Saturday, 31 October 2009

Burning Beech

When sun gets through to the ground in the woods here the beech leaves could be blazing. Even on a dull and misty morning like today the effect is startling. Despite the intense contrast it looks at home here. Native beech may just have reached this far north in the distant past but these are probably the result of plantings on boundaries more recently.
At any rate the purists have not yet asked to have them removed and there would be quite a row if they did.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


A rare bonus to have a half-term holiday with ideal weather. People were up on Blacka in numbers unusual for a midweek afternoon. Even so it was easy to find quiet spots making it infinitely preferable to Chatsworth or Monsal Head and the other hotspots of the Peak District. Not only calm but sunny and with perfect autumn colouring.

A Suitable Setting

Those who spend their free time visiting battlefields know that the setting of a fight should help create the right atmosphere. A sense of theatre and a feeling for choreography help the adrenalin to stir. The hind had run down the shaded side of Wimble Holme Hill towards the woods following a stag, when two more stags appeared in silhouette against the morning sky. Much bellowing from the first stag was followed by desperate sounds from the two engaged in combat above but it was quickly over and the two ran down towards the others.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Eleven, twelve...

Blacka Moor's regular visiting fauna during October includes this species annually seen on the grassy pastures. Typically examples will be young, male, wearing hoods and jeans and observed bending over and peering at the ground. Someone who knows about these things was heard to say that the number you need to collect for a satisfactory trip is thirteen.
Not to be confused with another character seen this afternoon also young, male and in a similar posture.

It seems that a flammable substance is being applied to the ground. Perhaps the day has been spent persecuting the young of native trees and the evidence is being destroyed.

In a different category are the large numbers of visitors from northern Europe circling and settling in the tops of trees not yet destroyed.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Getting Satisfaction

The Silver Birch tree is one of the glories of the English landscape and in autumn it is resplendent. Those here were not planted by people. They grew here naturally and add considerably to the appeal of the wilder side of Blacka Moor regarded with much affection by those who love the natural more than the artificial. They are, however, deemed to be useful in a special way to SWT. That spiritually and morally bankrupt organisation feels the same as many working in the conservation sector of the economy, namely that anything that can be used to make money and secure their jobs is fair game. SWT get money from the activity of destroying Silver Birch Trees which they define as 'management'. They even seek to make it a kind of sport by calling it 'Birch Bashing' and gleefully invite other people called 'volunteers' to come along and join them in it. The activity is not confined to 'hands on' violence to young saplings. SWT staff join in with chain saws, the operation of which is music to the ears of generations incompletely satisfied by the gentle and natural sounds of wild places. This year SWT will be joined in their autumn slaughter by numbers of unemployed youngsters who have never been here before but, they hope, by the time they leave, will have certainly made their mark. This is happening tomorrow, Monday 26th October and is part of a government sponsored scheme entitled 'Make a Difference Day'. Along with Birch destruction they will also be able to vent their understandable frustration at being unemployed on Pine trees, and other annoying native species which SWT and its friends have arbitrarily decided do not conform to their plans for the site. It is interesting that there are so many public spaces in our communities that would benefit from some good honest manual work - I can think of one within a few yards of my own house - yet these youngsters are encouraged to destroy some of the most glorious natural features of a landscape which should be delightfully wild.

I wonder when we will get similar selective destruction of other sectors of the natural world. Perhaps there are too many Blue Tits or Robins for example? If you can find nothing odd about destroying beautiful native trees what else might you be persuaded to do if the grant money is easily available?

Saturday, 24 October 2009


Damp, misty and drizzle in the morning followed by afternoon breezy and bright. All day, whatever the conditions, the trees were alive with visiting thrushes, redwings, fieldfares or both. The constant movement suggests a high level of excitement and stimulation and one wonders how they manage to sustain it after such a long journey.

