Friday, 30 January 2009

Bog Standard

On the agenda of Tuesday's Blacka Moor RAG meeting was the management of Cowsick Bog, a subject that comes up when Blacka Blogger meets people on the moor. To explain takes up more space than usual so this is a longer post.

There's always been a bog at Cowsick and it's of course always been wet. But a public footpath across the bog has always been fairly easy to use. The best thing about Cowsick is the flowering of the yellow bog asphodel in July, not otherwise a great time on Blacka.

Several years ago SWT, without consulting, stuck several sheets of plywood as dams on the east side of the bog where excess water ran off into the stream that becomes Blacka Dyke. Presumably the bog for them was not boggy enough - maybe it didn't even come up to Bog Standard. More likely a whim of an English Nature (Natural England) officer was passed down as a suggestion and there was some grant money attached to it.

It didn't take long for the effect to be seen. The footpath became flooded and walkers found the path unacceptably wet. The result was they diverted off the path onto slightly better ground to the side - just where the best bog asphodel flowers grow. You might expect a wildlife trust to react swiftly to this but it was several months before any response at all came from them. It was in the form of a passage in a letter to RAG members saying that they had located some flagstones which they would eventually get round to putting in place along the original path. Meanwhile the trampling of the area continued and SWT showed no urgency to deal with the problem. Eventually the new flagstones were put down (inevitably causing more trampling) and for a time the access to the right of way was much improved even though there were reservations about the visual impact of imported materials.

But the problem was far from solved because since then the water level has continued to rise. Now the wooden bridge made from old railway sleepers, which has been there as long as anyone can remember, is in constant contact with the water. Cautious people have given up putting their weight on it. After a rainy day water which used to be absorbed by the bog has nowhere to go but to the area near the woods from where it rushes along paths to join the streams 150 yards further on. Wellington boots have become obligatory here while walking along the actual right of way is not recommended whatever your footwear.
The main point to make about this is the tardiness of any response from the conservation people. The obvious thing to do is to remove all, or at least some of the wooden damming panels. But SWT is nervous about the bog lovers in Natural England - people who I've never met on Blacka but who, from the dry comfort of their offices seem to wield considerable influence on my choice of route and footwear and much more besides.

Bog asphodel still survives at Cowsick but the section beside the path where the best examples used to grow is now under water and the plants prefer to be swampy rather than drowned so the best ones are on other parts of the bog.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Population "Explosion"

Some will have heard the item on yesterday morning's Radio 4 Today programme about a population explosion of wild deer. Several things need to be said to balance the kind of febrile impression always created when the media run a story. First the native deer in this country are Roe and Red. A number of introduced species such as the Muntjac are spreading around the country. The largest numbers of Red Deer are in Scotland and in the South West of England. If we go back to the Middle Ages deer were far more important in everyday life. A visit to nearby Hardwick Hall will show this with hundreds of images of Red Deer around the building and friezes with hunting scenes.

The return of deer to Blacka should be welcomed as it fits well with the wildness of the place. Anyway the small numbers involved (only two hinds) are no excuse for anyone getting trigger happy. As for road accidents they certainly happen. I hope nobody is suggesting that deer should be culled because they cause accidents. Speed limits are a much more acceptable way of preventing accidents. I frequently see stray sheep on Hathersage Road. Perhaps they should be culled? Or maybe the speeding motorists?

Also it will not be lost on Blacka's regular walkers that SWT want their cattle on the moor to eat young trees and that deer are nature's way of doing this with no need for a management plan, barbed wire fences, awkward gates and eroded paths. The control freaks of Natural England won't have it though. There's a difference between deer grazing and cattle grazing says NE. And they want the landscape according to their blueprint. God help us all.

Link to the radio item here. I love that "Dear (sic) Initiative" (now corrected). Link to them here. But how depressing that there's always somebody or some group popping up wanting to manage something. As an advanced species we can't manage our economy we can't manage our aggression or our crime rate but we seem to have faith that we can set up agencies to control nature. Hmm.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


It is good to report that SWT has put aside its approach of previous years. It's not that we've actually gained anything. Simply that the previous default mode of confrontation and dismissiveness of the "we know best" style of consultation was found not to work in the face of our dogged persistence. And it's difficult not to feel sympathy for people who genuinely seem to want to be liked. All of this is a welcome change. Would that it had been in evidence before. We don't know of course what work pressures they are under nor how heavily they are lent on by intransigent agencies like the appallingly impenetrable Natural England (sorry Unnatural E).

More detail about last night's RAG meeting later but first general impressions are that the SWT managers, likeable as they are, are as putty in the hands of the dictators at NE, whose officers can indulge their own whims via directives to the lesser mortals (and probably less well paid ones) at wildlife trusts. Unfortunately the NE representative was not present last night but I'm tempted to say was the elephant in the room ... there I've said it - another resolution gone.

