Saturday, 31 December 2011

Bleak Expectations

A ruminative pose for one reflecting on the end of one year and the beginning of another.

It doesn’t feel right to start a new year in a spirit of bleak expectations, especially this one. Dickens bicentenary is in February and to be celebrated, but the prospect is bleak for those who deplore the spread of manageritis across the local countryside. Not that we’ve yet come across Magwitch in wanderings across the moors but is the dreary prospect of S.M.P. any more attractive? Would it be any better if the managers themselves were more imaginative and more competent or would that make it worse? It’s unlikely anyway because they live and work and think in an inflexible culture sustained by a mix of self interest and institutional dogma. The only hope is that the storm will break early rather than later: a storm must surely come as it has with other groups in recent years who have tried to mystify the public with secrecy and complexity to make themselves unaccountable. We’ve had bankers with their derivatives, sub primes and credit default swaps; we’ve had the MPs with their impenetrable expense claims, the tabloid hackers with their cynical and dubious definitions of 'public interest': for at some time the wider public consciousness will be directed to people who have pretensions to a sort of god role prescribing the shape of our landscape to benefit from the cash cows of European farming grants.

This year conservation cronies that constitute the SMP will devise their local plan to secure their overall strategy. They will call this their “Master Plan”. Some of us shudder when we hear phrases like this and sense that it will lead to a final solution. Perhaps we should put these associations to one side and concentrate on what is local. But we should be clear about what the motivation is for this master plan. It is definitely not to promote a big idea that unifies several sites into one landscape where nature and wildlife take precedence; because these people have no big idea. They are actually seeking to erect a barrier against public consultation and calls for accountability. This is the way of unchecked bureaucracy.

An important part of the Master Plan role is to be the salvation of Sheffield Wildlife Trust’s Blacka Moor management. SWT are completely up against it There’s no way they can show that their chosen strategy has been a success – the strategy that they have sunk their reputation in – and importantly that the conservation industry has become totally committed to, so the stakes are high- when they see the results of what they have been doing on Blacka. The present use of farm animals on Blacka was meant to be for a trial period after disagreement in 2006. At the end of this trial period (2011) there would need to be a review – that was the understanding and it was built into the summary of the Icarus conclusions. While no details of this were ‘laid down’ you have to consider that this would involve more than just a decision by SWT themselves whether the cattle grazing had ‘worked’ or not or whether there had been too many problems after which they would have to consult on whether it has been ‘successful’. So they have two schemes to get them out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves.

1 Get a form of words agreed within the "Master Plan" for the SMP allowing them to claim that from now they have to fit in with what all the others are doing – which, guess what?, will mean more and more farm management.

2 Do their own evaluation of the farm cattle project which will fraudulently show it’s been a success, or possibly buy in a report from an outside, friendly firm (such as Penny Andersen) who will be paid to come up with just what the wildlife trust want them to come up with.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Wise Thoughts

It’s wise to use these days between Christmas and New Year for total relaxation. And those who’ve had a busy and sometimes stressful time during October should use the time to remove themselves from family contacts and recover a sense of repose. There are too many pressures and responsibilities bearing on us all these days. Surrounded by the deep and thick cover that Blacka provides well there's some protection from the restless buffetings of volatile end of year weather and even the hope of some early radiant warmth should the sun choose to show itself.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011


I like the sentence referring to a wilder looking landscape. Wouldn't it be nice if SWT genuinely thought that was worthwhile? They might then remove the other intrusive blots on the landscape starting with their own trademark barbed wire. Instead of which they are planning even more farm style intervention, starting with a Farm Environment Plan as designated by Unnatural England leading to Higher Level Stewardship and lots of management opportunities and all the intervention and intrusiveness that goes with it and plenty of cash for the managers.

