Saturday, 30 July 2011

EMP Transparency

An excerpt from the letter I wrote to Danny Udall of Eastern Moors Partnership two months ago on 24th May regarding consultation on the management of the Eastern Moors.

I would be pleased if you could tell me as early as possible in the interests of transparency and openness whether you are prepared to give me full details of any consultations that have been carried out since last September, and of plans for future events. If these are communicated to public bodies then they should be available for public scrutiny. I would also like to see the names and contact details of people on the ‘Stakeholder Forum’ and an indication of who they represent.

I have received no reply.

Wall Lovers

Small mammals and lizards have a liking for the sun-facing stone wall on which we leave a few seeds for the small birds each morning. In many ways this is an ideal place, the equivalent of a well planned breakfast room. Trees shelter from the west and north even in winter as there are evergreens including pine and rhododendron. The small vole who creeps out from the gaps occasionally may be more attracted by the left-over seeds than prospect of sun-bathing but there's no doubt that the lizard relishes the warm stones.

Friday, 29 July 2011


Managing is being in control. Why we would need always to have our woods and hills under someone’s control is a question that I’ve never had answered satisfactorily. But that is what the combined chorus of the conservation lobby tells us. Their well trained unanimity can only be admired. And it is to their advantage that this should be believed. It helps the story to get accepted that most ‘nice’ people are programmed to trust anyone whose job is connected with nature or wildlife or birds. (The same people probably also trusted bankers before the recent crisis and are already returning to a more relaxed guard.)

So we’re told every moor and field and bit of woodland has to have a management plan and an organisation in control that is dedicated to intervention. Heretics and doubters try to test these beliefs through observation. There is a little maxim that serves us well: when everyone insists on one view they’ve probably not looked very carefully.

To my knowledge these woods have had no management for as long as I’ve known them. They should therefore be unsatisfactory or ‘in unfavourable condition’. In fact they are delightful. It is a treat to walk through them on a summer’s afternoon when the sun is high and bright. At every turn there is a new composition to enjoy. This is young woodland and largely composed of trees that live short lives. For that reason they attain the posture and wrinkles of age earlier than the heavy brigade among trees. Alder and birch, pine and hawthorn get a mature character before oak and ash and elm. The managers are best out of the way. Who’s to know what they will do if they see somewhere that challenges their raison d’etre. Perhaps we should congratulate rather than criticise them for being at their desks instead of on site. But then even at their desks they come up with ideas that surely not even they would dream of if they knew the place day by day.

A man with a strimmer will shortly be coming along to tidy up the edges of the path along from Shorts Lane. It was done earlier last year cutting off flowers in their prime. Even now I can see no threat from nettles and other coarse plants. And the strimmed edges bring no appeal. It’s surprising they didn’t think of livestock; that way there might have been a grant to claim.

One of today’s extra surprises was the lighting effect set up by sun penetrating to the floor of the wet birch woods carpeted with hundreds of horsetails.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

This is what you like - we say so

I don't know how much pain is caused by the mental contortions needed to find ways of justifying the management approaches of local conservation people. But at a guess a few paracetamols would come in handy. What people like about Blacka Moor is that it is unlike other local moors which are treeless and utterly open. This message was voiced clearly at the consultation in 2006. People love the informal sense of scattered trees and wooded areas, also the reason it is increasingly favoured by deer. That is translated into its exact reverse on Sheffield Wildlife Trust's notices stapled up all over the place. SWT have clung desperately to this 'open' description with all its suggestiveness that trees are somehow something of a threat - which of course they are to those who don't like natural land.
Interpret it thus: we know people don't like what we are doing so we will tell them they like it and some of them will be gullible enough to accept what we say. Not all but at least we will then be able to say there are mixed views and in that situation our duty is to............ etc.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Verges Most Pure*

If you want to see some more natural and more wild land find a verge. These are the only places left in much of the country where vegetation gets to go its own way

Even in such places that needs to be qualified. There is some spraying on verges of certain roads and seasonal cutting after the spring flowers have passed. None the less around here the difference between managed land and these ungrazed edges is startling.

So why has the lesson not been learned? Farmed land dedicated to food production at least has that excuse. But large tracts of public land as on Burbage and the grazed enclosure on Blacka have no interest on the ground unless it's livestock faeces that thrills you.

Away from the sheep and cattle flowers have their chance.



