Sunday, 27 February 2011

February Songs

Robin and mistle thrush among the early morning singers welcoming the sunrise

Friday, 25 February 2011

As Expected

Expecting SWT to be consistent is a bit like expecting the family pet to avoid temptation. This cow has gone some way beyond expectation.
It was amusing listening to Nigel Doar at the Council's Scrutiny meeting last year as he told a collection of sleepy councillors that calves were born on Blacka's pasture land in 2010 'unexpectedly'. Does that apply to this one too?

The point of this is that SWT claims it's OK to graze cattle on land dedicated to public recreation as long as they don't have calves. Cows with calves are more likely to be aggressive towards walkers especially if those walkers have dogs with them; many walkers on Blacka do.

Whatever the truth of this I'm interested in knowing just how many unexpected births you can have before you discover the secret of learning that one thing leads to another.

Is This Yours?

If you're out to celebrate, why let thoughts of environmental responsibility hold you back? Valentine's Day (or, as it should be called, Saint Valentine's Day) is thought to be another occasion for excess. So send off not just one balloon to fall towards earth at some unknown and possibly unspoiled site, but eight or nine tied together, one of them being larger than the others and heart-shaped. After all she's worth it.

It's now common to find brightly coloured, usually deflated, balloons in the hills. This could remind us of another welcome feature of modern life - that plastic bags are commonplace even on the ocean floor.
Dropping your litter to the ground these days may be frowned upon, even bottles and cans, though one or two of the local mountain bikers have few qualms. Could there be a craze soon for tying your unwanted litter to balloons and launching it into the air?

Farming can also be a major generator of litter. It's rare not to find plastic of some kind in the pasture land. The cow this morning was getting the last bit of nutrition from a bag - probably the livestock feed bag recently found in a nearby tree.

There's an easy connection between litter and clutter. I notice that the Council's website now has a piece about Street Clutter. Nothing though about the ultimate street clutter, the private motor car, which anyway is the main cause of all the clutter around. Out here though I call the stop-gap fence repair above farm clutter. It was installed as an emergency repair more than a year ago and no sign that a permanent replacement is even being thought of. Not far off the farm clutter that we hoped had gone for good has now returned.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


When I consider latest developments concerning the Sheffield and Hathersage Moors I can't shake off the fishy smell. These are the moors of Houndkirk, Burbage, plus the large areas around Higger Tor and Carl Wark. There is a culture within the departments of Sheffield City Council that deal with land and property that does not seem to understand the proper needs of accountability. Some months ago I asked the South West Community Assembly to ensure that there would be a proper consultation before any decision was taken to dispose of this huge area of land to an outside organisation. I learned that SCC has outsourced its whole property department to the private firm of Kier Asset Management. I have spoken twice to the officer at Kier (who used to work for the Council) and each time he gave the impression that no decision was imminent and that there would be a period of some 18 months before anything could happen. Sad to recall that the same officer has previous form in somewhat hasty decisions on public land disposal to private organisations. Now suddenly an email has been passed on, not from SCC, but from RSPB saying that next months Community Assembly meeting will be voting on whether a disposal should go ahead of this land to RSPB/NT.
Doubtless there will be more to come on this in future posts.


If you have got them why not use them? There are many animals including female deer that would love to be able to scratch their backs like this but instead have to make use of a nearby tree. Once the antlers fall (from next month usually) this can't be done. That's when stags may be seen rolling on the ground - sometimes in thick black mud.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Big Society - Local or Remote?