Corporate Tree

Usually the City of Sheffield erects a large Christmas Tree near the Town Hall. It's to be found somewhere in the above picture. If I had the cash I would give a prize - Spot the Ball fashion.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

More Awareness

More awareness was raised but not much transparency demonstrated at the SW CA meeting on Thursday. Sheffield Moors Partnership (I still can’t believe it exists or is even proposed) gave a brief presentation accompanied by two papers in the assembly’s bundle prepared by officers for the meeting. These contained recommendations that the assembly should “welcome and support the Sheffield moors Partnership and note the proposed approach to community engagement and consultation”. I doubt that the assembly’s councillors know what they were welcoming and supporting and to an extent neither do I. If ever there was a superfluous bit of bureaucracy this is it. The conservation industry in and around the Sheffield/Peak District area consists of a collection of bureaucracies all staffed by 9 to 5 Monday to Friday officers whose primary job is to ensure that everyone knows how important their job is. They specialise in paperwork and self promotional literature. Would we notice much difference if they weren’t there? We have Peak District National Park Authority, Sheffield City Council, RSPB, National Trust, Sheffield Wildlife Trust and we have Natural England a super-bureaucracy if there ever was one. Speaking as one sceptical of the motives of those who regularly attack the public sector and a believer in regulation and the need for a skilled bureaucracy this overweight organisational superfluity leaves me stupefied.

Now they want to stick onto the current situation another bureaucratic element, namely Sheffield Moors Partnership The motivation for this is dodgy to say the least. All is to do with what’s good for management and managers. When each of the separate outfits has its own management plans and priorities and the only unifying ‘big idea’ available that could deliver something really worthwhile is just the very one they are most set against then why is SMP needed? No alternative suggests itself beyond that put forward here on 18th October when I compared its role to that of the British Bankers Association. On the basis of observation of the workings of the industry one can assume its business will be to keep the public voice at a distance in matters of landscape management, helping to give the various organisations a quiet life protected from scrutiny and accountability.

But to reach that comfort zone they first have to negotiate their way through a consultation and present themselves as fit and proper to the decision makers in the council. Anyone with any evidence that council committees have ever exercised thorough and independent scrutiny is welcome to forward me details of examples. The consultation proposed looks a pretty fragmented and top down affair. The detailed wording which was waved through airily at the recent meeting is capable of interpretation. It can be read here: Bottom of the page, report No. 7.


Being free spirits there's no predicting when and where you will meet the deer. They have their own ideas. Several weeks went by at the end of November until just three days ago with no sight of them. This morning they were out of the woods early as if welcoming the higher temperatures. A small herd of five, two of them less than a year old, allowed us to get close . The pattern is getting to be that the hinds are the stable population capable of staying hidden in their favoured secret areas of the woods for months unseen.

Meanwhile half a mile from there, despite the cheerless drizzle a solitary stag was lying contentedly in the heather and bramble. The milder air for him was luxury enough. Again he allowed us to walk very close. In fact we nearly failed to see him from only 20 yards away.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Leap

This morning there were four and they looked to be older ones. Not easy to get any kind of photo at that time in trees as well. But as we came along the path the biggest one sailed effortlessly over the barbed wire.
There is such grace about the manouevre that it stays in the mind long afterwards. How do they do it? There's no predicting how uneven the ground is under the shrubs on the other side. Knowing nothing of anatomy let alone the anatomy relating to the legs of deer one can only wonder at the ease of their movement. The way they negotiate these man-made barriers does not absolve those responsible of their culpability. And what about the young calves?

Sunday, 18 December 2011


Half an hour before sunrise on Sunday is quiet enough. The click turned out to be two young stags jousting just visible through the trees. The other one of the three raised the alarm and rushed off. An hour later they were found wandering above the upper path.

Friday, 16 December 2011


Breakfast is served between 8.30 and 9.00. Delays can occur due to weather conditions. Management can accept no responsibility...etc...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

.............. Now You Don't

Those who walk over Blacka with eyes open (not to be taken for granted) will notice that here there is a difference. What we did see, an intrusive straight line across the centre of the view, has gone and the picture shows the scene only hours after its disappearance.

