Sunday, 31 January 2010

Blots on the Landscape

The trouble with those ugly scars in the countryside is that however much you want to concentrate on the beauties of the surrounding spaces your eye keeps on being drawn to the bits that spoil the view; so they become utterly disproportionate. Planners never seem to get this. Fairthorn was a disaster for the view from Blacka to the east.
Another sight that catches the eye is at Whitelow. The buildings here are fine in themselves but the owner has decided to fill the surrounding land with white caravans and HGVs. To this observer at least it's an appalling mess, and situated as it is, on a prominent hillside in a sensitive area cries out for some urgent screening measures.
Some controversy looms also about Hallfield Farm. The renovation of this site has been going on for more than a year and many things have drawn favourable comment, including the rebuilding of stone walls. But more recently lighting has been installed, security lights and lights on posts lining the landscaped drive. There's obviously a considerable amount of money being spent here and it's to be expected that sooner or later something becomes intrusive. The only recourse is to complain.

On top of Blacka Hill SWT's sadly unattractive fence has been even more sadly vandalised. Somebody has gone further than compaining and decided to wreck it completely.
In the Blacka pastures the grazier's intrusive metal hurdles are still there despite objections made over two years. News suggests SWT are thinking of asking him to move them to another part where they will be less prominent. But the whole site looks more like a farm each day. Certainly the amount of manure on the land is not typical of a mere conservation grazing regime. Memo: must remember to bring along my wheelbarrow.


On a morning when fingers were barely able to press the shutter on the camera the bird table gang came out onto the moor to find us, puffed up with indignation. Cheddar supplies were fortunately plentiful or we might not have been alowed to get away.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Under Pressure

This must be a hard time for those animals that spend their lives wholly outdoors in tough conditions. Having survived one of the longest wintry spells of recent years they had a brief respite over the last fortnight. Yet there's much of the winter still to come and recent cold nights must have been hard to take.

If the lone stag seen this morning was the same as that seen yesterday, from this view he looked leaner. Animals on their own in slightly unfamiliar circumstances always raise concerns. Are they disorientated or under stress? This stag was in no hurry to move on. A badger yesterday afternoon was another surprising sight. There are many badgers and sets around Blacka but it's only rare you see one out in broad daylight. The picture just shows his back as he made off.

One sad sight yesterday was a dead ram in the sheep pasture. Only a few days ago we had seen him lying down sheltered by a low wall.
At the time there seemed something unusual about him. But then when seen previously he had always been semi-detached from the main herd. From the first appearnace a large ram on this exposed site had not seemed appropriate.

Thursday, 28 January 2010


I often think the deer tend to split into two groups. One comprises a dominant stag sometimes with two or three hinds attached and at other times he's on his own. The other group is mainly stags in various numbers between two and twelve. Just occasionally the two groups are seen together. This morning's stag was solitary and probably the oldest on the site. His upper body looks strong and his top points are well formed

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


The keen north west wind and low cloud combination wins few prizes for hospitality. If you have to be in the north west corner of Blacka then get into the woods.

A new management carve up initiative is launched today with a joint vision published by the RSPB and the CLA (Country Landowners Association). This is good news for managers. Diversity is the magic word for those who want to pursue a career in landscape management. From what I've seen this profession conducts its business largely from offices and produces paperwork with occasional ventures outdoors (when it's a nice day) to do surveys. With diversity there's always going to be a new project to plan and a new policy to devise. Lots of lovely deskwork.

Biodiversity in Britain presents a fascinating contradiction: per hectare of land, Britain must have more conservation based university courses and produce more conservation graduates looking for employment opportunities and management jobs than any other country in the world. It is the more weird when you consider we have less 'natural' or 'wild' land and more artificial vegetation than anywhere else. Meanwhile other parts of the globe are losing natural biodiversity at an alarming rate with very few conservationists. So what do all these British potential biodiversity managers do? They should perhaps be engaged in missionary work abroad and doubtless some do. Or do they make for places like Blacka and engage in Blue Peter like habitat creation schemes ? The Sheffield City Ecology Officer, during the Icarus consultation, was insistent that nature must not be allowed to go its own way even in this limited area. We must have as big a variety of habitats as possible, she said. You just want to control and manage everything, I said. She conceded.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

How To Say It

There's more than one way of telling people to shove off.

