Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Management and Manipulation

Two words that start the same. It’s what they do. Sheffield Wildlife Trust is coming to the end of its current 5 year management plan.
In 2006 a consultation was held and it finished with some controversy as SWT decided to go its own way irrespective of the results.
Earlier this year, in January, SWT after requests for information about how the next management plan was to be arrived at, produced an outline timetable for discussions starting in September.
After enquiries about dates and other details eventually an email was received at the end of last week saying that the consultation and planning process was being held back for twelve months ....

.............“so that it ties in, and is in direct response to the much wider Sheffield Moors Partnership Master Plan. This master plan will be a strategic vision and action plan for the Sheffield Moors Partnership Project. It’ll take the form of workshops with key stakeholders to determine the content of the plan. We want to write a 5-year management plan for Blacka, which is in response to this process and plan for the wider landscape”

Some inside knowledge is necessary to understand the management calculations that lie behind this. Among those are these:

1 The Sheffield Moors Partnership is a working group of people and organisations that are talking themselves into a takeover of Burbage, Houndkirk etc.
2 The SMP has no official status in relation to this land and their right to be considered as a force has no current validity. Nobody should seriously assume that any ‘Master Plan’ from them has any legitimacy as things stand.
3 Sheffield Wildlife Trust had committed itself to consulting this autumn and wanted a reason for backing out of it at the very last minute, being aware that their preferred management options have been shown to be flawed.
4 They are showing contempt for the RAG and contempt for the very idea of public consultation.
5 It is absurd to say that this should be a pretext for delay when the Eastern Moors Partnership - a sort of identikit version of the Sheffield Moors Partnership and a part of it, is just at this moment going ahead with publishing a draft management plan for consultation. What goes for one should go for the other.

And that is only the beginning. But knowing them as we do how surprising is this? It’s getting to be tiresome to have to go on pointing out just how cynical the local conservation industry is.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Seizure and Banishment

An extraordinarily poetic sense of a deprivation when arriving at this point, and this has happened now many times. All very anthropomorphic of course. But how do we communicate anything without using some humanity? Up above in the further patch of unmanaged bracken they are looking down at what one's imagination portrays as a lost land, taken over by the troops of those who have seized it.

They look down towards anyone moving along the track and also at the hillside where the opposition forces lie. Often one seems to have adopted the alert lookout role while the others relax totally.

So different to 2010, witness a view below chosen from many taken exactly a year ago to the day, at a time when there was no foreign occupation. More photos taken on that very special day can be seen here.

Saturday, 27 August 2011


There is so much that is questionable about the management approaches of the present bunch of conservation wallahs. Many of them come down to their relationship with cows. I'm beginning to wonder about this in more ways than one. For example they cut and strim bracken areas to create a grazing portion for the cows. Ten to one if you ask them about it their answer will somewhere contain the word 'habitat'. But their 'creating' of a habitat is actually destroyng another habitat. A habitat is a place where creatures live and thrive. The idea that wildlife trusts should artificially choose the habitats thus privileging farm animals over wildlife is turning subjectivity into office living deity.
Well certain creatures do live and thrive in bracken and they have been out to prove it in recent weeks.

The bracken has become a veritable mansion with many rooms and corridors for the deer. They peer out from balconies and picture windows. They retire into boudoirs and they even do their exercises in the gymnasium - as one leaping stag was keen to prove this morning. Taking a stroll around their private estate they are never far from their chosen residence and should a curious visitor happen along they drift back in to be seen perhaps later checking on the state of play below.

This morning's cold north westerly, well suited to a bank holiday weekend, saw them in the south east facing sun lounge.

The lie of the land in this whole area is one of the reasons that mornings on Blacka have been the regular choice for them.
So what should we think of those whose instinct is to wreck this popular wildlife habitat just to make a space for cows?