Fears that vehicles would be brought onto the moor have proved groundless. The poles have been sawn off.

The cable proves to be more green close up than I had thought.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


A recent post referred to the article on the Self Willed Land website, Forests, Rocks and Torrents. Torrents are an experience of wild nature that can inspire. If that is what appeals then we can offer a modest experience now, welcome after the months of dry weather. There are of course certain problems in getting close as the slopes are slippery with dead leaves and rocks that rarely see sunlight. But who wants risk-free landscapes?


Leaving it a bit late in the season to make a show, this specimen looks like Sulphur Tuft, but I plump for Brick Cap, Hypholoma sublateritium. Good to see as there's little around, but not to be eaten, and that goes for anything that has any resemblance to Sulphur Tuft

In Progress

Here's a job that could be enjoyable and, in this case at least, you can do it out in the peace and quiet of the countryside.

And no vehicles or ladders deemed to be necessary so far here so let's hope this is the way things will go.

Monday, 12 December 2011

New Dawn

As the sun rises in the south east, on the opposite side the moon looks down on what could be the last week of the power line at this point. Now you see it....

This section may take longer to remove and the mess created could be dreadful. The easy bit has been done with work accessible from the hard track below Stony Ridge.

Even so we certainly know they've been here.

Awareness Raising

Some more information about the Sheffield Moors Partnership has now come to light.
A consultation of a kind will be held next year albeit not the kind which will satisfy those who think consultations should be meaningful with opportunities to discuss and consider seriously the important issues. They’ve been working away, as consultation designers do, trying to come up with a process which will deliver just what they want while claiming that it is what the public wants thus simulating a kind of legitimacy in the eyes of busy councillors. Once that is achieved they will be able to canter ahead into a rosy sunset relaxed in the knowledge that numerous management jobs will be secured for many years through agri-environment schemes and other funding opportunities.

They have been lobbying some of the local groups in the hope that they get a pre agreement to support their scheme convinced that most people will have very little inclination to question what they are up to. They don’t call this lobbying but rather ‘awareness raising’. There will be an item on the agenda of the South West Community Assembly public meeting this Thursday but they’ve been careful to prepare the ground by meeting with the councillors and officers of the Community Assembly in private twice beforehand and once earlier in the year.

An interesting point of vocabulary: if lobbying becomes ‘awareness raising’ what do you call propaganda? Answer: Education

The papers obtained about the SMP plans can be accessed here.
Their alternatives for the coming consultation are here. Which they've decided on we have yet to learn. You can be sure none starts with a blank sheet.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Stimulating Reading

Mark Fisher is consistently the most thought-provoking writer on landscape and conservation matters and his regular series of articles on his Self-Willed Land website display a deep understanding of and identification with genuine natural landscapes and their wildlife and considerable knowledge and expertise of ecosystems here and abroad. In writing about this he always hits home in a penetrating analysis of what is wrong with the British conservation industry.

I’ve just caught up with his October article, Forests Rocks and Torrents, which is beautifully written and linked to some stunning landscape paintings from an exhibition held recently at the National Gallery. The article dwells with much insight into our responses to landscape and should be essential reading for all who love natural and wilder land for its own sake. More than this it should be compulsory reading for those who aspire to manage and intervene in our countryside; if it doesn’t give them pause for thought they would be better off looking for a job in a supermarket.

For me one great thing about Mark’s articles is that all the instinctive suspicion I had already begun to develop about the constant stream of self justification coming from the conservation industry and its disingenuous apologists is put in perspective. Their pronouncements are shown to be serving the needs of the managers rather than that of wildlife and landscape.

The wildlife charities must hate the message that comes from these articles. And you can detect a kind of defensiveness in their more recent public pronouncements that owes something to the knowledge that their approach has been exposed as without a credible framework of knowledge or philosophy. Year by year the press releases seem to get more hysterical in their insistence that all must be managed as if managers themselves might be in danger of imminent extinction; sadly, far from it. The quote near the beginning of Forests Rocks and Torrents from the Liverpool professor about cultural landscapes is priceless. Yet they expect people to fall for the scare-mongering propaganda and inevitably many do.

