Sunday, 31 May 2009

Where Are You ?

Every day the male cuckoo flies around Blacka calling out "Where Are You?" in the hope of finding a female who wishes to be found.

The same question is being asked about cuckoos in general by those who busy themselves every so often alarming us with stories about wildlife in peril. And doubtless there are problems and some of them are serious. But one can't help thinking that a small part of the story is about conservation people reminding the public that they themselves exist and are doing a fine job.

What They Do and What They Don't

The sight of notices from SWT on Blacka is getting to be tiresome. They are scattered about on gateposts and waymarkers and do nothing for the appearance of the area. Invariably they consist of one sheet of A4 laminated and covered with so much small printing that only the most determined visitor will bother to read them. I've yet to see anybody doing so.

One of them is reproduced above and seeks to give a reason for the cattle being on the moor. It's interesting to see how the story has gradually changed following local scepticism. They are apparently here to:

Keep the spread of birch under control and conserve the open heathland character.

Help reduce bracken regrowth following other methods of control, by trampling the emerging bracken fronds & breaking up dense bracken litter.

The bracken story used to be much more of an assertion that cattle would deal with the problem. Now this has been adjusted implying that other people will have to get rid of it first. The 'breaking up dense bracken litter' is highly questionable as the cows will need to get into the dense bracken litter first which they show great reluctance to do unlike deer who spend much time there.

But one must not be unfair to the cows. They are very good at walking and standing on the paths.

Their hooves are much larger than those of deer and they use them to destroy the surface of them scattering peat everywhere and, especially along the Lee valley, into the stream below.

Thursday, 28 May 2009


Nowhere within Blacka could be described as busy and many days you can walk across the whole site seeing nobody. But here at this time of year you're as likely as anywhere to come across somebody pausing to sit on the bench. In fact there's probably someone sitting here already if you've climbed the hill hoping to find it unoccupied. Two benches would be welcome.

It's a good spot to pause and admire the blossoms and bird song. The bench is sound and only spoiled by the fussy scratching of words on the surface, allegedly selected from children's poetry efforts. Like most gimmicks, after a while they just become irritating. It's not taken long for it to be targeted by others wanting to leave their mark for posterity.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Floral Weekend

The blossom days are among the best days of the year. Some years they last longer than others. A thunderstorm can cut the blossom season drastically. While it lasts it's to be enjoyed.

Mayblossom and Rowan differ in colour close up. The creaminess of Rowan even comes across further away while red stamens contrast with hawthorn's purer white petals.
Cowberry is a beautiful miniature to be found close to the ground along the paths.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Deer and Cattle Grazing

Further to the recent post about conservation grazing, some observations taken from on high. Much as we would like it otherwise we are always finding ourselves having to show the absurdity of SWT's so-called management of Blacka Moor. It is the declared aim of the wildlife trust to use cattle to 'manage' the heather moorland vegetation on Blacka. The cattle's role is to walk over the heather and bracken eating the vegetation that conservationists deem undesirable and leaving that which they wish to retain. They should also 'trample' the not so nice things. The very first problem with this is that the cattle themselves seem unaware of their instructions. Even woefully ignorant people completely unqualified in conservation matters were aware of this from the start. Note these two pictures taken this morning looking down from the side of Wimble Holme Hill: In one the cattle are where we always said they would be - on grass (specially prepared for them), near gates and footpaths because they like places used by people who may give them some food. In the second picture you can just make out a small group of deer, discounted by SWT as not adequate for managing the vegetation. Notice they are in a large open area well away (some 50 or so yards away) from the nearest path. They are, in their way (in nature's way), managing the vegetation and keeping away from people and paths.

We have always believed that managers should allow nature to look after things as far as possible. Farm animals are not doing the job that the conservationists say they are to do and what is more they are trashing the footpaths. Deer's impact on paths is minimal as they make their own routes and are timid and suspicious of people. But they do influence in an entirely natural way the vegetation in the landscape. It's not quite the same as cattle (even if they were doing what the conservationists want) but it's nature from the bottom up rather than a top down prescribed approach planned by office staff and delivered (if it works) by farm animals.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Broken Silence

......... although it was never truly silent. Which is why the word tranquility is used more these days. Natural sounds this morning were all we could hear for so much of the walk, certainly for the hour before 7.30. Not sunny but pleasantly cloudy-bright. And there's no time like mid May for enjoying the greens, offset as they often are with white rowan flower and may blossom. Cow parsley is one of the most beautiful of the common wild flowers, blessed as it is with a pretty off-putting name.

