Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Cullers are Coming Oho!

Our countryside is the most unnatural possible but for some it can't be unnatural enough. Having eradicated most forms of wildlife on the grounds that it's a threat to our potential for making more money or compromises our pet indulgencies we must remain focused on killing it off - if it ever re-appears. We make an exception for a few species of little birds that we can just about live with: they're alright if they only eat peanuts.

Every so often some group or another wants to cull an animal (it's often a mammal) that has succeeded  in surviving against the odds in part of our over managed lansdscape. There's a constant culling agenda never far beneath the surface of our countryside lovers and guardians. Badgers, then deer, then wild boar, then 'giant' foxes, all of them either a threat to humans or an opportunity for those with a gun licence to get some sport. Now it's the turn of the beavers in Scotland. Resourcefully they are making a go of re-establishing themselves. But not if the anglers get their way.

Slow Walk

The old track going up from Totley extends on from Strawberry Lee Lane which itself branches from Penny Lane which in turn comes out of Hillfoot Lane the narrow road joining Dore and Totley. The track runs on through Blacka from the small car park at the end of Strawberry Lee Lane but at this point it has no official name. At times individuals have thought to name it the Monks Track for the use made of it by Beauchief Abbey in the distant past. I more pedantically suggested the White Canons Track seeing as the abbey was founded by white canons of the Premonstatensian Order.

This stretch I think of as Slow Walk mainly because of the gradient. It may simply be old legs and old lungs but it's always steeper than I expect. The advantage of this name is that later on in the year it can be transformed just slightly after the Blackthorn flowers, now attractively decorating it, are gone. They are finally replaced by Sloe berries first green then blue, rumoured to be a favourite with the gin drinkers of Dore, who are said to use them for flavouring their late afternoon tipple.

Friday, 30 March 2012


The South West Community Assembly last night heard a re-run of my question about Sheffield Moors Partnership. Once again I asked about money. The gist of it is that I want to know what the respective partners believe they will be getting in any windfall of public funds on the public land they manage and/or lease.

Now that seems to be an essential component of any well informed debate on the future of the Sheffield Moors. We all know that this Master Planning process is setting up the situation for a sell off and that Stanage and the North Lees estate are already being considered as well by PDNPA (see Friends of the Peak's latest Peakland Guardian).

All is being driven by the conservation organisations not by the public and not by Sheffield City Council, although officers from SCC seem to find an open door into jobs at NT, and Kier so that should be borne in mind when deciding if they have the public's interests truly at heart.

I've not had an answer yet and if I ever do I'm doubtful it will be complete or in the form that I would choose. Openness is not what they do best.

There's a list of headings for income building up here:

HLS grants
Single Farm grants
HLF Landscape Wide Scheme
Nature Improvement Areas grants
Single projects funded through the Forestry Commission.
Other schemes derived from slush money from polluting industries.
Pension money extorted extracted from little old ladies (and l.o. men) on the doorstep when told they are helping to fund cuddly wildlife projects.
Ditto as they go into the supermarket.

Decisions about any of these should be scored out of ten for transparency and public accountability. Anyone finding one that scores over three let me know.

Children Need Some Wildness

Children love wilder places where they can get away from grown ups. Much of my childhood was spent among trees and secret havens where no grown up was ever seen. Children were different to adults. Now we have people who only start to become children after they've reached physical maturity. To me part of the definition of a child was one who was free in a way that adults were not. Obviously not totally free. But the school holidays had many hours in the day when no parent ever knew where I was.

The report written for the National Trust and published today is widely quoted in the media, for example here and here.  It is stating what some of us have for long known and been horrified by. Those who grow up differently are almost in effect different species and with different values - an avoidable generation gap. It's easy to put the blame on one or other of the trends of the last 50 years. But as late as the 70s and 80s children between 9 and 11 were spending summer evenings in the wilder parts of their neighbourhoods. Parents will not go back to being less protective without some help from authority that limits other kinds of freedom (or, I might have said, indulgence). Despite a considerable number of green spaces all reachable from home parents understandably won't release their young onto streets where fast moving through traffic is the dominant feature.

