Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Berried Treasure

The reason for this notice has so far escaped us. We don't think it has anything to do with SWT. It points the way towards the pasture land where magic mushrooms are to be found at the moment; but they are not buried are they? It could be said that all fungi are really underground, of course, as only the fruiting body is actually seen. We've always thought that Blacka would be great place for a treasure hunt so maybe some organisation have had similar thoughts.

Whatever the truth we are truly blessed with easily found berries on Blacka at the end of August, yet another tribute to the value of unmanaged sites.

Most obvious are the bright reds of rowan berries, so prolific that they are inseparable from the defining character of the moor.

Competing in vividness is the hawthorn, though well behind in numbers of trees. As children we gathered these before pea-shooting battles as the most available ammunition in the hedgerow.

Blackthorn was the first to flower in spring and now gives us sloe berries turning from white to purple. The tradition is to wait until after the first frosts before harvesting.
Bilberry is still to be found for those prepared to wander off the tracks. Many have been greedily devoured by wood pigeons, mistle thrushes, foxes and blackbirds not to mention certain black labradors who started guzzling when they were no more than red flowers in April.
But this very desirable healthy fruit can still be found in large numbers if you are persistent.

The cowberry is bright red and close to the ground and delightfully we can see flower and fruit at the same time very close together.

Later than the others is the blackberry, never quite getting to be as fat and juicy as at lower levels but still the tastiest of all when picked at its best.

Elderberry is beloved by home winemakers but is also grand in a fruit pie alongside bramley apple. The berries come last of all and are not yet ready but note the position carefully to make sure others don't get to them first.

African Visitor?

During summer months Blacka Moor has many visitors who've come north from Africa. Despite its name the elephant hawk moth is not one of them, although its range does stretch to the Far East. The caterpillars are often found like this one on the stems of willow herb .

Monday, 30 August 2010

Wall Life

The lizard was motionless for ages. The cold north wind does not penetrate here and the early morning sun bakes the stones on the wall. He suddenly turned round when a fly alighted nearby. What followed was unexpected. The fly's next stop was on the back of the lizard!

It brought to mind the recent newspaper pictures of the leopard and the crocodile. The lizard here was luckier than the crocodile although perhaps a bit surprised.

A Manager's Story

The path from Lenny Hill west towards the Hollow, the terrace overlooking Blacka Dyke to the north, is at its best just now. Its extravagant shrubs to either side the path as it meanders between birch and rowan illustrate just what wilder nature can do for us in gladdening the eye and refreshing the soul. It is the lifting of the repression of grazing and livestock farming that releases this delight from the shackles of many years management as grouse moor and delivers the most satisfying of landscapes for miles around. Where else can you say that you are in a place where the natural world is fighting back from malign exploitation? Here the heather has grown tall alongside the bilberry and crowberry whose berries complement the vivid red of the rowans and the green of now declining bracken.
Nobody who has not convinced himself that 'everything must be managed' (that mantra of the wildlife trusts) could fail to be enchanted.
But truth itself is under attack when self interest is identified. After years of putting up with a desultory website SWT has appointed a Communications Manager partly (I have been told) to tell a quite different story to that you will read on this blog. There's no doubt they are touchy and have been told to 'get the message out'. As managers they need to tell people that managing is good for places, while I tell them that places wild and unmanaged are just what we all need and what brings surprise and delight. So the story they have only now got round to telling (or fabricating?) on their website is that all of this has always been managed and it is only as good as it is because of, guess who?, ...Managers! Who would have believed it? Do those nice old ladies who cough up a subscription when SWT knock on doors in suburban streets know how their money is being spent - on putting together this kind of fable (as one reader of this blog commented, it's Ministry of Truth stuff). So while I come here to get away from managers they try to claim that it's only because of managers like them and their boring cattle and sheep that this exists at all.
If they repeat this often enough they may start to believe it.

Modest Ambition

Things do sometimes get distorted when newspapers report them. So it could be that SWT's Chief Executive was not altogether responsible for the indigestible and convoluted sentence quoted in this article. As quoted it reads

We're looking to actively restore the forest to create an inspiring, climate change resilient and people friendly, wildlife and heritage rich centre for woodland and heathland-related things in the north (of) Sheffield for the people of Sheffield and Barnsley.

