Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Keeping the invader at bay is the order of the day in late July. Bracken in some places tries to swallow all. Its effect is greater in the lower lying and more sheltered parts, having a cowardly dislike of higher more exposed settings.

On the whole I leave it to get on with its work. But I have a soft spot for the route up from Lenny Hill along Bilberry Terrace. So you will find much pulled up bracken in the middle of the path from the banks to either side.

The idea is to expose the bilberry and cowberry as an attractive feature.

This s the sort of hands on management I favour - infinitely preferable to the kind remotely controlled from offices and desktops, an ideal occasional occupation of a good site worker in fact.

Meanwhile, never far away, other invaders are intent on making their own impression on the paths.


Burdock is notable for the burs which children of all ages like to throw at the clothing of their friends. It's very similar and often found in similar places to the thistle. Both are part of the huge daisy family of plants. Burdock is also a constituent of one of my favourite soft drinks, Dandelion and Burdock. The best producer of this is Fentimans - not too fizzy.

The thistle below is the creeping thistle though sometimes it manages to stand pretty tall.

Friday, 24 July 2009

The Nimbys and the Inbys

Beware those who sneer at "Nimbys". They are those who don't like local people having any kind of say in the future of their area. The term is often linked with the phrase 'middle class' despite the fact that the people who use it are often much better off than most of us because they are the people who stand to profit by the exploitation of resources in an area. I am an INBY and unashamed. I believe that wind farms and airports and quarries and polluting industries should be In Nobody's Back Yard. Those who speak against 'nimbys' have motives which need to be exposed. The chair of Unnatural England is one of these. She has a huge salary and keeps it because, despite being supposedly independent, she does the work of those in government and the industrialists who woo them. Today's report says that the CEO of Natural England considers that wind farms could be acceptable in Britain's National Parks. Let nobody be in any doubt. Wind Farms are big money spinners for those who invest in them. Any idea that they will replace other forms of energy is very dubious. The growth in the use of energy will continue to increase but those who use the extra energy will just feel less guilty about it. Meanwhile our landscape will become more and more industrialised.

Unnatural England

Blacka Blogger has not yet received a reply to the invitation to Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Unnatural England, to come for a walk on Blacka Moor - despite her office being closer to Blacka than that of SWT.

It's time I think for all who care about our landscapes to call for Dr Phillips to appear locally and make herself accountable for her views especially this latest statement.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Small birds

Many of the small birds found on Blacka are now active and visible in family groups. The Stonechat is a regular sight one of the species that have thrived on Blacka for many years fitting in with the recreational use made by people. There has had to be no special gardening and habitat creation nor office jobs nor management plans necessary for this. Natural change only has been enough to welcome these birds.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

High Summer

If you like getting wet there's no time of year like July and August on Blacka. Bracken has many qualities but what it does best of all is to transfer water to your clothing. We do get dry days and yesterday was very pleasant. But in recent years the most reliable conditions have been in the first four months of the year.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


My knowledge of moles is mainly derived from reading Kenneth Grahame so I'm unlikely to be able to shed light on the reason for this one's death. But it seems odd to find him lying unmarked and apparently in good condition on the path. He is one of the largest moles I've seen. Why does a mole come above ground anyway?

Blacka's mammals range from the tiny voles and shrews sometimes seen, to Britain's largest, the red deer, and include foxes, badgers and hares. Yet with the current crop of conservationists it's the birds that get most of the attention.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

What's The Problem?

Swine flu has obviously not yet closed down SWT's offices 7 miles away at Stafford Road. A recent post has drawn a comment helpfully identified as from "Anonymous". What's the problem? I'm asked. Well for those who haven't got the point I'll spell it out. Some people might love to walk in places liberally decorated with notices and directions and advice. They might love to be told exactly why a place is worth visiting. I don't. That's one problem and I would raise it even if I were the only one who felt that way. As it happens I'm not.

But let's go further than that. Blacka Moor is primarily a public recreation site. It is not a bird reservation. Projects undertaken to encourage Black Grouse etc would only succeed on this site if there were restrictions to public use. Anyone who knows anything about birds knows that. Blacka Moor's wildlife as it is now has developed and thrived alongside public use including dog walking over many generations. It is a robust compromise and those species that do not like the kind of disturbance that comes from public use like this simply go elsewhere and there are many suitable and less disturbed places pretty close by. I love birds but have no interest in the sometimes obsessive species counting that I classify alongside train spotting. We know where this could lead. Instead of a landscape which evolves naturally we get something that's increasingly engineered with specialist habitats for certain birds. What next after the Black Grouse and the Nightjar? The Black Tailed Godwit or the Red Necked Phalarope for goodness sake? It then becomes a very precious exercise in which people have to keep to certain areas and behave much more carefully. In short a Twitchers' Theme Park. That may be OK in a bird reservation. Not in a place designated as a public pleasure ground.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Management by Directive

"This land has to be managed", they said. The trouble is managers live in offices and fall in with the normal office mode of working. Send out a directive - a sheet of A4 covered with smallish print. The workforce may never read it but when they complain later on you can bring it out and show that they had been kept informed. This office-style nightmare is what we seem to have on Blacka Moor. Every so often a new sheet of A4 appears pinned to a post reminding you that you may have thought you had come here to escape from offices and managers and present day work culture to enjoy some wild unspoiled countryside where nature calls the shots but you couldn't be more wrong. The place revolves around office style directives and the taint of management is never far away. Enough to drive anyone to distraction.