But what can the National Trust do? My experience is that children are not keen on grouse moors of which there are several nearby. But give them some freedom in a wilder place like Blacka and they relish it. So why doesn't the local National Trust put some adventure and some excitement into their grouse moors and allow them to be more natural with trees and a landscape and wildlife that thrills?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Website Management

Sheffield Moors Partnership has a splendid website. It looks truly spiffing having been designed by a group called Vertebrate Graphics. A few things to say about it. First it ticks the right corporate targets, looking smart and classy being the number one priority. The photos are high quality and chosen with immense care. Each statement has been pored over many times for conveying just the right message. It demonstrates the value of good public relations and probably cost a bomb.

But what can we say about its content? After all style and presentation may be awe inspiring but shouldn't we judge on what you say and do? Take an example: There is a Contact page but no interactive discussion board. So you might write something in the contact comment box such as, for example, that SMP is a magnificent idea that deserves to succeed, but there's no facility for someone to read that and, being curmudgeonly, beg to disagree explaining reasons. Now this kind of message board is commonplace these days on a huge number of internet sites; it allows for a decent reasonable debate, a sharing of ideas and a chance to explain why individuals and groups hold certain views. This is also, I'm reliably informed,  inexpensive. So when I wrote in the comment box that I was disappointed by this lack of interconnectivity (is this right?) and a reply from Rita the project manager came back saying it would cost too much I was a bit sceptical. (What? Sceptical? Me?)

The history to this is thus: after my comment at the SW Community Assembly meeting when SMP gave its first presentation, I was contacted by the Kier officer David Howarth who wanted me to meet with him and Roy Taylor of RSPB. What kind of consultation did I wish to see? So I told them. They were definitely most impressed because they and the other SMPers decided to do pretty well exactly the opposite of what I asked for. I had asked for no post it notes, for an open general public conversation encouraging the public to discuss their ideas unconstrained by conservation industry obsessions, for a maximum of open discussion before moving to the next phase. And I had asked for a website with message/discussion board.

After a Freedom of Information request to Sheffield City Council I received the minutes of the SMP Steering Group meeting of the 2nd November. Along with this was a message from The SCC officer Chris Heeley saying that all minutes of Steering Group meetings would be put on the SMP website. Two months later none had appeared. I asked about it and was told they were just about to go up. What then happened was that the November meeting's minutes were put on the website. But I already had them and the ones I wanted to see were those for December (4 months back) and January. No answer. Looking again today I can't even find November's minutes. This defines transparency in the conservation industry.


Much feeding going on and necessary. While the stags are anxious to find enough nutrition to build themselves new headgear, in another part of the moor hinds need to keep up their strength for other reasons. Anyway the present warmth suggests that both male and female could benefit from a change of coats, though one or two of the hinds still manage to look fairly sleek.


The last antler of the group of stags fell two days ago. It can still be seen in place in the picture below
Today the four larger stags were seen as if unmanned but sticking together to share their misfortune. Rivalry was exhibited with the occasional two legged sparring bout. The attitude to passers by was more truculence: "Just don't think I'm a pushover."

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

How Natural?

The managers would prefer not to use the word at all. But there has to be a continuum between that which is gardened or farmed and land where nature is allowed to go its own way. Is it more or less natural? That there can ever have arisen any doubt as to the value and superiority of nature's self determination must be down to the assiduous efforts of the controllers, the interventionists, the seekers after grants and subsidies. They will get their chance again this year when they bring along their cattle to destroy the character of the moor. Vandalism takes many forms.

Recent years have proved that the early months of the year have special qualities on Blacka and give us our best chance to see deer, sometimes in larger groups . This morning's hour around sunrise was worth getting out of bed for.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Dragging Out

'Why' is a word that keeps coming to mind. The latest is prompted by this scene.