There is now another article on Mark’s website, Forests in Europe. I know the great advantage of articles on the web is the ease with which you can link to references, but as an old-fashioned pre digital sort of person I hope that all these articles get collected and published in an old-fashioned book.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


There was something not quite normal about the extended season of dry weather. So it was in way comforting to hear the roar of water pouring over the rocks.

The YEDL people were back after the snow though again only sitting in vans with engines running reading papers. We didn't stay to see what time they start work.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Blazing Woods

What is it about paths going through woods? Whatever it may be snow enhances it and sun on snow more so.
Though the spectacle of fallen beech leaves is past bronze and gold remain as a low slanting sunlight reaches parts not usually lit up. Ferns and small beech picked out like this are more decorative than any city centre Christmas tree.

Walking Lessons

More normal weather but the paths are taking more than a normal bashing. Two things are responsible for this being worse than necessary. Neither of them should be happening.

One is mountain biking on paths including a concessionary bridleway that SWT ‘closes’ in winter but does not enforce the closure, simply puts up one of its trademark A4 laminated sheets and then goes back to the office.

The other is SWT themselves who are incapable of sticking to their stated intentions. Cows should have been off the site months ago but remain creating as much mess as any mud-lover could wish for.

Whatever you view of what Blacka should be, more managed or less managed, there’s no excuse for allowing and even causing the paths to get in this state. We will soon need training in how to walk. Instead of lots of laminated notices giving misleading information about cattle what about advice on walking technique?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Laid Low

The scarcity of frost and heavy rain has helped bracken to stay upright in its dead bronzed state into December. Only a week ago it was standing tall.

Today’s wet snow will make a difference; it’s usually been forced down before this. There are large areas of bracken on Blacka and generally people don’t like it, seeing it as something undesirable and alien intruding onto the land. It’s rarely asked why people dislike it and why it’s there. An obvious question is what should be there that the bracken displaces? Many people would probably have some picture in their heads of a mix of grass and heather of the sort that is portrayed as a kind of ‘typical’ heathland. But as heathland is artificial and only exists in certain circumstances, when many conditions have been contrived to come together there are problems. While some kinds of heathland may remain stable for many years with minimal management others succumb to a bracken invasion even when management is carried out giving rise to calls for harsh intervention such as spraying with herbicide, cutting with heavy machinery etc. This seems hard on bracken that is a wholly natural plant simply going about its business. And that very harsh intervention also serves to damage other aspects of the vegetation.

My ‘take’ on bracken is that here it is simply responding to man’s over-exploitation in the past. The artificial suppressing of tree cover over many years has created ideal conditions for bracken to colonise and the spread of the ferns is therefore understandable, part of the process by which nature reclaims the land. Managers wanting to know how to respond to this have the simplest of choices: either attack with every tool at the disposal of industrial agriculture; or allow, even encourage, nature’s own remedy by allowing the colonisation to run its course in the shape of natural succession.

Trees will spread onto these artificially open areas in time and that will reduce the vigour of the bracken growth and gradually limit its impact. To follow this strategy you need to boldly acknowledge a perspective of many years during which the more vigorous species struggle for supremacy before eventually achieving a balance. During this lengthy period some species will take over for a time and then subside. But wilder land will always bring its own pleasures for the observer. The idea that a landscape whether artificial or otherwise should remain fixed in time is anathema to the natural world. A major reason for this being the obvious strategy is that returning the bracken dominated parts of Blacka to grouse moor status would be incredibly demanding. There is so much of it and the collateral damage would be unthinkable and so expensive as to bring the whole conservation industry into ridicule. But then is not that where they are already? It looks as if there’s only one way forward for responsible managers and I accept that they are hard to find. Natural and more wooded must be the future.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Hard Times

Opinions expressed here on the bureaucracy of landscape designations and directives from the EU and elsewhere are definitely not from an anti-nature or anti-wildlife perspective but from a desire to see more landscape untrammelled by management’s self-serving preoccupations.