Monday, 25 July 2011

Transparent - like a Coal Scuttle?

I shall publish here the response to the question I asked of the Eastern Moors Partnership about the extent of 'public' discussions before they present their draft managemnet plan for consultation. If a response ever comes that is, I've been waiting for two months.

I know there have been meetings with selected stakeholders to help decide policy and strategy. So I asked for details about who the stakeholders are and who they represent and what the meetings were about. I also sent a Freedom of Information request. That too seems to have ground to a halt.

Interesting really, because last year in one of their preliminary meetings I asked about the implications of handing over the management of public land to a non public authority. Would there still be access to the same information and the same level of accountability?

'We are very transparent', I was told.

Saturday, 23 July 2011


The open mouth shows stress. And they had got themselves in something of a pickle, running towards the woods beside the car park on a Saturday afternoon just as we started to emerge. They had obviously been disturbed elsewhere and panicked. Perhaps they were lying down peacefully in bracken when bilberry pickers appeared. Saturday afternoon is not the time for wild animals of their size to visit the car park alongside Hathersage Road. They don't like being out in the open so close to people and cut off from the trees. After changing direction three times they raced off towards the largest bracken bed, fortunately well away from the road.

The hinds on the hillside near the start of the day were more relaxed while still being alert.

Being the largest native wild animal and timid must make for a jittery sort of life, constantly ready to make off but never quite sure that you've not been seen. There were no signs of young deer with this group of hinds but just a few minutes before a regular sound was echoing through the woods. Could it have been the barking of an alarmed and protective hind?

A Bench Too Far

Amongst their many other failings Sheffield Wildlife Trust have a particular problem with benches. Several years ago three benches were installed along the main bridleway by contractors working for SWT. They were unremarkable but very serviceable.

The good thing about them is that they did not draw attention to themselves and you could sit on them. Since then one of these was replaced with a rather ridiculous thing inscribed with words - mostly frothy sentiment about wispy clouds and what have you. It has been largely derided by regular walkers. They have now added another one beside it.

The same shoddy upright supports composed of a bucket of mortar at which various bits of stone appear to have been thrown. Would they try to explain this by saying it's supposed to look 'informal'?

The seat itself is stained and utterly different to its neighbour. Sun loungers garden parasols and white plastic seats could hardly look more inappropriate. Earlier this year we had the canoodling seats fussily installed all up the bridleway. They were topped with staples and turned out to be mounting blocks for horse riders. As if riders really need to be hopping on and off every few minutes.


Quite a good morning for seeing Lincoln Cathedral. There are still people who regularly walk on Blacka who are unaware that you can occasionally see the Cathedral, about 45 miles away. This post is for them.

The first picture shows just how small it looks on the horizon to the left of the prominent power station some 12 miles closer to us. The cathedral is almost exactly east below the black circle in the picture.

The second is enhanced by camera zoom:

Finally on maximum zoom:

Friday, 22 July 2011

Vanity, vanity

Just how important are you?
Habitat creation is what conservationists like to do. It is the ultimate vanity. They change land sometimes tinkering irritatingly but other times completely changing its character while claiming to be attracting wildlife - but only the wildlife that is on their target list. Each time you create a habitat you are of course destroying another one. You are changing the look of a place, you are declaring that you are privy to a unique insight into what should grow there and what should not and you are proclaiming that of all people, and before nature itself, you know best. In short, you are playing God. It's hard to make a distinction between this and gardening or farming; I would call it a mix of the two. So those committees of Natural England which instruct their petty officials to decare SSSIs leading to top down management of once natural land have assumed powerful control over the natural world. This is no hands off affair with a brief to protect from development and intrusion. This is campaigning with all available weapons and resources against nature itself. And much of the implementation of this strategy is placed in the hands of raw, unseasoned and inadequately skilled front line troops employed by wildlife trusts.

Here, on Blacka, we can see the result of a strategy that privileges dung flies and dung beetles, and cropped grass covered with faeces and brown stained with urine over fresh wild flowers and natural growth.

This is all paid for from our taxes via 'Natural' England subsidies. To find pockets of truly natural land you need to seek out the odd corners and strips where neither cows nor sheep graze, under a wall alongside a track or road.

More and more the mindless grazing fetish of the conservation industry is being applied across the country just where natural succession is trying to get a hold. All must be controlled at whatever cost. And one's God-playing role must be celebrated via press releases to local and national media outlets, just in case the public fail to notice how important you are.

