Monday, 29 September 2008

The End for Now

It could be the last bright morning for a while as the high pressure area goes. Back to wind and rain tomorrow.

So Surprising ?

Most farm animals are pretty docile on the whole but there's plenty of advice from official organisations like DEFRA telling everyone to be cautious in approaching them. When SWT announced their intention to put Highland Cattle on a large section of previously ungrazed moor, numerous people declared that this was wrong because it would discourage visitors on a site which is set aside for recreational use. SWT and their friends dismissed and then scorned the concerns.
The crucial group is the horse riders who have children who ride along the bridleways through the newly installed gates. Riding on Blacka can be an excellent activity for children. They can be independent and ride after school in the summer months in a place which has always been safe. Cows are stupid and obstinate creatures and will stand their ground unless you approach them making a lot of noise with threatening gestures. This is often not in character for small girls on ponies and anyway the cows don't see the ponies as a threat even with humans on them. The result can be a stand off with the children getting upset. Failing to see this as being a problem or failing to acknowledge it when it happened were typical of SWT's unimaginative management style.

Even Better

Travellers along the A625 Hathersage Road bordering Blacka will know that the Highways people have been repairing the wall at Piper House. This wall is regularly punctured by holes caused by collisions, and speeding traffic unable to negotiate the bend, and the bus stop here is often to be found deposited over the wall several metres away. The new wall will doubtless be much sturdier and resist these impacts. What will be interesting is the effect on the cars . They will perhaps bounce back into the carriageway in the path of oncoming vehicles.

Blacka Blogger has a better idea. Since the temporary traffic lights have been here with some half mile of 30 mph signs installed, this whole section of road has been calmer and much more civilised to travel along. The intelligent solution is to just leave it like this. It will not be liked among the hyperactive adolescents who seem to make up the majority of the driving public these days, but it will probably mean a few more spare beds in the A&E departments.

Saturday, 27 September 2008


We've had a number of conversations and disagreements about the management of the moor, how it should be done, by whom and even whether it should be managed at all. Blacka Blogger's view is that any management should be inconspicuous and should not compromise the sense of natural change. These cut birches may simply have been left here pending removal by SWT but I'm not holding my breath.

SWT do not have a regular presence here and are usually to be found at their headquarters at Stafford Road near Norfolk Park. But occasionally when there is a fine spell of weather a group of them appear and busy themselves with a task or two from their management plan. The last few days have been still and mostly warm bringing them out with chain saws and other implements to perform what they call 'scrub bashing'.

Some of the exposed stumps of the trees have been coated with a red substance which I assume to be a weedkiller to prevent regrowth. This seems to be a new departure, not having been used where they have cut birch before. No notification has been given to the public about this.

The Warming Slopes

Those who set out on their walk later than we do may not appreciate just how cold it can be as the sun is rising after a clear night. The deer have been busy for many of the cool hours of the night so are more than happy to relax on these east-facing slopes allowing the sun to warm their bodies.

They're often to be seen here at this time but picking out the antlers from the surrounding twigs and undergrowth is an acquired skill. Hinds make it harder although their ears usually give then away.


The workforce arriving at 7.40 this morning were on their way to the pastures where Magic Mushrooms might be found. It's traditional on Blacka for these searchers to be up early but this morning we had been out for an hour before they arrived. It must be harder for students these days to get out of bed after a Friday night.

Later on they could be seen, and their purpose confirmed, on the skyline bent nearly double. They blend well with the woolly mowers who must think they're a similar species.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Deserved Sympathy ?

Blacka Blogger has always felt a measure of sympathy for Sheffield Wildlife Trust whose mistakes and indiscretions one would like to ascribe to youth and inexperience. It is also their misfortune to find themselves in an area of the conservation economy that has become dominated by blinkered and inflexible approaches that are nervous and intolerant of alternative visions. So it's with mixed feelings that one hears that Sheffield Wildlife Trust continue to have difficulties in keeping their more experienced staff and are struggling to manage even their not very ambitious programme. Although our impression is that experienced staff in Sheffield Wildlife Trust means anyone aged 27 who has been in job for two years. It is precisely in those areas of land management which deal with the caprices of nature and people and the supremely important values of our national landscape that we need experience, flexibility and wisdom.

