Tuesday, 29 June 2010


The yellow bog asphodel flower is now coming into bloom in the Cowsick area of Blacka. This year should be a good show because the plants have not been trampled by SWT's clumsy and intrusive cattle; they took the appeal off the display last year. Why the cattle are not there is something of a mystery but welcome all the same. SWT have been coy about recent events including the removal of sheep from the pasture. As all of the last three contacts at SWT have left the organisation it's not so easy to find out what they are up to.
Asphodel is named after the place in the underworld occupied by the souls of those who don't merit eternal punishment but are not up to the standards needed to admit them to the Elysian Fields. The Asphodel Meadows is a rather non descript sort of place according to some. This hardly does justice to one of the flowers of bright colour and real distinctive shape on Blacka. Perhaps those who named it were attracted to the pretty sounding word.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Two Birches

One of the glories of Blacka is its birch trees. Birch is much maligned by those who wish to control the countryside. Wholesale scrub bashing and birch removal is the pastime of the small minded who cannot trust nature but needs must knock it into shape in the way of a gardener. In wild land where trees are allowed to grow as they will the birch produces such a variety of forms, elegant and characterful that the area is turned into a natural sculpture park more diverse and more dynamic than those populated with the artefacts of man.
A favourite birch is that one at the saddle between Bole Hill and Wimble Holme Hill, blessed with a fine setting.
Another interesting birch illustrates an unusual phenomenon. The extremities of this tree have died back for some reason unknown; dry and leafless outer twigs suggest some trauma. But the life force has transferred its attention to other parts closer to the trunk and main branches and leaves are sprouting close to these places.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Woodland Walk

The Shorts Lane entrance to Blacka takes you alongside the stream and past the stepping stones. On a summer morning it's a beautiful cool and sheltered place to be with various delights to capture the attention.

Many of our common wild flowers can be enjoyed including dog rose. This is at its best when glimpsed through the trees climbing up in a natural semi glade setting.

But wait a bit! What's happened here?
Where numerous pathside plants should be visible displaying their charms a broad swathe of the verge has been brutally power-strimmed. This continues on through much of the network of bridleways. Contrast this with the unmanaged glorious profusion elsewhere outside the Blacka boundary - a riot of colour and form typical of English pathside vegetation in June. My guess is that someone was sent down too early in the season to deal with bracken. But bracken does not become a problem until later and anyway not on bridleways. So it's another bureaucratic cockup.

Unfortunately this barbarism is not untypical of Sheffield Wildlife Trust's management. Inexperienced people with no particular liking for natural things are sent down by even less experienced managers to 'tidy up'. We first became aware of the scale of the incompetence shortly after SWT took over the management back in 2002. Having obtained a hefty sum from Heritage Lottery Fund they wanted to show that they were improving the place and looked to the bridleway network to do this. While many stretches of bridleway were in need of attention they chose to focus on a section that was in perfectly good condition. The reason for doing this seems to have been because it was easily accessible and would give few problems. One of their most striking innovations on a track that had previously harmonised well with its natural surroundings was the bedding in of numerous concrete kerbstones as cross pieces.
To understand SWT you need to appreciate their role in facilitating university courses. Higher Education needs to attract students and can only do so if potential students know their courses lead to jobs. A wildlife trust in a city of Sheffield's size is ideal to provide first jobs for those leaving university having done courses in wildlife and landscape management and sundry ecology related degrees. Most of these young people are plunged into a world of decision making they have not been well prepared for yet a proportion of them are convinced that their new qualifications mean that they 'know best' even when applying themselves to managing places they are scarcely familiar with. Many members of the wider public are reluctant to be critical because after all they are involved in an area that carries a lot of popular sentiment in its favour. And the more powerful institutions in the conservation industry put plenty of resources into lobbying and media management so that you can't watch a TV programme about the countryside without some spokesperson or other popping up telling us that our landscape has to be managed. Just think about it. It has to be managed - and the people telling us this are managers or teachers of managers or people whose own jobs are linked to the management of countryside in some way. It seems wise to be at least a little sceptical doesn't it? But not much gets heard in the media apart from slavish parroting of the 'need for management'. No wonder you hear ordinary members of the public repeating these things, people you would otherwise consider quite sensible and balanced. But then ideas do get a hold on the whole of society sometimes especially when they are promoted so determinedly and those of us on the ground who should know better timidly accept what seems inevitable.

Saturday, 26 June 2010


The pasture enclosure is grassland and has been grazed for many years with sheep owned by various graziers. Numbers of sheep have sometimes been large. Something's happened this year and there have been long periods with no sheep followed by a small number of sheep and now total absence once again. This has left the area with much long grass which I find a really welcome change. I've always enjoyed vegetation 'going wild'. I also welcome the scarcity of sheep excrement. Some places in these edge of Peak District grazing areas have for many years reeked of sheep droppings and for that reason of limited appeal for recreation. Why this should be so I don't know. Many grassy areas in other parts of the country have been far better. There's an attitude here that wants to force livestock grazing down people's throats. So there's almost never a time when you can get onto it to have a picnic or lie down without knowing you're sharing it with sheep or cattle or both along with their abundant waste produce. The usual defence of the grazing by the managers is a statement that it would all turn to woodland if the sheep were not there. My response to that is - well let it happen. If it's no good for recreation because of the livestock then why are you fighting nature?

