Sunday, 28 November 2010



In Surrey They Do It With Deer!

Trying to understand Sheffield Wildlife Trust's approach to managing Blacka Moor is comparable with trying to get your head round what the banks have been doing to get the economy into the mess it's in. Their grazing policy is about as comprehensible as financial derivatives. They have said they must graze cattle on the heathland but have not actually done so. If they did, it would make even more mess than it did when they tried it before in summer. They have told people that cattle are coming on in winter yet their management plan says that it will be in summer. They have given three quite different explanations of why cattle were not on the heathland in summer this year. When people contradict themselves as often and as obviously as this you have to conclude they don't want you to know the truth and/or they don't know it themselves. And all the time they have no real strategy for marrying the wilder landcsape of Blacka Moor with their farm style management with domestic cattle, for which also they have no viewpoint that they could defend because there is no philosophy behind their planning. It's all about as thought-through as a hole in the road. Meanwhile deer are quietly doing what deer do - puzzlingly just what SWT and their supporters told us that the cattle were going to do. Yet the deer have never been part of the wildlife trust's calculations. Can we take these people seriously?
Readers may like to know that there is more than one SWT. Surrey Wildlife Trust are also involved in managing heathland in collaboration with NE and the military at Pirbright. So are they using cattle and sheep? No they are using red deer, specially imported. Their website tells it all here. Yet on Blacka the Sheffield Wildlife Trust is persisting with cattle when they already have deer on site naturally!! One wonders if there is any hope that this organisation can ever develop a coherent approach to anything.

The picture above is taken from this page on Natural England's website. What an abomination to eartag these animals! Somehow to do so with multi-coloured tags shows just how philistine the conservation industry has become. I'm now wondering if the Eastern Moors Partnership will do something similar with the wild red deer we have around here. It illustrates the culture that has grown up in this whole area of the economy. As long as we meet our targets the way we do it and what it looks like does not matter.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Scenic Saturday

For once we had fresh snow and sun on a Saturday. Together with fairly clear major roads this meant many people were able to get out and enjoy the scene who are usually unable to - being couped up in workplaces much of the week. The clear main roads did not help us because we could not get to them from snowed up side roads. Until midday, that is.

Top effects are bracken's burnished appearance, welcome against the snow, and the deep green of pine.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Power Lines

There may be good news on the subject of the power lines crossing the centre of Blacka. We have always wondered if the cables could be undergrounded via another route and first raised it 'officially' via CPRE and the wildlife trust in February of last year after maintenance workers had arrived to destroy many trees judged likely to interfere with their lines. That left an eyesore that we would prefer not to see again.

Now there is some talk about re-routing being planned along Whitelow Lane which will eventually enable the Blacka lines to be removed. We will not be celebrating just yet but are casually checking the champagne prices.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


The kestrel was looking down in disapproval. It could have been at the state of the path below. One mountain biker is regularly using the footpath here instead of riding where he's allowed to - on the bridleway. Unfortunately this use of footpaths by MTB'ers is getting all too common and is almost certain to get worse as others follow the lead of the renegade.

The result is that numerous pleasant little paths get spoiled and some of them get to the stage of being almost unusable for those on foot. The problem is that almost all organisations speaking for mountain bikers have a stated position that all footpaths should be available for bikers to ride on. Many claim to be responsible and keep to bridleways themselves but inevitably others are persuaded by the argument and don't see why they should wait for official sanction. The bikers' argument for riding on footpaths is just plain wrong. They themselves would not want other vehicles like motor bikes competing with them for the tracks they already ride on. The path coming from the top of Bole Hill and down around the side of Wimble Holme Hill has been ruined by biking - though blaming the bikers themselves for that may not be fair: some years ago it was designated a bridleway, presumably by a bureaucrat who had never seen it.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Still Climbing

What a delight to see that Climbing Corydalis is still thriving at the back end of November when the bracken, its host and support, has browned and lain down. This is heroism and persistence beyond the call of duty.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Big Society and Little People?

I suppose the reason Mr Cameron calls it the Big Society is that he is implying he wants less "Big Government". But along the way the arguments for it have picked up a lot of the rhetoric for more localisation and more citizen power. Sheffield is probably typical of many places in that it now has a policy on Community Involvement, also known as Community Empowerment. We should be clear that there are many groups from various parts of the political and non-party political spectrum that have long been asking for these things. Many agree that neighbourhoods where people feel close to the decision making process are healthier and that the reverse of this leads to disengagement a lack of social responsibility, a belief that we are just little people with no clout and no influence; and that this in turn leads to a decline in our public spaces and public assets because people cease caring.