The lack of experienced staff is evident in the fact that they are rarely to be seen on Blacka and when the staff are there they seem unfamiliar with the place - to the extent of often not knowing their way around. Hence when complaints are made about trees being cut down we are told that the team have cut down the wrong trees, just one of a number of examples that could be given. Yet the city council gave SWT a lease on this special area of land because they were considered to have more chance of accessing funds and resources to the benefit of the site. In fact they have struggled to perform even minor tasks to a competent level and much of this must be due to a lack of experienced and capable staff, alongside some poor policy decisions.

It would have been easier to sympathise with Sheffield Wildlife Trust if they had approached the business of consultation in a different spirit, been more open and prepared to discuss honestly their plans and difficulties and if they had adopted more of a partnership role with local people. Instead of listening to those whose history of valuing the site over many years was a matter of record they chose to draw closer to their conservatist allies and directed their energies to marginalising all with another point of view. Perhaps it was ever thus. The opposition to their plans, persistently and calmly expressed, set up an institutional panic in the ranks of their oragnisation leading to behaviour more suited to the playground Unable to deal with what they interpreted as a challenge to the underlying principles of their strategy and philosophy, they set out shamelessly to discredit local people. Many staff do not like working in this sort of atmosphere and it would be no surprise if some of them began to question not just the approach which set out to antagonise local people but also the management strategy that led to the discontent in the first place.

There can be no honour in dealing with disunity by smearing all dissenters as troublemakers. Some would say it happens all the time and not just in politics and the universities but in other places where the workforce have little experience of ‘proper jobs’. But it’s seen at its clumsiest when manipulated by the inexperienced in the role of puppets of a conservation establishment controlled by those in universities and the self referencing conservation bureaucracy.

Which brings us back to the accountability of those who took the decision to hand over responsibilities like these to such a raw and untried organization, namely the Sheffield Council and those officers and others who advised it. But the suspicion remains that this could in fact be the role that Sheffield Wildlife Trust was intended for, i.e. a kind of first job for those just out of university who had been persuaded into doing degrees in subjects like conservation and ecology. Those academics in these new disciplines anxious to promote their courses would happily be able to point to such opportunities for their potential students when recruiting. And of course these days they can also say the job is at least as secure as working in a bank.

These comments are only the conjectures and musings of one who’s not been privy to the internal politics of all this. Blacka Blogger has simply seen it all from the outside. Anyone who can shed more light on all this is welcome to use this site to comment, even if it is to put a different point of view. All we ask is that comments should be made in a manner untainted by personal rancour.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Fungal Fun

Looking back at posts 12 months ago it seems that fungi are some two to three weeks earlier this year. 2007 had a drier spell at the end of August and beginning of September. Memories have not yet faded concerning 2008.

I'm fairly confident in identifying this as the Saffron Parasol, quite an elegant small specimen with a ring and flecks on the stem and a rough edged cap.

These red waxcaps just appearing don't look like the pictures in my books of the Scarlet Hood nor of the Crimson Waxcap; perhaps they are the small Hygrocybe miniata? But then there are some 63 waxcaps in the country and not all are in the books.

This one too has me puzzled. It's features look clear enough for it to be easy, but nothing is simple about fungi. Sometimes they seem to be playing with us.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Seasonally Adjusted

Google told me that yesterday was the first day of Autumn. Today a mean north wind made it feel like the last. Picking bilberries was more difficult with fingers part-numbed by the cold. This may be the last pick of the year. The later it is the more squashy they get but the compensation is they tend to be bigger and sweeter.

Still one or two Spring and early Summer flowers persist - a case of misplaced hope.

The elderberries here are too high up for us to reach thwarting our greedy determination to make the most of all free food.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

All Out

Not everyone was out early this Sunday morning. But there was an atmosphere created by the promise of a fine weekend after a lousy summer. Motorbikes were making a fearful din over towards Moss Road. Quieter activities were observed on Blacka. More dog walkers than usual, one with a baby on her back and two large animals more like bears. And over Thistle Hill appeared this balloon. I confess I find these things slightly unsettling. It's to do with the way it appears in total silence, then just when you've realised what you're seeing it bellows at you. Animals are often disturbed by them for the same reason. Heaven help us if someone markets a small personal version!

Down in the woods there is free fruit to be had for those with time to pick it and a good reach. Elderberries are a favourite flavour to go with apple crumble. And like all purple fruits full of anti-oxidants.