As it happens an informant with good inside knowledge tells me that what he actually said went somewhat further even than that, viz:

We're looking to actively restore the forest to create an inspiring, climate change resilient and people friendly, wildlife and heritage rich centre for woodland and heathland-related things in the north (of) Sheffield for the people of Sheffield and Barnsley and their husbands and wives (and partners) and their children and grandchildren where they can feel safe from unpredictable and worrying experiences and secure in the knowledge that someone at our HQ is busy at a desk writing a Management Plan, compiling a Risk Assessment Strategy and filling in a Grant Application form which will be instrumental in delivering happiness and wellbeing to the people (not forgetting our 15.3 managers) in perpetuity.

I wonder what happened to SWT's claim in relation to Blacka Moor and Loxley and Wadsley Common that women do not like walking in woodland because they don't know what might be lurking behind the trees? But of course ..... when you read further on you discover that they will be thinning the trees and also selling timber for industrial use. As the comment below the article points out wildlife trusts have become just another industry and they can't leave those chain saws idle when they're not being used to destroy birch and pine on Blacka.

Sunday, 29 August 2010


The closest thing on Blacka to a village rumour mill is the bird table. Our informant (the nuthatch above) reports that a rebellious mood is stirring among the native bird population. Somehow word has got out that the Eastern Moors Partnership dominated, so the local birds say, by meddlers from the RSPB will be pinning a lot of its efforts on getting the Dartford Warbler to settle here*. As usual with these managers the interests of the locals have not been considered nor their views sought. Some of the comments being reported over the sunflower seed suggest the regulars are less than chuffed (or should that be choughed?).

"They've done nothing for us native residents all my life. Who wants bl***y Southerners around here anyway?"

"They'll take all our food and jobs."
"Send them back to Kent."

"All this talk about habitat creation. What about the destroying of our habitats by killing off of our birch trees?"

(to confine ourselves to those that are printable)

From Eastern Moors Partnership Draft 2025 Vision "Management will help combat some of the effects of climate change, whilst providing conditions which enable new species from the south to colonise the area....species from the south – such as Dartford warbler – will have colonised the area."

What's Good for Them

Empire Building

Sheffield Telegraph’s front page this week is about SWT trying to buy Grenoside Woods. For SWT this is an important move because they like to get in the news and it fits in with their general strategy of expanding their empire. SWT are about as managerial an outfit as could be found outside Tesco’s and Walmart with the added ingredients of questionable competence and not being accountable to their customers or the market. Every move SWT makes is about trying to impress people with whatever image they are wanting to project. When they first persuaded a group of sleepy councillors 10 years ago that they should be given Blacka Moor and various other sites on a 30 year lease it didn’t take long to discover that ‘on the ground’ in practical terms they had little idea of what they were about. As someone with knowledge of the inner workings of Sheffield City Council said to me at the time (rather generously) “They are on a very steep learning curve”. Places like Blacka suffered because of this with outbreaks of destructive management of which typical examples were extensive tree poisoning and barbed wire installation. It was as if the governors of a large comprehensive school had handed over the maintenance of buildings and grounds to a group of Year 9 pupils. What they did seem to concentrate their energies on was building up their organisation by appointing managers for everything from public relations to putting out the office cat; each time we blinked there was a new manager.
To a puzzled observer it hardly seemed to matter what their business was. It could equally well be an agency delivering hot meals to the housebound; the core business was management itself. Being called a 'Wildlife Trust' was quite good for fund raising because you could always find a few nice old ladies to become subscribers after they had watched those lovely wildlife programmes on the telly. But the reality was they would accept grants from more or less anybody and there were plenty such about often from government departments with new job creation schemes. SWT's expertise was form filling - in particular forms of application for grants. They knew how to inflate claims of their own ‘achievements’ to impress those with fat cheque books. If money had been available for employing school leavers to perform sundry chores with nothing to do with wildlife they did not hesitate to apply for it.
Some of us had, rather naively, hoped that anyone taking over Blacka would start from a position of knowing and enjoying the place and wanting to spend time there doing what they could to keep it special. This was not the way SWT saw things. People arrived with no previous experience of the place with an air of "Here I am, your new manager!" For them Blacka was a resource to be exploited for the benefit of their organisation. Their managerial approach was at odds with the value that ordinary people placed on Blacka. As for work on the ground such as the maintenance of access, things were done (often badly) if grants were available to fund them. If grants were not there.... nothing was done. If grants were available they still did the work even if local people pleaded against the project.
So those who know and use Greno Woods should be warned that the current move is not about the woods and the wildlife. It is about SWT and what is good for them.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Calf Outing

It must be a restricted view of the world, but the hinds make sure that calves stay in the bracken until old enough to be trusted. I was looking for this one having spotted the mother a little way ahead. There was a group of stags not far away who were not the same as the more mature ones seen recently.