The work to remove the power lines and the poles started in November.
It may be safe to assume the appearance of these poles in the car park signals the end of the job. But don't hold your breath. It could be just the beginning of the end.
So why has it taken so long? The bulk of the work was done in weeks. But then various bits of clutter and several poles were left around the site. Every so often the contractors reappeared usually with at least three vans and multiple personnel.

Surely there's some job satisfaction to be got from starting a task and getting on with it until you've finished then looking back and saying that it looks better. But not this way of doing it, dragging it out for months.

Sheffield Wildlife Trust, or their 'contracts' arm (laughably called Wildscapes) have been up to the same game in the woods with rhododendron clearing. It was started before Christmas and piles of branches still remain spoiling the appearance.


He may have been prepared to sing for anyone walking across the moor at that time in the morning.

But it's a comforting fiction to fancy you've been singled out as a reward for all the scraps he's had from your hand through the winter.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Mist 'n Haze

Not my thing to walk a grouse moor on a clear sunny day when all there is worth looking at is the distant view if you’re lucky enough to have one. And those distant views that are attractive may not always be there. If politicians have their way they may be more housing estates and more power stations and more polytunnels and the eyesore of oil seed rape. In the Peak District it’s as likely to be quarries and the roads and traffic that serve them. So much for the advantages of the ‘open landscapes’ that moorland apologists are given to praise. Because there’s precious little close at hand to feast the eyes on unless you like the synthetic nature of miles of heather vegetation* – as inspiring and romantic as a field of broccoli.

There’s more visual pleasure to be had from a misty morning on Blacka with always half-expecting to come across something surprising just out of range. And trees adding perspective and character. Unlike Burbage, Blacka always gives you something to explore and some expectation of a new experience. This morning, following a deer track, we came upon a part of the moor where they had spent a lot of time. The old bracken was well flattened and here and there scraped away. It was a perfect hideaway. And in summer with the bracken tall an ideal place to raise young.

The afternoon was still and pleasant but the mist had given way to a soft haze once again insisting that all secrets would not be easily surrendered.

* Perfectly described by Mark Fisher's acronym M.A.M.B.A.  - Mile After Mile of Bugger All.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Bog Off

How important are blanket bogs? Depends on who you are it seems.

The conservation industry is engaged in a constant search for more and more ways of justifying its role in managing every aspect of our countryside. The more things that they can come up with that are ‘vital’ or ‘endangered’ or close to extinction, or playing a key role in our cultural heritage, or of prime conservation importance, the more evidence they can provide for their jobs being secured for life. And the more power they can wield over the landscape and the more bureaucracy that ensues.

Moors for the Future is an example. Why on earth anyone would want to keep utterly boring grotesquely artificial treeless grouse moor landscapes looking exactly the same for another 500 years, when there are much better alternatives, would be inexplicable to most people. But when they explain to us that there is a crucial environmental reason for doing so then we’re all supposed to fall in line and accept it. Blanket bogs provide just one of these alleged crucial environmental reasons for keeping this landscape frozen in time and tedium and we are expected to believe this. And many of us do because we’re trusting of the so called science which we have no way of evaluating without spending years sceptically examining it. So we fall back on our instinctive acceptance of anything ‘scientific’ which dovetails well with a similar instinctive approval of anything to do with ‘nature’ or wildlife that supposed experts in the field tell us.

Blanket Bogs are supposed to be a major weapon in the war against climate change. Well who could possibly argue against that? All right-thinking folk want to do their best for the planet don’t we? Well it’s Natural England that tells us this and they will always find the scientists to back this up. But if it were not so we can be sure that they would have another reason for managing that feature of moorland in the same way, some kind of vegetation or species of this or that with varying levels of preciousness. They will always find a reason for managing. It is what bureaucracies do. And they do it pretty well. They are persuasive – but mainly because we don’t understand the arguments. We rely on the ‘experts’. And experts are always right are they not? Of course.

