Friday, 30 July 2010


To make a case for conservation grazing with farm livestock you need to show that it makes the place better. And the results have to be visible to the public who use the land and observe it. Without that we are trusting to blind faith.

SWT had many opportunities to make this case in the years before they introduced cattle to Blacka. We asked them on a regular basis to explain just what we would see, after the cattle had been grazing, that was better than before so we could make our own judgements whether to support the proposal but they failed to do that. Instinctively we thought that farm animals would reduce the appeal. Who wants more fencing (especially four stranded barbed wire) and the change of atmosphere that farming brings and the constant reminder of their presence on the paths with generous piles of cow pats? And the poor standard of livestock welfare that we've often seen in this area and the sad looking sheep. If we can have landscapes without farming then it has to be preferable. Only if the advantages are so beneficial to our experience of the place should we welcome it. So we wanted to be told. Those who were proposing would not or perhaps could not tell us how we would benefit. This got to be such a theme that one became puzzled and eventually suspicious. Why suggest this if you can't say or don't know its impact unless something is being held back?

Well the situation can be observed to an extent now. We have had conservation grazing imposed on us. In the pasture land it has been going on for much longer because sheep were already there. Still the sheep grazing is a part of the management plan and supposedly carefully planned and subsidised to deliver results that Unnatural England require. The cattle grazing has been less consistent but has certainly been noticed and has been hard to ignore.

This year gives us an excellent opportunity to compare because a hitch in SWT's plans (or a typical cockup if you prefer) has meant their plans for grazing have gone awry leaving the whole site free from farm livestock for most of the year. What would you expect to see? This is very close to the question that I had been asking of SWT regularly several years ago and getting no answer.

So how's the situation with no cattle on the moor and no sheep on the pasture land? Considering the amount of money and deskbound management time that have gone into the original setting up of the conservation grazing you would expect to see a change for the worse when the livestock are not there. But that's far from the case.

The moorland section has benefited from the absence of cattle in numerous ways. The flowers around the bog have looked especially appealing this year after being trampled by cattle who scuffed up the whole bog area last year. There has been a welcome absence of cow pats on the paths. The main path along the top of Blacka Hill has had a chance to recover from the widening caused by cattle over three years; and grasses have been allowed to flourish in a natural and unfettered way.

The pasture land has experienced its longest period without sheep for many a year and the effect has been a revelation.
Instead of wall to wall sheep droppings and a dreary monotony of characterless grassland the place has responded to a period of freedom by expressing itself as a delightful wild flower meadow. At any time in the previous years you would look in vain for somewhere to have an informal picnic free from the excrement of miserable looking sheep unappealingly daubed with untidy splashes of dye. (Farming, the farmers have become fond of telling us in recent years is an industry. But people do not willingly choose to take their recreation and their holidays in industrial areas and amid industrial priorities.)
The top section of this hillside at the moment is a mass of harebell flowers with yarrow and clover complementing alongside numerous other flowers and grasses. There is nothing worth looking at when sheep are grazing.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Moors Consultation

I've already referred to a consultation going on about the Eastern Peak District Moors which adjoin Blacka Moor, This is a very special news item and potentially a very important consultation indeed. That makes it even more regrettable that there are significantly problematic aspects to the process. The importance is because it covers a huge area of publicly owned land on the edge of a major city and inside a national park. And the land mass involved surrounds Blacka on three sides. The prime concerns are as follows:

  1. The consultation is very badly publicised indeed and information about it (if you are lucky enough to have received any) is at short notice.

  2. The consultation is being carried out at the worst period of the year when many people are on holiday.

  3. Tagged on to the issue about the Eastern Moors is a consultation about the Sheffield Moors which is on another basis making a dog's breakfast of the process. It's important to realise that SCC has not made any decision to lease their properties to the consortium yet and that some kind of separate consultation would be expected before they do so. Nevertheless the decision will be based, so we're told on the outcomes of this consultation with 'the public' who as we've said have not been properly informed about this process.
  4. This consultation is not of the 'blank sheet' kind but is more of a top-down focus group exercise determined by the needs of the management to get a snap-shot of consumers views to help craft the presentation of their management plan - much of which is already pencilled in.

