Monday, 31 August 2009


The small car parking area near Stony Ridge was never an official car park though it's on council owned land. At times, on busy bank holidays and weekends it can be full, even more likely now that the Highways Department has closed the Piper House space. Nobody seems to be taking any responsibility for thinking how to resolve this problem. People do like to come up to Blacka for an hour or half hour and would like to be able to park their cars. There is now a further complication: many official car parking spaces have signs saying 'No Overnight Stays' or words to that effect. Any that don't are getting increasingly used by camper vans and others meaning the casual visitor can't get in. Sometimes these vehicles are here for much of the day. The scene above was typical of the bank holiday weekend at 7.15 in the morning.

Eating Place

Good attendance at our small bird table continues. Fortunately no very special visitors to attract carbon guzzling bird watchers, but a nice balance of the usual garden species. Current interest is around the robin numbers. Five were present at one time recently. Two were adults in sleek appearance, two were young ones one of which was very self confidently asserting his rights. And another was a small tailless character dodging about collecting scraps from the table much to the annoyance of the others. Usually as the nights get colder towards winter numbers of robins drop and serious competition develops. There are also blue tits, great tits and coal tits though chaffinches have been absent lately.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Swallows and Butterflies

It's become a regular practice during the midge plague to retire to the upper reaches of Thistle Hill and drink in the breeze and the relief it brings. Insects can also be found up there but happily less irritating ones. Painted Ladies and Peacocks have been common lately.

This morning a passing group of swallows were fattening up on the local midges before continuing southwards.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Spraying Again

An odd business. Tuesday's notice said "Path Closed Today Only Tuesday 25th". On Thursday it's been replaced by another one contradicting it and telling us that the path's closed today. Spraying has been going on with livestock close by even though the directions say livestock should be kept out for two hours, and then for another 14 days to ensure their trampling does not interfere with the action of the chemical. It makes you wonder if anyone knows what they are doing. Not the first time we've asked that question and doubtless not the last.

Thursday, 27 August 2009


No year before has been as bad for midges as this. Making bilberry picking attractive only for the most determined of addicts. But this morning was the worst yet. Standing still for more than half a minute was an invitation to be eaten alive. The gate in the picture was the scene of a shameful and cowardly retreat by Blacka Blogger as he charged up the hill to find some moving air. After all (as Bertie keeps being reminded when hiding from wasps), they're only tiny creatures.


They are still intent on controlling this landscape and the latest event in the campaign was the spraying of bracken on the south side of Cowsick towards the pasture. There has been some bilberry picking near here but it's not the most popular spot. Still the warnings were needed. My suspicion is that it's being done mainly to create more feeding areas for the cattle who roam about from one grassy place to another.

But I have another reservation; about the time of it being done. I may be wrong in this but all of the weedkilling products I've seen have instructions saying they should be applied when the growth is at its most vigorous. The bracken stopped spreading several weeks ago and a few colder nights have resulted in significant browning of fronds. Shouldn't this have been done weeks ago?
Directions from Bracken Control UK include the following:
Asulox should be sprayed just before full frond extension (3 'pairs' of leaves) and before sensescence.
Do not admit livestock for at least 14 days after spraying (though this is mainly to prevent disturbance to the sprayed bracken)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Inbye land is usually more hospitable than the nearby moorland but here the grassy pasture of the inbye goes much higher than the rest of Blacka, though not higher than other moorland beyond. It is mainly treeless except for a few scattered thorns and one Rowan almost hidden from view low down among the bracken.
It would be improved by the planting of a few groups of trees as there are few other features to attract the eye. Morning sun at this time of year burnishes longer grasses satisfyingly and the distant bleakness of surrounding moors is relieved by the annual makeover. But the view would be poorer without the woods between.

Monday, 24 August 2009

August Notes

Occasional holidays from computers, emails and blogs are essential for peace of mind. So this post is an attempt to catch up:
16th August

On heather moorland my case is that it's only now that it repays us for the dullness of the rest of the year. Burbage is a case in point. Never a tree to be seen and only when a special feature is present does it show any character at all.
In the case of Burbage it's the Ox Stones seen here looking across Blacka and Houndkirk from Wimble Holme Hill. Large boulders like these and others on various moorlands across the Dark Peak assume their special significance because of the absence of other features and particularly because there are no trees, kept off the moor by policy and management decisions.

18th August

Animals on the ground are often spooked by hot air balloons. This one came over the top of the pasture land and caused a mad panic of sheep there. I don't know if there are any regulations or restrictions on this. It's of course the roar of the gas flame that creates alarm. The image of apparent idyllic silent progress is complete fiction. I guess that farmers could be concerned that vulnerable animals might be harmed in some way. A recent news item referred to cattle alarmed by a fire engine trampling and killing a farmer. Recent experience suggests that the people most likely to complain would be conservationists and the bird lobby. If I were to raise an objection it would be on the simple grounds of destroying tranquility. I doubt that it's been considered in SWT's Cattle Grazing Risk Assessment, how people should react when meeting cattle on a narrow enclosed track that have just been panicked by sudden noises of this kind.