So the moors must be maintained as they are now in their artificial state in perpetuity, managed by the conservation industry and paid for by the public because of the prime environmental, wildlife and cultural importance in the form of Higher level Stewardship and landscape wide grant schemes from the Lottery etcetera. And there’s no way that we should leave the moors to nature – nature just doesn’t know how to get things right. They must stay as they are.

Unless of course there’s money and influence at work somewhere that effectively trumps these principles. The shooting industry for instance can damage blanket bogs. They can do what they want on the moors. But nature is another thing. Trees growing on grouse moors cannot be allowed to happen. Nature and wildlife are all very well in odd places but the moors must be protected from nature taking over. Blanket bogs are a perfect illustration. We must protect them. Unless the grouse shooting industry can show that they can make more money by burning them. And N.E. goes along with it.

And they wonder why I call them Unnatural England.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Material and Spiritual

Thirty three miles away power stations were working hard to satisfy humanity's voracious appetite for energy and material need.

You would need to travel another ten or so miles eastwards to satisfy spiritual needs.

Nourishment of the spirit is available close at hand in a relationship with wilder natural surroundings. If only those with the power to do something about it had the imagination and understanding needed they would see that a great resource is within grasp here with a large area of public land. Nature unexploited, serving nobody's agenda across all this moorland would indeed be a spiritual treasure.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Out of Step (2)

It's worth thinking more about the deer and their appeal to those visiting Blacka and also about the attitude of the conservation managers. The Eastern Moors Partnership's management said they were intending to produce a management strategy for the deer. it was mentioned in a small easily missed corner of their Draft Management Plan. The final version of that document and the report back from the consulation have not materialised as yet.

Management is what these people are all about so it's hardly likely they will not wish to intervene. Much of the appeal of the deer to local people is that they are free and unfetterred and not part of anyone's agenda. In fact that until recent years was the appeal of most of Blacka itself. It may be common for people to describe deer as 'wild' animals even when they are kept on a farm and therefore nothing of the kind. Those in Bushey Park London are described in notices as 'wild animals'. But this is only comparative to sheep and cows and pet rabbits. They simply mean it's harder to get them to do what they want because they're unpredictable. But there are places where red deer are so used to humans that they stand very close - maybe they've been fed in the past. It would be very unfortunate if that happened to these animals. They should remain timid and free, wild and capricious. The idea that they could become simply a more acceptable substitute for cows and sheep very depressing indeed. Blacka Moor should never completely lose those remaining elements of wildness that it still has.

But I fear the dead and dull hand of unimaginative conservation ideology.
"All must be controlled. We are in charge."

"And what would we do without those grants that encourage us to keep the land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition?"

Now that's something they were very careful not to tell us about years ago when we were complaining that putting cattle on the moor would make it more like farmland. At the time they were already a couple of years into their Countryside Stewardship Agreement which stipulates just that. Never trust a Trust?

Out of Step

With sap rising and birds singing all around the stags are out of step with the spirit of the seasons. They are at their lowest ebb in March. Antler drop and moulting are round the corner if not already started. So we’re as likely to come across them simply standing, partly hidden, on the edge of the woods. Yet the contrast in the trees above could not have been greater as the resident birds welcomed the early morning sun led by mistle thrush and robin.

Something of the morning-after about them: Just walk quietly and don’t tread on any twigs
– and pass the pills.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


As in previous years the month of March for the local deer seems to be a time of minimum activity. The two stags on the edge of the woods did not move at all as they watched us go slowly past in early morning drizzle.

The beast partly hidden had the bigger crown and showed no inclination to change his position to pose for a picture.

Antlers start to fall any time now and there may be some hormonal change going on that also affects behaviour.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Threat to Managers

The spread of wild beavers in Scotland has been an issue of some concern for that sub-species of humanity the Managing Class, mostly farmers, gamekeepers and conservation managers. Simply they do not like anything to happen that is outside their control. And mammals are their prime target. Though certain birds are also regularly targeted – birds of prey and corvines. Deer are regularly cited as being a threat, foxes have always been given a bad name, badgers are condemned for supposedly being responsible for spreading disease and the list goes on. The fact is that they want to be always in control.