Starring roles for blackcaps and cuckoos with several strident thrushes determined to get in on the act.

Under the trees at the edge of the wood next to the fields is one of the best places to be. But the suddenness of the roar was startling and unwelcome.
You get more easily accustomed to the steady approach of a plane or helicopter, but these things are mean and stealthy like the little boy in the playground who creeps up then bellows in your ear.

Neither does the wildlife like it nor the farm animals - a herd of cattle and another of sheep were bolting in alarm on a nearby hillside. I wont be got up into one of those things until they produce a genuinely and continously silent model.
Half an hour later the thirteen or so regulars had more or less settled down :

Bikers' Revenge

For a time we hoped that the bikers who had been using the eastern perimeter path had accepted the message. Now some at least have petulantly attacked SWT's barrier and torn down the notice. Tracks show that they are not the kind to accept the rules.

The bluebells in this stretch of woodland smell at their best when the air is warmer as it was even at 7 am. The bike tracks can be seen clearly.
The second barrier has received even worse treatment. What nice people.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Path Lovers

Further evidence, were it needed, of SWT's cattle being addicted to following paths and the consequent deterioration of those paths. To cattle people are an important part of their lives and paths are where people walk.

They had spent most of the day near to the gate on the west side of the site. In the afternoon we walked past them and then back through the pastures. As we were returning we realised they had decided to follow us taking almost our exact route. So much for their supposed benefit to the heathland vegetation. But then those who know how cattle behave cannot be surprised and surel SWT can't either.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Conservation Grazing

It must be a great comfort to those who don't want cattle on Blacka Moor to be told that what's happening is called "conservation grazing". It makes it all seem right doesn't it? Or does it?

Certain theories that seem to be a good idea at the time have something of a lifespan. They're flavour of the month or maybe the decade before going out of fashion because it takes that long to sink in among the practitioners that there are snags or something more important is being disregarded. But for a while everybody sings from the same hymn sheet telling the general public how really, really special and important it is. These days you can't listen to a countryside programme on the radio or see a TV snippet with that Craven man without somebody telling you that absolutely all of our countryside must be managed and management means putting sheep and cattle all over every square yard of it - or sure as sure doom and disaster will strike. There are of course sceptics of this approach but do you ever hear from them ? It seems they don't get heard or just keep quiet....

Except for Mark Fisher whose writings offer a vigorous and detailed critique of all this nonsense. Another great article from him on this very subject has newly appeared on his website. It's called The Craze for Conservation Grazing and reminds us that there is still some independent thinking around prepared to challenge blind orthodoxy.

The conservation grazers recently brought back to the moor on Blacka continue to walk the paths decorating them in the only way they know and eating the grass but largely ignoring the bracken and the heather.

The sheep are certainly not there because they look nice which is a bit odd when you consider that Blacka is there principally for the benefit of the people who visit it not for farming interests. I've been to many places where the sheep just look better than here ...

- stronger, healthier and without large dye blotches all over them, or even numbers.

And this temporary aluminium structure is prominently visible for many a mile as the only non-natural item across a large swathe of this special landscape.

A couple of quotes from Mark Fisher's article both very apposite to Blacka Moor:

It is a strange world where Natural England can routinely use a farming subsidy to re-instate the farming pressure of cattle grazing on the landscape, when that farming subsidy, Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), is supposedly about mitigating the effects of farming.

It is hard for local people to challenge this slavish orthodoxy, and when they do they are usually brushed aside. But what I constantly hear is that there is no monitoring of the impact of grazing, and little evident success in these “restoration” projects compared to what the “experts” said would happen.
Amen to that.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Style Contrast

The 11 cattle were at the Hollow continuing their mission to visit every footpath and leave their characteristic calling cards. This one had decided that it would feast on the bilberry while crushing the edge of the stream. None of them showed any inclination to move when approached so some shouting was needed.