Not so Mr George Osborne, who this week said: "We will make sure that gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren't placing ridiculous costs on British businesses."

Interesting that whatever stands in the way of the agendas of very rich people gets referred to by them as ‘gold-plated’. Something to do with an inborn distaste for anything less than 24k?

It’s in hard times that we see if there’s any genuine commitment to the health of the planet and the natural world. Those who go along with green policies only when they don’t impact on the ease with which they, and their friends, can make lots of money as do many of our political leaders, are fine-weather environmentalists and opportunists.

What a pity that the protests of the conservation industry sound so hollow coming from those who have for so long had their fingers in the EU farm-subsidy till.

Thursday, 1 December 2011


Do you or did you work in a sector? A lot of talk by politicians about sectors lately, usually public and private. Much of the comment seems to be highly questionable but that subject’s not what this blog is for. Another sector talked about is the charities sector which takes us closer to home. Charities are promoting themselves as managers of Blacka and surrounding spaces, though, as I’ve regularly said, more thought and energy seems to go into the promotion than into the management itself. Eastern Moors Partnership have secured control over the Eastern Moors and they are proudly putting their insignia on sector boundaries and access points. Once you get through the gate here and onto their land you come into a problem that I’ve often suggested was a priority: the mountain–bike created mess that was once a favourite enjoyable footpath going up to the Bole Hill/Wimble Holme Hill saddle. This is worse than ever now and still no sign that anything useful is being done to stop the deterioration.
It is now unusable by walkers and a shameful indictment of all those who responsible for managing these areas. What can you say about them apart from that they are apparently unwilling to do anything that might irritate the mountain biking lobby? Or should I say the MTB sector?

Incidentally, I’m not sure whether utilities are also identified as a sector but following yesterday’s post about the power lines and suggesting things would happen quickly all has stopped. At one point early on 6 vehicles arrived and spent quite a bit of time with engines running and workers inside. By lunchtime no work had been done and the activity was confined to winching out a heavy vehicle that had been driven onto soft ground. This morning nobody at all. Unless they’ve had second thoughts and gone to the other end of the line.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Power Play

The latest news is the much awaited beginning of the power line removal. Several YEDL vehicles this morning were positioning themselves as the sun came round the woods. Will this be a good opportunity for spectators? We are taking bets on how long this will take. They can't afford to go slowly on the cable removal for reasons reported before. But the poles could take longer. The other question is about the extent of the damage to the ground. Discussions on this have taken place with Natural England. I suspect that less consideration may have been given to the appearance of the site during and following the removal than to any perceived impacts on biodiversity. That despite the fact that the whole reason for us asking for the exercise was to enhance the appearance. Still, we shall see and very soon.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Managing for Money

In yesterday’s Guardian once more the issue of farm subsidies is raised, making the point I’ve often made about wildlife charities and their reliance on handouts from these subsidies that keep them tied in to managing our landscapes as boring farm land.
Among the top blaggers are some voluntary bodies. The RSPB gets £4.8m, the National Trust £8m, the various wildlife trusts a total of £8.5m. I don't have a problem with these bodies receiving public money. I do have a problem with their receipt of public money through a channel as undemocratic and unaccountable as this. I have an even bigger problem with their use of money with these strings attached. For the past year, while researching my book about rewilding, I've been puzzling over why these bodies fetishise degraded farmland ecosystems and are so reluctant to allow their estates to revert to nature. Now it seems obvious. To receive these subsidies, you must farm the land.
Let’s hope this may at last be getting more of a national airing. If that happens it had better come before the Sheffield Moors Partnership gets such a stranglehold on all our local moorland that it will be another 20 years before we are able to discuss the issues again.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Fair Comment...?

