces. SWT's man said that when birch grew over the heather the heather was shaded out and bracken growth was encouraged. This is nonsense. Birch and other trees shade out the bracken which likes full light to thrive. When bracken is a serious coloniser it's often recommended to let tree growth control it. Below is a picture of land under birches on Blacka. Everywhere around is bracken just visible beyond the trees, while underneath the ground is clear.

3 Spraying of bracken with herbicide. This has already been referred to here.

Common or Not

There are two kinds of Cotton Grass, one called Cotton Grass and the other called Common Cotton Grass. It's also, maybe more correctly, called Hare's Tail Cotton Sedge. It's likely (the way things go) that the Common is less common if you see what I mean.
Whichever it is there's no denying that the display has been spectacular this year. On Blacka I've never seen it make such an impact or continue for so long. I wonder why. If it continues like this the conservationists may start to plan to manage it lest it becomes too invasive

Sunday, 15 June 2008

RAG Meeting

The on-site meeting duly took place last Thursday, chiefly memorable for the number of people looking miserable trying to cope with the midges. This gave the excuse for those wanting to call for us to move on from point to point although midges were everywhere. Sadly there was an absence of high drama. The riot police (if they had been summoned) failed to turn up because of more urgent calls elsewhere. Blacka Blogger was not shown the door for fear he would ask awkward questions although he felt he detected a hangdog look to certain of those attending who clearly knew they had been in the wrong. Otherwise things were much as had been expected.

A fair proportion of the attenders were there as a woolly insulation for SWT, their own members chiefly, who could be relied upon to support them in the event of independent persons choosing to raise concerns or criticise. They had very little if anything to say themselves and gave the impression of not really knowing the site at all well. (Typical of these is one SWT member who believes that people should always agree about everything.)

SWT staff also seemed often ignorant of the site itself and the background to agenda items. The matter of the Graves plaque was one of these - they thought it had been requested by the Dore Village Society whereas it had been put forward as a proposal from a previous RAG meeting having been raised by Blacka Blogger. They also seemed to have been unaware that their own Chief Executive under questioning from councillors in April had said that RAG meetings were publicised in advance on site in the Sheffield Star and at local libraries (none of this had happened).

The general impression was of a kind of guided tour led by people who were unsure of the route but anxious that only certain things could be talked about. I had put forward a number of things for discussion - nobody else had bothered - and was only allowed to get round to a few of them.

Chief causes of dissension were 1) the recent work done to bridleways, 2)the spraying of vegetation and 3) the cutting of trees. I will give more detail on these in another post.

Fewer People

Elder near Lenny Hill

Certain parts of Blacka seem to get less popular with visitors at about this time of year, just as the Elder comes into flower. It may be that summer days encourage people to go for longer expeditions out in the Peak District and beyond, often to a lovely car park where hundreds of other people confirm to any doubters that this is the place to be. Also the midges become more of a presence on Blacka and bracken can encroach onto the walkers' paths. Recently we need to add that there is a reluctance to walk along routes where you might suddenly encounter SWT's cattle truculently staring at you from a few yards away.

The woods and the bridleways remain popular for a shorter walk but the more informal paths are at their best from autumn through to June. Also deer are easier to spot during those months when vegetation is less rampant.
Elder in Flower

Chinese Minimalism

Hawthorn's value is not confined to the Mayblossom. The really old specimens have great character. Dark bark and wizened limbs going out at angles like a war veteran. I've come to see them as similar to the minimalist trees in traditional Chinese paintings, though to fulfil the comparison they would need to be on a steep hillside outlined against the sky.

The best of these is near the route up to Bole Hill. It has faded blossom and is irridescent with the morning sun coming from behind. I must try to get a photo of it in the afternoon.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Only Delayed

The lack of appearance of SWT's hired cattle which had given rise to hope from regular walkers that they had all run away or maybe SWT had abandoned the idea altogether, is actually due to the slow delivery of the Blue Tongue vaccine from DEFRA.

The cattle are due to make their unwelcome appearance any day.

In Good Hands...........?

Just as my conscience is plaguing me about my unnecessary use of the term 'dim witted' to describe Sheffield City Council, SWT and Natural England (in for a penny...why stop there, surely The European Commission and the United Nations should be brought in?) and just as I'm deciding to retract that as childish (despite my own justified sense of grievance) along come SWT to give further cause for astonishment.

At the on site meeting on Thursday complaints were made about plans to use a herbicide in areas where people come to pick wild bilberries. The manager's response was to the effect that the fruit we buy in the supermarket has all had pesticides sprayed on it so why should it be an issue?

Well I suppose there may be some that don't get the point so I'll say it. Blacka Moor is not an intensive farm and people come here to pick wild fruit believing it to be 'better' than what they get at Tesco's in that respect. It's not just that it's free, it's also free from a lot of things that worry many people. Except, of course, for those people who know best.

Too Far?

This is the time of year when wildlife shows its hand and threatens to take over. In the last few days I've been hooted at by an owl, attacked by swarms of midges, clicked at and scolded by numerous small birds, had my best stone seat colonised by wild flowers and been subjected to close scrutiny by deer. Now things seem to be going too far. In the last 24 hours a favourite bilberrying site has been taken over by a stripy headed developer taking advantage of lower property prices.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Some Like It Dank

To be found everywhere but only truly at home in the damp and dark spaces, like here beside the Lee Stream, foxglove should startle you with its size and colour and otherness amid all the greens. And it helps that rural foxes do wander around here as well.

Not far away but quite different is a profusion of humble bedstraw, even elbowing its way onto my favourite seat. It's also pinched the one shaft of sunlight availableIt's the unkemptness of the clumps that catches the eye at first but the tiny flowers are bewitching close up.