The 7 stags were at their most elegant with new velvet antlers, occupying spaces in the vegetation well away from paths and watchful of our progress.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


There's probably some academic somewhere who's done a study of, or even written a book on, the various manifestations of cattle dung in fields. When the present lot get loosed onto Blacka's moor they seem to specialise in the soggiest kind of splatterings which they deposit liberally over the paths. And it's the paths where they spent much of their time, unlike the deer who mostly make their own routes (and anyway produce a much less conspicuous brand of ordure). Most of those who know anything about cattle will attest to their liking for paths while observation of deer on Blacka suggests they only occasionally stray onto paths and prefer the expanses of heather bracken and grass.

Even those quiet, occasionally used paths like the one leading to the waterfall on the Lee Stream have already been visited, and the nice path above the stream has been pretty thoroughly scuffed up. All very predictable.

Monday, 18 May 2009


Just where the three hinds were yesterday seven of SWT's cows were grazing. They had previously taken care to scatter many paths with their calling cards, including the previously pleasant and quiet perimeter path behind Lenny Hill., where wise walkers will now tread carefully.

As if to confirm the reversal from wild land to farm land, a group of deer seemed to have got the message and decamped to pastures two fields away where horses grazed behind an electric fence.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Welcome Back ?

A welcome return for a group of hinds. There've been many stags around over recent weeks but these are the first hinds I've seen for a long time.

But it's a bit much that I only have to go away for a few days and the whole of our democracy descends into farce and chaos and much gleeful muck raking in the media. Now where do I start to clear up all the mess? Blacka has its share of new muck. No welcome back for those who left this behind.

Cattle are once again on the moor doing what SWT keeps claiming is an essential job - maintaining the heathland. These conservation people will not let up. In trying to persuade people that they are doing something useful they hardly begin to persuade themselves. The fictional basis of the project can be exposed again and again but the more unsure they are of their case the harder they dig in their heels. They have no criteria to measure the success or failure of the cattle grazing and no intention of submitting the plan or the results to independent scrutiny. They will draw comfort from the current national scandals as will other manipulators. If parliament itself abuses power, ‘the system’ and public trust, many others will feel quite comfortable doing the same. The fraudulent basis of conservation management here will seem pretty small beer.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

"Lookering" Programme

SWT wants regular users of Blacka to take part in their "Lookering" scheme to help them to keep track of where the cattle are.

I shall not volunteer for this despite being possibly the most regular walker on Blacka Moor and therefore arguably in the best position to assist. That’s not to say, of course, that I would not do what I could to assist any animal in distress. Nor is it through any animosity to the grazier, but through principled and practical opposition to the whole grazing project.


1 I think SWT's grazing of cattle on the moor is wrong. It imposes a farming regime and brings farming practices to an area that had been refreshingly free from farming for many years creating many benefits and bringing a special atmosphere.

2 It is impractical. SWT have never sat down with those who have reservations and answered questions on the practicality and effectiveness even in terms of their own stated aims. The landscape of Blacka is unsuitable to the effective monitoring of domestic cattle. In July and August the rampant vegetation becomes so tall and wild that people rarely venture into certain areas at those times. In 2007 the cattle were very hard to locate.

3 The farming of the moor compromises the wildness that had become a characteristic feature bringing fences and other farming essentials. It also threatens to erode the characteristic pathways.

4 It is wasteful of public money. Each year the grazier is being paid public money through the Single Farm payment per hectare of land grazed. This creates a built in motive for the operation. There has also been a very large investment of public and charitable funds in the construction of a huge grazing enclosure – estimated £20,000 on barbed wire alone plus at least that amount on other boundary work.

5 SWT have steadfastly refused to consider that there should be a regular on-site worker part of whose job could be to monitor the progress of their own scheme. Why then should regular users opposed to that scheme help them out?

6 There has been a degree of misrepresentation by SWT of the decision making around the introduction of the scheme. It has been presented in publicity that there has been agreement where there has been none. Some of those who have been trying to get a measure of scrutiny of the plans have been discredited in a clumsy management tactic which has served only to antagonise regular users.

