Friday, 31 October 2008

Dore Awakening

The sun was shining into the bedrooms of the good folk of Dore this morning. While up on the hills a scene brought memories of the old tale of the Bremen Town Musicians:

Autochthon - Animals in Their Landscape

Viewers of BBC2's Autumnwatch programmes may have seen deer such as Sika deer or Fallow Deer involved in the annual rut. Both of these are introduced species and, attractive as they may be, do not, to me, look quite as at home in the British countryside as our own native deer. The roe deer is our smallest native deer and can sometimes be seen in and around the Peak District. On Blacka we are doubly lucky because not only do we have red deer, the largest British mammal, but they are living in a landscape that could have been designed for them (or even by them). In fact the way nature has gone its own way over the best part of a century has meant that these animals are able to live perfectly balanced lives, coming out into the open when they wish but retiring into the tree cover at times when they need to feel more secure.

This morning they had chosen a sunny section of the moor with good shelter from the cold winds.

The stag and two hinds could have been posing for group pictures.

My simple phrase to describe these deer is 'right for the landscape'. Richard Jefferies uses the splendid word autochthon from the Greek, roughly translated as 'springing from the soil'.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Sight Test

I'm thinking it's time for another visit to the optician to renew my prescription and perhaps choose some new goggles. Those wild creatures that rely on specialised vision to survive do not have that luxury.

The kestrel may need to hover and glide for much of the day before finding what he's looking for. This one, over Blacka Hill, would have needed to pick out movement of small mammals in the difficult leggy heather territory below .

Even humans well fitted out with prescription lenses may not be aware of the presence of our largest wild animal only a few yards away.

Unless, of course, the nearby male, somewhat less shy, decides to investigate.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Power Tool Madness.

It's hard to say what's more likely to send us into despair. Everywhere we walk up here we come across more evidence of the chain saw culture of SWT. Not content with the many previous ill judged interventions in this delightful landscape they have sent out a power tool addicted individual to cut mature trees. The dead timber is then piled up and left. I have no hope they will dispose of the wood. Their usual practice is to leave it in a a heap. It's easy to cut trees down but a nuisance and hard work to clear up the remains. So they invent a spurious reason for leaving it. Usually it goes something like this: small creatures can shelter in the woodpiles. As if small creatures previously had nowhere to go. In a genuinely wild landscape they find plenty of potential refuges.

We pointed out the clear grassy ground under these birches, one of the few places free from bracken. Now they've cut the birch and two to three years hence it'll be covered with bracken. The problem is that when you point all this out to them it's hard to adopt a suitable tone. You feel you're being rotten to children and taking away their toys, or like criticising a class of thirteen year olds who've been allowed to choose a project of their own on a quiet Friday afternoon. Responsibility doesn't seem to be part of their world.
At the Icarus consultation it was made clear that local people want the place to be managed with minimum of intervention. And part of this is to be able to walk about it as we always have, free from constant reminders of men meddling with nature. SWT seem bent on putting up two fingers to this perfectly reasonable wish.

Still in Charge

The older stag seen yesterday remains the dominant animal as befits his superior strength. He looks stronger in the neck and shoulders than the other one in the picture at the top of the screen who was not to be seen this morning. The hinds are sticking to this fellow having decided that he's the winner.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Wild and Beautiful

Each Spring I fancy it's my favourite season and most Autumns I change my mind. But the first hour of daylight this morning has surely never been as lovely as this. The tree and bracken colours lit up by the rising sun along with frost on the ground produced conditions for a visual treat. Even the swamp of Cowsick was suffused in special lighting.

And when we found two stags on Blacka Hill the scene was complete.

Both were quite big but one was more upstanding and alert than the other who looked older (and a touch more weary).

As previously when stags have been seen during the rutting season there was only a little feeding observed. Not far away the two hinds were definitely 'in tow'.

Whenever I've found hinds on Blacka there have been two with one that much larger than the other, almost leading to the thought that the one is the offspring of the other, but apparently the same two were seen in the summer. The vegetation of the Lee Valley where they spend much time makes it hard to explore in July and August so once more we've had no chance of looking for calves. Annoying though this is for potential explorers and photographers there's no doubt that these secret places help to give Blacka its special character.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Birch Splendour

In autumn no tree can outdo birch at its best, as these were this morning. (Fortunately no SWT chainsaw operators were around.)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Creative Colouring

If the scenes on the slopes of Blacka this morning were represented in paint I'm sure some critics would judge the colouring to be a bit over-the-top. Certain artists might be said to have an over-developed and affectatious approach to their subject. But then not everyone gets out into this landscape in a sunrise to see the outrageous things that nature gets up to, thereby challenging our sense of reality.

Friday, 24 October 2008

On Its Own

If you're a tree in many parts of the Peak District it's something of a lonely life. Sheep will gather underneath when in need of shade from the hot sun and cattle are more likely to shelter from the rain, but neither beast understands that there will be more trees around to perform this function if they didn't eat the small saplings. So a lonely wind blasted thorn can be the only one seen in the landscape. It doesn't help of course that the conservation industry has set its face against trees, with designations of SSSI and similar which declare that trees put sites in unfavourable condition! This tree is a favourite for its hardiness, pluckily hanging on to the side of the hill often with little sign of life.

But a closer view tells a slightly different story.

Best of Autumn

This afternoon was as good as autumn gets in the middle of the day even without the spectacular colours that we can get in early morning. All seemed more muted but well blended.

The pastures have never seemed so full of fungi doubtless due to the wet summer now behind us and just before a promised cold snap. At times it is hard to avoid walking on them.

As usual up here it's the waxcaps that catch the attention with Meadow Waxcap being the most interesting in shape and variation even though one of the more common of them.