I've always been very much in favour of more localism but started to have doubts when it became a "Big Idea" taken up by party politicians. Community Empowerment, Community Engagement, Community Involvement, Community Participation - all fine sounding aspirations though it's sometimes worth the effort trying to work out the meaning of the shades of emphasis between the various phrases. Most intriguing is that we only hear all this talk about 'community' after the actual thing has all but disappeared from the lives of many of us. (How many people these days know more than one or two people in their streets in any meaningful sense? - or spend time on the street on foot rather than going from house to car and back?)
The rhetoric implies we're all going to be more involved in decision making and, as the Council tells us 'in the driving seat'. Well...
Now Blacka Moor has a strong local link. There are people here who walk on Blacka every day, others weekly or more and the place resonates in the minds of those who just see it from their windows, knowing that they are looking out at a place that has a special life of its own reassuringly independent of the preoccupations of present day humans. So you would expect this to be good example of a place where the localism agenda should be shown to work.
Yesterday on the television Parliament Channel the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, was fielding some difficult questions from the Select Committee on the Big Society, as Mr Cameron has chosen to call it. You would have thought he would not have had time as he's still dealing with my letter of 1st January that Nick Clegg has forwarded to him. Alongside him was Economic Secretary to the Treasury Justine Greening who was also struggling. After questions from LibDem MP for Leeds North West Greg Mulholland she tried to charm him by saying "I don't know why you come to be so sceptical Greg" - which was met from several committee members with the immediate response "It's our job!!" Precisely, and those who see scepticism as something to be frowned at should really study the scientific method .

Despite Blacka Moor's place in the hearts and minds of local people attendance at the Reserve Advisory Meetings is erratic and sparse. At the last meeting there were three people employed by Sheffield Wildlife Trust, three Friends of Blacka Moor, three who were members or supporters or trustees of Sheffield Wildlife Trust and one other who I think was a local bird watcher but may have been SWT. (I tend to see the SWT supporters as a bit like the supporters of despotic Arab regimes - a kind of rent-a-mob out to counter the progessive forces.) Over the years many others have come and declined to come any more. Mostly they say there’s no point because “that lot don’t listen”. In this they are wrong – the wildlife trust does listen. It's just that they don't listen to local people. The people they do listen to are each other and other conservation workers. Oh, and anyone who has funds to award grants.

Charities like Wildlife Trusts are at this moment working out what they could gain from the Big Society. And each time the subject is discussed in the media the part to be played by charities is referred to. Now look at Sheffield Wildlife Trust. They are responsible for Blacka. But they have no permanent presence here. This is a large and very special site. Yet weeks can, and sometimes do, go by with no SWT employee coming. Is this localism? The lady who goes by the name of Reserve Manager actually lives way out in Edale. She has had two bouts of maternity leave during which Blacka has sometimes and sometimes not been blessed with a temporary replacement. The Chief Executive has almost certainly not been here for ages* and also, I believe lives out of Sheffield**. There is a headquarters 5 or so miles away where the dominant activity is bureaucratic and applying for grants that help to keep the place going. There are small jobs to be done on the site which could be finished off in an hour or so but have been waiting years to have any attention. Can anyone seriously see a future with a dynamic relationship between the ‘local community’ and this charity?
I nearly forgot to mention that the grazier who is a 'key partner' and responsible to a large extent in implementing the management plan, has a farm that is about 11 miles away as the crow flies, at least double that along the winding roads. In a good week he visits twice. Sheffield Wildlife Trust has tried to get local people to watch out for the farm stock with a 'Lookering' scheme but they don't say how many have taken this up or how often they visit. The most regular visitors are as sceptical as Mr Mulholland and refuse to have anything to do with it, considering there's something fraudulent about it whose main value is to contribute to SWT's PR agenda.

* He didn't reply when I asked him about his visits to Blacka.
** This, he now informs me, is wrong. He does live in Sheffield.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Morning View

Daily pictures of this view taken from the same spot and at the same time of day can be seen in sequence by following this link.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


I’m now a bit closer to knowing the intentions of the managers regarding the red deer on the Eastern Moors. Apparently the rumour I had heard that there was an imminent cull planned are false, although I would be interested to know how it originated. Some of the conservation workers employed by PDNPA may be as likely as SWT to tell people whatever they think may be believed.

There have been attempts to count the deer over recent years on Bigmoor and numbers according to EMP were 20-30 in 2004. Five years later there are said to have been 146 but in the following years down to 126. This suggests a decline in population unless they moved about and were absent for the count or some other deficiencies in the counting technique. At any rate the official story is that numbers are not going up at the moment. Four deer were killed some six years ago after complaints from householders but there’s no intention to repeat this. Now the policy is to leave them unless they become a problem or numbers go much higher. This goes with factoring in their presence as part of their grazing management agenda by removing sheep and putting cattle on Bigmoor.