The situation was rather neatly put in a recent edition of Private Eye:

“Claiming to be dedicated to wildlife conservation is a constant refrain of farmer groups. In truth not many farmers are interested in bio-diversity unless the result can be put to flight by a dog and shot.”

The same can obviously be said of gamekeepers and The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and there is more than a little cross-fertilisation of positions into the conservation charities.

The beavers have now been reprieved by Scottish Natural Heritage the equivalent of N.E. Various vested interests are predictably annoyed because some of their fishing and angling activities may suffer. But wildlife brings its own rewards and as for economic impact could the anglers not put aside their rods and watch the genuine wildlife. The same is true of wild red deer around Blacka and Bigmoor. The managers do not know how to leave well alone. A few years ago they were still of the opinion that the deer were something of a threat so their itchy fingers would not prevent them shooting several of them.

In southern England there are now wild boar roaming in some parts and again there are calls for them to be controlled. Wild boar on Blacka would be interesting. Their scratching and digging would be likely to have an impact on the bracken areas. The original justification made for bringing cattle onto Blacka was that they would control bracken. That has not proved to be the case. It is the wild deer that spend time in the bracken and in places you can see their impact especially their tracks through the bracken. The only times I have seen cattle in bracken have been when they have followed routes created by deer. All goes to indicate that in land that has started to return to a more wild state wild animals are better suited than domestic ones.


Following on from the previous post. The approach of the conservation organisations including Sheffield Wildlife Trust has always been observable to those of us who have tried to engage in discussions on how to manage places like Blacka. It is that they are the designated landowners, public land or not, and that in all essentials they must be allowed to make the vital decisions. And on from there the assumption is that they don't have to keep people informed because many decisions are matters of policy and practice within their operations. Up to a point if you were living in the world of forty years ago, just conceivably there might have been something in this but for the fact that it is public land and that it is used by the public every day and that there was always an issue from the start about the handing over from SCC to SWT an organisation not required to be transparent and accountable as local authorities must. Also SCC itself had appeared to respond to public reservations by pointing to arrangements for consultation. Additionally there is now a catalogue of sundry misleading statements coming from all of the conservation industry players and SCC itself leading to a presumption of the need to view any statement with scepticism.

Consequently those attempting to hold the wildlife trust to account must be justified in pressing harder for genuine scrutiny of each decision and each item of work done or not done.

I’m now more than ever convinced that there is a coordinated attempt to consult with less and less discussion and debate.
Informed discussion is a pre requisite of democratic processes and those who try to evade their responsibility to provide it are almost certainly trying to pull a fast one.

It could be argued that it’s all of a piece with the general brainwashing of the population that we’ve seen in recent years on countryside matters. All the cultural landscapes and managed land stuff that has been widely hyped on farming and countryside programmes is part of it as has been the overwhelming number of news and magaziney pieces on television originating in press releases from the conservation industry and recycled by lazy journalism

The claim is that the process should be designed around those people who so lack confidence that they are afraid to engage in discussion. For their benefit, they claim, the whole process must be totally reshaped and the traditional meeting style in which people gather round to discuss and debate key issues must be abandoned.

Why is it so important for them - the consultation managers? Is there any real evidence that there are people attending consultation meetings who are teeming with good and relevant things to say but not nearly enough confidence to speak up?

Some of us can remember having to nerve ourselves in the past but have since worked hard to develop a thicker hide. Are we now to be marginalised because of the new process? This is managers at work again controlling the responses. They hate answering for their sins and will do anything at all to avoid discussion and accounting for their poliies and practices. The process consists of a 'workshop' style in which the managers tell people to write down their thoughts on post-it notes. Most of the time is spent on this and the rest of the time on the manager explaining the process. The clever manager will ensure that anything unwelcome is at least balanced by what they want to hear when they collate the information later. And the greatest advantage for them is that it limits the debate and discussion of things they would prefer not to talk about.They have of course worked out that those lacking confidence are also more likely to be those who will fall for their trickery and be more easily managed.