Friday, 25 June 2010

Sinking Ship ?

The 'Reserve Manager' employed by SWT to manage Blacka has now left his post to work elsewhere. I believe this is a wise choice on his part. Interestingly two other members of staff who have previously had responsibility for Blacka and therefore known to local people using the moor are also moving on. If you consider this alongside the fact that the cattle which were supposed to have appeared on Blacka from April have still not appeared and the sheep have recently been taken off from the pasture land you begin to wonder what's going on. To say I've never been greatly impressed with SWT's overall organisation and general competence is a bit of an understatement. But this raises more questions. I'm on record as saying that the place benefits from less management so I can't pretend to be bothered. In fact I'm pleased for the individuals involved that they've found other jobs and hope they are in places less institutionally unsound than SWT. But the situation does seem a bit of a mess to say the least. And the major downside is that a previous 'reserve manager' now on maternity leave will be returning in October. Oh well!

As I've said many times Blacka Moor thrived on the absence of management during much of the last century transforming itself from a boring grouse moor into a place throbbing with life force and exuberant vegetation and wildlife. Management is not what we want especially that top down farming style approach which knows what it wants and hates surprise.

Monday, 21 June 2010


What is a perfect day and the ideal experience of the countryside ? For many it will be warmth, unbroken sunshine and a peaceful, scenically beautiful setting probably in June. For me this is only one of many definitions. Some quite different experiences can be overwhelming and utterly memorable.
But this morning would have satisfied the majority who stand by the conventional view.
A single young stag was wandering across the scene among the deep vegetation and young birch.

For once we could lie down in the long grass on top of Thistle Hill listening to the skylarks and even the early morning traffic was muted by a change of wind direction.

These days happen fairly rarely in the year and tend to weigh strongly with our preferences. At such times a hillside that's quite open and grassy is at its best and the fact that it's artificial and kept free from trees matters less especially if the grazing livestock are absent or making no impact.

As we returned a group of larger stags appeared with antlers already nearly full size. Among them were some slightly younger ones including an elegant one with immaculate red coat.

Sunday, 20 June 2010


Could anyone fail to feel guilty when confronted with the intensity of indignation seen here.
I was only walking along the path ma'am.
She seems to be shouting at me. Well whatever the legal position of walking on a public right of way it's hard to argue with self belief of this kind. This is her place and she's earned the right to think so by continuous possession over 24 hours each day.

More Whites

I'm adding to my collection of examples of the way nature's whiter effects dominate here despite the name Blacka Moor. Should we be considering a change of name?

Bedstraw is everywhere in early June yet never intrusive, its delicate form adding to other features such as flowering grasses only to enhance their own charm.

Cow Parsley is simply the most elegant of pathside wild flowers and the best possible complement to Buttercup.

Whitebeam may be an unexpected find here dating back to a planting 30 years ago but very welcome. No prizes for guessing why the tree has earned this name.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Winter on Blacka - All Welcome

A meeting of Friends of Blacka Moor open to all interested in the local countryside will include a presentation with slides on the subject of last winter on Blacka. The date is Thursday 8th July at 8 pm and the venue is Totley Library

This is also an important meeting because it will incorporate the Friends Annual General Meeting.

Anyone with an interest in the area and its countryside will be very welcome. (We have verified in advance that there is no football on that evening!!)

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Total Disagreement

I’ve mentioned before that SWT were banning hang gliding from the pasture land on Blacka Moor. The reason this is important to all of us even people like me who have no interest in hang gliding is that it’s another example of the conservation industry walking all over people and demonstrating that they care only for their own empires and their own management jobs. A meeting on Tuesday afternoon between the interested parties turned out to be fiery at times. This has become a one-sided battle between two huge publicly funded bureaucracies and one small self employed man who has been told that he can’t carry on his business where he says he has done so for more than 20 years. Steve, who runs courses for those learning hang gliding around the Peak District, uses a small section of the pasture land on Blacka Moor as a ‘nursery slope’. He teaches people to hang glide. As far as I can see they never get more than a few feet off the ground and only travel at most 25 metres. It’s not my choice of activity and I would have reservations about it if it dominated the site and if it was happening a lot more often than it does. As it happens I’m on Blacka more than anyone and have only rarely seen him there; as a lover of wildlife, demonstrated I hope in this blog, I believe that his activities have little or no impact on the bird life of the site. The site has a history of being heavily grazed and is totally artificial – not a natural landscape feature - and it’s designated by its legal covenant as being primarily for recreation. The trouble is that it was stuck on to other local areas and included in these as part of a SSSI in a most unsatisfactory way with no consultation. Steve says he has been doing what he does there for 20 or more years without being told by the landowner that there has been any problem. Now the present crop of conservation people, SWT and their controllers Unnatural England, with no pretence of flexibility, are trying to restrict his activities to a degree he finds unacceptable.