At Northumberland Wildlife Trust press releases were sent out and a round the clock watch was kept on an avocet nest. Intervention was the order of the day, nature cannot look after itself. Just in case the sea came in and washed the nest away they used a JCB to drain the area around. Regular updates on Facebook and Twitter as the eggs hatched. Then along came a heron and ate the chicks.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Red Deer Product

I recently and belatedly discovered an article in the Independent's travel section from last November from a writer called Mark Rowe on the subject of the Eastern Moors. It confirmed something that I had vaguely suspected for a long time. The article is one of those over-egged lyrical style pieces which you find in travel journalism, shallow and lacking any serious examination of their subject. The journalist evidently came up for the day, saw very little because of bad weather and was off back to London by the next but one train. So he relied heavily on hearsay from his informants at EMP anxious to do some self promotion. The accompanying pictures flatter the scenery and my guess is you would see it as in the photos at most one or two days in the year if you were lucky. He may posibly have seen deer but prefers to say he went to a spot that 'offers excellent sightings'. Doubtless the pictures were from EMP’s promotion album. The writer travelled up by train and spent a couple of hours on the site having made an appointment with local officials, in this case Danny Udall of EMP and Mike Innerdale of the National Trust whose link with Blacka Moor is that he is married to Blacka's reserve manager for Sheffield Wildlife Trust (confirming my long held suspicion that there is something particularly cosy about the local conservation industry.)

Anyway the thing that I thought would interest readers of this blog is something that illustrates the local managers' attitude to the red deer.

It's a quote within the Independent article from Mike Innerdale:

"We want to tell the story of the red deer, from the fell to the product – we don't want to hide anything. The intention is to sell the meat in our shops," said Mike Innerdale, Peak District general manager for the National Trust.

This is the managed exploitation that modern conservation is all about.

I can just imagine that the NT farm shop is in danger of running out so word goes out to shoot a stag. In fact you could make it a lot easier if you somewhat domesticated them through fencing and managed feeding. Management is what these people are about. This is like much of the local conservation compromise. These people are about as lacking in true respect for wild nature as you could get. They are in the conservation business for what they can get out of it and it’s no part of their agenda to promote the integrity of a more natural landscape nor the wilder animal life that thrives there.

Local conservation is about being in control. It's about farming, comfortable jobs and money – whether from grants or commercial exploitation.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


The Eastern Moors Partnership first surfaced last year when meetings were held in various places. Posts about those meetings can be found here, and here, and here.
As I said I would like to be involved in any further levels of consultation I waited eagerly. Not much information came along so I asked. Not much of a response until I was invited to go to a meeting about Signage and Interpretation. This is apparently one of a number (three?)categorised as Focus Groups. I was much more inetersted in how the land was going to be managed but was not invited to that. Anyway the value of attending a focus group is minimal. There is also a Stakeholder Group whose membership has not been disclosed to me despite my asking twice. Beyond that are various layers of impenetrability involving officers of PDNPA where the real policy gets decided. It's probable that the draft Management Plan that goes out for consultation in August will take very little change but you have to try.

The signage meeting told us about the things the EMP want to put up in car parks etc. displaying the logos of NT and RSPB. Interpretation means the facilitation of dialogue between parties using different languages, but it also, for landscape managers, means education a concept which strays close to propaganda in the right hands.

On further reflection I wonder why they don't go the whole hog: ten feet high signs at all possible places reminding us of the two charities and inviting us all to join. One of those wet slogans would do well too: something like Partners for a Better Countryside, or Together We Farm for Nature.

On interpretation the preference was for things that did not intrude and which those who couldn't live without the propaganda could access without it being an eyesore for the rest of us. The last thing I want to read is a sign telling me that the place has got to have sheep faeces all over it to stop horrid nature destroying the habitat for the tree pipit.


The holiday season means that in coming weeks posts here may not be as frequent as recently.


Another word about the impact of cycling. We all should know that cycling on bridleways is 'permitted' and that there is more than 5 km of bridleway on and around Blacka. That permission comes from a concession made in legislation more than 4o years ago before the advent of sturdy mountain bike equipment and the growth in popularity of tha activity. It was thought to be a simple and logical concession that cyclists should be able to go anywhere that horse riders could. It's only since the growth in MTBing and the different strands of thrill seeking that go with it that any sort of problems have arisen. Chief of these relates to the constant pressure brought by these new thrill seekers to be given the right to go anywhere that walkers can go. Many of them don't wait for this permission. They know the weakness of the authorities and just as boy-racers speed on the roads, they go the way the want to regardless. So now you see bike tracks where there has never been any evidence of horse riding.