Thursday, 25 August 2011


It's happened throughout man's history of managing the land for his own purpose. Wildlife has been marginalised and/or dispossessed. That is the pattern of what is happening here. The blueprint to which the conservation professionals are working is just that: clear away that which does not suit our purpose and get it ready for farm animals.
The small number of stags who've been present on Totley Moor have been frequently looking down on the area at the top of Blacka's moorland but staying at a respectable distance while it's been occupied by cattle. This morning they were closer through early mist and rain but after a while wandered off to settle in bilberry and heather.

An example below of what Sheffield Wildlife Trust are doing. Having decided that they would graze the moor with cattle they looked round for places which they could turn into good grazing; just what any pioneer farmer would do in fact. The area has been cleared of most natural vegetation so that grass can grow through and the cowpat count suggests they've appreciated it.

There's no surprise in this, but among local people not a full realisation. The Sheffield Wildlife Trust manager has frequently talked up the importance of the countryside for food production and shown very little interest in the most significant of the wildlife. It could be that family background and vested interest is behind this failure to see the value of wildlife and wilder land. I've often wondered how many conservation workers come from farming families.

How Favoured We Are

Natural England's office in Sheffield is the Mount Olympus of the organisation, the National Headquarters. This is where godlike figures set out the fate of our landscape in broad terms without dirtying their hands with the details. Things that happen on Blacka Moor and around are determined by the Bakewell office situated in Deepdale Business Park on the road to Ashford and Buxton.

It's there that you might find officers getting down to what passes for real work, the production of papers and reports. What gets written on these papers, amazingly, actually affects how we walk and what we walk on and in.

So by deciding that Blacka Moor is in UNFAVOURABLE condition the officer makes sure that we have to walk in this cows**t. That is what it amounts to.To be favourable you have to have cows and their waste. We are all familiar with the kind of specious arguments that are employed these days and I guess they will try to explain it one way or another but this what it means. The more cows**t is on the paths and around the streams the more favourable it is.

This is not a joke. The moment the first cowpat dropped the official NE site description changed from UNFAVOURABLE to UNFAVOURABLE RECOVERING. It was that quick. Where would we be without them? When true favourable condition is finally achieved natural vegetation will be eliminated and we will obviously have wall to wall (sorry, barbed wire to barbed wire) carpetting of the brown stuff. Blacka Moor's faithful walkers can't wait.

NE's office looks pretty innocuous but word has reached this blog that there are certain resemblances to Colonel Gaddafi's compound in Libya. A network of underground tunnels is suspected with corridors and suites of rooms where major decisions are reached by anonymous committees. Within these bunkers it is believed that secret campaigns and wars are planned against such undesirable elements as tussocks and thatch and unregulated swards. Dossiers of information are carefully compiled and filed away in heavy duty cabinets relating to the number and position of such unplanned and uninvited intrusions as birch trees on grouse moors. This blog has assigned a special correspondent to follow the story.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


It would be revealing to know the proportion of energies expended and time spent by Sheffield Wildlife Trust on raising funds, applying for grants and generally protecting their own jobs and expanding their influence as against any work actually done on the ground that could be classified as conservation. Readers of this blog are already familiar with the observation that SWT’s ‘feet on the ground’ on Blacka is very limited and any work done by them usually proves to be of poor quality (which is why I’m hesitant about calling too loudly for more presence from them!)

One vicinity where you have a much greater chance of seeing them is outside supermarkets where they are dab hands at erecting a quick stall and display board. There they persuade trusting people to part with their cash. Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, Co-op and city centre precincts are all places where I’ve seen them.

I’ve heard this described as just one step up from the Big Issue sellers. That’s taking it a bit far but the principle is not that different. It’s hard to shake off the view that what comes first for SWT is its own survival.