The grazier has applied himself eventually into the task of moving his cattle into the pasture land. This follows some words of 'encouragement' from frustrated attenders at SWT's advisory group meeting on Monday. Many of those people who have strong reservations about cattle have been avoiding the site and missing out on some beautiful autumn days on Blacka. The quite amazingly feeble excuse from SWT for not getting this done earlier needed to be heard to be believed. Apparently the grazier had been up every day but the cattle were never in the right place. A likely story indeed. As it happens at least one of the cows remains outside the pastures looking distinctly surly.When this question of cattle grazing was being argued about some years ago the opponents complained that it was turning the place into agricultural land. This was met with loud dismissive cries from the conservation mafia and their supporters. Since then we have had four strand barbed wire, wooden fences, trashed paths, large metal stock hurdles left in prominent places and Single Farm Payment being generously dispensed. What next? These people talk as if they have no concept of wild land being free from industrial exploitation. Farming has its own agenda and its obvious that SWT is unwilling or unable to manage the grazier.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Chief

Yesterday we just saw the hinds. Today in the same spot they were accompanied a more authoritative figure. When we first came upon them the hinds spotted us quickly and made off. The stag was soon on his way too but then stopped as if to say it would take more than mere humans and a dog to frighten him.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Genuine and Wild

It should be emphasised again and again that the experience of seeing animals in the wild on Blacka and elsewhere is completely different to seeing them in the park of a stately home. The deer on Blacka are truly wild and easily frightened off. They keep largely hidden by day and you can search for weeks without seeing one. Usually they are off into the woods as soon as they spot you. This brings with it a treasurable sense of being in a genuinely wild place. There is a world here that is beyond the control and concerns of man and you tread more carefully, knowing as you do that you are in the realm where wild animals have set up their home. I do not sense this on a grouse moor, nor on a place where heather is managed by wildlife trusts for ground nesting birds nor where scrapes are specially dug for waders. That is bird-gardening and the occupation of our wildlife bureaucracies. The vegetation where this hind was seen is a glorious birch and scrub area transformed by the early morning autumn sun. Let us hope it is not destroyed by the birch bashers of SWT in a week's time. If the SSSI designations of Natural England had existed in the 1930s when this land was given to the public by J G Graves there would be none of this natural beauty here. It would be all boring heather with never a tree to be seen.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


Wednesday and Thursday were both damp and gloomy mornings and failed to show the autumn colours to advantage but compensated with other wildlife. On Wednesday two stags were seen seperately browsing on Blacka Hill, soon moving off when we arrived. Today a group of hinds leapt over the path above Blacka Dyke and were quickly off through trees to the stream below. A little later a large white shape was seen flying a little further west. My only thought was a barn owl but didn't see enough of it to comfirm.

Photo below taken Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


The land to the east has gone splendidly wild, a tangled area of natural regeneration. To the right is Blacka, now called a Nature Reserve though still disputed by the die hards. In between lies the fence, once intended to be barbed wire but changed instructions at the last minute responded to the amazed dismay of local people at the appearance of the barbed wire elsewhere on the site. The official story is that the fence is to keep the cattle in. But the preferred version is that it's to keep true natural wildness out. Some say it amounts to the same thing.


There are still scenes to be enjoyed where what you see has been untouched and largely untainted by the arch controllers of the conservation world even after nine years of nominal management by a wildlife trust. What can they be doing we may ask? The pile of paper gets higher at the side of their desks.
Let it continue to do so as long as it keeps them away from here. Please God, no more of their crazed day-trip scrub bashings.

Monday, 12 October 2009


Praise be that the conservationists were not around or even dreamed of in the days when Blacka was rescued from its life sentence as a grouse moor. The years since then spared hundreds of beautiful trees that now grace the whole area giving delight to the eye in autumn. You never see a conservationist whether from wildlife trust or other bureaucracy in the early morning. They are all heading for their desks and their darling paperwork. If they were here on sunny October mornings they might see something that broke their resolve to oil their chain saws ready for the annual brutality festival. Which of the trees here will survive to see another spring and which will be left as a severed limb?


I am no lover of sheep nor of sheep farming on the hills of England where they are used to kill off any saplings before they can mature into fine native trees. And the overgrazing of recent years has meant that they have been everywhere leading to intrusive notices telling us that it's lambing season and we must "Get A Grip"! And the general attitude of many (if not all) hill farmers in South Yorks and North Derbyshire is that they stick the beasts on the moors and then leave them for weeks without much in the way of pastoral care. It has been commonplace to see sick and ailing animals and also many wandering on major roads with apparently no effort being made to retrieve them.

Lowland sheep are usually another story, getting much better treatment. But if there's one sheep in the hills that I do have a soft spot for it's the Herdwick more often found in the Lake District. Currently the farmer who grazes the sheep on the pasture land of Blacka has introduced a number of Herdwick sheep and lambs amongst the more common Derbyshire blackfaced animals. The Herdwicks are amusing to watch over a period of time. The ewes are white faced with a grey coat while the lambs start very dark almost black all over; over the weeks their faces turn white starting around the eyes with white spectacles. They also have a more attractive character than the others, less likely to complain and stamp feet but still curious.