At each point where we felt we could be getting our point across reference was made to English Nature/NE. The only recourse must be to pursue NE more directly and perhaps a start should be made with a Freedom of Information request.
It was good that we had unanimity on the desirability of objecting to the Fairthorn building as a blot on the landscape. Another picture this morning makes the point.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

At Its Best

The weather according to the BBC website was to be cloudy with a south east wind. It turned out to be one of those special mornings when sun and mist played games with the light accompanied by a south west breeze.

These are the mornings Blacka does best. Four stags and a hind were happy to browse in a relaxed group while two lively dogs romped nearby.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

That Time

It's that time of year when depression's black dog should be resisted. Dr Johnson was aware of this as one prone to depression. Towards the end of his life between bouts of illness he wrote:

"When I rise my breakfast is solitary, the black dog waits to share it, from breakfast to dinner he continues barking, "

He was not of course referring to the same kind of black dog who obsessively watches the progress of my breakfast after downing his own in tens seconds flat. And to be fair Bertie barks very little.

Still at this time we look constantly for signs of optimism. This morning there was a special sunrise. Later in the walk I was reminded to look at the alder catkins. Even in January some things look to the future.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Have Your Say

Sheffield Wildlife Trust's RAG (Reserve Advisory Group) meeting takes place this Tuesday 27th January at All Sants Church Totley 7-9 pm.

The agenda is as follows (several items put forward by Friends of Blacka Moor).

1) Welcome
2) Apologies
3) Minutes of last meeting
4) Work update

5) Devil’s Elbow bridleway
6) Cowsick Bog Management
7) Closure of Piper House layby
8) Tree Felling
9) Consultation –SCC, PDNPA, SWT
10) AOB
11) Dates for on site meeting

Friday, 23 January 2009

Chance to Play God

Tomorrow* SWT's second birch persecution day takes place on Bole Hill. Volunteers have been invited to assist in the destruction and presumably finish off the day in style by dancing on the graves of all unwelcome natural regeneration.

The stated aim of this exercise is to deal with birch's capacity to spread onto heather moorland and thus impair the purity of this starkly artificial vegetation. And in many places you can see young trees sprouting amidst the heather. Then why is it that these young trees are not the targets of the work and usually remain behind when the birch bashers move on?

Blacka Blogger can reveal the answer to this mystery. The fact is it's not much fun uprooting small trees but a lot of primitive satisfaction can be gained from having go at much larger trees in the woods with a chain saw.
These woods incidentally are favoured territory for the red deer who like the density and cover provided when they harbour there during the day. A short walk through the woods yesterday revealed the signs of their recent presence.

Landscapes as they keep telling us must be managed and kept down and learn to know their place. Otherwise they might go wild and do what nature wants. And what would conservationists do then?
* this SWT event is actually on Sunday

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Enough Water

It only needs a little more water to set the channels rushing almost desperately. The ground was sodden before Christmas and much of the time since then has been frozen in a suspended state. Higher temperatures and more rain set off all the cascades.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


Thanks to Sally for reminding me about Fairthorn. I had already sent in my objection (twice, once by email and again by normal mail). But I had neglected to mention it here in the blog. So here goes:

Fairthorn is the monolithic structure erected on Townhead Road Dore, that dominates the views on the eastern side of Blacka. How it ever got planning permission God only knows (plus the Sheffield planning department and the sleepily inept councillors who are on the committee). The photo below was taken about a year ago when it was nearing completion.

Blacka Blogger's objection includes the following:

One of the most vital parts of Blacka Moor’s appeal is its favoured outlook onto the stunningly attractive green spaces and the small scale housing developments around Dore; sloping as it does, towards the east, Blacka Moor sees very little of the western vistas towards the Peak District and therefore the human scale and individually angled streets of the village complement the wild beauty of Blacka Moor’s heights where deer roam in their natural habitat.

A building as stark as this, even were it only half the size, would be an affront to those who have worked in the past to protect much of this area from inappropriate developments. As it is the completed building is grotesquely unsuitable and, should it be allowed to remain in this form, would send out a message that Sheffield is incapable of looking after its best and most valued assets. This development has absolutely no architectural distinction, which could be the only possible justification for its disproportionate affect upon the landscape. Materials used draw attention to themselves shamelessly – witness the window frames and the roof tiles.

