Sunday, 30 November 2008

Maximum Intervention - an appeal

At the lengthy 2006 consultation (Icarus Process) there was agreement among the participants that Blacka should be managed as wild land with 'minimal intervention'. No argument was raised against this by SWT or others from the conservationist industry, though it's fair to say that one or two of them did look just a little uneasy. Since then we've had cattle on the moor, barbed wire fencing has become a fixture and a previously open section of the moor has been walled and fenced in with awkward gateways imposed on hapless visitors.

This autumn much chain-saw activity has been ongoing with whole swathes of mature trees falling to the fervent management agenda. The notice seen at entrances shows that this has not finished yet. In fact the text invites members of the public to come along and help in this compulsive activity. Blacka Blogger opposes this for several reasons, chief of which is the inability of SWT to effectively explain their actions with anything other than a kind of 'it's the thing to do' defence. What is usually trotted out when you complain is that they have to manage the area as heathland and if pressed they tell you that heathland and moorland are key habitats for certain species. Heath is of course an artificial landscape and nature long since determined that it was not to have a pure future on Blacka Moor. The spread of native tree species here is largely responsible for Blacka's landscape and wildlife appeal. After all those who want broad treeless spreads of moorland are spoiled for choice in the northern Peak District and then on up the Pennines to Scotland and beyond. The suggestion that all this is endangered, putting it on a par with rain forests, is frankly disingenuous. And as I say it is an artificial, man-made landscape. The trees are bringing back some of the spirit and the nature and wildlife of many centuries ago.

Querying this with SWT's reserve manager has elicited the fact that cutting trees on Bole Hill will not be confined to young birch ('scrub') but will also include taller mature trees some of which may be oak, scots pine, beech, rowan and anything growing near heather. If I'm the only one who finds this to be draconian then perhaps it's time to stop writing this blog in despair.

Much could be said in arguing against this cull of wildlife. But just to mention two. The spread of trees over Blacka has resulted in two wonderful wildlife phenomena that some of us are out here enjoying when SWT's staff are crouched over their workstations filling in grant application forms and compiling management schemes. In spring the arrival of migrant songbirds brings a heart melting medley of optimism to the newly greened foliage of birch, rowan and other native trees. They are not to be heard out on the purer and less interesting moorland of Burbage and Bleaklow etc., because they love deciduous trees. The reappearance of red deer is due almost entirely to the cover the trees provide into which they can retire when people are about. You cannot easily get close to deer on Bigmoor. On Blacka the groups of trees, the isolated scrubby growth gives deer a sense of security. We've seen deer more often close to trees on the moor than anywhere else. (Click on the picture below to get a larger image, and see the hind.)

The small birch woodland at the base of the western end of Bole Hill (picture below) is a regular and secure haunt of Blacka's red deer and should be avoided at all costs by those wielding chain-saws and other tools of destruction. In fact they should stay away completely

So to the appeal. If anyone reading this post is even considering a bracing activity out in the open air this Saturday helping a wildlife trust (and what could sound more healthy and worthwhile, put like that?) please think again. Better still write to the trust or phone them saying that mature trees and other native species should be spared, whatever they choose to do with small birch growth.

If this is minimal intervention what would maximum intervention be? ...ploughing it all up and planting cabbages?


All the years I've known and walked on Blacka Moor it has been open and easily accessible. At the point shown in these pictures (taken on Thursday) there is now a long stretch of fencing and stone walling installed only last year. Previously one just wandered onto the moor, choosing one's route though most people usually tended to go the same way making an informal path. Somewhere I've read in SWT's paperwork or publicity that they tell the story that they have 'improved access to the moor' by putting in these gates. Gates are nearly all around us just here and it's a bit of a joke that they improve anything. What they do of course is to make it possible for them to manage the place as farmland for grazing rather than as the unfettered landscape that it's always been. I suppose they could have chosen to extend walls and fences right across making it necessary for us to climb over the wall, so we should be grateful .... as indeed we should for the barbed wire they put in elsewhere.