Like many organisations these days they find it more important for them to promote themselves where people are actually present in large numbers. So they get little corporate benefit from being on Blacka Moor where only one or two people will see them (and the ones that do may not be very pleased about it), while potentially many of the public will see their displays in the city centre and feel good that ‘the wildlife’ is being looked after even though they’ve only got the word of SWT to go on because they rarely visit the countryside themselves yet like to think someone’s doing’ the right thing’. There’s a general fluffiness about public perceptions of wildlife not unaccompanied by a certain guilt about some of their own lifestyle maybe contributing to a decline in the quality of ‘nature’. Putting your hand in your pocket occasionally can help to assuage some of this anxiety.

I’ve not seen SWT’s stall outside Waitrose. But their presence is noticeable inside. Waitrose has this laudable scheme for helping local good causes whereby it gives a proportion of £1.000 of the store’s profits each month to three chosen groups.

Customers at the checkout are given green tokens with their receipt. They then choose which of the three they prefer. So it’s a different set of three each month. At the end of the month the tokens are weighed and according to the proportion the thousand pounds is divided and sent to the groups. SWT have appeared several times and as you would expect with wildlife things they score fairly well. They also have a well organised lobbying system going. To nominate your favourite good cause for this scheme you fill in a form in the in-store leaflet. I’m sure SWT make sure they get someone to do this. It interested me that I was in Waitrose twice over the last week and spotted that SWT were one of the August beneficiaries alongside local Multiple Sclerosis and Special Olympics groups. On Thursday the proportions showed that SWT was running somewhat behind the other two. By Monday the tokens for the wildlife trust had suddenly overwhelmed the others.

This is one thing they do well however much of a mess they make of everything else. Doubtless they circulated all their contacts with a plea similar to the one below, quoted from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. Wildlife trusts are very centrally organised, despite claiming to be local.

"We are delighted to have been chosen as a beneficiary. This is a fantastic opportunity for local people to show support for their local wildlife and environment, with no additional cost to them.'

So get on down to Cheltenham Waitrose and cast your vote. How much the Trust receives from this initiative depends on YOU!

Perhaps one lesson is to avoid getting multiple sclerosis in August.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Minor Relief

Rain still makes no impact either here or in our local gardens. Streams and springs have been dry for weeks now. There was no water for the sheep on Friday and they could have been without for some time before that. Checks on Sunday and Monday mornings confirmed nothing. By the afternoon the message had got through and help had arrived. Some will tell you that sheep are capable of surviving in hot dry areas and that this is where they originate from. Is that why they keep coming and looking for water? And the grazier does have a very long way to come so might be excused. But what about those who have responsibility for the wider policy of having livestock on this land? Is it really unreasonable to expect them to have some sort of role even as backup in the welfare of animals?

Sheffield Wildlife Trust are of course a wildlife organisation so it's not their role. Well, erm, yes. That explains why they pursue such anti-wildlife policies does it not? And anyway the weekend is the weekend. And the core business is SWT itself - weekdays 9 to 5. And the local wisdom is that, whatever you do, sheep just die on you. That's all right then.


Positioned below the track and the other side of the stream this is just the spot that the eye is drawn to as you stroll up to through the woods. A perfect arena for a show. So don't we just love to see the work done to denaturalize the landscape, all in the interests of beauty and er, whoever gets the cheque from the biodiversity grant. The trick must be to persuade the public, or the more uncritical of them that this uglification actually is something so special it's worth making a special journey to see.

Make a virtue of your appalling errors in fact. That's done by importing a working horse - yes a real horse - to help pull the logs away from the area, and advertising the operation as a feature. It's certainly a good vantage point to see whatever's on offer. Will we also have morris dancers and bear baiting? Or is it more in tune with the times to have Karaoke? And will the horse remove the hacked torsos? I think not. Their value is obscenely great for reminding us who is in charge. Nature must dance to this tune, karaoke or not.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

How to Keep Things Dark

The way to stop people knowing what's happening to public land and wider public assets is to hand it over to some outside organisation like a wildlife trust or the RSPB/National Trust. They will then keep the public body informed what's going on but absolve the publc authority of the legal imperative to inform the public. Thus the people who own this land, i.e. the public itself is kept in the dark, asking questions but having no automatic right to know. This is brought into clear focus by my Freedom of Information request to the Peak National Park Authority