Remote Farming

On Friday tracks appeared into the pasture/inby land. This is the first time after the snow. Does that mean that the grazier has not been to his animals during the worst of the weather? That would be surprising. I did look at the other end where access would have had to be made from Totley but no sign of tracks from there. That would seem to suggest ten days or so. I've said a number of times that it worries me to have a grazier who lives in Bradfield. That is some 7 miles as the crow flies and probably double that by road. And Blacka Moor is not the only place he grazes animals remote from his farm. As it happens I've seen no casualties yet among the livestock but I've not explored the whole area and one of the cattle at least has calved.

Saturday, 23 January 2010


"I must be mad," I often think. Why would anyone set themselves the task of walking on Blacka Moor early every morning? So often it is wet or muddy or there's a bitterly cold wind or you can hardly see a thing. Yes I'm definitely mad to do this. It's only when I look at my fellow man and see what he chooses to do that I hesitate.

But then we get a morning like today. We could see straight away that the sky would be clear once the sun climbed above the layer of cloud near the eastern horizon. And already a herd of ten stags was visible, also probably looking forward to some of the sun's warmth on their backs. There had been a hard frost.
And so it was. A postcard today from a fellow Blacka lover arrived from Australia where he's experiencing the pleasures of unrelieved summer sun. Still I believe our pleasure was greater when the sun did burst through.
The stags eventually made their way to the edge of the trees not too happy with our presence.

Thursday, 21 January 2010


Another gloomy morning but this time a better view of a stag. He had obviously spent quite a time observing us before we saw him. But once we stood still to admire him he was off, running swifly down the slope among stones low shrubs and small trees. They have such skill over unpredictable ground yet heads stay high. Unlike the cyclists who try to make maximum speed with heads down all the time.

Meanwhile it's now possible to get close to the cattle in the pastures after most of the deep snow has gone. And what's revealed is a newcomer apparently born to one of the heifers during the worst of the wintry conditions. One's first response as always is "How sweet", but this raises many questions. The declared intention of SWT is that no cattle with calves should be on Blacka; we know this was a pledge regarding the moorland section of the site and it was in response to concerns about incidents between cows and people. But it was never made explicit that it did not refer to the pastures which have just the same status as recreation land. And has this birth happened at a time when the grazier was unable to access the site because of deep snow - he lives many miles away in Bradfield? Or did he somehow brave the worst of the winter to attend? Other websites testify to the work that farmers do when calving takes place. There is a nine month gestation for cattle. Did SWT know this was to happen? Normally Highlands calve from February on though it's probably managed differently according to the level of exposure on site. I can see no evidence of wheel marks from tractor or other heavy vehicle being here during the heaviest snow. And when do the others calve? And why was the RAG not told.....etc. ?

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


Once the bulk of the snow is gone the diggers get busy underground shifting small mountains of black earth upwards. The mole's life cycle suggests some reasons why activity is subject to these surges. Breeding is usually from February on. Sometimes the imagination suggests subterranean palaces are being constructed. Another oddity - why does so much of the activity take place close to gateways? Just a coincidence?
Two or maybe more stags were out on the moor this morning at 8.15. Too dark to be sure of numbers and much too dark to photograph.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Heavy Going

It was snowing at 8.30 this morning. Gushing springs were appearing in unusual places. The depth of snow suggests we could have many more days before walking gets easier.

Friday, 15 January 2010


Since the last snowfall there have been few footprints. Not many have been able to get onto the moor and of those who did not many have wanted to explore where others have not beaten a track.

But today there were deer prints over a large area varying in size. We had thought that they would have been on the lower ground but deer are hard to predict.
The ground is already squelchy in places. If the forecast rain comes and a rise in temperature Blacka will be so wet that even fewer visitors will dare to come even with fine weather on Sunday.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Each Day Different

For those who like to look closely there's fascination and variety in each snow scene. No two are the same despite opportunities for colouring being strictly limited. The mists have added further to the revealing of depth.
Today there has been more moistness in the white that clings to thin branches and extra weight runs the flakes together. Out in the open drifts make walking hard work for man and a lottery for dog. Sometimes there's enough crust to support his weight but then the sudden plunge when it gives way leaves him looking indignant.