This morning's bright sun followed a cold night and the bracken is definitely on the decline well tinged with scorch.

If you come here in the early morning sunlight and see the mix of trees creating spaces among the exuberant lower vegetation all the result of years of no grazing, and then you see the wildlife thrillingly close up how can anyone carry on telling us that the place must be managed with chain saws and must be grazed with boring farm livestock?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Get Involved

We've had it in Sheffield, those of us who read the council policies and marketing. Empowerment, then engagement, then involvement. Despite pondering these words for much time I'm not much wiser about the distinctions. There has to be some suspicion that what started off as a policy of Citizen Empowerment then by gradual degrees becomes presented as Community Involvement could mean that those in power are having second thoughts.

Consultations are where you are granted the opportunity of 'Having Your Say' and 'them up there' listen to what you say (we hope) then selectively edit what they hear to present to a Committee of elected representatives a plan or strategy which they recommend. This rarely if ever looks any different to what they wanted to do in the first place but there can be some awkward hurdles for them on the way if too many public responses articulate ideas totally contrary to the official view. So it's crucial to have control over who is consulted. The Moors consultation recently finished was not well publicised except among a selected group of stakeholders. Awkward people like me complained about this several times enough to make a nuisance. Stupidly, we thought how can we be empowered, engaged or even involved if we don't know about things? So it may be regarded as a minor achievement that posters for the meeting on 11th September are to be seen at Blacka Moor and at Burbage. I've not yet checked if posters are in the local libraries and notice boards. That might be taking involvement a bit far?

Midge Assault

A Council of War had been held overnight and the little b***ers had decided to amass their forces for a concerted attack on any humans presumptuous enough to walk on the moor. Most days this week have been a trial unless a strong wind blew. The stags are not happy with midges but were more tolerant even today. This is probably because antlers have shed the velvet covering - always their Achilles heel when the midges are around.

The presence of deer continues to emphasise the value of wilder land with its informal spaces. Simply these large wild animals look at home.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

How to Hold a Stake

Privilege comes to few. In any consultation there can only be allowed a few who are independent thinkers inconveniently asking those questions that others do not ask. My life's ambition is not to be a sleb or invited onto a TV programme nor even to appear on the front page of a red top. No I simply crave the distinction of being considered a stakeholder when the next consultation comes around.

Why this modest ambition? I've discovered that sometimes lunch is provided and that you get asked if you have any 'special requirements'. I keep trying to ask for 2002 Burgundy.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Vision Expressed

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppress├ęd brain?

Visions are cropping up all over the place. To some of us who were educated before the days of MBAs and the appearance of sundry, astute, top-down managerial strategies to control our lives a vision was a different kind of thing. Then a vision was something lofty, implying noble aspiration beyond the confines of the material world. Now the managing class has purloined the word hoping that some faint aura of the old meaning will remain to bewitch and bamboozle the simple punter. So we have to consider the 2025 Vision for the Sheffield Moors for the consultation on the Eastern Peak Moors in this context. At the same time some of us are wondering how to respond to Sheffield’s latest consultation inspiringly called a Bus Vision! It can’t be long before we have a Wheelie Bin Vision or even a Dog Walking Vision. The currency of this word is rapidly being debased.

The draft vision displayed at recent consultation meetings for the Eastern Moors Partnership of RSPB and NT can be accessed by clicking here. It was apparently put together via a brainstorming session involving the usual suspects in the local conservation world and despite the well-manured hyperbole (or because of it) it promises to deliver merely a humdrum landscape planned by managers, distant farmed by remote graziers and repressed and mowed by dejected looking sheep and cattle.

The extent and sweep of this area and the potential for allowing a genuine, more natural vegetation to evolve mean that there is an opportunity now to start reining back the management in the hope that a more romantic and wild atmosphere and appearance can inspire future generations. That is not what will happen if we get habitat creation and a theme park fit for the Dartford Warbler. This is, depressingly, the height of ambition for the RSPB bird gardening fraternity. And it is increasingly the justification for the high intervention management that is proposed. Again why should we be surprised that managers propose more management? And this is why the teachers of managers remain silent in their university posts counting the new entrants to their courses in wildlife and conservation management all of whom will need places in the conservation industry when they graduate.

It is in fact the educational component of the vision that I find most distasteful. Note the emphasis on education and interpretation:

“A co-ordinated programme of participative learning.......will....enable even more diverse groups of people to enjoy, appreciate and ultimately support the area.”

