Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Are They Really So Cute?

People have been heard to say that highland cattle are sweet. I've no doubt that Sheffield Wildlife Trust, desperate to persuade doubters that these cattle are a great asset to Blacka Moor, tell people to come along and see the delightful animals they have brought onto the site. This is because there was considerable unhappiness at the decision to graze cattle here. But are they really so cute? I've seen many farm animals living in different conditions across the country and have worked with cattle when they have appeared contented. And I have to say that these cows look pretty miserable to me. Surely nobody would say these beasts are just the thing to bring your grandchildren to look at.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Alder Magic

A misty morning is a good time to look at alders. The alder is one of my favourite Blacka trees, a lover of wet ground, growing along the stream banks coming down from Cowsick and in the damp woods in the north west corner - the one near the car park surrounded by rhododendron. There is lots of folklore associated with alder as befits a native tree at home in secret wet and misty spaces. Ancient peoples such as Druids held alder in great respect partly due to its wood appearing white when first cut then "bleeding" red later. They used dye from this and green dye from the flowers.

Male catkins are on the same trees as females and the immature green fruit (above) become more like small cones when mature. The timber from alder needs to be water resistant given its situation in swampy areas and when cut has been much used for old buckets and also for piles and river edging works.

Pick Your Own

Whirlow Farm advertises its PYO on Ecclesall Road South for those who want raspberries and strawberries etc. (I currently have more lettuces than we can eat so we're open to offers - runner beans were sown late so haven't started yet.) But the greatest joy is in harvesting free food from the wild and now is the best time for raiding the bilberry beds of Blacka. You may also find these berries in with the heather and bilberry. They are crowberry and cowberry, easily confused because of their names. Both are edible but do not come in sufficient numbers to rival bilberry.

Sunday, 27 July 2008


Visitors to Blacka were not able to see this view last year. The riot of grasses in flower and seed is a sight that may not be repeated either in years to come. Why? Because the cattle SWT are committed to grazing here will eat the grass before it reaches an inch or two high. So why is the grass enjoying such a welcome reprieve this year? This is anyone's guess. The truth is that SWT or their farmer/grazier have not put the cows on the moor despite information being given that they will be there during the summer. But as to why, well you have to take whichever answer is given by SWT; it seems to be different each time, some being told that it's connected with the blue tongue vaccine and others that it's to do with fences or gates and doubtless more people have been given different reasons.

Whatever the reason it's good to see the moor and the paths looking as they did two years ago. The paths have had a chance to recover from the punishment imposed by the cattle last year with the added bonus of large clusters of mature grasses displayed along the fringes.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

High Summer

Plant life is at its most effusive in late July with the pushiest species overpowering the more demure. Bracken is vulgar and brassy determined to make the most of the time available before it's squashed by colder nights.

The woodland near Hathersage Road is some of the best for miles around - a pity that the road noise is always present.

Greenery is everywhere and even in the middle of a dry spell you can end your morning's walk with wet clothing caused by a heavy dew.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Bog Asphodel Update

The beautiful flowers of the Bog Asphodel are now at their best and there are more of them to be seen than when I posted earlier (see 17th July post). Although the main colony of a few years ago has now been flooded and taken over by rushes there seem to be more flowers growing on the edge of the wettest area where conditions are more favourable. If the water level continues to rise then it's possible that these will be flooded in their turn of course but the chances are that the plants will survive in some form. It just seems that it was quite unnecessary to raise the water level in the first place and it could yet cause more problems.

Monday, 21 July 2008


If Blacka eventually reverts to woodland in the fullness of time, a process some of us think as inevitable whatever managers and wildlife trusts do, it does not mean that there will not be clearings and areas of sparser tree growth. And trees do shade out the bracken growing vigorously to the right and left of this glade.


The hind enjoying the sun this morning was very annoyed when she realised she was being watched. As she ran off she gave several short barks.

She is the largest of the hinds I've seen on Blacka and the prints give some idea of this although the shoe is perhaps a size 6 or 7.

Her agitation and her being solitary raises a question. Hinds can calve from May to July. If she is expecting there is still time for a calf to be born here.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Farm Animal Welfare