Briefly we were treated to a crack of blue above.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Whiter Yet

Many have enjoyed the visual beauty of the snow over the last weeks . The trees have been specially wonderful. I've been prevented from getting up to Blacka simply because of problems in my own street.
But today after much shovelling and cooperative pushing we finally got out. The scene on Blacka was different. This was not pretty. It was whiter than ever. But wildness was all around.

The words 'winter wonderland' have been overdone in the media. Blacka today was neither lovely nor conventionally picturesque. Nor could you give it any other human attribute. Its whiteness was in some ways alien and compelling for that.

Friday, 8 January 2010


Snow restores our faith in natural beauty transforming the familiar in the simplest way. The woods show the true magic where vivid contrasts reveal a world largely of black and white.
But colour breaks through in small doses even more effectively and reminds of those films of years ago which started in black and white then suddenly switched to colour. Everyone remembers the Oz film but there was also a film of Jean Cocteau I vaguely recall - perhaps Orpheus?

Even tiny patches of quite ordinary colour can make a huge impact in a world dominated by white.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Snap and Away

It's the thing these days for media websites to invite people to send in photos to adorn their pages. There was one on the Radio Sheffield site the other day of trees in the snow on Blacka Moor. I realised that I had seen the man taking the pictures as I returned from my walk. The interesting thing to me was that it was quite a nice picture taken with what looked like a very good camera by someone who knew what he was doing. But he had only stepped a few yards onto the site having just got out of his car and was then turning round to go back. If he had walked for another five minutes he might have been able to do justice to a really splendid scene a few hundred yards further on with superb wildlife. Perhaps people these days haven't the time or are not prepared to make a little more effort. They miss so much. The picture he took was rather nice - it looked something like this.

Feeding the Hungry

The Streetforce 2734567 number actually answered on Tuesday unlike on Monday, but the lady was politely insistent: no cul de sacs were being gritted - absolutely the lowest priority she said.
"But dont you realise," I complained, "that other roads have got two possible ways out. We have only one and that's up a very slippery hill."
No satisfaction apart from a promise to write down the request.
"So what about the robin and the four great tits and the pairs of blue tits and coal tits on Blacka Moor who've not seen a peanut or a sunflower seed for three days? Do you want to have murder on your hands? Put me through to your animal rights department."
Whether it was this or not the gritter finally came down the road at 8.45 pm. So today we managed to get to the lay by at Devil's Elbow by midday - all other parking options looked potentially awkward. The snow was so deep that the half mile or so seemed more like 2 miles. Fortunately Bert may be 12 years old but he remains game even when up to his jaw in drifts.
Ours were the only prints in the snow today unlike Monday when a remarkable quantity of bike tyre marks were on the paths. The sun on the snow through trees is just one of the best visual effects in the whole year but to me it's even finer when the trees are wild and unmanaged.

The birds were there waiting for us. It sort of made the hard walking even more worthwhile. Do people get more sentimental with age?

Monday, 4 January 2010

Well Covered

Snow covers the ground and much of the vegetation. It's as well that deer have spent their time thickening coats to keep out temperatures much lower than anything in recent years.

Saturday, 2 January 2010


Sadly this kind of thing is on the increase and it would be foolish to pretend it couldn't happen here.

What should be the attitude of this blog? It has been suggested that no information should be given out indicating the presence of deer in the area. I have a view on this but would be interested to hear from any readers. Please let me know.


Holmesfield Church at sunrise this morning looked welcoming . There are a number of walks between Totley and Holmesfield, some of them fairly new projects including the waymarked G H B Ward Commemorative Walk. This touches on Blacka Moor at the bottom of Wimble Holme Hill

Friday, 1 January 2010

Full Moon

On the first morning of the year a large full moon over the woods half an hour before the sun appeared.
Sheep were not impressed and preferred to cower behind the wall dreaming of better pickings in spring. When the sun finally came up the golden light transformed the snow at the top of Thistle Hill.

Here the thin crust above the softer snow was no match for my new size 11 insulated Muck Boots, the warmest footwear I've ever owned. But the giant tracks across the hill will have been easy to follow for anyone training in detective work.