Despite fashionable largely meaningless educational jargon about participation and implying we discover for ourselves the real purpose is to teach groups of schoolchildren to understand that all must be managed otherwise things might go badly wrong and that it must be done through farming, maintaining an artificial landscape via intervention. Who will be telling them this? Surely not managers? And if they do not also tell these children that there are other ways of looking at this and alternative interpretations what else could you call it but indoctrination?

Friday, 20 August 2010

Totley Moor and the Managers

Over to the west of Blacka Moor between the main track and the Stony Ridge road is a section of Totley Moor. Like Blacka this area has been left to its own devices for many a year and is all the better for it. The only path going through is a desire line leading to a small car parking area on the roadside as an alternative to that near the woods. Now with the advent of managers from RSPB anxious to write management plans for here there and everywhere this place may come in for attention after enjoying itself for so long. What will the managers decide? Sheep? Cattle? This is what we've come to expect these days from management wishing to destroy any corner of paradise that has previously evaded its notice. And with that would be more fencing of course. We should never take anything for granted in these times of land-grab conservation. Just because a pleasant informal piece of land has thrived unhindered for many years does not mean that it will be allowed to continue in blissful perpetuity.

Forget not that umpteen score of conservationists graduate each year from university courses in vocational land management and they and their industry are keen eyed for any opportunity to annexe available space to try out their new chain-saw operating and barbed wire erecting skills.

And here on this happy plot are trees! Trees! The effrontery of it. And bracken! Bring on the power tools and the sprayers. Worry not that no vehicle has driven over here in living memory, the tractor and JCB will soon change all that. Then drive off and not return for 3 months.

The bracken bed incidentally has often been, as today, a favoured resting area for stags. One can just be discerned in the picture.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Edible or Not

Always the choice for fungi hunters. Best to have a good guide book with you. While Magic Mushrooms are just beginning to appear in the grassland, the woods and edges of woods are already displaying varieties which well informed fungi lovers will be anxious to identify. No problems with the Shaggy Ink Caps (above) which start off all white as a well bleached lawyers wig, but then slowly become black. Best sliced in half and fried, but you have to get it early.

Around the bases of trees are the Boletes of various kinds, the Orange Birch Bolete, the Penny Bun and the Bay Bolete. It's rare to find one untouched by slugs who often show no desire to discriminate between those we find edible and those we leave alone.
There are also those from the Amanita family whence come the most deadly of all poisonous fungi; the Blusher and the Panther Cap are most frequently found about here, usually with caps decorated by concentric shreds of veil. Later will come the gaudy Fly Agaric which I've not seen here yet this year.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

August Mornings

The early hours have often been the best times to feast on the delights of the wilder land on Blacka. But for much of August 2010 it's been somewhat different. A dull, damp and midge-infested start has given way eventually to warmer and brighter afternoons*. To persuade the occasional visitor who may never venture out from October through to May that those are grand times especially in the mornings becomes a harder case to argue. Not all years are like this though and the late rising motorist who only visits the Peak District in the summer holidays eventually must get lucky: the views of sun on the heather have been unusually vivid this August.

Yet, still it's on Blacka that the purple has been most effective for it has been complemented by rich greens from leaves and bracken and reds from rowan berries and the top reddening leaves of bilberry, the combination visually being infinitely preferable to a monoculture usually seen from a distance through the car windows. This morning as we persisted through the midges we were rewarded by meeting a single, shy young stag with very simple antlers but with a sheen on his coat that was a grand advertisement for the wild outdoor life. Where else do you see this combination of tree, shrub and native mammal in stunning colour even at the dullest part of the day?

*Cricket followers will have noticed that batsmen have been in trouble with the morning atmosphere during this summer's matches while tail enders in the afternoon have often prospered.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


Often those things which give most pleasure are those you nearly miss, partly hidden by other plants or in the case of animals consciously hoping to avoid discovery. Fungi are a good example and they are pretty unmanageable despite the best efforts of some to tame them and bring them to heel. Once we protested at the way trees had been cut down in woodland and then severed trunks placed carefully so that the cut ends faced onto the path. We were told this was so that passers by could enjoy the fungi that would probably appear there. Somehow it was unlikely to have the same appeal.

The top picture shows a common brown roll-rim and the other is a yellow russula

Monday, 16 August 2010

A Favourite Place

Sometimes we've seen them here from 50 yards away lying in the bracken antlers waving, while people were walking past oblivious on the path 10 paces to the side. They love the bracken and the wildness of this part, finding it easy to walk off into even more secret places. But there is more to this story of wild places bringing enjoyable encounters. Some of the trees in this scene were poisoned at one point by SWT. After a year or two they began to recover and now one can hardly tell. Others were not so lucky.
On how many of the treeless moors around here can we get this close to wild animals? Bracken has a special part to play here. One's heard it called a jungle, disparagingly and SWT have a spraying programme. Yet conservationists would not dream of interfering in rain forests elsewhere in the world. Bracken helps to give another dimension to the area and brings in its own wildlife. But above all it is wholly natural.