Up to now the activity has been carried out at various times scattered through the year. SWT now want to limit him to a few days in only two months in the year. They claim one reason for this is connected with the bird nesting season which has been defined by U.E. as March 1st to July 31st. The other time is the whole winter period because SWT have only now decided to put cattle on the pasture land from September for supposedly conservation reasons in this artificial landscape, and according to SWT the grazier who owns the cattle claims that Steve’s activities spook the cattle. As the pasture land covers over 100 acres and Steve uses only a tiny part of this space, that sounds very unlikely and I have some reasons for believing that it’s nonsense. Anyway this is land put aside for recreation not for farming. The trouble is that conservation people have so muddled their aims to confuse the public and raise the importance of their jobs that conservation and farming are hard to separate especially in the way they are both heavily subsidised from the public purse.

My other fear is that there is a strategy unfolding here. A few years ago a group of senior citizens who had regularly and benignly flown silent radio controlled gliders on the same land for a few days each year were told they were unwelcome except at times which were of no use to them. They were extremely upset but felt they had to accept and anyway were people who were of a generation unused to flouting authority in any form. This place is becoming sanitised by the managers of wildlife who are getting to be an arrogant and unaccountable body which believes itself to be protected by a certain public sentiment towards wildlife. Will they next start attacking dog walkers? If they succeed in removing them then they may well achieve an objective of reducing human activity dramatically because those with dogs seem to be in the majority of visitors. What we are seeing here is another example of people refusing to consider important principles to further their own narrow interests. They are intent on an aggressive promotion of the conservation economy which has grown in momentum since the original land grab. That happened when Blacka Moor, a site given to the public by a benefactor for the purpose of public recreation, was recklessly handed over by Sheffield City Council to an empire-building conservation charity.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Premier League Pottiness

It seems to go with the job that when you attain high office you are obliged to mouth fatuous platitudes about things you know nothing about. Thus our Prime Minister at Question Time today telling us that our "beautiful uplands were only beautiful because they had been managed"; this was in reply to a question from Sir Alan Beith. It can be safely assumed that neither of the two had ever spent a single minute on Black Hill or any other treeless waste. Wainwright famously described it as a 'desolate and hopeless quagmire' . Many moorland areas are little better, having been managed to destruction by the removal of trees. Mind you I may be wrong about Cameron and Beith. They could just be the types to have spent time shooting grouse in such areas - though they would not have been there to admire the view.

What a difference on Blacka Moor, undeserving of its severe sounding name and lucky indeed that management of the sort so admired by those who spout conventional approval of upland management, stopped early in the last century allowing the landscape and wildlife to express itself with some eloquence.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Sounding Cataract

Time for some verse

For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.--I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.--That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,

If you think there's anything to add, Wordsworth wrote much more in his Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Culture Clash

It is hard to empathise with those whose views and decisions originate from a wholly different way of looking at the world. Hence the professional conservationists who see this beautiful landscape as 'unfavourable' could not be further from myself. To me this wonderful example of nature going its own way having been released from a previously repressive and artificial management regime is one of the finest assets of the region. One must come to an understanding of how this opposition comes about. A luxuriance of natural vegetation bringing an explosion of wildlife and birdsong and a heartwarming visual delight is not difficult to celebrate, but the person who earns a living by controlling things and ticking off targets can do no other than apply an office blueprint. And greenery and trees in leaf and flower bring no satisafction to those who want to impose heather. It must be a sad life, but at least it pays the mortgage. Yet nature is winning here at the moment and the early June birdsong can be bettered nowhere. Each clump of trees has its own secret.


Despite my observation that the absence of farm animals and management has made Blacka a much more fascinating and enjoyable place, the dead bureaucratic hand of Natural England has insisted that farm animals are what it must have. This is their orthodoxy and they have not the recource to a more imaginative approach available to those who truly know and love the place. Yet their cattle grazing, slavishly administered by ther servants at SWT, has never been without problems. The alien beasts were supposed to be here in April but have still not appeared. Meanwhile deer, the wholly natural grazers, not dragooned or conscripted but simply doing what nature left to its own devices does on Blacka, are here this evening helping to balance the diverse needs of a landscape. A pity the artificial power lines compromise the wildness of the scene as much as the cattle would!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

A Tree with Character

One of my top favourite trees is not easy to photograph. This superb and vaguely disquietening alder is nearly always in shade. That's fine for anyone who loves the mystery of these woods. But for a good record as a photo you need more light. Today the sun was just right to reveal it without destroying the mystery. Arthur Rackham would have loved it.
Butterflies are not one of my main interests though I enjoy seeing them. I simply react to the over-emphasis on birds and butterflies by the conservationist lobby who think that all countryside must be managed for 'biodiversity' (or rather biodiversity grants). The Speckled Wood here has a liking for fresh bracken though more often prefers bramble.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Looking Sleek

Just a few weeks ago the stags we met had scruffy coats. They had reminded me of the comfortable but shabby clothes I've always been reluctant to throw away. Today they are well kitted out in the latest fashion and colours worthy of their name.
The youngest of the group had very simple antlers. When the other four had cleared the wall with no bother he fussed about for a while and then unconvincingly scrambled over.