Now one of the unintended but wholly predictable consequences of this is that all foot traffic is focused on one small pinched area and it therefore gets uncomfortably mucky and even risky to negotiate.
This increased alarmingly last winter causing interesting problems for lone walkers never mind those accompanied by a child and a dog. At a RAG meeting in June a request was made for the adjoining farm gate to be unlocked when cattle were not on the moor. This was accepted at the time but nothing was done about it - a familiar story with SWT. The cattle have of course not been on the moor at all this year, so there has been no reason for a padlock at all, given that before last year the whole stretch of land was unfenced and completely open. We were beginning to pray for a hard frost to come along and dry up the mud at least temporarily.

Recently a request for the ground beneath the 'kissing gate' to be covered with wood chippings or similar was met with the response that this would be 'importing nutrients into a low nutrient soil type'. Those who see this as being precious to a barely credible degree should draw back and be more tolerant - this is SWT after all.

There is now a promise that the farm gate will be locked open any day now. Interestingly when arriving at this point on Thursday morning the other gate (below) to the bridleway into the pasture land was stuck open, having presumably been like this all night. Fortunately none of the sheep or cattle, so far as we could see, had taken advantage of this to embark on a tour of the surrounding moorland.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Above It All

(Click on pictures to see larger images)

One of the best early morning walks of the year. But those below in Sheffield waking up smothered in thick fog were unaware of what they were missing. If they staggered to the bedroom window and saw the car cased in ice they probably jumped back under the duvet.

But it was worth the effort after so many damp grey mornings.

Temperature inversion mornings are always worth waiting for, but when improved by frost and the changing colours of the sunrise you barely notice the cold fingers. The absence of wind, however, was very welcome.


Apologies for the paucity of posts this week. There are many posts queuing up. I'm just temporarily lacking the time to assemble them.

Friday, 28 November 2008


Friday's jackdaw event was one of the best ever. For anyone who doesn't know about this I can recommend it as being just one of the most spectacular wildlife sights observable in the district. It's also one of the hardest to photograph, at least with a fairly cheap camera like mine.
It's on a par with the displays of breeding sea birds at suitable cliff sites in Spring or the wheeling aerial dances of starlings before roosting.
You need to be at Stony Ridge at daybreak at this time of year, some 40 minutes before sunrise. Of course the easy way to see it is to be driving into Sheffield on the A625 from Derbyshire, but the distractions could cause an accident.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Cycling on Footpaths

The cyclist here is on the Strawberry Lee bridleway. It's interesting because she (?) is looking straight ahead. Usually I find cyclists up here are looking down. I approve of bicycles. For a start they are quieter and slower than cars and I prefer a slower pace to life. I would sooner ban cars than bikes. It's some years now since I was a cyclist, but to me they belong on roads and made up tracks. Seeing them on hills and moors never seems right. I'm uneasy about off road bikes in the countryside. Not surprising seeing that for the first half of my lifetime you would never have seen anyone on a bike on a country path, only on tarmac roads. Then along came heavy duty tyres and mountain bikes and all changed.

Cyclists are permitted by law to ride their bikes on designated bridleways. Not elsewhere, and that includes Rights of Way, informal footpaths and other routes and open areas which can be crossed on foot.

It's easy to see when this restriction has been ignored on the typically soft peaty earth of Blacka. This has been the subject of discussions at recent RAG (Reserve Advisory Group) meetings. It was decided that we would like small signs to be strategically placed at certain path junctions just where there had been or was likely to be a problem and that these signs should simply say "Walkers Only". One of the reasons for this was that not only the cyclists would be aware but also other visitors would know that cyclists should not be there.
Unfortunately, despite the issue being raised several times over a number of years, SWT have made no move to implement this - a situation not unusual with them. On Sunday afternoon (yesterday) three cyclists were observed on a route which was not a bridleway and not even a PROW. The result is a further mashing up of a pleasantly informal path. If SWT had put signs at the beginning of the route it could have had an effect. Nobody wants a wild place to be littered with signs but this can be reviewed after a time and anyway they would be positioned at entrance points.
The problem with cycling here is chiefly the impact the wheels have on a path. A bike is much more efficient at eroding the surface of paths than a walkers boots for obvious reasons. It maintains constant contact with the ground, the two wheels tend to cover the same ground and it is more inflexible, harder to make adjustments (for example to go from stone to stone as a walker might). But I think my reservations go further even than that. There is something about the speed at which a cyclist travels and the fact he invariably and of necessity is looking at the ground in front of him. This singles him out from the walker whose pace is slower allowing him to look all round as he's walking thereby feeling more related to the country he's going through. Too often the cyclist unless he stops sees little of his surroundings which tends to disconnect him from where he is. This doesn't apply on a tarmac track or road, where normally the ground is smooth and consistent. A horse rider is not constrained in the same way. The horse itself looks after most of the decisions about where to put its feet.
But the most worrying thing that has happened in recent years has been the development of 'extreme' cycling. I always feared this would be the next step. Practitioners of this believe they should be allowed to go anywhere and at whatever speed they want. Cycles have been driven off the road by selfish car drivers. Are walkers to be driven off the footpaths because some cyclists treat them as race tracks?