The photos were taken from half a mile away near the Piper House entrance. The sheep had been hurtling across the grass.
But also a brown animal on its own was dashing in a different course. It finished up over the fence on the skyline. This was the first stag seen for several weeks and judging by its antlers a really big one.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Bird Farming

In my garden we have a bird table with seed and other goodies for the visiting blue tits and robins etc. There is also a very successful bird bath where at peak times queuing can be observed. We can see this from our kitchen window. Our garden is a thoroughly artificial place with mowed lawns, a rockery, cultivated borders and a useful vegetable patch so we think it's only fair to offer a small space for the birds even though I sometimes feel like murdering the wood pigeons who eat my brassicas. All fairly small scale stuff. I don't expect to see this being done on a large scale in places I visit that are meant to be wild. But that's what is happening here on Blacka. The water feature below is new this year having been dug to attract waders. It's part of the policy that also aims to attract Black Grouse and Nightjars to the Cowsick area. I'm uneasy about this 'bird gardening' here in a place which for many years was left to evolve naturally. Sheep and cattle are part of this artificial engineering of the habitat. The justification for their presence is usually put in terms of the species of birds that may be attracted to the site.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

In Small Doses

There are many who like the way the heather completely colours the high land in August. That compensates somewhat for the months of drab and characterless smoothness dominating the uplands of this region for the rest of the year. I have to admit I would willingly swap all that for more trees on the hills present throughout the year. Whenever I see large swathes of manily one crop I'm reminded of the large prairie like fields in eastern and southern England where the grain barons have removed the hedges in the interests of profit and efficiency. But heather can be beautiful close up and mixed with other features.

Sunday, 9 August 2009


The farmer who is responsible for the grazing animals on Blacka lives many miles away at Bradfield. He was up here yesterday from the evidence of vehicle tracks and he failed to close the gate. This is despite the complaints made by him and on his behalf by SWT about other people leaving gates open. Worse than that I could not close the gate properly myself because he had placed the padlock in such a way, already locked, that the gate later swung open after being pushed to.
The problem here is that dogs being walked on Blacka can get into the pastures and also the sheep can get out causing potential mayhem. We have also mentioned the way the farmer has used his vehicle to climb the hill creating tracks where there is no official route: this then gets used by others including horse riders and bikers; the weight of the vehicle on soft wet ground leaves unsightly scars.
A dead lamb was not spotted which should have been removed.
I know there are some who argue that dead animals should be left as encouragement for certain forms of wildlife and there is much that could be said on this issue. But that is not relevant to Blacka Moor because of its status. Also the aluminium hurdles are still there with other bits of metal barrier now ten months since a promise was given that they would soon go.
All in all an indictment of remote farm management.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Holiday Heather

We've waited long enough. Now actual warmth and sun and the heather in bloom. We may as well enjoy it having tolerated its boring brown dominance over many months. And people will be out as well throughout the weekend over the Peak District
My public spirited campaign to remove bracken from the path edges allowing people to see and collect the bilberries has worked a bit too well: this morning, keen to harvest enough to make a pie, I find that people have been there before me. Well, that's what I intended after all. And there should be more than enough for all. Yet at such times the pressure builds up. Not only people increasingly well equipped, but wood pigeons, mistle thrushes, blackbirds. purple tongued labradors and now the 'animal who loves bilberries', SWT's alien cattle are all after a share. No serious problem yet. This year has been a bumper one and our freezer is packed full.

Friday, 7 August 2009


The path above was about one foot wide four years ago. It was a useful and enjoyable link created by walkers joining other formal and informal routes. The widening dates from the first year of the introduction of cattle. Cattle are not solely responsible for the widening and the desolate mud in the across much of its width. But they do sniff out every man made path and their presence has been significant. When they puddle the centre they then skirt the worst of the wet parts and go further onto the edges, crushing the heather stalks. People also do this. It can be seen clearly on the ground that the five foot width is now being spread further and dead heather stalks where people have walked are another two feet wider into the heather. The thought comes to mind that this could be what SWT want. After all they have shown that bogs are their major focus already on Cowsick. Action taken by SWT on Cowsick has led to the bog there being extended (and more problematic for visitors) yet they have notintroduced any discussion of this at the RAG meetings.

SWT have recently circulated a visitor survey in which people were asked to tick certain boxes against statements if they agreed. One said "There is too much birch" another "There is too much bracken". None said "There is too much bog" nor "There is too much barbed wire" nor "There are too many cattle", nor "There is too much farm management". I wonder why.

High Rise

At last an afternoon when it's bright and warm enough to encourage the bilberrry pickers though they will need to have been tolerant of midges and mud if they wandered any distance onto the site. It was also clear enough to view the changes away in the distance.
With optical aid the M1 was just visible as was the mega shopping experience both a reminder why we are on Blacka and not there. The big change in the view is the extra height on Sheffield's latest status symbol the tower being built near the Sheffield Hallam University, roughly aligned with the now gone Tinsley Cooling Tower and less welcome.

It would be rather satisfying if it developed some unexpected character along the lines of the crooked spire at Chesterfield, also just visible today.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


It's an aim of Friends of Blacka Moor to achieve the removal of blemishes to the landscape which diminish the appeal of a largely natural landscape. There is, in theory at least, some money available though many hurdles to get over before we can be rid of the power lines that cross the site. Which site in the National Park should be at the top of the list? Where would the undergrounded cables go? How much would it cost? And perhaps most important of all will the power company cooperate?

Being who I am I suppose you would expect me to believe that Blacka should be the highest priority. But then I know of several places which would be enhanced by the removal of power lines like this. Most of these are unlike Blacka in this respect: they are already landscapes obviously more affected by and inhabited by people, where vehicles are used and man-made artefacts are part of the view. Here the impact of the industrial intrusion is greater and more surprising. That is central to the persuasive case we must make.