But there are many others not so easy for the novice to identify with certainty.

Coming down to explore the wilder parts not visited since early summer, a group of deer were enjoying the sun while sheltered from the brisk wind and partly hidden by trees. Two were hinds including this one shyly watching us, while the dominant stag, never far away, was lying unconcerned only his antlers betraying his presence.

Better Dead Than Alive

It's only when the bracken has abandoned its annual effort to conquer the earth that we can start to love it. Then its bronze patterns become just a delicate part of the overall picture rather than the dominant upstart that threatens to engulf it. In larger scale views and particularly at sunrise the effect can be simply stunning. Autumn is not proper autumn without the golden carpets of bracken on Blacka underneath assorted yellows on the birch.

Think again you heathland fundamentalists. It's what nature produces unassisted that we value most.

A Good Night's Work

The deer will have been out all night so by the time the early morning walkers step onto the moor they are often on their way back to their hidden refuge like the good night-shift they are. On the day before we adjust our clocks, arriving at 7.30 am we can see them still feeding. There were two stags and some hinds. One stag was straining his eyes to pick out our presence in the dim light.

Later, on our way back the sun had risen and it was possible to see him better now clearly heading for home.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

In The Dark

Darker mornings like these can be rewarding, a welcome change from the high contrast of bright sunlight and often right for autumn colours. But they cruelly expose the limitations of the camera, mine at least. This red deer was obviously a stag, his head had the male characteristics and none of the softness and big ears of the hinds. But his antlers were hard to make out.

He may have been a young animal or one with distorted antlers. I don't recall seeing him before, and it was not easy to see him today.

One of the incidental pleasures coming from looking back to the surroundings of Blacka is the sight of the cows grazing the adjoining fields.

As with flocks of migrating birds seen against the sky they dispose themselves across the setting in a way that is never exactly the same but could also never be anything else. But today's dim light does not score as many points as yesterday when their positions were extended by lengthy early shadows.

Today's comparative gloom did manage to lift briefly as the clouds parted to allow a few seconds of brightness.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Managing The Peak District - Who Decides?

A process is going on at this moment which will affect the way our local landscape looks and how we are able to use it. The Eastern Peak District Moors Estate is publicly owned by the Peak National Park Authority. It covers a seriously large area that amounts to one of the most significant recreational spaces in the country, easily accessible to a huge population living close by, especially those within the city of Sheffield and the town of Chesterfield.

The PDNPA has decided to offer a partnership role to an organisation who will manage the estate on behalf of the national park. This kind of thing is not very different to what has happened in Sheffield where the council gave large parts of its countryside assets to Sheffield Wildlife Trust on a lease. In the case of the Eastern Moors estate the PDNPA has put the management out to tender. Two consortiums are bidding. One is the RSPB with the National Trust and the other is SWT along with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Nobody who knows anything about SWT on Blacka can have any wish for them to be involved in any further stretches of our countryside in this way. They are simply not competent.

Having found out about this process quite late in the day, the first thing that concerns us is the vision that the potential manager will be expected to implement. This vision can be seen here. There are some things in this statement I might approve of but where is the accountability at this stage? Was there wide consultation in defining this vision? Perhaps there was, but if so why were we not aware of it and able to participate in its formulation? And reading the text it's obvious that the issue of consultation has again been fudged. The part of the document that deals with consultation makes no sense whatsoever, viz:

"Continued consultation both in house (and with statutory bodies such as EH when appropriate) regarding management works (such as burning, flailing, heather cutting and scrape creation)."
The brackets just confuse the issue. Who is being consulted? Are the public who know and use these areas involved? What else is being consulted on? How did this get into print when it's logically absurd?

Deer Country

The autumn adds special features to this area of Blacka. Bracken is a plant that's at its best when dead. The early morning sun enhances it to a status alongside many precious museum artefacts visited by far more people.

The deer this morning were off quickly before we could approach, but numerous deep atmospheric bellows could be heard echoing down in their favourite valley.

It must have been cold during the night and frost could be seen coating the moss and bracken.

Later a short shower gave us a rainbow over the trees,


The Highways Department project on Hathersage Road goes on....and on. The cost must be astronomic. Is it really envisaged that this will make the road safer? I've already expressed my view that any 'improvement' to the road is most likely to influence drivers to go faster and that's the last thing we need. In the duration of these roadworks so far the whole stretch has been slowed down because of traffic lights and this has significantly calmed the road and made it more pleasurable to drive along. Waiting at the lights might even have persuaded some people to look around them at the scenery. Can we not learn from this? So-called 'road improvement' is not what we should be doing. Reducing speeds and making people wait is the answer. This is why this blog supports a reduction to 40 mph, cattle grids at intervals and removing walls to allow all animals to wander at will. Oh, and speed cameras set to catch anyone driving 1 mph over the limit. This is a National Park not a racing track. Anyone wishing to drive recklessly should contribute to a fund for the purchase of a purpose built track well away from where the rest of us go.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Hollow

Sooner or later all visitors to Blacka arrive at The Hollow. It's a sheltered spot surrounded by slightly higher ground and trees thus offering some protection from keen winds. For this reason it's a tempting place to linger on certain days in the year.

Running through is the stream, often only a trickle in drier periods, but a raging torrent on mornings after a deluge in the night.

The waters disappear to the east.......

Those who want to see where it goes can wander through the trees to come to the top of the plunge down into Blacka Dyke. This also is a thrilling spot after heavy rain.

The only serious eyesore in the area is the powerline thoughtlessly routed through here many years ago.
Just to the side of The Hollow is a small grove of trees planted by The Ramblers in the 1970s.
This can be lovely in autumn.