I’m of course resistant to the idea of ‘utilising’ deer for managing the moors which badly need a good dose of benign neglect after all those years of over grazing and over management. The deer do not belong to anyone so my view is nobody has the right to cull, kill or manage them. I don’t expect farmers to understand that (though some enlightened ones do) but I expect conservation workers to appreciate the complex issues.
We still are left with the statement in the Guiding Management Principles.
And that means scrutiny and critical evaluation of everything in their plans is vital.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Two Moors

In fact there are many moors but only one that I know like Blacka. From many years ago I have watched the progress of Burbage Moor and Blacka Moor. The tale of these two stretches of landscape, both publicly owned, on either side of the A625 Hathersage Road has been a real tale of two moors and two quite different managements. Not intentionally so. Blacka's lack of management over some 60 years is put down by some to neglect or lack of resources, but it has made it what it is today, while Burbage has been actively managed in the traditional way with sheep grazing and occasional burning of heather. And now we can see the results just before the time comes for consultation on the future of Burbage. The difference is dramatic. Burbage looks the same every day of the year bar a few in August when the heather briefly puts on its glad rags. Winter Spring and Summer come but you would hardly know it, so effectively have sheep eliminated trees. Similarly there has been effective propaganda that can be heard from all quarters telling us that the land has to be managed, which means it has to be farmed and sheep and cattle have to be put on the land - otherwise there will be disastrous consequences so they imply and even state. All of this nonsense is fed to a largely uncritical public in order to frighten them into accepting top down control in the interests of managers and livestock farmers. The alarming truth we are encouraged to believe is that our hills would vapourise were it not for the sheep and cattle that munch (and defecate) their way across the landscape. If you say this kind of thing often enough there's a fair chance you'll start to actually believe it. Your wilful blindness then becomes a conviction that is of some assistance in getting the message across to the the aforesaid uncritical public.

So what chance is there that Burbage after consultation and a number of years will look as bewitching as Blacka did this morning? Only I think if there's an agreement to banish the farmers and the conservationists, the latter exiled to South America preferably where they can find out about real conservation problems instead of opportunistically imagining them here in the comfort of a steady career. Only those who don't use their eyes can reject the values of unmanaged land, the unexpected easily trumping the predictable, the natural beauty triumphing over the industrial wasteland of grouse moors. Despite the worst efforts of SWT here on Blacka we have trees that grow where it suits them, mounds of low shrubby bilberry (try finding any on Burbage!), warblers singing in April and deer roaming between trees and scrub and glades. Only because of the lack of management.

Wilful Blindness

Wilful Blindness is the title of a newly published book by Margaret Heffernan. Much recommended.
It is also a condition suffered by members of the Environment Farming and Rural Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons who want headage payments to encourage farmers to cover all our uplands with sheep and cattle taking us back to a situation we had not long ago when you could walk nowhere that didn't reek of sheep pee.

Launching the report Committee Chair, Anne McIntosh MP, said:
"The Government must find a better way to pay farmers for maintaining our unique upland landscapes.
Headage payments, together with appropriate environmental safeguards, could provide the answer for these remote farming areas.

It is of course well known to anyone who listens to countryside and farming programmes on radio and tele that there are people who actually seem to believe that our 'unique' landscapes are best 'preserved' by stopping native trees from growing on them. The horror of this can only be fully appreciated when you consider that the moors might then start to look natural.

Monday, 14 February 2011

February Leaves

The leaves on the path around the roots are beech, some of those that hang around on the trees for longest. But young oaks this year are doing just as well. The tops may be bare but the lower sections have clung on well. Wind would seem to remove them faster than cold. One of Blacka's features is the presence of young self seeded oak and beech.
This is due to the absence of grazing and management over many years and we also see it in the exuberant mounds of bilberry. The vegetation on these moors can be dreary in the extreme for much of the year especially when under the stranglehold of a grazing regime bureaucratically and unsympathetically managed. Outbreaks of character and interest are what we should be looking for in our landscape. If uniformity of grazing approach continues, where in 20 years will we find a scene like this?