Over all a more welcome addition. If we must have sheep let's have less of them but let them be Herdwicks.

The pure white fungi pushing up through the grass at this time have always been a puzzle to me being a very poor scholar of mycological matters. Could they be the Ivory Waxcap or could they be the Ivory Clitocybe? If your mind is on breakfast much could depend on the judgement made as the former is classed as edible while the Clitocybe produces very nasty reactions sometimes fatal. My choice this morning is a poached egg.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


Once the cooler nights arrive the pattern is set for early morning bird traffic. Crows, mainly jackdaws and rooks move westwards to their daily feeding grounds having roosted in the woods to the east of Blacka. They fly in groups of every size, from individuals, small gangs of five or six and large parties sometimes over fifty.

Another feature these mornings is the flocks of smaller birds.
These look like the thrushes that spend winter over here having flown in from northern regions of Europe. Sometimes the sense of a world on the move is very strong.

One character showing no desire to move on is our persistent robin, singing for his breakfast at 9 a.m. in the contrast of deep shade and bright morning sun.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

"Ignorance is Strength"

This is an example of why there is so much opposition to SWT.

Where to start? They clutter up the site with their laminated notices. The notices themselves are really stuff more likely to be seen in an office but they haven’t the imagination to see that. The content of the notices also appals. What has the smiling child got to do with the invitation to come along and wantonly destroy trees? Is this part of the same mindset that recruits a marketing manager? These are people who care nothing for the site and its natural beauty only for their jobs in offices 7 miles away.

“Come along” they say “and help protect internationally rare heathland.... etc”. This is nonsense and they know it. Does anyone with half a brain left fall for this? How do you protect something by destruction of natural beauty? Without vigorous protests these vandals will continue to encourage people to think that ‘scrub bashing’ is actually a good thing! In such a way dictators tell their peoples that ‘War is Peace’ and ‘Ignorance is Strength’.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Same Again?

The building being erected behind Fairthorn as seen from Blacka is looking to be a substantial structure. I have no great hope that it will fit in better than Fairthorn itself. I have been corresponding with the Planning Department about that mistake since earlier this year. Their latest answer to my questions states that Fairthorn is not absolved from being cited as a 'surrounding' building therefore its errors can be repeated in nearby developments.

It also claims that similar two and three storey buildings are in the vicinity which themselves justified Fairthorn. This is nonsense. The statement made in the letter which is obviously accurate is that each development will be 'considered on its merits'. This means that officers will make their own minds up without being tied to previously agreed policies.

Monday, 5 October 2009


This is where the water plunges down dramatically to Blacka Dyke after a heavy downpour. A long spell of dry weather reduces it to a mere trickle as it is today. Some would not try to cross the top when the torrents are flowing but show more bravery at quieter times.

The oak stem here growing near the fall has been chewed or scraped in recent weeks and I would normally be in no doubt this is the work of deer. Another of the annoyances of the presence of cattle is that it is harder to be sure of what is attributable to them and what to deer.
Before the cattle arrived it was easy to see the deer tracks through the bracken - they make their own and usually prefer them to man made paths; now the cattle do the opposite, preferring tracks ready made by man or deer. This means everything becomes a cattle track. It would take a better observer than I am to separate the effect of deer and cattle on the vegetation.


October is almost at the end of its first week already and as if to prove it a ground frost on the grass and the dead bracken this morning.
SWT said their cattle would be present on the moor from April to September. I think those people who don't like cattle have been patient enough. One character this morning was more than usually truculent and refusing to give way on a narrow path, even after a brief conversation with Bert.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Seasonal Competition

Autumn versus Spring is the annual battle for best season. Once again my allegiance has changed. It starts near dawn on a Sunday morning seen from the top of Thistle Hill in the pasture land.
Birch is a native tree that knows how to milk the appeal of the autumn season, making up for the absence of birdsong by striking an alliance with the early morning sunlight.
But wildlife plays its part. We might regret that this young stag is not a mature beast with full head of antler but he is wild and unmanaged unlike the decorative animals I've recently seen in the grounds of stately homes.