One of the stags above has still some of his velvet membrane clinging to parts of his headgear and brow points look raw. The other is more advanced and antlers are ready for the autumn. Some of the rowan further along the path was damaged this morning possibly the result of rough treatment by stags scraping off their velvet. The coats are in beautiful condition much better than any farm livestock I've seen lately despite recent complaints made by farmers about deer spreading disease.

Heather Time

Many people make their way out into the Derbyshire hills to enjoy the purple heather in August. The cost of this explosion of vibrant colour for a few short weeks is the dull lifeless look that heather wears during the rest of the year, and if the moors have been managed to keep off trees and other 'undesirables', the view will be even more boring. But it doesn't have to be. On Blacka the place has been mostly unmanaged for many years, though the way SWT are going the parts of Blacka about which we can say that are reducing year by year. Still many views have not been influenced by their intrusiveness yet and there can be found visual treats greater than anything produced by the seasonal festival of purple on the grouse moors.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

But Not Much Longer

As Craig commented eloquently under a recent post, this year Blacka has been a delight for so many reasons. One of these, he pointed out, was the state of the footpaths. Many of these have suffered in recent times because of the introduction of cattle, even leading to notices being posted asking people to avoid them. The absence of cows this year has meant a chance for these to recover as can be seen below.

Sadly the latest word from SWT suggests that cattle will be back next month, though somewhat different: Shorthorn/Highland cross. One can never be sure with SWT. Each time you ask you get a different story. Craig mentions an SWT person saying the cows were off because of suspicion of TB. Others have mentioned that the grazier thought paragliders made the cattle 'flighty' and they had to be put down! Another story was about an absence of water due to dry weather. SWT consider themselves to be a private outfit and don't have much liking for transparency.

The Sporting Life

The first weekend of the grouse shooting season brings celebratory articles in the conservative press. Some, such as that by Max Hasting in The Spectator(subscription needed), are better written, unsympathetic though one may be with his enthusiasm, but that from Nicholas Soames, the outsize MP for Mid Sussex, in the Telegraph is scarcely disguised propaganda from organisations such as the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Moorland Association. It repeats the same tired old spin about the grouse killing industry being splendid for conservation and our landscape and nobody who even slightly doubted the slogan “probably the best lager in the world” could possibly fall for it. The idea that this can be presented as a sport has always intrigued. Hastings makes a passing reference to hedge fund managers buying up moors and then arriving by helicopter for their ‘sport’, something he clearly disapproves of, preferring to drive up with his pointers to what he calls ‘the great heather wildernesses’ finding ‘no greater joy than seeing a covey break over the horizon’. As far as helicopters go it would probably take a brace of Chinooks to get Nicholas Soames up any hills. Soames claims that “attitudes to grouse shooting have... been changing”.
“Say it who dares, grouse moors are no longer exclusive nature reserves for the wealthy. People can and are enjoying the hills like never before” (sic). At least Hastings is a more honest and sophisticated writer than Soames and tells us that in 1970 he paid £500 for the right to shoot 100 brace and that this now would cost him almost £20,000.

Life’s never been so tough for those at the top.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Each Day Different

Farmland or moorland can't compete for diversity and daily interest with land going wild. There is rarely a day without a talking point. That's not the same as everything being just right with nothing to irritate and complain about. The midges, the wet bracken and the penetrating wind on the edge of the woods are all part of the mix. But when the accounts are drawn up at the end of any year the balance is indisputable. Today was not promising with a cold and unwelcoming feel to the weather and a typically August wet bracken experience.
To cheer us up was a family of swallows gathered on a small dead rowan.

And another view explaining why the secret places are so vital.
Once Blacka Moor was given to the people of Sheffield in 1933 it ceased to be managed as a grouse moor and management of vegetation became minimal or absent entirely:





Friday, 13 August 2010


A commenter says,

There has been sheep grazing on Strawberry lea for over 600 years and the wild flowers are still there.
What is your earliest memory of Blacka?