All in all it is for SWT themselves to justify and monitor their plans. We feel sure they will talk up every possible positive and discount all the negative impacts, as this has been their record so far. It is naïve and disingenuous of them to appear to expect support from those who have been largely ignored to date.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Buffer Zone ?

It's possible to distinguish varying zones between the city and the national park and to fancy each one has a definable character. But when you look more closely it's near impossible to be precise, so much is interchangeable and overlapping. Some have even gone so far as to describe Black Moor itself as a buffer between the city and the Peak District. I'm not in favour of this and don't see it as valid. Blacka has its own character and some of it shades in with the areas to the south, west and north.

But the farmland to the east between Blacka and the housing of the suburbs does operate as a kind of protective layer. It's generally not intensively farmed, often used for rough grazing by ponies and in some parts has gone delightfully wild.
Let's hope that no landowner suddenly gets a whim to 'improve' this land. It's an essential part of Blacka's appeal.


It may be bright and sunny but up on the moor the wind is strong and bracing. So you would be well advised to copy this resident and put a hefty stone wall behind you and face towards the morning sun.
The area around our little bird feeding station at 9 am is a hive of activity and the lizard is but the latest to make an appearance. Arrived only two days ago the blackcaps are adding musical distinction while the pairs of chaffinches, robins, dunnocks, great tits, coal tits and blue tits are more interested in the cheddar.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


A postscript to the Bird Walk.

This morning the blackcaps were all around. Two very melifluous ones on the sheltered (east) side of the wild woods. Summer now can't be far away.

From Above

Wimble Holme Hill is higher than Blacka Moor so a treck up there gives a different perspective as well as a breezier feel. At times buzzards can be seen patrolling the sky. On the level top the erosion caused by obsessive motor bikers and other mechanised users is bad in places but not as awful as on the slopes where ruts have filled with water to create a new and alien landscape. At this point the byway of Moss Road remains acceptable and hopefully free from danger of ill conceived "improvement".

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Cyclists Who Look

Some cyclists do look around. A touring group of Geordies were passing through. It made their afternoon to see the deer in one of their favourite grazing spots.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Bird Walk

Spring is the time that birds on Blacka take centre stage. With that in mind we joined the organised morning Bird Walk with Jim Clark whose ability to pick out and identify various species from the slightest sound is remarkable. He also has a good judgement of the relative musical merits of different birds which I've not always found with twitchers. I've always had more time for the small songbirds than larger characters like grouse whose vocal expressions can be tedious. But each I suppose has its place in the sound world and natural orchestra that can be heard on a good day at this time of year. After all a good jazz group has the genuine improvisers on the front line, the robins and blackbirds, supported by the more predictable cuckoos and jackdaws comparable to bass and drums with various calls in between. The perfect natural musical experience in an ideal woodland acoustic is a quest for this season.

On Sunday we heard and/or saw garden warbler, grasshopper warbler, tree pipit, stonechat, reed bunting and many others. But no blackcaps - until Monday morning when two appeared a little lower down.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Whitelow Lane

Some of the best views looking up to Blacka can be had from Whitelow Lane. It's as quiet a road as can be found around here and should be quieter still. The Dore Village Society wanted it to be made an officially designated 'Quiet Lane' with a speed limit of 20 mph. For some reason this was turned down by the council. Perhaps somebody objected. There are plenty of people who like speeding through short cuts. There's a desperate need for many of the minor roads to be protected so that people can again feel safe strolling down them and cyclists too.

The local farms are somewhat confusing. There's Whitelow Farm and New Whitelow Farm and simply Whitelow, three different establishments. The one nearest to Hathersage Road seems to have been taken over by non traditional rural operations - storing caravans and sundry things using heavy goods vehicles: not a pretty site at all and a pity that something can't be done to improve its appearance. It's in such a marvellous setting.

Friday, 1 May 2009



Approaching from the Shorts Lane entrance in Spring means a pleasant, sheltered walk beside the stream and a chance to enjoy the bluebells.

There's also stitchwort and lesser celandine and even some early cow parsley making sure that they celebrate May Day at the right time rather than wait for the official holiday on Monday.