My request was for details of aspects of the consultaion being allegedly carried out by the EMP on their plans for the Eastern Moors. Simply I wanted to know who was being consulted and how? My original request was as follows:

"Could you please provide me with details of any consultations
carried out relating to the management of the PDNPA's land on the
Eastern Peak District Moors by the authority and/or the Eastern
Moors Partnership. I would like to see details of meetings and
those attending held since September 2010 plus details of any
meetings planned but not yet held. If there have been meetings with
individuals or groups identified as 'stakeholders' could you please
supply names of groups invited. Please also forward the themes,
agendas and minutes of the meetings."

Seeing as this is public land and a public asset that is being dealt with and that we are apparently in an age of transparency, and that I was told at the introductory consultation meeting that the partnership was totally transparent, I'm at a loss to understand what the problem is. But more than two months after the request I've had nothing but delay and evasion. Finally I asked for an internal review and that has now been reported in an email published on What Do They Know. Have a read and consider. Is this reasonable? he context is that all the people involved in these decisions are servants of the public. Why would they want to withold or delay giving such simple information?

This must have serious implications for the possible takeover of the Sheffield Moors by what is really the same group. Sheffield City Council's Cabinet must surely be made to understand that any such handover is effectively denying basic rights to information of its citizens.

Tussling with Tussocks

In a properly ordered world there would be no tussocks. God himself found no place for tussocks in the Garden of Eden. That at least is the thinking of today's best known god substitute, Natural England. They therefore insist that this is another management opportunity for the the obsessive conservation grazing lobby that wishes to fill the whole country with extravagantly defecating farm livestock. Another score or two of sheep and a dozen cattle will sort out these tussocks they believe, presumably to bring the grassland close to some ideal surface. Like what? A bowling green? The Oval outfield?
Well there are plenty of sheep up here at the moment but they are hardly motivated to tussle with these tussocks. A few scattered sheep droppings can be seen but elsewhere, away from the tussocks there is an ordurific abundance.

Sweet and Damp

The best stuff grows where no cows graze. Odd corners produce the most interest, so why can't we release the bovine shackles everywhere?

Tall and statuesque Angelica has found a home near the car park. It's unlikely however that it would thrive in other parts of the moor even if we returned it to unfarmed land. The nearby road will have been responsible for a quantity of limestone being present and sweetening the soil together with the water run-off which leaves this section permanently damp.

Those who favour experimenting with herbal remedies have been known to try this as a nature's cure for all sorts of problems from mouth ulcers to athlete's foot.

More Ordure from Caroline?

In the midst of cut backs and hard times for worthy causes, Caroline Spelman Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has announced that there will be priority for grants for the biodiversity scammers so that farming can be tweaked to give us more margins where they don't destroy the wildlife. Wildlife Trusts and the like wil be encouraged to do more habitat creation. So we can expect to see more efforts from those who exploit these misguided policies by turning wildlife friendly areas like Blacka into habitat creation and grant application opportunities for the farming industry. In short the top down agenda will mean even more farming here where we have had a blessed period with less of it and some parts none at all. So watch out for the wildlife trusts planning to put more farm animals on the moors and kindly leaving a few odd corners for the wildlife.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Evening Feed

The four stags have been up in the wilder territory of the section of Totley Moor to the west ever since they re-appeared a fortnight ago. There's no doubt now that there's been some measure of boycott operating here strangely comparable to trends observed by sociologists in human neighbourhoods. Sheffield Wildlife Trust have brought on their cattle and the native population has decamped to other parts. So where does that leave the astonishing policy of the conservation outfit? It was already shown to be hopelessly flawed. Now it simply exposes them to ridicule. But one has to examine it carefully to see that what they are doing is entirely consistent with their undeclared purpose. Over the ages man has regularly done this and that is what Sheffield Wildlife Trust wants to replicate. They are above all a Farmlife Trust - it is a fairly simple error that the word 'wild' got substituted. Everything they have done has been to this end and reading their statements leaves no room for misunderstanding. They are turning wilder land into farmland, the better to manage their agricultural operations. This marginalises the wildlife into becoming something like those bits at the edges of the fields that the farmer negotiates with Natural England to qualify him for agri-environment grants.