So "let's hand the assets over to the people" - is that what it is? Well, no it isn't. Somebody up there within Big Government will be making the decision who qualifies as able to run the Big Society projects. And who will they choose? Guess who? National Nature Reserves will be likely to be run not by local people or small scale groups well represented by local users who know the Nature Reserves well - a true community empowerment project, but instead by mega-charities like RSPB and National Trust and Wildlife Trusts - all huge organisations with impenetrable bureaucracies that are no better than Natural England and in certain cases much worse. For example how accountable will they be? How will we be able to challenge and scrutinise their decision making? They will control very carefully their release of information which will be vetted to demonstrate those things that are favourable to them. Lack of transparency will be consolidated by a lack of a Freedom of Information policy and a complaints procedure that is less rigorous even than that in local government.

Blacka Moor is now managed by Sheffield Wildlife Trust. Some will say that this is already an example of the Big Society at work. Are local people and those who use and know the site any more empowered, are we all better off and is the place in good hands? Do I need to say who benefits?


Universities and their students have been in the news and as usual it’s about money. How does this relate to Blacka? As it happens universities are at the back of much of what happens here, and it’s instructive to see how money for the universities is integral to the contentious issues that this blog has commented on. University teachers want jobs and to get their courses to operate they need to attract students. That also keeps the vice chancellors happy. Courses on landscape, conservation, wildlife and biodiversity have been getting more popular. But the students want jobs at the end of their courses. If there’s no prospect of work they won’t apply for the courses. Wildlife trusts are just the place where they can hope to find jobs. The really big conservation problems are not in this country but very few graduates finish up working at enhancing the biodiversity in South America. I suspect that there are more such courses more students and more graduates in countries where there are fewer problems. This is the paradox and the problem to be resolved. People can’t do the job of saving the planet’s biodiversity where it really matters so they pursue an existence and a career doing something that has marginal relevance. It is the classic bureaucratic jobsworth dilemma: the big problem is shelved because the difficulties are just too great while you get on with tinkering at the edges. So someone has to find jobs for these tinkering people and the kind of jobs they want to do in this country are largely office jobs, an essential part of which is the production of self justifying reports. Rarely does an academic within that area of the curriculum challenge this. In fact it is in their interest that the absurdity continues. Now ask yourself who should pay for these courses!

Friday, 19 November 2010


Like snow, mist and low cloud give a quick makeover to landscape sometimes flattering to deceive. I've noticed a number of photographs online showing parts of the Dark Peak District moors and edges in temperature inversion conditions. Up above the sun is shining while the cloud below obscures the lower slopes and valleys giving a sense of mystery to land which has very little of the unexpected for most of the time. Snow is the great transformer of course and everyone knows that sense of craving for old familiar things radically altered. Blacka has its mystery at all times of course, provided by the trees and wilder rampant growth of shrubs from heather and bilberry to bracken and scrub. So a touch of atmospheric effects enhances the magic that is already there.
In the morning the sun broke through briefly only to allow the clouds to return. By mid-afternoon the sun reserved itself to the highest grassy slopes where cows and sheep, not completely stupid, enjoyed themselves in the calm and the warmth. A pity that Thistle Hill is now once again claiming a change of name to Sheepsh*t Hill.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


No sun, no moon, etcetera
Only thing to do is look for some shelter and hope to find a corner where there's no wind.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

No Love Lost

These two villains are conspicuous residents at the moment and constantly looking for opportunities to annoy each other. The crow can't match the aerial virtuosity of the kestrel, but he has a wide range of vocal techniques which he's prepared to employ to throw his rival off his stride (or wingbeat).
This afternoon as the kestrel hovered low over the moor the crow uttered a distracting rattle from the top of the wall. That incensed the kestrel who responded by swooping past him only an inch or so away before perching on the nearby post. From the sounds it's probably a good job my innocent ears could not translate the language.

Who's in Charge?