The latest A4 paper straight from the managers desk to arrive pinned to the post at the car park is this one.

However it's dressed up it's an instruction. Is there no limit to the lengths these people will go to intrude on the quiet relaxed places of our world?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Making It Easier

Bilberry picking is hard work and anything that makes it easier should be worthwhile. At a price of £12.99 at Abbeydale Garden Centre it's certainly not cheap, but this fruit picking aid has a number of advantages. You don't need to do so much bending down and you can pick good quantities more quickly. A lot of unwanted stuff is collected at the same time of course but you can deal with that later at home away from the attentions of the midges.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Friends Meeting

Friends of Blacka Moor are meeting at Totley Public Library Baslow Road on Monday 13th July at 7.30. All interested and potential sympathisers welcome.

What They Eat

For the first time today I've seen some of the cattle eating birch leaves. This is interesting because the previous year they were on the moor I didn't see this once. Mostly when we've been close to them they have been eating grass which we all know is what cattle prefer. So should I eat my words on this? I think not just yet anyway. The point about the birch on Blacka is that it gets deep down among the leggy heather signalling that the stability of the heathland has gone and the site cannot be saved from succession to woodland with just a few cows. Those today were casually chewing leaves at about three feet high which will make no impression on the spread of birch. They had somehow got themselves into an area where there was hardly any grass so birch leaves were all they could find nearby. Sooner or later off they go to one of the many grassy areas where there's plenty of grass. The only way that the cows could be expected to make a significant impact on birch would be to have a small enclosure with an electric fence. Maintaining this would be time consuming. Otherwise such a huge number of the animals would be needed and that would cause serious erosion on many parts of the moor which would lose its appeal for visitors even more than now.

More natural exploiters of Blacka's vegetation were around today. These were the mistle thrushes and some related species who are enjoying their annual excursion season to harvest the bilberries. The mistle is much more inclined to communal action than the other native thrushes or the blackbird who also loves berries. In this they resemble the fieldfare that come in winter. Walking along the paths you should count the numbers rising from the low shrubs. My record is 30 in a period of less than half a minute.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Secret Delights

Blacka Blogger's obsessive love of bilberries tempts him to keep quiet about this. But even he cannot eat all the fruit available this year. There is a truly bumper crop. Yet many a casual passer by may not know that. The trick is to pull up the bracken and reveal the berries beneath. The surprise is because we do not expect good things to be growing under such a dense cover. But bracken is a latecomer to the peculiar vegetation on Blacka. While it is totally dormant in early Spring the bilberry is flowering and being pollinated so by the time the bracken wakes up and races ahead in July and August all the fruit producing work has been done.

Two years ago was an excellent year for bilberry. Last year's was a modest harvest. But this year is the best in my memory with berries even on the more exposed and sensitive parts. All you need to do is pull up the bracken shoots first. This is best done by a vertical snatch. Two minutes clearing of the fronds will give you ten minutes of happy bilberry harvesting. And remember that nutritionists claim purple fruits to be more full of vitamins and antioxidants than any other foodstuff. But who cares about that when the taste is so good?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

What a Job!

Well the salary's pretty splendid but that aside why would anyone choose to be Chief Executive of Natural England? It can't be much fun having to make so many anodyne statements while trying to balance irreconcilable aims. Well Dr Helen Phillips whose Head Office is in Sheffield has a piece in the Guardian today responding to the editorial previously alluded to here. So many of the issues about people going into the countryside are illustrated on Blacka Moor, that Blacka Blogger has written asking her to come along and be shown round. It could be very interesting.

See here for the report published yesterday. Thanks to Mark.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

It's Simple Really

The quote below is typical of some of the comments arising from recent reported incidents in which cattle have caused serious problems for walkers in the countryside. The writer is evidently a country person perhaps of farming background, taking what he sees as a common sense approach.

Oliver, Dorset (from BBC Farming Today Message Board)

For the uninformed and trainee rambler sorts, I would respectfully point out that you should consider all cattle regardless of age or sex as potentially dangerous. I do not see a problem. Farmers have a right to graze their land and use it as they see fit, if there is livestock there, give them a wide birth, keep your dog on the lead and treat them with the respect you would give a large, heavy and often unpredictable animal. If you don't think the livestock in a field are safe, then don't enter the field.