Anyway we now have another chance to object. The developer has contravened the original terms of the planning permission by making it too high. This means a retrospective application has to go in and the whole decision can be questioned from first principles. Seeing that many of us did not know about the building until we began to see it from Blacka Moor and were suitably horrified, this is our chance to express our disapproval. I think objections have to be in by Monday 26th January.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Doomladen Warnings

Before somebody turns my last post on its head I'll do it myself. You can hardly read an article on the countryside or watch a TV programme without finding that someone's telling you that the precious English countryside is under threat from those who will stand aside and not prevent it from going wild. Only the most naive surely will fail to see that this all comes from defending a privileged and usually subsidised position.

Mark Fisher in a recent article on his wonderful Self Willed Land website quotes some examples:

“National parks say that if the sheep and cattle go, there will be a knock-on effect on precious environments. The high moors are effectively a manmade environment and if grazing stops and is not replaced by other management, scrub and trees will begin to grow”

and a farmer from Dartmoor with 500 cattle and 200 sheep says:

"The vegetation will grow and it won't be accessible for the walkers. The birds that thrive on the moor will vanish. Water quality will be affected – the water that comes off Dartmoor is some of the cleanest in the country. The walls won't be maintained, communities will die and the tourists will stop coming" Mark says:

"This is a dreadful litany of self-serving nonsense. What if, instead, we paid for that rewilding of the uplands as a mechanism of securing improved ecosystem services - water quality, flood protection, carbon stores/sequestration, recreational landscapes, habitat and biodiversity improvements, etc. - instead of using the money to subsidise marginal agriculture? Because of cultural conditioning, it may be that this will only be achievable through a nationalisation of critical areas of the uplands, but this would move the UK system of protected areas to a level consistent with almost all other European countries where their National Parks are publicly owned wildlands, practically free of agricultural exploitation."

(see Threestoneburn Forest on Mark Fisher's website)

Under Threat ?

The new title picture is one of my own favourites. I can't think of another one that comes closer to showing why early mornings can be such a magical time.

But what about this Landscape Under Threat ? How, and from whom?

Principally in three ways:

1 Under threat from top down management that wishes to throw away those things that have made Blacka Moor so appealing over the last half century - nature going its own way - and to impose interventionist grouse moor management including removing mature native trees.

2 The views to the east are an enormous part of Blacka’s appeal. Increasingly there are threats coming from inappropriate development. The latest of these is the Fairthorn building on Townhead Road a grotesquely over-sized edifice that catches the reluctant eye from many parts of Blacka. Many believe that more poor planning decisions will follow. Local people need to be organised to fight the developers and the planners.

3 Motor vehicles and even pedal cycles are encroaching onto parts of the local countryside and even onto Blacka. The result is serious damage to paths and bridleways.

Monday, 19 January 2009

New Wall Escapes

The snow coincided with the peak time for daily commuter traffic, an interesting test for the new road cambering on the Piper House bend. The expensive new wall built by Highways Dept was still unharmed at 9.15 this morning. But a vehicle which looked like a 4x4 had left the road and punctured the fence and old wall a few yards to the west on the same bend.Its rear end was stuck up in the air. Can one reach a conclusion that it was another example of driving too fast, something the recent roadworks has done nothing to discourage?
The picture shows one of Blacka's many alders, a mass of catkins at the moment.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Who Else Will Speak out ?

Unfortunately the small number of us who complain are not enough. SWT's tree haters and mad chain saw operatives are destroying just what makes Blacka Moor a special place. And they seem to glory in it. Each day brings more evidence of their gross philistinism and incompetence. Giving these people a chain saw and a certificate saying they can use it is like giving a teenager a driving licence and a a fast sports car.

It is the trees that make Blacka Moor special. They are what bring the best of the wildlife, the red deer and the summer songbirds. There are plenty of grouse moors around that don't have these because they don't have trees. Blacka is, has been and should remain different. It is trees that have made Blacka a winter spectacular this winter transformed with hoar frost and rime . It is trees that thrill us in autumn with their colours and in spring with the fresh greenery and blossom.

It just needs one misguided individual with a chain saw or a pot of strong weedkiller to destroy all this. And the dead remains and stumps are left to remind us wherever we walk. These are people who do not love the natural world.
But is this blog the only place where complaints are made? Is nobody else prepared to put themselves out to stop this ridiculous and destructive activity?

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Winter Coats

The recent cold spell has persuaded some to dash to the sales for suitable clothing. We have taken to wearing warmer gear about the house to combat soaring energy bills. Until recently even those living outdoors with no permanent address might have been given credit - but no longer. Deserving or not the deer have to look to their own resources for added insulation, not yet qualifying for government grants. Their solution is a grow-your-own added layer which becomes more noticeable during and after cold weather. Not as attractive as the sleek red coats of summer and autumn but a lot more practicable. And that coarse knitted scarf could become fashionable.