All that said, we should do our utmost to engage and get our views expressed. Surely nothing can be as bad as the SWT consultations through their RAG group. The healthiest approach to local involvement will as usual be a 'scientific' approach sceptical of anything that smacks of presentation, PR and fashionable marketing jargon.

The Thinking of Managers

This blog has always shown great respect for conservationists, of course. Where would we be without them?

Well, anyway some more interesting evidence of the thinking and judgement typical of those working in land management, conservation and wildlife - as heard yesterday - directly relating to Blacka Moor.

A sparsely attended meeting held in central Sheffield yesterday was part of the consultation being run by Eastern Peaks Partnership, the consortium jointly set up by RSPB and National Trust. They aim to manage Sheffield Moors as well as the PDNPA's. A member of the audience asked what was going to be done about the small herd of red deer on Bigmoor (he clearly was a bit behind the times and didn't know about those on Blacka Moor and elsewhere). The answer that came back was thus: more recently the managers have decided that the deer actually do some good to the landscape and are beneficial and anyway people like to see them.

If you think about that answer you may start to understand the exasperation I feel at times about these people. Here we have a native animal that has been around on our landscape as long as man and a grand and impressive and heart warming sight to behold. And they have to think twice about whether they allow this beast to stay! While all the time they are artificially engineering changes to habitats to attract corn buntings and lapwings, sometimes doing so by importing cows, which deposit more messy dung per day than deer do in a month, or miserable looking sheep covered in untidy and visually displeasing splashes of dye.

Yet ask a typical Sheffield Councillor, as I did, what he thinks (there is some evidence that some of them do) and he will tell you that the place 'has to be managed'. Could he just be repeating what you hear on all broadcast countryside programmes, impeccably coordinated and orchestrated for the better brainwashing of the masses?

Oh The Pleasure Of It

Do any of those lucky people who've found antlers on Blacka use them for this purpose?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

An Ear

In July we usually try to look out for signs that the hinds have produced calves. But the odds are heavily stacked against sighting any young deer with the bracken being at the zenith of its growth. Yet there have been very tiny footprints in some places. Usually the best to hope for is to see hinds and this morning an ear was visible above the bracken just where I started to look. It's not always that easy! But the cover was too impenetrable for calves, if there were any, to be visible.

Ten minutes later making our way up Bole Hill we looked back and caught a distant view of hinds further over probably the same ones. Could that small one be a young calf?

In the afternoon a group of four stags were munching away on the section of Totley Moor just west of Blacka. They could have been bilberrying in common with numerous blackbirds and thrushes. But no evidence of jam jars or plastic containers.

Monday, 26 July 2010


For a long time mornings have not brought a view of Lincoln Cathedral from Blacka. So this morning's, despite the cloudiness, was welcome. Not least because yesterday I was in Salisbury Cathedral for the first time in many years. People enjoy arguing about which is our finest cathedral and these two are often the top contenders. Lincoln wins on many counts. There's more variety and interest in Lincoln, more diversity if you like, but visually it can be a bit lacking in harmony. Salisbury has just that ingredient to a marvellous extent. It was built all in a single style so everything fits together in the view. A beautiful sight to soothe the eye.
Two weeks ago we were in Chartres which, of course, could teach a lesson to any of the English cathedrals, a place of stunning light and colour with medieval stained glass everywhere you look. *

The wonders of camera software make it possible to enhance the view of Lincoln a little. See below.

* The photos from the paradoxplace site are stunning and suggest that anyone interested in architecture must explore it at leisure.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Ring Out!

Let's celebrate the good fortune that has given us a lengthy stretch of non-management. The mess that SWT has got itself into over grazing on Blacka Moor has given us a welcome taste of wilder land, that which has gone its own way, distressing to those who wish to prove our countryside is the better for being managed but heart warming for those of us who know it's much improved for going without.