They really are very calculating. I find myself admiring them more (but only in the way you admire a ruthless and successful villain) and liking them even less

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Fair Tactics ?

Sometimes they tell you things they don’t believe themselves, a practice which has a name I’ve temporarily forgotten. Other times they repeat something they’ve heard so many times from dubious colleagues that they actually believe it themselves. Now chaps I say is that British?

An example on Monday evening from a Blacka Moor meeting.

I’m becoming something of an expert at identifying phoney consultation tactics. In this case I had complained, yet again, of post-it note consultations. Why not simply discuss things, I innocently enquire. They (there’s more than one of them) come back in the now tired and predictable way feigning compassion for the weak in society “Yes but some people are not confident and don’t like speaking up among other people.”

They are saying what they would like to believe because it’s convenient for themselves. They hate scrutiny and hate being asked to answer for their own actions and statements.

As I say, I’ve heard it before. It’s usually trotted out by those who themselves burble on with mountains of management babble swamping other people’s attempts to get an intelligent discussion going. They have no shame. They just don’t want to submit their nonsense to scrutiny. And cultivating the meek and uncritical is part of a strategy to marginalise the well-informed whom they identify as a threat to them. As I’ve been told recently from an insider, there are dark forces at work in the conservation industry and it’s not helped by the fact that the mass of the general public have given them an easy passage over recent years under the impression that anything claiming to be a wildlife charity must be inherently saintly.

Unfortunately anything that gets accepted uncritically and without scrutiny becomes a splendid habitat for the cowboys and tricksters in society. As we know he must be above reproach because he is a priest, a policeman, a banker,.....or a conservationist?

Responding to this evasive tactic needs equal cunning without descending to the same level. What about purchasing a bulk order of post-it notes, filling them all in and sending them off. Postage expenses? Must be possible to do this electronically.

"Outside The Box"

Being a lover of exasperating management jargon I once copied this down from somewhere:

The elephant in the room may be fully occupied going forward to push the envelope outside the box. But would it at the same time, be able to obtain closure draw a line under it and move on?

It came to mind when thinking about the Sheffield Moors Partnership's consultation sessions (sorry “Capturing Your Ideas” sessions). The 'boxes' in which post it note comments are to be placed are labelled in the sort of way that encourages “inside the box thinking”. This is a valuable management tool that gives a feeling of security to those planning the consultation. We can’t have too many people getting the idea that creative thinking is allowed. This is also behind one of the chosen themes, that of Sustainable Land Management. That word ‘sustainable’ is just so useful for managers.

Below two of the comments on post it notes appended to this theme:

1 ‘Sustainable Land Management’ as a title seems to be an effort to control the responses along desired ways. Definitions of ‘sustainable’ are not consistent. And it is notoriously used to confuse people who are never sure how it’s going to be interpreted by ‘the management’.
Why not just Landscape Character ?
Or simply Landscape?
Or Landscape and Wildlife?

2 Does sustainable mean ........
a) only what you can get farming subsidies for?
b) what Natural England says you’ve got to do?
c) whatever the conservation industry’s current definition amounts to?
d) whatever the managers want it to mean?

Monday, 12 March 2012

White Arc

Always visual pleasures on temperature inversion mornings.

The White Arc is not often seen but probably because most people don't come out into the hills when they've seen thick mist through their windows.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Out Early

A Sunday that promises sunny weather brings out every vehicle into the Peak District. From 8.30 on the roads were enough to persuade you to stay at home. Cars, motor bikes, road cyclists and mountain bikers were also out in force, some of the MTBers being disgorged from vans. Joggers also, another regular Sunday activity.

6.30, though, was the time to be out watching the sun come up. Song thrushes were in good voice with plenty of mimickry mixed in with the phrases. Mistles were heard later on as were the smaller birds. Something had told me the hinds might be around and ten of them were in a favourite place, accompanied as they often are by a single hanger-on, a young stag.