Even on bridleways problems are caused by the failure of highways officers (usually public rights of way departments) to deal with developing situations, either through lack of resources or political will. The route down from the saddle of Wimble Holme Hill is probably a case of somewhere that a bridleway was designated unwisely.
The 1 in 2 slope down from the path and the narrowness of the path always made it a route most horse riders avoided. It has now become very uncomfortable and even hazardous for walkers because of erosion caused by mountain bikes. The other day a horse rider did try to negotiate the route. The result was that the horse fell.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

How Unfortunate.....

.... but then it's all in a good cause. You did remember to cash that agri- environment cheque didn't you?

Such busy people at Natural England and DEFRA that they don't come round and get to see the spiffing work done on the land by their farm schemes. Cattle are part of the deal on Blacka and cattle are such good eaters and tramplers of everything - and that other stuff that comes out the other end - that's the real William Gordon, that is.

Just to let you know what grand work is being done here and just in case you were wondering if we get value for money for our taxes going into these things. Here is a picture of a part of Cowsick taken just a year ago on 6th July 2010 when no cows were 'managing' the land. The flower is Bog Asphodel.

And here is a picture of the same spot this year after a short spell of cattle grazing.

Of course the numbers of cattle will have to be increased: they've failed to finish the job off properly.

"We Were Here First!"

Today was the first morning for a while with no cattle obviously visible. This gave a group of eight stags an opportunity to regain the moor before the rain came.

They are the largest group that has appeared since the bovine invasion. Here there is no observable clash just a preference of the deer to be in other parts to those occupied by cows. And who could blame them? They moved across on a route almost parallel to and just a few yards away from the footpath, walking as they often do, through the leggy heather. Cattle are more inclined to use the ready made paths, preferring them when available. One of the reasons for this is that grass grows thick to the side of paths much more vigorously than amid the heather and bracken. And cows are more addicted to grass than deer. Another is the domestic animal's inclination to stick to ways used by man, something not shared by wild animals. A year or two back I complained of the cattle muddying and widening the right of way - something that now seems permanent- from the 18 inches wide to four feet and more. The wildlife trust reserve manager's response to my 'anti-cow' comment was to say that deer also go on paths don't they? Revealing of a mindset, and not dissimilar to the comment I got from the mountain biker who insists that everyone has an impact on paths thus, in his view, letting himself off the hook!
The deer were more interested in the leaves of young trees this morning than the grass and that is one of the reasons for their preference for Blacka over such as Burbage where they are rarely seen.

Wild animals are unpredictable and today rather than running off they allowed us to get close, enjoying the detail of their red coats and velveted antlers.
Hinds are less sanguine and on the other side of the hill I was scouring the expanse of bracken for several minutes before spotting a single face shyly peering out.

No chance here of seeing any young calves who might have been nearby and it would have been irresponsible to approach. Later in the walk we found that the stags themselves had moved over and settled down in a patch of bracken all their own.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Dungalore!!! - or A Call of Nature

These are exciting times for Sheffield’s lovers of farm livestock dung (coprophiliacs?). As I’ve said before there must be many thousands of such enthusiasts for whom this has to be their real reason for venturing into the countryside. After all without the active support of such a constituency why would there be so much of it? Connoisseurs must experience a racing of pulses as they approach the now well and truly farmed landscape of Blacka. To think that without the impeccable judgement of Sheffield Wildlife Trust this wonderful place would never have been reclaimed for farming, for high level intervention... and for dung. It might even now be a neglected and natural site where plants just grew where they wanted to, missing out on the inestimable benefits of barbed wire and cow and sheep faeces.

Only now can we appreciate just what a precious and valuable resource we have here. And it cannot be said often enough that this is a threatened habitat and an experience denied to many in the world, reminding us that Britain has some of the last remaining landscapes where such really colossal proportions of tip-top quality material (and all organic) can be found actually on the ground where we walk! This makes it an international priority area. If visitors from around the world are not flocking in their thousands to the west of Sheffield to experience this wealth of dung then they jolly well should be.