Friday, 11 February 2011

'Optimal for the Habitat'

There’s been a period of silence from EMP (Eastern Moors Partnership) in recent months. Anyone who has read the book by Heather Brooke “The Silent State” knows that silence is what public bodies are very good at. It was September when they produced their Draft Guiding Management Principles. One of the sentences in that document says “A clear and transparent policy will be created to manage the red deer herd”. Well I’ve learned to be extra suspicious of those who come straight out with professions of clearness and transparency. It usually means they’re working their socks off behind the scenes deciding what they’re going to do and weighing carefully how much they intend to tell the public. I emailed EMP more than a week ago with some questions and as yet there’s been no reply. One of those questions related to their intentions regarding the red deer. A rumour has been circulating that they’ve carried out a census and decided that there are 110 of them which is too many for the area. This rumour related to the National Trust which is one half of EMP. My queries on this have so far drawn a blank.
Deer have existed around here for years without being managed but of course when you get the grand job-title ‘manager’ you’ve got to do some managing or people might think you’re superfluous. The crucial bit in the Management Principles (as quoted by Mark in a recent comment) reads:

6 Appropriate grazing to achieve conservation objectives
iv. A clear and transparent policy will be created to manage the red deer herd. The herd will be monitored and managed to a carrying capacity and sex ratio which is optimal for the habitat on the Eastern Moors and the health of the herd themselves, also minimising any potential negative impacts on neighbours.

Nobody reading this critically can doubt that the intention is to turn wild animals into managed domestic units of production, different only in appearance to the cattle and sheep on the moors. This will take away the appeal and the romance of these animals which then become tools of habitat management to create a kind of zoological gardens specialising in birds. Instead of what we’ve had in recent years, all will become increasingly predictable. ‘The red deer herd’ says it all – the free spirits wandering at will individually and in various sized groups become a collective unit working for a common management cause. How do you define a ‘carrying capacity’ for God’s sake? When the land around goes on for many a mile most of it in public hands why are you just looking at one segment of it? Deer, when allowed to, wander many miles in a day. There seems an assumption here that they may stand in one place for ages until they've eaten everything around them. Meanwhile EMP are looking for farmers to graze cattle in the same area. Words are inadequate.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Fog, Clarity and Transparency

The winter threatened to just go on. By Christmas all expectations were for more of the same. As it's happened so far, the first weeks of 2011 have been not unusual: strong winds at times, plenty of mildness, some cold mornings with fine sunrises and now fog. Straining the eyes to see through the murk is what the early morning walker on Blacka is used to.
Not much clarity elsewhere either. I've asked the National Park and the Eastern Moors Partnership to comment on whether they are planning to cull deer (or indeed are already doing so). So far nothing has come back. Rumours are heard occasionally but this one had a bit more about it. The National Trust, the rumour said, had done a census of the deer around White Edge, Bigmoor and Longshaw and there are too many to sustain the landscape.
I agree totally with Mark's comment. These wild animals are on a huge area of publicly owned land which can easily sustain animals that many people see only rarely. Why should deer be killed while at the same time the managers are bringing in cattle?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Free From..

A beautiful morning but constant reminders that 5 years ago Icarus asked us what it was about Blacka that we most valued. When it came to my turn I replied that there were many things and it was hard to choose. But, anxious to steer towards the key things at issue, I said that my local supermarket had an aisle called Free From - usually gluten and other allergenics. Blacka itself had for many years been free from farm style management, farm animals, farm fences and farm clutter. Well in combining all the ideas into an overall consensual vision this one hit the buffers at the start. The conservation workers in another group got rid of that ruthlessly with no chance for me to rescue it. Now this morning, 5 years on, the freedom is different. We've had the freedom of the conservation people to erect fences and walls, and put plenty of sheep and a number of cattle in the pasture land through the winter as well as summer. They've had freedom to defecate where they can find a space and have made a bid for their freedom, escaping onto the moors, where a group of sheep have been for a week because the fences have not been properly maintained. Even one of the highland cows had broken out this morning.
And there's been the freedom to leave farm clutter and litter around - this morning's being a ruminant's food bag prettily displayed in a tree.