In the evening they can sometimes be seen feeding on the longer grasses and other green stuff on the unfarmed area. This morning they were there again before moving down into their favourite bracken stronghold. How long before that is taken from them?

Gang Culture and Deprivation

Riotous behaviour on Blacka this morning where the midges were ganging up on us to an alarming degree. We could have been forewarned if we had known which social network they subscribe to. Having a low tolerance of this kind of unacceptable behaviour we made for the top of Thistle Hill where a bit of breeze was enough to bring relief. On our way there we had observed unusual activity among the sheep who could have been getting ready for some copy-cat action.

Almost lemming-like they were moving around en masse in well disciplined formation; yet nobody around nor sign of of what might have aroused this. I suspect that this is a symptom of stress. And the one thing that I’m aware of that could cause it is water deprivation. Recent rain here has been slight and will have made next to no impact.

The nearest spring was dry though with evidence that sheep have been around there a lot. The water tank had just an inch in the bottom with dead flies floating on the surface. The one sheep that tried as I watched put her head over the side and then withdrew quickly. It’s doubtful that any sheep would have been able to reach that far down, however desperate.

Still, it's not common to see riot police on Blacka.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Another Blow to Transparency

What has the farmer Hartmut Eifert of Hesse in Germany and an agricultural firm Markus Schecke GbR got to do with Blacka and the moors around Sheffield? Very little you might think. But the truth is that their action in the European Court of Justice has allowed Natural England to claim a pretext for withdrawing a feature on its website. This feature allowed the public to access details of subsidies to farmers and institutions, thus giving full transparency as intended by the European Commission.

Natural England has on its website a feature called Nature on the Map. It can be used to get details of which areas of the country come under certain statutory designations such as SSSI. So you can home in on Blacka Moor and other local sites and see various bits of information about them. It also had the facility for discovering where agri environment subsidies were being paid and also the amounts being paid and the person or organisation receiving those grants. I say 'had' because that has changed in recent months following a European Courts of Justice ruling. This follows legal action by wealthy German farmers who maintained that it infringed their privacy. The result of this is that we cannot any longer see how much money is being paid to subsidise cattle and sheep grazing on Blacka, on Burbage Moor and other local sites.

I have read the press release detailing the court's judgement and the reasons given for it. I am sure that the European Court of Justice does not mean that this information must be withheld. Instead it is saying that the Council and Commission are being disproportionate if they insist that all the information is published in fine detail on national websites. That is quite a different thing. NE could continue with their publication, according to my reading, if names were left off, or approximate figures were provided. But they seem to have taken down all that information leaving the public completely in the dark.

What we do know is that institutions hate being transparent and love to keep information to themselves. Knowledge is power. Given a chance, bureaucrats will calculatedly interpret any law in such a way that gives them the chance to decline requests for information. It will be interesting to see how this affects recent and future FoI requests.

Further to this the information that has been 'pulled' that concerns us here applies to public land on which there is public consultation either ongoing or in the offing. How can people exercise their duty to hold accountable those who manage or make important decisions about public assets when they are denied the information they need to make judgements?

Answers on a postcard please or via the comments facility.


Postscript 19th August

The website farmsubsidy.org is the best place to look for information on this, though when I tried to access it this morning it seemed not to be functioning.

"No Farmland Here"

"Of course it's not turning it into farmland"- Sheffield Wildlife Trust in 2005 responding to concerns about their plans for Blacka Moor.

"It's necessary to bring the land back into favourable condition" - SWT and Natural England in 2005.