During the rut stags can go for long periods without feeding. Their focus is on defending their property, the group of hinds over whom they have established rights. I've seen no challenges recently to the Baron's authority and several times wondered if he and his hinds have separated. The last two mornings they have been back together, though it's been noticeable that he is feeding as if he's not eaten a decent square meal for many weeks, head down and caring little about what else might be happening. In fact it's the senior hind who takes the lead when she identifies a potential threat. This morning she was distinctly stroppy while he barely registered an interest.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Now Then, Are We All Happy!!?

It seems the government wants to know if we are happy. How to relate this to Blacka? Is it possible that SWT people are happy in the same way that we are? What is it that makes Nigel and Co. happy, apart from the satisfaction gained from installing barbed wire and destroying trees that is? As it happens, I do sometimes wonder whether SWT has a different culture to other people. For example, to what extent are the differences between this blog and SWT down to cultural mindset, generational perspective, and/or perceived self interest? Now there’s a question to while away the long hours in the pub of a winter evening. But you can’t listen to them talk for many minutes before you decide they ‘just don’t get it’, or more likely ‘just don’t want to get it’; probably they say to each other that we ‘just don’t get it’. Those who have had any experience of teenage children will recognise that sinking feeling. Yet it’s always been my contention that they do actually get it but can’t allow themselves to acknowledge the fact.

What prompts these philosophical ramblings is hearing today that the Prime Minister is embarking on a ‘Happiness Survey’. Now this is the kind of pernicious thing that SWT could have done. In fact they did try it once with a Visitor Survey of Blacka Moor while believing (or rather claiming) that it was with best intentions; this was shelved after complaints but I’ll be surprised if it’s not being used somehow somewhere in some of their publicity to demonstrate that everyone apart from a very small unrepresentative few think that SWT is doing a magnificent job.

The problem is the big one of Control. Those ‘In Control’ use the results of these surveys to secure their own positions. Evidence is gathered, honestly or not, they compile statistics, they analyse results, they define the key issues and off they go. Each stage of the process brings opportunities for subjectivism and corruption but results are always presented as being objective. The next step is to distil the essential findings into a top-down programme that persuades all but the most sceptical that they know what people want and they then proceed to dispense just that kind of spurious contentment to the public. It is primary totalitarianism a la Brave New World. Eventually the discontented are excluded from Paradise because they are not happy according to the findings of the surveys. The tyranny of surveys and statistics is all part of the way that control is exercised by those in power. Many dodgy surveys are presented to councillors in local government and to the media weekly and very few receive anything like the scrutiny they deserve. All you need to do to bamboozle the average committee member is to distribute a paper with various supposed ‘findings’ beautifully presented with tables and graphs, sprinkled with figures and percentages written in the approved style. Courses are run on this, not necessarily titled ‘How to Get What You Want Even When You Are Wrong’.

The lesson is thus: question every statement and every assumption especially those that we are expected to take on trust. That is the scientific approach and should also be the political one. Some of the better Parliamentary Select Committees do proper scrutiny. So should we all. Thereby we might achieve true happiness.

Beware Wildlife?

Given our experience so far it's only natural we occasionally jump to conclusions. The junk mail on the mat this morning includes one from WWF. On the envelope it cries out 'Tigers Need Trees'.
The first thought is what SWT will make of this. Will they fasten on this as more evidence that trees are dangerous and may well contravene Health & Safety guidelines? They are probably about to embark on a winter's round of tree murder. Past justifications for these chain saw power games have included the one about women being frightened of trees because wild men might be hiding behind them. The fact that this is a standard excuse for wildlife management (oxymoron if ever there was one) was revealed when it was also used by a mad professor explaining a tree cull at Wadsley and Loxley Common. Women I've mentioned this to have been dumbfounded or incensed.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Groups and Individuals

Rooks and Daws are marvellous examples of the balance struck between individual ambition and the value of belonging to a group. Off they go westwards in the morning sometimes in great numbers and other times just in twos and fours. What fascinates is the way the groups change in mid air; there is always at least one bird trying to outdo the others and show that he can be leader, or another that dives off to take a different route absolutely confident that the rest will follow - and they often do.

There's much scope here for seeing a mirror to human society. Watching a rookery you can often find that the birds are tumbling over each other with one climbing within an airborn tower until he's achieved his goal of being top bird.
Yesterday's gales gave another chance to test one's judgement. Where would you be most likely to find deer? Sure enough the big stag was in one of the most sheltered spots.
He was alone, once more stimulating thoughts about competitiveness and collectivism. If the rutting has run its course the hinds will be for the most part staying in single sex groups but the dominant stag often stays solitary for a while before eventually making common cause with his rivals during the winter.