In days now sadly gone we could have taken a similar trip among the factories of eastern Sheffield and savoured the delectable taste of sulphured air as the factory chimneys gifted the atmosphere with a unique and powerful perfume and its accompanying yellow fog. The farmed landscape, hopefully carpeted with dung, is the other side of that coin and, fortunately for us, it has not suffered a similar fate – indeed it is now restored thanks to the efforts of SWT and their allies in the environmental grants departments of Natural England who generously bestow our tax-raised money on anyone with the enterprise to put farm animals on this land to convert the natural vegetation into what they do best.

And is it not so much better to have this beauteous brown stuff everywhere rather than those depressing wild flowers, grasses and, God forbid, even trees that would otherwise pollute our public land?

Each day produces new delights. Today’s observation will concentrate on the dried dung. After days of warm dry weather most dung now appears in its paler form with only the freshest examples displaying familiar darker brown colouring. Where to start? Well, plenty of good dung-spotting to be done in the grassy enclosure, in fact only a blind person could miss it (– though he would almost certainly tread in it). Fortunately no distractions from flowers or tall grasses here, or anywhere near - the woolly mowers have done their job well. On going through the gate note the quantity of first rate specimens close by, being careful to distinguish the larger, crusty deposits harking back to the days in spring when cattle were in this enclosure. Time and the effects of weathering add considerable interest to these samples, so don’t forget to make good observational sketches.

From here take a trip up the hill to the summit following the pleasant wheel marks left by the farmer’s vehicle. Good to note that these impressions can now be seen from quite a distance away now and we should all look forward with keen anticipation to the time when it becomes necessary to cover this part of the hill with tarmac. At the top you get the full experience. Here it is that we so easily get carried away with the wonder of it all as we find ourselves in the middle of a superb array of spatterings as far as the eye can see. Savour this moment and carry the vision with you to recall it at those times perhaps in winter when you are seated before the yule log.

One disappointment for live stock loving visitors is that the accessories in the form of aluminium hurdles previously so carefully positioned to catch the eye from almost anywhere, have now been removed, albeit I’m sure only temporarily. But, to compensate, a handsome galvanised water trough has been brought onsite.

This is suitably placed to encourage the cutting of even more vehicle tracks further onto the hill top thus helping to crush any unnecessary wild flowers not already eaten by the sheep. The subtle yellowing of the surrounding grass is a bonus.

We should humbly remember at this point when our minds are full of the experience of all this ordurific material that some years ago many thoroughly misguided people were opposed to SWT increasing the numbers of livestock on Blacka, even going so far as to suggest that some places should be kept free from farmed animals.

Where are these ignorant people now, I ask? Shouldn’t they be asked to return and say what they think now?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Dark World of Conservation Industry Dogma

The conservation industry appears to be fixated on the dogma that it has created to justify what should be unacceptable. The total fusion of farming and conservation is the guiding principle behind all policies of land management even on public land which has been free from farming for many years. In his latest article Mark Fisher refers to
the unbending dogma of British conservation that wildlife has to coexist within farmed landscapes, and is never given space of its own where farming is removed
Dogma is what underpins and justifies (for those taken in by it) what would otherwise be questioned and rejected. Who would have thought that an area like Blacka, thriving for so many years in its freedom from intrusion and exploitation would have to suffer the indignity of a return to the status of managed farmland strewn with dung, cut across by barbed wire and where wildlife has to find what odd corners it can?

Dogma is a resource supplying a convenient comfort zone of belief for those who prefer not to recognise their own self-serving agenda for what it truly is. All must be top-down and in the hands of those to whom we rashly entrusted such decisions and who now consider themselves qualified to play God. Can any other group outside bankers and royalty itself have been entrusted with such privilege? Nothing, according to current conservation thinking, can be left to nature. Thus the word 'nature' itself has to be redefined in 'newspeak' fashion to mean something compatible with livestock farming. All of the time this convenient redefining takes place remote from the muck around the Blacka gateways and in committee rooms well away from the public whose scrutiny might force them to see the absurdity of their position.

So for the many who have wondered why we have to have cows and their waste on what was previously farm-free, the answer is: because it's in the interest of the managers and the farmers and the whole industry that declares that our landscape is 'nothing without conservation' - should that now be conservationists?

Remember these are protected areas - protected from development perhaps, but who protects from conservationists and their self-serving, grant-harvesting dogma?