In opposing cattle grazing on Blacka Moor this blog also has reservations about the grazing of sheep on the Blacka Moor pastures. There are a number of reasons for this but the one that is uppermost at the moment relates to the welfare of the animals. A recent case in the news brings this into focus. The farmer in question had sheep very close to Blacka. He seems to have made no effort to look after his animals and much suffering ensued. My observation suggests this situation is not uncommon. I'm sure that most farmers are humane and hate to see their animals in distress, but a larger minority than I would have expected sees sheep as little different to any other units of production. Such people are probably scornful of the cloying sentimentality of 'townsfolk' who they might see as being far too interfering in matters that should only concern the 'real' country folk. As an ex farm-worker I can see some aspects of this that I might sympathise with, but the farmer I worked for was a principled and caring man who saw each of his animals every day and worried if any was unwell. Not all are like that. A few years ago the RSPCA was called to the sheep pasture on Blacka Moor because of the large numbers of dead and dying animals seen by walkers to the site. That farmer no longer has anything to do with Blacka but I still wonder how often the present farmer inspects his sheep. An occasional animal gets ill and is allowed to die a miserable death on the hills, something I find unacceptable. A field near my own home has had a dead lamb in it for four days at least. I wonder how much of this attitude is down to the practice of buying in sheep to fatten up for a few weeks before selling them on. Those animals that spend their full lives on one farm surely have a better chance of being well looked after.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Bog Asphodel

I'm pretty sure that the flowers of the Bog Asphodel that we can see now are all there are going to be this year and it's time to draw some conclusions. People who visit this spot in July have loved to see this flower and naturalists have brought parties to Blacka specially to show them the display. In previous years they have stretched for many yards past the wooden sleeper bridge in a heart-warming spread of colour mingling with the pink/purple of bell heather. This was all achieved with no input from management and before SWT's management plan was put in place. One naturalist showed me some photographs he had taken before and after the council decision to put sheep on the moor in 1983 - the sheep had eaten nearly all of the flowers. No wonder he was so opposed to the cattle grazing plan.

Approaching Cowsick Bog
But it is not the cattle grazing itself that has caused the great reduction of the number of flowers we see today. It is SWT's other misguided policy of flooding the area by placing plywood dams all over the bog without planning the consequences for access. They decided to "improve" the bog, by making it more boggy and extending it. It has certainly changed things but like so many of their attempts to intervene they seem unable to think ahead and predict the consequences. They were criticised at the very outset about this. Running across Cowsick bog is a public right of way, a footpath which has always been a bit of a muddy walk. But SWT's action in installing the dams changed this. And when it did people using the path moved to the side avoiding the swampy ground. Unfortunately this took them over the ground where Bog Asphodel grew; as this was autumn and winter there was nothing visible to alert visitors to the damage being done intrampling over this ground. But SWT did know about the damage (they surely must have known) and did absolutely nothing. Months went by during which the trampling went on and the flooding continued and still no action came from SWT. No attempt was made to mitigate the damage caused by the flooding of the public path either by diverting walkers or any other strategy. This went on for a year after which criticism led SWT to improve the path when they were given some money: they placed stone slabs and another sleeper bridge along a section of the original path. But this was too late to save the Bog Asphodel display and the showing in 2007 was disappointing leaving some of us hoping that things would improve this year.

In 2006 before this area was flooded by SWT's dams
Unfortunately we had reckoned without the effects of SWT's dams. Progressively since they were installed they have raised the water level over the whole area and by now the water in the 'sump' pool is up to the level of the sleeper bridge and threatening to engulf even the new slabs. At the same time the area that was once a riot of yellow flowers is now flooded with swampy water and only remarkable for dense growth of common rushes which love the waterlogged conditions.

In 2008 this area now dominated by swamp loving rushes
The Bog Asphodel flowers that remain are the plants nearer to the bridge in the less flooded section. This plant likes damp conditions but does not enjoy being completely under water. Is it perhaps too much to expect a wildlife trust to know this? Blacka is largely poor acid soil and has limited scope for flower displays so the decline in the one genuinely colourful spectacle is particularly unfortunate. Nobody who knows Blacka can doubt where responsibility lies for this, but if we know one thing about SWT it is that they will deny what they've done has caused this - or even deny it's happened at all.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008


Blacka Blogger is critical of conservationists when criticism is deserved. When they act in the interests of the English countryside and its people they deserve our support. And many of them habitually do that, some think they do but are misguided and some unfortunately act mainly in their own interests. I was interested in recent reports about conserving wetlands. I have some sympathy with this in some cases, perhaps the majority. But the problem for me is that it can become a bandwagon and a route for special interest groups to claim public money without mature scrutiny. Each case should be taken on its merits but instead of that the whole conservation movement seems to get together and make sure they are singing from the same sheet. They gain strength of purpose from their campaign and back each other up even when a particular situation is not wholly justifiable. It becomes a numbers game: you help with our campaign and we'll help with yours, etc. Sooner or later there's a massive orthodoxy established and those who are not 'on board' are ignored or even discredited.