The point that this blog has been making about the Strawberry Lea pastures is that the farm livestock have been removed and it has been much more attractive for visitors. I don’t see how that can be seriously disputed.
There are other things that can be said.
I assume that the comment implies that 600 years of something going on means it should continue for another 600 even if people never get to see the flowers. If the grazing has been continuous all that time with the same stocking levels or greater than used recently under HLS or ELS or whatever agri-environment scheme, then there will have been no benefit to people who will have not seen the flowers. Even if the plants had been there they would have been repressed by grazing and other management practices just as a grouse moor is. So what’s the value to people especially on land where recreation is supposed to have a high priority?

Some other ways of looking at it:

1) 600 years of one kind of top-down management. Isn’t it time to try something else? If so why not remove the shackles and let nature decide?
2) Did anyone ask the same question 600 years ago at the point that grazing was about to start? If there had been an institution around then like Natural England is now, charged with overseeing the landscape, would they not have been saying in circa 1400 that it had been more or less unchanged for
x thousand years before that….so why change it?

Finally on this: the present grazing regime appears to be inflexible. This could be to suit the needs of the grazier rather than the needs of the people who visit. It could also be connected with the rigidity and bureaucracy of the agri-environment scheme.
An alternative and very mild suggestion could be that something different is tried, going nowhere near my own preferred solution but doing something that other, more timid, people might approve of; thus: every other year leave the pastures free of sheep and cattle. What is the argument against that?

The other question from the commenter I accept defeat on. No I can’t equal the record of remembering 600 years ago. If one is only allowed to comment from the perspective of that degree of longevity then none of us have the authority to make decisions. So we would be better off leaving nature to its own way rather than trusting to highly fallible humanity.

(I sometimes think even humanity itself would never have got as far as it has today if it had been overseen every step of the way by top down management schemes. But that’s another debate.)

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Too Deer a Cost

The final one of the series of consultation meetings about the Eastern Moors (and Sheffield Moors) was on Tuesday. Again it was in Totley and again it seems difficult to understand why no effort had been made to attract interest from the local people, there having been no posters displayed in the neighbourhood. I have mentioned this several times and the organisers know my view but I think there is something wider than simply about this consultation. It is endemic among most officers and managers of publicly funded and supposedly publicly accountable bodies. And it's something our elected members, councillors and M.P.s, feel no urgency about addressing - at the same time as they are telling us that the people should be 'put in the driving seat'. Those words are from the title of Sheffield's Community Involvement Strategy, a 46 page document rather too full of vaguely aspirational prose and large glossy photos of jolly people, altogether amounting to 2.25 Mb and accessible from this page.
The point here is that 'stakeholders' are identified to be consulted and the way that the selection is made is rarely transparent. Similarly this particular consultation had 150 posters printed but who from the general public saw one while stakeholders probably saw them and received other forms of notification. The good communication of this sort of information is not something that should be left to office juniors but I'm sure it often is. An example of how this matters came from the last meeting. Local people are very fond of the deer that roam this area and love to see genuine large native mammals in our countryside. The Tuesday meeting's attendance list contained a high proportion of farmers who of course understandably were stakeholders. Several of them mentioned that they wanted to see a cull of the red deer claiming among other things that they were a danger on the roads. This would not go down well with many non farming local people but they were not there to express a view nor had they been there at other meetings. It was incidentally quite deplorable (!)and disreputable for one person to react by proposing that if any cull went ahead there should also be a cull of sheep as they are often on the roads too. This person actually went on to suggest that there might be a cull of sheep farmers. Outrageous. Quite irresponsible talk, and the man should have been thrown out. Tut Tut!
Some may think that proposing the killing of deer comes easily from farmers who after all earn their living from the killing of animals. But in truth I believe that many farmers like the deer and themselves would be disappointed if they were not there. Anyway many farmers today earn a fair proportion of their income from holiday lettings and know that those they wish to attract also have a view. The badger cull proposal for Wales did not have universal support from farmers for similar reasons. Some holiday cottages had cancellations because people were afraid that the week they were there might be just when the thing happened.
I suspect that one reason that this was raised was to put the authorities on the spot, something of a sport with groups of farmers and not just farmers. Anecdotes are another weapon in the war against 'them'. Country folk can say what they like about things they've seen or say they've seen, with little fear of contradiction especially if it supports their point of view. And whatever statistics the conservation managers quote can be scoffed at by those closer to the ground who spend less time at desks and more outside. Though I've noticed that they are very sceptical about other people's anecdotes indicating they know how easy it is to exaggerate

For what it's worth my suggestion concerning deer and traffic is that it's not the deer that need to be managed but the people who use the roads. If that means culling motorists it might work but better would be to lower speed limits and cull their licences if they won't amend their behaviour.