It's odd how touchy the conservation lot get when you point out that sheep have escaped. When I mentioned sheep getting over the fence more than a year ago I was told the ones I had seen were from another farmer. Oh no, said I, we saw them get out. No couldn't have been they said. And the warden at North Lees who's about as unreconstructed as they come was quite ill tempered about it. It's something to do with the conservation industry having a sketchy relation with the truth.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Who Goes There?

Deer move about a good deal. For this reason you can't really say how many there are. It's easy to double count. And many observers seem unable to avoid exaggeration. Even SWT ask me how many I think are on Blacka. I assume this is because they would like to be able to write a section in their next management plan which they can use to make some sort of calculation (in Livestock Units per Hectare or some such abomination) that then justified putting X numbers of cattle on the moor for X months in the year. I refuse to do this because I refuse to be involved in farm-style management to any degree. Anyway the evidence just doesn't begin to make sense. How will my recording of deer being in a certain place on a certain day just when I happen to be there be any guide to what they may be doing at 3 am or tomorrow evening?
Even if it was possible to be utterly certain of their every movement I would still not want to be party to any management of the deer or where they are. Blacka's best aspect is its unmanaged status - that is now increasingly threatened and there will soon be no part of Blacka that I can say has the quality I look for: freedom from intervention.

Public Register

When does consultation mean consultation? Mostly it's a matter of going through the motions. Organisations with no genuine commitment to transparency. openness or decision making through consensus try to put in place certain procedures and words or phrases they hope will cover their backs in the event that something will be challenged in the future.

The Sheffield Wildlife Trust application for funds from the Forestry Commission should be easy for people to read and comment on. A notice displayed on Blacka Moor indicated that those wishing to comment could do so via SWT's website through the Public Register. Leaving aside the fact that most people know nothing about the Public Register but might think in reading this that proper procedures were being followed even if they didn't follow this up themselves, in fact no link was available on SWT's site even for those who searched for half an hour. This was still the case this morning.

A persistent search through the FC's website at last revealed the documents. You need to go to the FC's Public Register here:

and then to click on the words Register of Grant Schemes and Felling some three lines down, then click on East Midlands on the map that comes up. You should then see some half way down the words Blacka Moor. Next to that is the number 24690. On clicking on this the application should come up. You may read the case report and then make comments. Good luck.

Alternatively you might decide that nobody's going to take any notice and make a cup of tea instead. But in doing this you would be deciding that the Coalition Government's commitment to local people deciding what should happen in their area is worthless. Perish the thought.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Baronial Points

The top crown points on the antlers suggest to me that this is The Baron. He's the one who ruled over the herd of five to seven hinds during the autumn. Other stags have come and gone numerous times since then but none with quite so impressive a show of headgear.

What's in a Number?

Being naturally sceptical I become even more suspicious when people quote statistics. Everything depends on how data is collected and by whom; and on who is interpreting the data and what is being left out. But the blog mechanism here tells me that 'hits' on this blog now number over 20,000; they are apparently 'unique hits' meaning it can't be the same person again and again. Nor can it be me as there's some kind of 'cookie' or other that prevents visits on my computer being registered - and I know that's true: I've tested it by logging on a dozen times and the numbers stayed the same.

It all leaves me a bit puzzled as I've always used this blog as a way of talking to myself. Who can they be? My working assumption is that most are those who don't like what this blog says but feel they have to check regularly on whether a new post mentions them or is in some way threatening to their job or way of life.

Whoever you are you are welcome to comment.


The domestic ruminants have presumably no more room on the pasture land to deposit their faeces. The sheep have broken out, looking for new places to pollute. Along with the highland cattle which contribute even more excrement to the grassland they have achieved saturation point, making everything there most appealing for the potential picnickers looking for a site in spring. A call should go out to all gardeners to bring along wheelbarrows. A small charge could be made going towards a fund to finance the removal of Blacka's barbed wire.

Is there a condition known as Oviphobia? Sheep are Ovis aries. Or is there a better word?