Friday, 28 May 2010
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Saturday, 22 May 2010
And which warbler is this?
(Incidentally the heavy breathing accompaniment is provided by a tired and very hot labrador.)
Thursday, 20 May 2010
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
SWT took over shortly after Natural England, one of our most notorious quangos, had described it as 'in unfavourable condition' (quite astonishing). This set the course for large sums of public money to be spent in defiance of what local people had asked for when surveyed in 2001 - "we like it as it is and we don't want you to change it". Most of the money went on the grazing project , bringing in livestock to 'improve' the land, which meant a major fencing and walling operation. All this was looked on with scepticism at the very least by many local people and genuine astonishment from regular users who wondered how it was possible to obtain such large quantities of public money to do a job that was not just unnecessary but something that ran counter to all that was so valuable about the site, its natural beauty and its reappeared wildlife. The increased appearance of red deer on the land, that natural grazer and browser made the decision to go in for intrusive conservation grazing even more bewildering. The truth of the matter is that the unimaginative managers and conservation professionals had mindsets hooked on preset target guidelines determined at several removes from direct experience of the character and value of these land areas. This is one reason why they refused almost in panic to countenance suggestions from us to install a site worker who would himself get to know, understand and cherish Blacka for what it is. They felt more at home in their deskjobs applying criteria which originated elsewhere but had no relevance to this bit of countryside. These were the criteria that allowed boxes to be ticked and management plans to be written which drew down grants from public funds and which kept them in their office jobs.
Public money that has been spent includes many thousands from the Heritage Lottery Fund, more from English Nature/Natural England, more from Sheffield City Council and also Single Farm Payment from the Rural Payments Agency that comes to anyone who puts farm animals on land. There is also Higher Level Stewardship another form filling and box ticking exercise.
Now the point is this. There is nothing for these people to gain from natural changes. So the beautiful wild and natural grazing animals bring absolutely no money into the coffers and actually save money for the public purse. Whereas putting farm animals on the moor costs the public but helps the conservation industry to keep going and all the jobs (mostly in offices) for people coming out of the plethora of university courses in cuddly subjects like wildlife management. So I'm in no doubt that public money going into conservation grazing projects like that here should cease completely and I would argue this even if there were no economic crisis. In the present situation I can't see how there can be any argument when so many people are struggling.
I'm someone who has always taken the side of public spending as against the huge sums accumulated by many in private employment. But this situation is one that could not be invented. In fact what I resent most of all is the way people continue with this irresponsible project seemingly oblivious to the way it fuels the prejudices of the media against public spending. It is as if they themselves have a vested interest in driving down public spending by allowing it to be so easily caricatured.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Why? Only one reason suggests itself: They have staked so much, both in public money and in reputational capital on this in the face of opposition - an opposition that they have an institutional tendency to discredit- that they just can't bear to climb down.
Saturday, 15 May 2010
- The Wharncliffe Heath site is utterly different to Blacka because it is surrounded by woodland. All the high land around Blacka is treeless grouse moor.* (see below)
- Wharncliffe is well drained and dry underfoot, Blacka is wet much of the time. So the impact of farm animals is quite different - mud on Blacka, none on Wharncliffe.
- Lack of grazing on Blacka has allowed luxuriant bilberry to grow plus bell heather and cowberry. The grazing on Wharncliffe means none of those are present.
- Until SWT came along Blacka was a magnificently wild and unspoiled and unfenced romantic landscape and they've not yet totally wrecked it. Wharncliffe is utterly artificial and man made, crossed by fences.
- There are no red deer on Wharncliffe to do the job of keeping areas open. We all know that deer on Blacka make the presence of publicly funded grant aided bureaucratically managed conservation grazing completely unnecessary.
- At Wharncliffe they still struggle to control birch because the cattle and sheep are not to be relied on. They would love to have red deer. Blacka has wild red deer browsing all night and much of the day.
The lesson to be drawn from this visit is actually the very opposite of that Sheffield Wildlife Trust would have preferred: Organised and managed conservation grazing on Blacka Moor is best abandoned because a natural alternative is much better and has the advantage of continuing the success of many years when Blacka improved when no management was carried out.
* The point about openness is that when people complain about trees being cut down and fences erected to keep sheep and cattle on the land, apologists for conservation grazing, heathland management etc. are constantly telling us that people prefer open landscapes. This is to justify the grants they get for cutting down trees which keep them in management jobs when nature would rather allow trees to grow. For a good analysis of this visit Mark Fisher's site.
Thursday, 13 May 2010
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Monday, 10 May 2010
Saturday, 8 May 2010
I'm left puzzling why the mammal with the most significant impact is not mentioned. Or are farmers, landscape managers road builders etc. in a different category?
Friday, 7 May 2010
Thursday, 6 May 2010
Concerns were expressed years ago about the impact of this fence on walkers and Nigel Doar said that stiles would be installed at regular intervals. I seem to recall that he mentioned every 200m but it may have been less or a quite different figure. He wrote in a report to the City Council’s Scrutiny Board in 2005 that ‘along the vast majority of its length the fence is adjacent to impenetrable dense undergrowth that would prevent access by anyone but the most intrepid and physically fit adventurers’ Frankly this was simply untrue. And I have often walked along this and other stretches of the fence wishing for a stile where there was none.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
It's important to realise when you read and hear the uncritical coverage given to this kind of project in the media, that universities turn out thousands of graduates in soft courses connected with 'wildlife', ecology and landscape management and they've got to have something to do. It certainly would not do for the idea to get around that just leaving places to naturally change might be all that's needed. ( descends from soapbox)
Monday, 3 May 2010
A stile was installed a couple of years ago on the west side of Bole Hill but the lack of a dog flap meant many people had to go round to an alternative access point entailing a trip up and down the eroded valleys on Moss Road - not an enjoyable experience. Now a new dog flap has been installed. I'm afraid I have to be grateful for the thought and for the intention but report that Bertie, one of Blacka's most loyal visitors, cannot use this flap.
Mainly it's because the ground on the Bole Hill side slopes up steeply, making a very awkward angle, bad enough for a younger dog but just not what a 12 year old labrador wants. Could a bit of excavating be done here, please?