Not So Glorious

Walking onto Blacka this morning with sheep having returned and signs of farm vehicles and spraying of bracken felt like the end of something good, like going back to school after the summer holidays. The managers were back. A notice tells us not just that Asulox has been applied to bracken somewhere around here but that control is being applied just in case anybody got the mistaken idea that the place was important for what it looks like rather than for other mysterious priorities connected with that impenetrable obsession - the biodiversity target. So the twelfth may be glorious for some who love to go "bang bang!" but not for me this year. It had been good as summers go. July and August in England can be wet and midgy in the bracken but for once we have been able to satisfy ourselves with the beauty and surprises of the pasture land where nature showed us just what it can do to delight. And diversity was what we got, a simple, comprehensible and directly observable diversity: instead of dreary featureless grassland we had flowering clover and vetch and yarrow and sneezewort and orchid and innumerable other species and huge expanses of blue harebell, the Scottish bluebell. Never mind that it shouldn't really have happened or that it was all down to management failures or whatever - the official reason seems to be that there was no water in the stream (droughts in previous years do not seem to have caused difficulty).

The bracken spraying has come just after one of the colder nights when already some of the fronds were showing brown tips and edges. And the impact visually does not appeal. Bracken you can get used to in this situation ; its growth and decline are still gradual and day by day. The sudden flattening of shrubs with farm vehicles offends the eye.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Dynamic or Repressed?

Loose use of words usually means woolly thinking, not that surprising among those who spend their time working with sheep (or those who advocate sheep farming to manage landscapes). But to describe the Eastern Moors and places like Burbage as dynamic suggests an attempt to persuade oneself in the face of overwhelming evidence. We have ourselves described Blacka as dynamic because here the growth and change in the vegetation has been wholly driven by those plants and animals that thrive here at this point in time rather than being dictated by office priorities and other top-down agendas. The moors are, to be accurate, repressed and sad because the exploitation of man has taken the spirit out of them. The idea that some of this dreary environment should be categorised by Unnatural England as in 'favourable condition' while Blacka is 'unfavourable' is frankly laughable. Where are these people when you want them? NE should have been alongside me in late May when the finest and most inspiring birdsong was creating sounds of bewitching and intoxicating quality in the wild birch woodland of Blacka. Every section of the orchestra was represented, willow and garden warblers, blackbird, song and mistle thrush, cuckoo and pigeon, rooks and pheasants. Where was the conservation industry then? Well perhaps listening to the scoldings of red grouse or more understandably the call of the curlew. But atmospheric as that may be it is no match for the sheer creativity from the virtuosi of the new woodland. And of course the weight of paperwork and hours of form filling per square metre put against the respective outcomes would be instructive. Now don't start thinking like managers.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Managers' Love-In

The fourth of five meetings put on by the Eastern Moors Partnership was pretty depressing. A look at the attendance list confirmed the dominance of managers of one sort or another. Five farmers (or graziers), several conservation bureaucrats and various people associated with PDNPA, RSPB and National Trust. So no surprise that they drooled over the prospect of more management. Why should anyone be surprised that managers vote for more management?

It's always entertaining talking to farmers. One last night was enthusing about the moors as being great simply because they were featureless and without trees. Apparently it adds to the diversity of our landscapes. Diversity! Yes because there's nowhere else like it. You mean no other part of the world has people daft enough to allow room for this kind of tedium? ...... and so on.

Still, having to sit through all their love for each other's management roles it was hard to keep to the original intention of just listening. I think the tipping point comes when you hear people referring to these moors as wild or even wilderness and going uncorrected by people who should know better. It makes you wonder if some people ever use their eyes and if those who do ever consider what it is they have seen. I doubt that any of them allowed themselves to consider my plea that the last thing people from the hyper-managed urban world could be inspired by on setting out for the great escape to the country, was more managed experiences and the frightening weight of paperwork inspired by Unnatural England and various other bureaucracies. Our landscape is submerged under a blanket bog of documentation.

The story that is being told here by RSPB managers is that the moors are not what they could be and that they will improve even to doubters like me with, guess what, more management. That management is about 'getting the hydrology right' and getting the conservation grazing right. It just can't be an option at this stage to leave things to go their own way. That, so they say, would lead to the wrong kind of thing growing - and, so they don't say, to a lack of work for managers.

Hares and Harebells

Incidentally, in case nobody noticed, the picture at the head of Friday's post 'Proven' was itself proof of the truth of the old legend that witches use the juice obtained from harebells to turn themselves into hares, explaining the derivation of the name.