No it's not intentional. SWT want to have all those intrusive and messy farm animals eating voraciously all those delightful wild flowers and then defecating all over every space you thought might be the spot to sit down in. But their farmer friend has gone AWOL and taken his smelly animals with him.

The result is the kind of visual treat I've always enjoyed - nature taking over. Just a minute, isn't that what naturalists and conservationists and wildlife course graduates are supposed to like? But no, we're in the age of biodiversity tick boxing when 'subjective' things like beauty and anything defined by value rather than numbers is strictly out of court.

Up on the top of Thistle Hill, the heights of the historic pasture land the absence of the farm live stock has enabled a spread of harebells, clover, spear thistle and yarrow to thrive across a huge area of the grassy slopes. Let's be clear: these things would not be here if sheep and cattle had been grazing.

I can hear them now the apologists for conservation grazing telling us that it's only because of the manure previously left by the cows and sheep that it is now as we see it and, even more insidiously, that if they don't bring the livestock back the whole ecology will collapse in some kind of doomsday scenario. Such soothsayers can stay in their offices and chew their pencils while those of us who actually walk in and use the countryside ring the bells for wilder land.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Demons Culling and Killing

Freudian slips are usually funny. The one in the North Welsh News goes beyond that.

Halt to Welsh badger cull is undemoncratic, farmers fume

I had always suspected that those wishing to kill wildlife and call it by the slightly more acceptable term cull were demonic but I had not realised that you could call the process demoncratic.
(They've changed it to the more correct but also more boring version you see on the North Wales News link now.)

Sunday, 11 July 2010


Pasture land is by definition land where farm animals graze. So when there are no sheep or cattle for lengthy periods things change. I remember seeing this and enjoying it as a child. Long grass waving in the breeze, a selection of wild flowers and a generally dreamy and lazy feeling on a sunny day in the middle of summer. An absence of animal dung is also welcome. Why doesn't this happen more often these days? I suspect there are many answers including more intensive use of land, more use of chemical 'improvements' and the agenda of 'conservation grazing'. I've always had a liking for land and vegetation where the repressive land management regime has been lifted: overgrown hedgerows and wilder woodland, grouse moors being reclaimed by nature. This is what the countryside should be about at least as much as about farming and food production. Whatever SWT hiccuping has caused the absence of farm animals, Blacka's pasture is now just the place where you can bring the family and enjoy a picnic. Not many would do that when it was difficult to find a spot to sit down free of sheep and cattle droppings. So there's much to be thankful for in SWT's present problems.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Early Appearance

Many spring flowers appeared late this year, and that was no surprise after a harsh winter. Since then the trend has changed. How much is due to the exceptional period of fine dry weather I can't tell. Bog asphodel was earlier than previous years as was bell heather. Now common heather is blooming around Bole Hill in the first half of July.


Buzzards have been seen often around Blacka and surrounding land this year. This character was being mobbed by a sparrow hawk

Friday, 9 July 2010

Alder and Honeysuckle

Lack of water on the higher parts of Blacka suggests a walk staring from Shorts Lane where you can stroll alongside the delightful stream still bubbling away. This is another place graced with the presence of many alder trees, lovers of wetter ground. Everyone should stop for a minute or two and enjoy the marvellous patterns on the alder's bark and once again think whether the pleasure gained can be bettered by any 'managed' landscape.

Honeysuckle climbing around alder only adds to the wildness rather than prettifies it.
The Shorts Lane path is a great asset to Blacka, being both interesting and sheltered from the wind so contrasting with the more exposed higher reaches. Its chief disadvantage for older folk is that it stays level for only a limited stretch before a choice of three alternatives all go mercilessly uphill.

High Summer

Balmy days and plenty of basking going on. Lizards are best seen in the sun-facing stone walls as the warmth tempts them out from their crevices.