Translating this to a place like Blacka illustrates just what the issue is here. Firstly the land is public recreation land, secondly the nature of the terrain means you may suddenly meet the animals running towards you along a narrow path with tall vegetation to either side (this has happened to me) and thirdly the ‘field’ is actually a 150 acre enclosure and it is rarely possible to know in advance where they are.

What Do We Think...or What Do They Want Us to Think?

SWT have prepared and printed out a Visitor Survey which amounts to a nine page questionnaire. The thing raises a whole collection of issues and reservations. Did they ever intend to submit this to visitors to Blacka Moor? First indications were that they did. But it’s not credible that even they would believe people would want to fill in this on the spot. But there’s no sign either of them being present on the moor handing them out for visitors to fill in later. They’ve half acknowledged this and then said they would correct the problem about this by sending it round to others, presumably including those who rarely visit. But who exactly are they sending it to and how do we know the survey’s sampling has any kind of validity? The thing stinks of the kind of manipulation that we’ve become accustomed to with this lot. The fact is they know the results they want the survey to show and they are capable of twisting the responses to get their desired result. This starts with the way they choose the questions but I for one don’t even trust them to report the returned papers accurately. Why? So many examples over the eight years of involvement in the RAG. Take the many times the RAG minutes have been carefully written to reflect favourably upon SWT; take the way they’ve tried to discredit and defame members of the RAG who disagreed with them. Look at the clumsy way they tried to show that cattle were grazing at Stanage Edge with no problems for the public – yet there are no cattle grazing there. I could go on. No they simply can’t be trusted to conduct a visitor survey. What anyway is its purpose? Is it intended to show the results to the Council or to potential funding providers who will take it at face value and ask no questions? Will it show that people support all the contentious parts of SWT’s management? This kind of murky exercise is what you get when you hand things over to deskbound managers who rarely visit the sites for which they are responsible. What an unholy mess.

Just One Site Worker.....or

Central to our demand of SWT is that they abandon their addiction to desk jobs and have one well remunerated and well skilled site worker.

The reality of how conservation management works is enough to make one believe that we are living in a crazy world of self referencing madhouses all compelled to produce paperwork rather than real work. On my regular walk today I got to thinking of the number of different bureaucracies that had been involved in the management of Blacka Moor, most of which we've tried to contact in order to try to get to the truth (sad deluded people as we are).

First there is Sheffield City Council. Then Sheffield Wildlife Trust. Then English Nature which transformed into Natural England. I think that's four. Also there's DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency. There is also the Charity Commission and the Heritage Lottery Fund. I'm sure anyone working in any of these bureaucracies would be able to point out others that I've missed. But so far that's eight.

I'll come back to this if I think of any more. I'm sure there must be something European in there somewhere.

Several years ago some of us questioned the motivation of those who want to 'manage' the land. "It's always been managed," they said, "like all of the English countryside." ..... What? From remote desks in offices by pale managers writing management plans?

Foxglove Dell

The Lee Syke is one of the most secret parts of Blacka. You will get wet exploring here in the morning after dew or overnight rain but may be rewarded with glimpses of wildlife not seen elsewhere.

The path along just above the stream was narrow but just navigable. The cattle have discovered that path on the way down to find water and they've taken the opportunity to tread the peat into dust which then scatters into the stream below. The large stones were not long ago under the peat but are now exposed by several inches. This is after all just what cattle do.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Morning Song

An aubade is a song of the dawn, but 7 am is hardly the dawn at this time of year. Never mind, the singers were out in force on Thistle Hill, skylarks all. By now the birdsong has changed. Cuckoos have been gone two weeks ago. The willow warblers have largely given up though you still hear the occasional one. Blackcaps arrived later and are still performing well. So are blackbirds. There's also a lot of clicking of pebbles from the stonechats who are marshalling their broods. But today was for the skylarks up at the highest point on a morning refreshingly dry and sunny and largely free of midges.

Keep Out?

Another news item about cattle and walkers and footpaths. This is the case of the Sussex police inspector.

The compensation he gained in an out-of-court settlement was £10,000. I suppose that would not go far if his disablement was permanent. Even so a number of people in the Comments speak of the 'compensation culture' and others are dismissive in other ways. Some, though, mention dangerous incidents they have been involved in themselves.

Another aspect to this is the strong suspicion that certain farmers don’t like walkers going across ‘their’ land and discourage people by putting cattle in the field in question even though this would not be their first choice of grazing land. Difficult things to prove of course, but those of us who’ve walked in the country for many years have had little doubt that this happens sometimes even with bulls being used.