Friday, 21 November 2008

Views West, Views East

For residents in Sheffield's western suburbs the view to their west will take in the high land including Blacka, Burbage and Houndkirk. This is highly valued by many people, and much referred to by estate agents, some houses having been designed and built positioned to take advantage of the favourable outlook. Others have had windows later put in to contrive the same advantage.

When up here on Blacka we see the other side of this. Unlike Burbage and Houndkirk, Blacka is aligned so that its main views are to the east. It's true that the northern outlook takes in a good part of Houndkirk and that the very highest point of Blacka's pasture land allows a glimpse of some land further to the west including Higger Tor. Topmost parts of Bole Hill also give a more panoramic view. But for most visitors who stop to look around them the eye is more often drawn towards the outlying parts of Sheffield, Dore, Totley, Holmesfield and neighbouring attractive stretches of green farmland leading towards Chesterfield.This gives Blacka a different character to some of the nearby moorland which looks out towards Derbyshire's High Peak. So despite the appealing wildness of Blacka itself its views are more vulnerable to what goes on in the swathe of land that protected by green belt restrictions last century. At its best this view to the east adds appeal setting the wildness in a context of green farmland on a pleasantly human scale.

More recently larger structures have appeared, out of scale with the small groupings of houses around Dore and Totley. Clearly the planning process has failed in its duty to protect us from inappropriate development. Do the planners even bother about the impact on the view from the green amenity land or do they just think that its an unimportant consideration because nobody actually lives here?


Tuesday, 18 November 2008

November Light

We've had very little bright sunlight lately and that may be to be expected in November. But when there is sunlight to be had in the middle of the day the quality is excellent due to the sun being lower in the sky.
Early morning light is our usual preference nearer to the middle of the year. Sun almost overhead at midday is less attractive, giving a consistent but less interesting light. This time of year offers delicate and more varied effects throughout the day. But only when the clouds break.

The hinds were unaccompanied. They enjoy having sun on their backs and weren't to be easily disturbed by the larger than normal number of visitors most of them with dogs. Those who were aware of the deer being present were keen to make sure the dogs did not cause problems.

As Well To Be Sure

There are a number of wood rotting fungi of similar appearance. But it's best to look more carefully than we did this morning, beyond just taking a snap of something attractive. For example if this is the Velvet Shank it is edible but if it's the Sulphur Tuft it's poisonous. The Brick Cap meanwhile is inedible but probably won't do you as much damage. Tomorrow we must look for the colour of the stem.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Building Up

With mild weather dominating it's best to take the opportunity to get plenty of food inside you before the colder stuff comes along. The stag was not going to be easily distracted from his feeding although the smaller hind prefers to know what's going on.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


It was generous of the sun to show up at all this morning, so no complaints about the watery picture.

Looking down at where there used to be paths heather seeds are trying to colonise.
It was at this spot more than year ago that SWT scattered some heather seeds which quickly disappeared from the scene when their cattle decided to spend a lot of their time here. Things have not recovered since and the current period of wet weather leads us to wonder what it would have looked like if the cattle had been on the moor this year.

Round The Bend

The Piper House access gate to Blacka is situated on a bend in the Hathersage Road where there has been extensive highways work going on in the last few weeks.

Since a tragic accident last year when two young women were killed we have expected work to be carried out at this spot. There was a lot of dicussion on the dangers of that bend at the time. Regularly over many years cars have gone into the wall when drivers have misjudged the bend often at speed. Now the highways people have gone away and we can see what they have done.