There have been eight younger stags around Blacka during the last week or so. Now the mornings are milder they were out on the higher ground in the gloom before dawn. The familiar two hinds formed another small group some distance away.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

New Dawn

Temperatures this morning were ten degrees higher with a south-west wind. Around sunrise two separate groups of deer were running across the moor and through the trees, reminding us that the 'running of the deer' is a special sight in itself making the running of cattle, sheep and even horses a tame event in comparison. What had set them off I couldn't tell. Nobody could be seen. Perhaps it was a spirited response to the change of weather. The ground remains hard with a treacherous wet icy surface that will take some time to return to the pre-freeze squelch.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Colder Still

The cold spell forecast to last one more day so it had to be even colder than before with the temperature at minus 6 at 8 am. Hoar frost and rime had left the whole moor looking whiter than ever and even a strengthening wind failed to dislodge more than a fraction of the ice from the ghostly trees.
By lunchtime there were many people enjoying the last of the wintry views, more than I can remember seeing even on a Saturday. Cameras were much in evidence, as were children and dogs, with a surprising number of cyclists. Stags were in a secluded area of the woods out of the bitter wind their coats now starting to get a somewhat fluffier insulation layer.
The track through the woods from Devil's Elbow down to Shorts Lane is free from the ice seen higher up but the serious erosion from mountain bike use is now even worse. As we walked down a dozen or so bikers rode up the hill their faces contorted. These were not youngsters, some seemed almost as old as me. Blacka Blogger, however, cannot compete with these for single minded intensity.

Friday, 9 January 2009

More about Meetings

SWT has let it be known that there will be 4 Reserve Advisory Meetings this year. That is two more than originally planned and hopefully this is a response to comments from those of us who submitted that two was insufficient. If one of these is an 'on-site' meeting (at which it is very difficult to properly discuss important matters) then opportunities to talk about urgent items and long term strategy are seriously limited.

The first of these meetings will be on 27th January. Let us hope that the many issues that need dsicussion have sufficient time and are not crowded out with items put forward by SWT - a tactic used in the past.

A reminder that Friends of Blacka Moor invite all interested to a short walk and talk on Saturday 10th (tomorrow) - meet at the compost area 12 midday.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Return to Normal

During the fairly long spell of cold mornings there were few sightings of deer on the moor. We assumed they would be on lower ground in the woods. This morning was a little milder and two stags were quietly browsing.
Interestingly the morning westward movement of jackdaws and rooks had also halted presumably because their daytime feeding ground was frozen and unproductive. Almost at the same time as the normal A625 commuter traffic into Sheffield returned after the Christmas break the jackdaws returned to their normal routine in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Friends of Blacka Moor Walk

Do you want to know more about Blacka Moor, the red deer and current issues about the management of the area? If you're at all sympathetic to the position of this blog in defending Blacka Moor as a largely natural wild area then you are welcome to join us in a short "walk and talk". Friends of Blacka Moor invite you to meet on Blacka on Saturday 10th January at 12 midday. This will be repeated the following Sunday 18th Jan again at 12 midday. Meet at the composting containers down the track from the Stony Ridge car park.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Access and Parking

Since the Highways people deliberately prevented vehicle access to the Piper House parking space those travelling up on the Hathersage Road have been limited to using the small Stony Ridge car park. This gets full easily at weekends and when there's icy weather like today the sloping exit is a disincentive for some without 4WDs. This morning a car had been apparently abandoned just on the slope itself making it impossible to get in anyway. One alternative is now to use the layby below Piper House and enter Blacka via an old gateway. The problem with this is that there is no offical path at that point and therefore you have to forge on through bramble.
Perhaps we should all visit Blacka by walking or going up on the bus.

Saturday, 3 January 2009


A dull morning and despite the stillness and cold lacking in tree rime. It had not completely disappeared. Much of it was on the ground where it had fallen.
Two hinds were on Blacka Hill in the poor light.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Winter Spectacle

All that's been missing the last few mornings has been the sun. Today it came - with a sunrise worth waiting for. Then the cold fingers could be forgotten leaving us to admire the range of colours on the rime clinging to trees.

The cold has also thankfully neutralised the mud which had been everywhere. As boots hit the ground there's a satisfying thump only heard after days of hard frost.

Most of this week the A625 road has been quiet without trucks and hard driven commuter traffic. Yesterday was almost silent as people stayed in bed after new year's celebrations but there was rather more traffic this morning and doubtless Monday will be back to normal.

Our feathered stalker followed us much of the way anxious that none of his expected booty should disappear. He may look as innocent as could be but minutes later he was delivering a savage attack on a rival redbreast wanting a share of this morning's treats.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Little Change

The year may be different but it's much the same if you have to spend all your time out in the weather. Minus 1 today against minus 5 yesterday may seem an improvement.

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