Now on first sight I thought this interesting attachment to one of the many Sheffield Wildlife Trust papers pinned to gates around the moor meant something like “No Cowpats Here, Thank You”. Doubtless the person responsible thought it amusing. It is. But following a little research I think that there could be more to it:

When buying men’s socks over the internet you may come across this.

An identical symbol is labelled on these socks as ‘No Bullsh*t’. I imagine this line is very popular with those who are obliged to attend meetings at which they may have to listen to some material that's hard to take. At a suitable point the wearer nudges his neighbour and lifts his trouser leg hoping the reaction will be a suppressed guffaw and a welcome distraction from the tedium of the meeting.

So to return to the appearance of the symbol on Blacka Moor it is a comment not just on the defecation of cattle but also on the content of the notice itself. Neat.

Bullsh*t is an interesting concept and from here on please take the asterisk as read. And I think it’s fair to say that much of the spurious self justification used by the local conservation industry could be described as bullshit.
The Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, Harry G Frankfurt once wrote an essay ‘On Bullshit’ which is printed in a collection published by Cambridge University Press called ‘The Importance of What We Care About’. The whole book is worth reading but this essay has become famous. Chambers Dictionary describes bullshit as a verb meaning simply ‘to talk nonsense often with the intention of deceiving.’

But Frankfurt goes further than this, spending some time in his essay unpicking the various meanings of lies, humbug and bullshit. While lies and bullshit are similar in seeking to mislead they have important differences. A key one, according to Frankfurt, is in the relationship with the truth. As he says, the bullshitter
‘does not reject the authority of the truth as the liar does and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.’
So the liar at least acknowledges truth to the extent that he tries to conceal it. The bullshitter misleads because he doesn’t give a damn about the truth being intent only on communicating what suits him; he is self-serving.

More quotes from the essay:

“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.”
“For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony.”
“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter however all these bets are off. He is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all as those of the honest man and the liar are, except in so far as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

How much of what we read from the local conservation people can be called bullshit is arguable. Certainly much of it can, but a proportion of the nonsense may just be excusable because they or some of them actually believe it. Which, in its way, is equally depressing.

"The Importance Of What We Care About" by Harry Frankfurt. Cambridge University Press 1998.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Seeing them through the mist standing by choice in the middle of a very large patch of thick bracken, with head down most of the time, it makes sense to believe that there is more to bracken as a habitat for deer than simply a great place to hide the young calves in summer. Deer are often to be found just so. Cattle are not often seen in the large patches of bracken or heather. When cattle have gone through the tall shrubby growth it has been to get to water or to a patch of grass where the wildlife trust has cleared all other vegetation to make a grazing area specially for the cows. In order to do this the cattle will rarely plough through unless there’s already a discernable route and this, as often as not, is a pre-formed deer track. Sadly once this happens the evidence of the deer track is gone and with it a chance to see the pattern of deer behaviour as distinct from that of the cattle. The cows roam over the paths eating the grass to either side while deer are just as happy, happier even, in the natural spaces inside heather and bracken stands. This is puzzling. Why would a deer not prefer to walk on paths? It must be easier going and less trouble even for as athletic an animal. But the number of times that you find deer on paths is very few indeed and the sightings of prints on the paths is nowhere near as many as one would expect to see. You have to conclude that there is a deep seated resistance to spending time on ground that’s associated with people (and dogs?). Interestingly having turned away from the hinds I saw a stag just visible in the middle of a large area of heather. This was not a pretty morning.

Today was much colder and the cows were in tall heather, but there is an explanation: the night had been the first genuinely cold one and they had gathered below the wall that sheltered them from the south-west wind. They were using the heather to give further insulation. Perhaps they had placed themselves in this spot knowing that they would be in a position to see the first sight of the grazier come to remove them to more hospitable quarters? ***

Deer had come up with an even better idea and I was not at all surprised to see them on the well sheltered east facing slopes ready to greet the sunrise (about 7.40 am.). Again they were using bracken as both a feeding ground and shelter from the cold.