"We will probably need to have more cattle in the future" - Nigel Doar, SWT, 2010

Secrets and Lies

Very good holiday season reading in Ian Leslie's new book. It reminds us that deception of others and, even more, self-deception are at the heart of almost all that we do; and that in a world where institutions and individuals are unable to live without deceit the best way of coping wth this is a healthy dose of understanding one's own motivations, knowing oneself, and a sceptical attitude to what others say and claim. I would add especially in the case of organisations. It's also interesting in the light of what I said in my recent post Trust Them?

Following on from this I'm having some difficulties with the Eastern Moors Partnership just now. It may be recalled that in response to a question from me last year EMP said they were completely committed to transparency. Recent correspondence shows this as having been 'economical with the truth'. Consultation meetings with local groups and individuals have been taking place which have been less than transparent. These have involved selected participants whose names are being withheld on the basis of some spurious concerns about confidentiality. Not all who wanted to take part have been invited but there is no way of judging why the managers chose person 'x' rather than person 'y', or group 'a' rather than group 'b'.
Not only are remarks not attributed to individuals but in addition the public are being prevented from knowing who attended the meetings! One of the fascinating stated justifications for this is that people can thereby "speak honestly....without fear of being named and shamed". These then are the 'consultation hoodies' who are privileged to have their views counted but decline to be accountable for what they say.

Blacka Blogger and the 'Consultation Hoodies'

When I challenged this the startling response I received (underlined) was that I myself make comments anonymously on this blog!! Putting to one side the fact that anyone who wants to know my identity or even meet me, simply has to ask via the contact email at the side (and some have) there is a world of difference between an alias as a gimmick on an independent blog with no official influence or input and a public consultation about a major public asset. I would suggest, with rather less humility than I would prefer, that as most people around here already know who I am then I have shown no reluctance to stand up and be counted for what I believe, both here and in public meetings at which I wear no mask or hoodie but attend as myself properly identified.

But there are other issues here that may not be immediately obvious. Consultations are supposed to be bottom up, so the theory goes. But power remains in the hands of the managers if they go about things in this way. They gather together comments of all kinds from all sorts of people, some sensible others way-out or misguided. If they are unattributed it makes it a lot easier to manage and also stifles any dialogue between those being consulted. Last year we had the post-it note approach. Comments made do not become topics for discussion. So the 'balancing' act of those coordinating is an exercise in picking and choosing - the result being 'everyone's had their say but we're doing pretty well what we wanted to in the first place'. There must be a text book you can buy guiding managers through this. Probably one of those you see on shelves of WH Smith's in the station concourse.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Isn't It Pretty?

Well, no, actually it's not pretty on a damp drizzly morning even in August. Yet there's still plenty to appeal to the senses. These views are what only a few people see as most, understandably, wait for clement weather to arrive. Some who do see more are those, like dog walkers for example, who are bound by routine and out in all weathers.

There have been afternoons even in this summer when the purple of the heather under strong sunlight has led to many an occasional visitor saying "Isn't it pretty?" And part of the scene has been the distant view of fields and field boundaries and scattered woods.

This morning though it's been the turn of mist and wet grass and hunched crows on the fenceposts. And a line of starlings adding interest to the sheep pasture which is dreary enough even when the sun shines. It's good to see a place under all conditions.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Spray Zone

SWT's intended bracken spraying area seems to be the pale zone in the picture which is already covered with dead bracken. It is a repeat application and the regrowth is being targetted. That is unless they mean to take the opportunity to zap other nearby bracken beds. If you walk on it you will find odd patches of bilberry but much of it has little growing beneath the dead bracken straw apart from some bits of moss and an occasional twig of heather. In places there are several inches deep of brown peat, the result of many years growth.