A case in point is here right in front of us on Blacka. Cowsick bog has been 'managed' in the last few years against the wishes of the majority of users who walk the public right of way going across it. Doubtless the wildlife trust and their allies consider this as their own little wetland but in my view the consequences have been unfortunate even in conservation terms.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Out of the Midges

Deer have been seen several times lately up on the slopes of Blacka Hill during daylight hours. Having been out for much of the night one expects them to be resting sheltered in trees or bracken. But the cooler wind on exposed slopes is tempting for the absence of midges. The stag on the left has a deformity of his antlers. This is not uncommon and it's possible to see various strange formations. One wonders how it affects them. There were five altogether one of them being a hind. They were last seen moving down the slope with the new King Ecgbert school behind them.


One of the advantages of land not being farmed is that common plants are allowed to mature and flower with no threat of livestock coming along to demolish them. Last year the grasses around these trees were eaten by SWT's cows early on. This year with the cattle still impounded elsewhere awaiting their vaccines the grasses look delightful.

Anyone who has watched cattle eating will know just how quickly they deal with grass. Deer eat grass too of course but not to the same manic and industrial extent.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

In The Shade

The three stags and one hind watched us fairly unconcerned. Then they moved off slowly at first, the hind being always the more restless and the largest stag the most laid back.

They were looking for the best shady spot on a day promising warm sunshine. Once there they soon lay down and the chances are many people walked past later on unaware of them.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Afternoon Browse

All on her own this hind was taking a leisurely stroll through the low rowan this afternoon.

In The Open

I've been complaining that I've recently only seen deer partly or mostly hidden by trees and bracken, thus denied a chance to enjoy the view of the red coat at its finest. This courting couple put that right this morning and looked quite ginger in the bright sun. Unusual to find a young stag and hind together in this way. Previously we had explored in some dense vegetation where the bracken reaches 7 feet tall hoping to get a glimpse of any young calf that may have been born. It's a pretty hopeless task the only reward being a sighting of a hind's back deep in the thickest birch wood.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Roadside Plants

Beneath the wall the footpath/bridleway at the north boundary of Blacka borders Hathersage Road and limestone used in roadworkings has affected the range of plants found there as it does all over the country on road verges. The thistle above is not found on other parts of Blacka where you're more likely to see the spear thistle or creeping thistle. This could be the melancholy thistle.
Also to be found are cranesbill and vetchling. Those who enjoy walking close to traffic noise may well find other interesting specimens. It's not every day that cars crash through the wall to land upside down in this area but it's as well to be alert to the possibility.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

That Bend

It looks as if there's been another accident on the Piper House bend. An upside down car was to be seen in the ditch beyond the parking area on Sunday morning. Some youngish people were also seen early this morning looking over the broken wall by the bus stop, which has once again disappeared. To repeat, the council's response to accidents here has been almost nothing.


Mind focused on the details of the recipe, I had been several minutes picking bilberries before becoming aware of the silent watchers nearby.
Bracken provides such excellent cover that you can easily walk past them unaware. Even when you do see them you miss the sight of the beautiful red coat, at its best at this time of year.
These stags were some thirty yards away. I had been watching them for some time before realising another even bigger stag was closer, again partly hidden by the wet vegetation and calmly munching rowan leaves.

Before It Gets Worse

The weather forecaster sounded miserable and apologetic suggesting that early morning on Tuesday could be the best time of the week.

The low dazzling sun makes even humble grass flowers look striking.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Book Corner

A children's story from 1897 still to be found in bookshops and may appeal to the right child who has seen red deer on Blacka. Obviously the style is different to that you would find in contemporary children's literature but many will not be deterred because of the subject matter. It could be recommended for a fairly wide age range between 8 and 12 depending on whether the child is being read to by an adult or reading it personally (or a mix of the two).

A Star

Bog asphodel is a star among flowers and the single most striking specimen to be found on Blacka. It is now coming into flower at the north end of Cowsick.

As at the moment there are very few to be seen compared with previous years, but let's hope there is yet time for more to appear.

Sunday, 6 July 2008


The living bench here is much valued as a place to rest awhile part way round a walk. There is a pleasant springiness about it which compensates for the lack of depth to the seating. But like most living things it varies according to the conditions. During prolonged dry spells it becomes more rigid and liable to creak and even crack. Users are then advised to sit nearer to the tree itself and avoid the further extremities which create more leverage and more alarming creaks. This goes especially for those whose mass exceeds about, say, 12 stones. But after rain the bough is immediately restored to maximum flexibility as the flow of moisture strengthens the living timber. Today of course it was back to full springiness.
(A hygrometer is an instrument that measures the humidity of the air.)

Friday, 4 July 2008

The Merest Glimpse

..........is often all you get, and the only indication of the presence of deer on a warm afternoon in July.
but you can be sure that she is watching you closely and if she has any suspicions at all she won't wait around.