Saturday, 31 December 2011

Bleak Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Wise Thoughts

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

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011


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

Corporate Tree

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

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

More Awareness

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Leap

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

Sunday, 18 December 2011


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

Friday, 16 December 2011


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

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


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


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

In Progress

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

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

Monday, 12 December 2011

New Dawn

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

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

Even so we certainly know they've been here.

Awareness Raising

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Stimulating Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 8 December 2011


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

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

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Blazing Woods

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

Walking Lessons

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 December 2011

Laid Low

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Hard Times

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 December 2011


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

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