This morning's sky was again grey and unappealing. Forecasts for rain around the country were not convincing when they came to mention the east face of the central hills. Here it's been a summer of dry cool and cloudy weather. The ground has rarely been as dry. Even the track to the sheep enclosure, where it's always wet below the spring on Totley Moor, has been bone dry for some time. The slight drizzle in the air could be all we get. Still, even with several hours of heavy rain the streams will not fill up.

How do the animals manage? Deer can get where they wish easily and lower down some of the streams have useful amounts. The cattle have followed a well formed deer track to the stream below Bole Hill and some of them have followed the dry bed until it was joined by some trickles coming down the slope. There they have made a pretty thorough job of wrecking its appeal. The sheep enclosure is simply one of dreariest places imaginable.
This SSSI, unit 70 of the Eastern Peak District Moors, is characterised by its miserable looking sheep who defecate all over the grass a process well understood of converting flowering plants (that never flower) into brown stuff that comes out the other end. The stream there has been dry for months and the grazier has put a galvanised tank at the top of the hill which I believe he occasionally fills. I've been there twice over the last ten days and each time it was empty as it was this morning.
Sheep were waiting around patiently (see top). When water does come it will be too late for some.

Last year the grazing programme had problems and most of the year the land was free of sheep and cattle. This hillside was glorious mass of harebells and other flowers and waving grasses. After ten minutes searching this morning I eventually found one harebell. Why this land was designated SSSI is a bit of amystery to me. My best guess is that it was a piece of administrative tidying up at the office. I've seen the latest NE report from last year and it touches on various insider terms such as sward and thatch and then suggests that it would benefit from a higher density of grazing. God help us all, where does NE find these people and what kind of dogma has been instilled into them? The report mentions that the interest here is birds and the fungi. I like seeing the fungi in autumn but when I do it is frankly enjoyed as a compensation for the sheep dung all around them and the utter dreariness of the rest of the year.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


August is usually the time that Sheffield Wildlife Trust make one or two visits to Blacka. Spraying and cutting is what they like to do. Bracken is one of their targets and they seem to book the tractor well ahead which is why I'm expecting to see signs of them in the next few days. Another thing they like to do is strimming. As cows can't be relied on to clear the undesired native vegetation SWT send along a volnteer or job-seeker to create a decent patch for them to use as pasture.

They've been ignorant of the presence of Himalayan Balsam or at least they've done nothing since I told them about it last year. It's one of the few non-tree species which quickly overtops the bracken. I expect they've not yet got themselves a grant for dealing with this patch.


However many hours one spends gazing over the land inspecting every secluded corner they still succeed in staying hidden. If you're the largest native animal with young you just have to be so aware of any potential threats. And the awareness of the hinds on Blacka is formidable. At other times of year you may be able to get close but when a calf is present they will move off at speed even when you're a hundred yards away. This was the best I've been able to see and only with camera technology do the features show at all. Within seconds they were moving off towards the bracken which is such a valued resource for them.

This is close to where Sheffield Wildlife Trust will be spraying very soon, perhaps today or tomorrow. Oh well, something else that hitherto has been unmanaged and looks genuine, will no longer have the same appeal. Once you think about that it's hard to lose the awareness. It's all there now, unspoiled; at least it was at 7.30 am.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Relations with the Neighbours

How well do you get on with your neighbours? Do you prefer to keep your distance or are you all over one another? I've been observing the relations between the cattle and the deer on Blacka in order to get some idea of how social or anti-social the deer are towards the bovine incomers.

For those not familiar with Blacka this is the view from the track coming down from the only car park along Hathersage Road. To the left of the track is the Blacka Moor estate and you can see the wall and fence built to accommodate SWT's 'beautiful beasts' (cows to you and me). You can make out the end of the track with gates onto the moor to the left and into the sheep enclosure straight ahead. The cattle are where they are often to be found early in the morning, close to the entrance to the moor. Even when they are elsewhere the evidence of their liking for this spot is all around. The land to the right is interesting for several reasons. It's not part of the Blacka Moor land and therefore SWT have shown no interest in it.In fact it's not shown any sign of being managed at all for many years and in consequence it is that valuable thing a piece of land that has been allowed to follow the ways of nature except when sheep have escaped from nearby pastures. It is a patchwork of heather, bracken and bilberry with a few scattered trees, mostly birch with some rowan and oak and even a young sycamore.