Several woodland fungi are around at this time including the Orange Birch Bolete - this is an old specimen:

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Bleats, Moos and Roars

I've quoted before the words of Richard Jefferies, the Victorian writer and naturalist; and seeing this beast this morning reminded me of this paragraph:

"The land is his, and the hills, the sweet streams, and rocky glens. He is infinitely more natural than the cattle and sheep that have strayed into his domains. For some inexplicable reason, although they too are in reality natural, when he is present they look as if they had been put there and were kept there by artificial means. They do not, as painters say, shade in with the colours and shápe of the landscape. He is as natural as an oak, or a fern, or a rock itself. He is earth-born— autochthon—and holds possession by descent. Utterly scorning control, the walls and hedges are nothing to him.—he roams where he chooses, as fancy leads.”

How prosaic the farm animals look in comparison and how irritating their mooing and bleatings.

We had earlier seen three stags on the lower slopes of Blacka Hill in the early lightness of the morning. They were clearly younger animals and quick to make off.

The solitary stag, at the top of this post, was a larger more confident beast, standing fairly still, not feeding and clearly the master of the local herd. Every so often he threw out a roar to challenge all comers.

The short movie below is inadequate and only included with misgivings and many apologies for the shaking of the camera. But it is the first and only clip I have so far taken of a stag on Blacka in full roar.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Leaving a Mark

Those of us who genuinely love country spaces make sure we leave only the slightest mark of our visit behind us. We go further and do our best to be inconspicuous. This is not the case with a significant minority of the population. This minority is significant because they get pleasure from doing just this and often even more pleasure if their actions annoy others. At various levels this is present throughout modern life, part of the 'flaunt it' agenda in popular culture; modesty is not understood or valued. The motorcyclist who noisily gouges a rut across the moor is one example of this.

But I would extend my disapproval to those who put conspicuous notices at beauty spots telling visitors to admire the view and the work of the conservation team who 'protect' it. An attractive area not far from here was visited by tree cutters yesterday. In order to get their powered shredding machine into the narrow path they knocked down a wall and demolished several perfectly healthy mature beeches. Sometimes we fail to appreciate just how far the culture of philistinism has spread. It's no longer safe to assume that a majority share our values.


To get close to any wild creatures it's as well to be quiet and inconspicuous. The red deer on Blacka are themselves expert at staying well hidden.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

At Last...

A perfect morning. No wind, clear sky and still some mist clinging on in the lower areas. So we were off up to the top of Thistle Hill for the views and to look for fungi.

The single mushroom here is either the Conical Waxcap or the Blackening Waxcap. It was close to the wheelmarks left by the grazing farmer's vehicle which are beginning to create a track on the side of the hill. This is inappropriate for a number of reasons and will encourage more bikers and riders to follow suit.

I wondered if they had been removing the cattle from the pastures but they could just be made out grazing above The Buttresses. Sheep, for them, were in a confrontational mood, challenging our right to access with stamping hooves.

A few more of the delightful small Yellow Waxcaps were found.

Under the birches the fallen leaves have made a similar pattern to the seeds of a week or two ago.

While admiring one of our many favourite views in daylight no longer depressingly grey.........

....we realised we were not completely alone.
He was one of five all peacefully browsing amid the heather and bilberry, probably devouring young tree seedlings.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


Walking along the paths of Blacka sometimes the only way that you're aware of the presence of deer is the antlers protruding above the bracken and shrubs. This doesn't apply when the deer are hinds. This one seemed to be compensating for the absence of antlers by acquiring an extra pair of ears.

The stags, two at least, had reacted to our sudden appearance on a windless morning by fleeing in haste, gallantly leaving the females to face us out. They probably thought we couldn't see them. Another local resident had been watching all this.

From the mud and disturbance it appears the deer had earlier been sporting in the water hole in a hollow, site of a small old quarry digging.


Nettles keep the capacity to surprise us well into September, as my wrist can attest after some blackberrying yesterday. The characteristic chemistry of the plant is also seen in the change of colour when it dies back. While others are happy to go from green to brown, after a little yellowing nettles tend to go black. The leaf tips on this one are a glossy black as if it's been tarred.

Bracken meanwhile is browning more and more as the cooler nights take their toll.

But the early morning explorer on Thistle Hill is unlikely to be nettled. Blackberries are not what he seeks.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Three Becomes Four

The three stags seen yesterday were on Blacka Hill again this morning moving down slowly towards the trees to the north. Half an hour later we surprised them on the path going through the trees. As they moved away there were now four.