This leads once again to the question what do cows do and what do deer do? Do the cattle in fact perform the conservation tasks claimed for them? When deer are obviously having an effect on the land why are cattle needed at all, even if you accept the management agenda and desired outcomes (which of course I do not)? Apart from scuffing up paths and ruining stream banks, the cattle spend a great deal of time grazing on land that is already grassy, the edges of paths and land prepared by managers to create grazing areas for them. They certainly do not set out to search within large heather stands for young birch and other saplings. Nor do they do that in bracken. Any time spent in these areas is when passing through to larger grassy areas. I’m wondering what SWT’s evaluation will come up with? It’s hard not to be sceptical. Will there be an independent assessment of the grazing? Pretty unlikely.

*** Some may wonder why the cattle are still there when SWT's many A4 notices all round the access points indicate that they will be removed in October. I had the temerity to ask this question of SWT last week and was told that they would not be removed until a gate had been repaired and that could not happen before this week. So why..... (contd., wearily, at some later date).

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Underground, Overground (3)

.....wombling free.

The dreary turd-infested grassland of the sheep pasture has one redeeming feature best seen in an extended mild autumn such as this year’s. It becomes home to various fungi including examples of waxcaps over which mycologists have been known to get excited. Not that they are all edible, though some are. The lengthy dry spell in early autumn was not so productive on the grassland but more recently fungi have been seen in abundance. The more colourful waxcaps themselves were better last year and it could be they prefer the wet weather to arrive earlier. In the woods fungi generally were doing well some weeks ago but now the damp and mild November days have brought a flush of fungi in both woods and grassland, not always the best examples and specimens but plenty of them. There are some waxcaps ...

...and a fine ring was found on the lower slopes. Horse mushrooms are not often found as late as this ...

... but some collected yesterday made for a fine breakfast. One yellow mould type fungus is plentiful.

I've seen this before and spent much time looking it up without success. It wraps itself around blades of grass; I imagine there's a Latin name that would be forgotten when the season comes round again next year.

But the most common of all fungi on this sheep dominated land are those that the keen fungi lovers care little about.

They are the less favoured dung mushrooms. They are everywhere as is their host the dung itself which adds nothing to the appeal of the site.

This of course raises the issue of management again. Apologists for conservation grazing will claim that you must have sheep grazing or you wouldn't have the mushrooms. I've questioned this before. Sheep destroy the other potential appeal of the land - they eat all the wild flowers before they get to bloom. See the pictures from last year. I fully accept that stopping all management for good would eventually lead to many changes including more trees and less short grass. It would also lead to many other attractions and benefits - not all of them easily predictable. There are other ways to keep the waxcaps than having continuous sheep grazing every month of the year and some of them would enable a more interesting and natural vegetation to develop which would have to be an improvement on what we have now. A little focused management in certain defined parts of the site done quickly at a chosen time of year - say early September - and preferably by hand and by the keen fungi enthusiasts themselves would not have the same devastating effect on the landscape produced by the present policy of default sheep crop-and-crap management. It also would have another benefit: it would lead to a more honest association between modern man and the man-made landscapes. If certain humans want to conserve those attractive aspects of artificial landscapes then they should show their enthusiasm directly using their own labour - not by handing responsibility over to a clumsy inefficient and unfocused farm subsidy bureaucracy that brings all sorts of negative impacts both on the land and generally on the national life.

An edition of BBC Radio 4’s Open Country programme this week revealed that some of the waxcaps were nowhere near as scarce as had been thought. Once it had been put about that the Ballerina waxcap was rare and endangered lots of people went out and found them happily growing. That says something about the biodiversity and ‘saving species’ agenda – one that usually results in calls for more management. The over use of fertilisers is, of course, one feature of management shown to harm these mushrooms. It was also interesting to learn that the nutrition in the soil is not necessarily the key factor for them and that may be an association with the roots of grass.