It turns out this land is part of the Eastern Moors Estate and counts as part of Totley Moor. It has come in for consideration regarding future management. Lest I became too alarmed at this prospect the manager indicated that they were likely to leave it alone as it's "not really treeing-up at all" - a nice phrase.

In a recent post I described four stags moving across the moor and scrupulously avoiding skirting round the cattle. Since then those same stags have been been occupying the section of Totley Moor obviously preferring it to the Blacka moorland section. Sometimes they are in the bracken and at other times more out in the open. Today they were at the top end. Now I don't spend every hour of every day on and around Blacka so what I see can't be assumed to be the full story. But I think it would be pretty daft to assume that it does not give a fair idea of things and a useful indication. Two to three hours each morning and an occasional visit in the afternoon or evening must carry some weight and I would love to meet anyone who claims to know the site better.

Anyway the deer behaviour I've observed over several years suggests that they do not altogether desert Blacka when cattle are brought on. Occasional sightings happen but they appear to be less frequent and the deer are in smaller groups; there can also be lengthy periods when no deer are seen. These occasional sightings are also likely to be away from those parts most favoured by cattle - even when those same parts were previously favoured by deer themselves. Typically it would be in dense bracken or less accessible woodland for example. That's not to say they don't use those places when there are no cattle around. Every statement and every observation needs to be qualified to an extent. For example numbers and frequency of people on site also affect where they choose to graze and browse and lie down. But it's hard to escape the conclusion that there has been an observable difference in at least this one aspect of deer behaviour when cattle are on Blacka.

Things may change. It will be easier to come to more confident conclusions when late summer and autumn have come and gone. Those were good times last year, for seeing deer in the early mornings and rutting behaviour was a feature.

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Some odd technical issues with this blog at the moment. Hmmm.


You could be forgiven for getting a little confused. There is New Whitelow Farm; there is Whitelow Farm; and there is Whitelow. It is the last of these that, according to the names on the map, sits at the top of, appropriately, Whitelow Lane. It is well worth a look though not likely to attract those who enjoy browsing around country houses or even the smaller establishments in the 'open gardens' scheme. A haulage business of some kind would seem to be in operation and there is also a repository for quite a collection of oldish caravans. The outbuildings, some at least, look derelict and the house itself is of the kind described by estate agents as an opportunity for those looking for a project.

Still, as can be seen, there is the inevitable satellite dish. Adding to the appeal is an area at the back just visible from Hathersage Road that could be mistaken for the local landfill site.

On the other, Blacka, side of Whitelow Lane is a field which this year is occupied by a motley collection of cattle including calves and at least one bull.
Near a fence alongside Blacka is a pile of rubble that has been steadily growing over recent months.

It's to be assumed that the field, the cattle, the rubble and the house are related; they certainly have the air of going together. To that it's tempting to add another huge and growing pile near the junction of Sheephill and Hathersage Roads - possibly the largest manure heap I've yet seen; but that may be another farmer's responsibility.

That can be seen now quite easily from the furthest corners of Blacka and bids to become an attraction to rival Lincoln Cathedral and the West Burton Power Station. The cattle in the field mentioned have been busy: A stream that crosses into Blacka goes through a wire fence and the area on the Whitelow side has been heavily trampled. One or more have also developed a new hobby which involves butting down the walled boundary with Blacka.

I'm glad I saw the churned up ground on the other side or I might have been tempted to blame this on resentful mountain bikers annoyed at being kept out of this part of the site. In fact there was no sign of bike tracks here at all - testament to the effectiveness,so far, of the sturdier barrier erected after the woven effort had been destroyed.