Well the first thing that should be said is that they've spent a lot of money. But has it been spent on something that will make the bend safer? A lot of the work has been devoted to rebuilding the stone wall. The road has been resurfaced and the largish parking space opposite Blacka has been sealed off. Nothing has been done to realign the bend, no new speed restriction either mandatory or advisory is in evidence and nothing has been done to compensate for the access restrictions caused by the parking space being closed.

So what exactly has been the point? We now have a smart new wall, a new road surface and a line of reflecting posts on the footpath. Traffic will certainly revert to travelling at some speed after a period of calmness while the roadwork was going on. SWT's gate access to Blacka at this point has now been made unusable by the line of the new wall and very few people are likely to try to enter Blacka here in future.
You wonder sometimes. Does anybody actualy think before starting these projects?

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


The pastures are not completely empty as the cattle, once intended for the moorland, remain. But sheep have been removed and so far I've seen none that have been left behind. This contrasts with earlier in the year when sheep were removed during lambing but four were left behind to fend as best they could.

I struggle to understand the practices of sheep farming. Very little sense of duty of protection is observable in those responsible for sheep these days. Not in the case of hill sheep at any rate. We have sheep regularly all over a fast main road alongside Blacka. Last week on BBC Radio 4's Farming programme there were complaints being made about the increase in rural crime which include stealing sheep. A farmer who, from his voice, sounded a very reasonable and educated man said that he found he was 200 or so sheep missing when he came to collect them to take to market. This amounted to ten per cent of the herd. They could have been taken weeks previously, but he couldn't be sure because he obviously didn't inspect them regularly.

Yet if your dog suddenly and unpredictably runs after a sheep the farmer will feel quite in his rights to shoot the dog; and there are many instances of this happening. The worst at this are usually those who are poorest at looking after their own animals.

Westward Ho!

Or 'caw' perhaps. But the corvine commuters going west in the early morning are mostly jackdaws from the noise they make. Rooks are with them but are quieter. Other daily migrations not far from here have more rooks in them and they travel more northerly.

Not all have good lane discipline.

Night and Day

The usual group of one old stag and two hinds were out in the early morning. These days night vision is needed.
In the afternoon they may or may not have been in the party of ten or more spread out over the heather and birch fringes on the northern section of the moor.

by the time we had reached the spot they had moved off down the hill, tops just visible.
..... though not every similar twiggy growth is a stag...

Monday, 10 November 2008


Rarely do the paths get as utterly soggy as they are now, even on Blacka Hill. What they would be like if the cattle had been on the moor doesn't bear thinking about. As it is the main routes have still not recovered from the cattle being here last year. The problem is that they use paths unlike the deer who tend to keep to the heather, and several of the paths were seriously widened in 2007 and will take some years to get back to normal.

The cattle are meanwhile still in the pasture land. Not having seen them during the mist and gloom of recent mornings we had wondered if they had been removed. The reason for them being there is hard to understand as neither conservation nor recreation targets are being met by their presence. Sheep could not be seen today - they could have been all lying down in a sheltered hollow, or they could have been taken off for the fat lamb sales.

A walk through the pasture revealed many fungi still there. Verdigris Mushroom were plentiful as were the edible Meadow Waxcaps....


and others unidentified.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Paintbox Challenge

It may be a dull morning with drizzle in the air as we hope that the wind will break the clouds, yet the range of colours is vaste. everything is muted and without the sharp contrast and spectacular effects of recent autumn sunrises, but all would defeat me utterly even if I had any skill as an artist. The deep green of the scots pine acts as a corrective to the parts of the spectrum occupied by the bronze, the gold and the rust. Larch must win the prize, but birch is special too.
Further over towards Strawberry Lee Lane the beeches remind you that there are other hues and textures not seen looking down over the canopy of the wood. Not all trees join in the festival. Oak can find some party spirit but alder is in serious mood. Sycamore contributes nothing but gloom and a sense of decay.

Friday, 7 November 2008

See no Evil...............

.............. and no incompetence either.