Eastern Peak Moors Consultation 3rd Meeting (2)

The third meeting of this series was billed as being about recreation. I had expected the first two to be more or less identical as they were in different venues, but it was a surprise to find that this was another repeat of the same presentation. Now they may have argued that the attendance list was largely made up of people not at the first two so they would have to go over some of the same ground. But I would still have expected to see some emphasis on recreation. Odd. And by now the placing of comments on velcro-backed leaves alongside branches with questions is now feeling tedious, although I understand that some people were new to this particular exercise. Interesting that valuable 30 year old primary school techniques eventually find their way into adult situations, though some of the people may have been doing this sort of thing since they were eight.

My idea of a grown up consultation would involve an opportunity to engage in serious dialogue, possibly initially in groups smaller than the larger numbers there on Tuesday; and to start with a blank sheet allowing participants to be free spirits and allowing those who have good ideas to put them across. This is not something that endears itself to any manager who by definition wants to direct affairs towards his own chosen endpoint.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Eastern Moors Consultation 3rd Meeting

After recent years it's easy to find oneself becoming something of a student of consultation processes. While there are some differences, similar approaches start to emerge early on, some of them unfortunate. But those that are really good are rare indeed - usually ones other people go to rather than oneself.

The first surprise with the latest of the EPD Moors meetings was that it was unexpectedly well attended. I paused a moment to wonder why seeing as so few local people knew about it. It was in Totley close to the moors and there are, unusually for Sheffield, plenty of places for posters to be put up (three community notice boards and a library) and several major community groups who could have been informed. A little investigation showed that none of the posters was displayed and none of the community groups had been told. So how did all these people know about it? An overheard conversation gave the first clue. One of those attending was saying to an organiser that she was here 'as a local resident' - indicating her name label- puzzling until one realised she was actually an employee of PDNPA. At this the penny dropped. Those attending had been informed through 'official' groups, i.e. RSPB, PDNPA, CPRE, SWT, bikers groups, and many others while the more 'general' public had been largely ignored, one could almost say 'excluded' through lack of communication. Actually to her great credit the person referred to above herself made just that point in the Q&A session at the end for which we should be grateful. Though of course her signing in as 'local resident' in the official record serves to give the impression to anyone later querying the broad or narrow representation that locals were notified when they were not. Maybe not a major point and some may claim I'm being picky but similar things have happened before. And I remain sore that my own attendance was not invited and that only luck and the presence of mind of others brought me the information. Anyway.................

Anyway, the point of all this is one of my hobby horses: that some of the most regular users of green spaces around our cities are not members of groups united by a specific but narrow interest but those with a wider capacity for personal appreciation of the areas in question, people whose enjoyment and critical appreciation of the natural and wildlife spaces is less easily pinned down to one aspect. As suggested in her question by the person above referred to, some of us like to go out to enjoy the sunset and do not feel the need to join a group of sunset watchers to achieve recognition by whatever bureaucracy needs our agreement and approval before going ahead with what it's already decided to do anyway.

It's interesting to speculate how this has evolved. Something suggests a wariness of those who are in groups strengthened by a common purpose and therefore better able to exert influence, so must be given due respect. Others however resent that they must needs 'organise' to be recognised in a situation - the tranquillity and remoteness of natural areas- where they have sought out a refuge from just those aspects of human affairs that demand a certain pushiness.

This post is proof that you can start off thinking you were going to write about one thing and then find some time later that you've written about something else entirely. Oh well. Maybe I'll try again later. If I wander off the subject any more I will have to join the Ramblers. Didn't Dr Johnson write a series of periodicals called 'The Rambler'?

Monday, 2 August 2010

Burbage Desolation

One of the Sheffield City Council moors being discussed and consulted on this week is Burbage Moor. Viewed from the Ox Stones to the east it looks like this. It is fairly typical of much of the vegetation in this area subject to current discussion. If anyone knows of a more featureless and desolate sight then they will understand why few people bother to cross this space. But it does not need to look like this. It has been artificially kept free from trees by sheep grazing and burning of heather the classic management techniques for grouse moors, the better to provide suitable shooting for those wealthy corporate clients who can afford the £800 or so per day to shoot these days. There is now no shooting on these moors so should be no need for them to be managed as heather moors.
The view immediately above is particularly depressing because the moor stops at a straight line of a plantation, Lady Canning's Plantation, another depressing example of man's inept management and determination to change everything into something uglier.

We should give the moors back to nature and see if they appeal more to people as wilder land rather than continue to manage them just to privilege a few species of birdlife that like moors over others that like woodland.