More basking going on in the deep shrubs on top of Blacka Hill where stags were enjoying yesterday's afternoon sun. Our presence on the path was enough to disturb them. These two stags were sporting very fine headgear. Antlers are now in nearly finished condition after spending at least three months in velvet

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

FoBM Meeting

A reminder that the Friends of Blacka Moor meeting on Thursday evening is open to all. It is at 8 pm at Totley Library and comprises the AGM of the Friends and also a slide presentation celebrating another side of Blacka Moor - the Winter of 2009/2010.


While not usually a match for the limestone areas of the Peak, on the right day Blacka's flowers can be spectacular. Today was such a day, benefiting from the absence of farm animals - no sheep on the pasture land allowing orchid to appear......... and no cattle on the moor giving us a splendid show of bog asphodel and bell heather.

How can we best express our gratitude for the absence of these farm animals ? I'm sure SWT would preferthat the cows and sheep were there chomping their way through much that makes the place attractive and interesting; and Unnatural England's too. If they could get them back tomorrow they would do so, and the fate of the flowers would not influence them nor would the general visual appeal and atmosphere of the site as a whole. After all they do not spend their own spare time here so why should they bother ? The important thing for them is to be able to tick a few boxes alongside statements devised by some remote committee whose members similarly have never been here. What a wonderful world.

Monday, 5 July 2010


If the blackbirds usually on your garden lawn are absent at the moment it could be they've joined the trippers that have made their way to the hills to feast on the newly ripened soft fruit. Scores of them, along with thrushes and other birds, were rising up as we walked along the track above the old firing range to the south of Blacka.

Quantities of bilberry were not as great as on Blacka probably due to sheep grazing this part of the hills. But crowberry was in good supply and the blackbirds are as keen on that as they are in the autumn on the cotoneaster berries near my front door.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Elder and Could Be Better

The elder is another tree that gets less than it deserves from some quarters. One farmer I know complained that the Forestry Commission nearby had cut down alien conifers in a nearby plantation and now all the "wrong things" were growing "like elder". Well some people are just hard to please. And proof that some of the public may have been brainwashed to want all countryside top-down managed. Is elder not a native British tree and doesn't it produce flowers for elderflower cordial and berries for fruit pies? And nothing could be more elegant than a specimen like this one alongside the path fulfilling its role as the latest white blossom following blackthorn, rowan and hawthorn.

Sycamores at several points around Blacka suffer from leaf scorch very soon after the foliage reaches maximum span.

This happens every year so the dryness of June is not a cause. It's odd to have an autumnal effect so early. If there's a fungus or some other invading organism responsible then why does it nota affect those nearby bordering the main road? Could pollution there be benefiting the trees in the way that bad air pollution before smoke control legislation actually prevented black spot on roses?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

More Birch Magic

My campaign to save the birches of Blacka starts here. At some time in the coming winter the wildlife trust, at a loose end, will arrive with chain saws and 'volunteers' (persuaded to come along and enjoy a spot of healthy exercise indulging their destructive instincts in a place they've never visited before) and they will end the life of a few more of Britain's finest trees. This is the death of a thousand cuts for the young woodland that has given this place its wonderful character and atmosphere. So the Friends of Blacka Moor need help to spread the message that the philistines and the barbarians should not prevail. One thing we can do is map our own identified groups of birches (and others) that we can evaluate for their contribution to the distinctiveness of the site.

Note the diversity of form in the birch.

This specimen divides elegantly into three at ground level. While another spreads in all directions from a foot above the ground.

Does any other tree create so many diverse effects? Meanwhile beside this path alongside the old stone wall a glade has formed producing well needed shade in the summer sun and protection from wind and rain at other times. This is a stunningly beautiful spot superbly illuminated by early morning light.

The birches could be the theme of another slide presentation for local groups. The coming one for the Friends of BM next week is to be Winter on Blacka Moor - about the landscape and wildlife in the recent winter. Previously we have done similar presentations on Character of Blacka Moor to the Vulcan Rotary Club, The Secret Life of Blacka Moor to the Dore Village Society and last year's FoBM AGM looked at A Year on Blacka.