Independent minded citizens of Sheffield will be familiar with a collective attitude commonly found within the city council and shared by other public figures and institutions. It is characterised by a serious dislike of any criticism and a touchiness about bad news related to the city. This probably dates back to the days immediately post war when Sheffield was fighting off an appalling image of smoke and grime, probably the very worst place to live in Britain. Having heroically pulled itself out of that and into a new cleaner era of smokeless zones it had a job to promote its new clean air and its fringes of green countryside; many in distant parts needed persuading that this 'new' Sheffield was really any better. It genuinely was better. But the defensiveness of the natives remained.

In more recent times Sheffield has taken to blowing its own trumpet to an alarming extent, not wishing to hear anything that could run counter to the positive image that the city's corporate bosses wish to promote. Anyone appearing to tell things as they really are is in danger of being seriously sidelined, castigated as congenitally negative. This kind of culture is dangerous because it leads to a disconnection with reality. Most who come to Sheffield from other parts of the country will recognise this from their own observations.

PR is unfortunately rife the world wide and no place is immune from the curse of absurd OTT positivity in which the tiniest achievement is overblown and serious flaws are played down. But Sheffield City Council has its own take on this - a culture which amounts to putting a gloss on problems in the hope that they will go away (and all complainants with them). Today's Times newspaper has an article about a murder in Sheffield which highlights this complacency.

At the murder scene, a senior police officer told reporters there was no gang culture in the city. “We have heard rumours regarding gangs operating in the area,” he said. “However, gangs are not prevalent in Sheffield.” Privately, South Yorkshire Police officers admit that the statement lost them credibility. If people had been frightened to speak to the police before, they just laughed now. The police, it seemed, could not see what was going on, so why should people risk their lives to help them? Burngreave and Pitsmoor are on a steep rise north of the centre of Sheffield. At the bottom of the hill, the city's political bosses seemed content for the problem to remain at a distance and, despite the best efforts of the local newspaper, almost unspoken.
Sheffield promotes itself as “the safest city” in England and does not want that image tarnished. Both its universities use the catchline in their efforts to attract the sons and daughters of respectable families. Strenuous efforts have been made to attract new investors and businesses to the city - including firms such as Boeing and Rolls-Royce.
Despite the recession, there remains a sense of affluence about the city centre. Construction sites bristle with cranes, grand municipal buildings have been refurbished and decorative water features adorn the pavements. Whatever was going on up the hill in Burngreave, the city that the outside world is supposed to see is the one that gave us the Arctic Monkeys and Jarvis Cocker, and was represented by high-profile national MPs such as Nick Clegg and David Blunkett.
So the city pretended nothing was happening and the gangs proliferated. They boasted of their drug wealth, brandished their weapons and taunted each other on Bebo and YouTube.

For the full article follow this link.

Not all examples of Sheffield covering its eyes and blocking its ears to what's going on are as serious as murder. But it's hard to walk about the city or work in it without getting a sense of it in usually fairly trivial incidents or overheard conversations. And sadly it can distract from the genuine good things about the city by destroying credibility. The relevance of all this to Blacka is not hard to find. Council officers and councillors too seem to be unable to grasp the facts, or see the evidence of sheer incompetence in the work carried out here. When concrete examples have been pointed out a glazed look comes over their faces.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil:

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Season of mists.............

Continuing the poetic theme started yesterday, but the mellow fruitfulness is now well behind us apart from the odd bilberry and haw. There is not much of a poetic feel about the daily squelch along the soggiest footpaths ever seen.

One way of avoiding the sogginess is to keep off the paths and walk among the heather. This gives a different range of problems including the risk of sprained ankles and damp trouser legs. These do not seem to trouble the hinds seen this morning in the gloom.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

No proper time of day..........

People grumbling about the current period of grey, damp weather should spare a thought for wild animals who are out in it 24 hours a day and in all seasons. Up on Blacka this morning once again the mist was rolling about, sometimes briefly opening out and then closing in, but always grey.

No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease Thomas Hood famously described the month. Full poem here.

Just visible were the permanent residents contemptuous of occasional visitors like us.

A slight improvement revealed the usual group of three including the two hinds.

The stag is now eating with a much restored appetite. Maybe the rut is over now and he needs to build up some strength for the coming colder weather. He allowed us to get fairly close before looking up.