Once he saw us he made as if to move off but thought better of it and decided to lie down in the bracken. Another reminder of just how they see the bracken as a refuge. Did he forget that his antlers remained visible or did he calculate that they would easily blend in with the twigs and branches beyond?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Power on the Horizon

There are some who find the occasional views of power stations 30 miles to the east to be the highlight of a walk on the moors to the west of Sheffield. This could be because they are walking on the monoculture grouse moors where the immediate treeless surroundings provide little worth looking at.

The power stations are not always visible of course and I for one am grateful for that although the sight of Lincoln Cathedral ten miles further on is always welcome. This morning an unusual sunrise illuminated both the power stations and, interestingly another more recent development, several wind turbines. In the distance these might be more acceptable than any attempts to install them closer. This reminds me that a planning application has been published this week for a 15 metre wind turbine at Whitelow Farm.

Later in the week, and more to the east the two can be seen together:

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Noisier vehicles can be heard on the A625 on the calmest mornings even well onto Blacka. A south or south west wind prevents that and an east wind can also provide tranquility. Only natural sounds this morning as the raging water suppresses all else. The cutting of a couple of trees by by SWT now allows a clear view of the rapids

What's Up?

......and higher up?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Seen in November

Walls catch the eye more in November as competition declines. Ivy is prominent as are mosses, ferns and liverwort. Elder remains a source of edibles with still some elderberry around beside the stream near Shorts Lane, and also Jew’s Ear fungus often found on elder.

Bracken’s visual appeal enhances in autumn colouring and is at its most striking here as it creates a hanging garden climbing among the Hawthorn.
Blazes of young beech are a feature of wilder woods, worth waiting for a shaft of sun to pick them out. One from the afternoon in the shade below
and one earlier just after sunrise.

Further up the lane Comfrey flowers over the wall.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Message

Good news that at last there is an acknowledgement of Alderman Graves' role in the setting up of Blacka Moor as we now know it and also a declaration of the status of the whole site as a place for the people of Sheffield

For this we are in debt to the Dore Village Society and to Dawn's work in getting this done.

Saturday, 6 November 2010


By 9 a.m. this morning those looking for a quiet walk in a remote spot will have done no worse if they had chosen to go to John Lewis for some Christmas shopping. Every category was represented on Blacka. Those who had seen a promising weather forecast, those who were giving their dog a treat at the start to the weekend, frenetic bikers, gadget lovers with expensive cameras and binoculars looking for something to use them on, those arriving early for a fungi finding event and twitchers hoping to see the Great Grey Shrike; in addition, but first to arrive, the regulars including the one arriving in time for the sunrise. The shadowy group just visible at that time could have been any group of deer. Not having seen them for a week the first thought was that it might be the Baron and his party of followers, but it turned out to be four stags one of whom looked very like the Baron.
They made off slowly. The rutting behaviour of a fortnight ago now seems to have run its course. Forty minutes later looking down from the top of Thistle Hill we could see two men laden with hardware disturbing a larger group which dashed off at some speed across the hillside. Among these were a number of hinds.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Pas de Deux?

Messages arriving via SWT suggest that people from Sorby are doing a guided walk through the pasture land tomorrow morning (Saturday) in pursuit of waxcaps. There are certainly plenty of these colourful fungi around although my choice would have been to come about two weeks ago. Many are past their best. Still, one of my favourites was there this morning and may survive until tomorrow if the livestock who use the place as a lavatory avoid treading on it. Actually there are two - close together. My knowledge of fungi is limited, but if this is not the Ballerina Waxcap then it is the closest to it that I have yet seen, being pink and having a poise and a pose that would not go amiss in a production of Sleeping Beauty.
Today I could not find the bright red waxcaps that I saw some weeks back. Tomorrow they may be luckier.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Times given by various websites for sunrise and sunset do not agree although the variance is only a minute or two. Still one would expect more accuracy and certainty when it is calculated using the exact grid reference. It sets you thinking. Do they mean the first appearance of the sun above the horizon or the time when the whole sun is visible? Differences in height of land in the view can be significant. This morning from Blacka Hill we were treated to a sunrise first visible at 7:08. Each morning a kestrel is hunting with first light testimony to faith in supreme eyesight.


November is a good month to look at those things usually passed over during other times.