They were braving a strong cooling wind from the north west. Herd behaviour in hinds is not quite the same as with stags but there is some bossiness as the bigger hinds assert seniority.

The stags were over in the shelter of the woodland edges with more awareness of their comfort. They will stand for lengthy periods allowing the sun to penetrate their coats now looking the worse for wear.

As we approached the bird feeding station 2 hours later my whistling brought not just the robins, chaffinches, assorted tits and blackbird. A curlew flew over making entreating calls. I can manage a few seeds but there are limits.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Making Reality Fit The Ideology

There’s evidence at various points that SWT’s occasional forays into the woodland of Blacka are leaving their ideological mark. It shows itself in the form of tree stumps and tidy piles of chain sawn timber. They want us to know they have been here. Ideology is a theory or set of beliefs. It can be something you genuinely believe in or it can be something you persuade yourself to believe in because it justifies what serves your own interests best.
Sheffield Wildlife Trust, like other self serving UK conservation charities subscribes to the ideology that the most significant thing about Britain is that it is all a managed landscape and must evermore continue to be so. In this they are supported and encouraged by the largely unreachable and unscrutinised Natural England which has its headquarters up in the clouds somewhere not far from Paradise (that’s Paradise Square Sheffield – actually in the Cathedral Close).
The trick for promoting this ideology is to find anywhere that is not predominantly managed – or has broken the rules and gone against the orders to become natural or somewhat wild – and bring it to heel as you would an errant pet. But it’s not enough just to do this. You must draw attention to your actions and consolidate the ideology by making reality fit the ideology. You can then go on reminding yourself of the ‘truth’ of this ideology and try to forget that you’ve actually made it all up. That’s what happens when they thin out the trees on Bole Hill.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Divine Right

Further to the previous post on consultations and the attitude of certain managers to the public, I'm grateful to a colleague for sending me another example of the attitude of some of these public servants who have lost their sense of what's appropriate. We've long guessed that the conservation industry goes in for sundry closed meetings and communications at which tactics in dealing with the public are discussed.

Confirmation here from an email discussion group dating back to the time we were trying to establish our opposition to the plans to put cattle on the moor. This comment comes from one with Olympian arrogance employed by the National Trust.

"I think the important technique is to divide and conquer the opposition - do not let their campaign get too much momentum, and use every member of the community who can diminish the opposition to the scheme"

Were these people born to rule?

That more or less summarises the tactics that were employed by English Nature/Natural England and Sheffield Wildlife Trust from then on. Do not underestimate them. They will do anything to stay in control.

Controlled Consulting

It is well understood by organisations setting about conducting a consultation with the public, that they really must keep everything under close control. There are ways of making it as difficult as possible for consultees who might introduce undesirable elements into the process - such as taking the discussions into areas where the managers don't want to go. Nobody these days would dream of starting with a blank sheet even though this is the fairest and most honest way of conducting a consultation - it would hand over the power to direct the process just where the organisers want it to go. As I say this is well understood. Those of us who are veterans of past consultations can remember the different form that these have taken. And the professional faciltators who run these sessions may be aware of many models with varying advantages but they are paid by those who wish for a certain desired result. Some consultations I've been involved with have been more obviously controlled and restricted than others. One or two can even claim to have been good and fair. There have even been those that start with a more or less blank sheet and take their direction from the responses. That may now be a rare phenomenon.

The Icarus Consultation on Blacka in 2006 was an interesting example of the genre. Aspects of it were good, others very disturbing. The best thing about it was that it started with the people attending giving their own views without constraint and went on from there.

I've noticed that more recent consultations have learned a lesson from this. They don't like giving the people too much freedom; it's not good for their own agenda. For example at the Blacka consultation the conservationists obviously thought they
would have no trouble manipulating things towards their preferred agenda but were badly caught out when they discovered that we had a credible and wholly coherent alternative to their own plans. We didn't know it at the time but the conservationists had already signed agreements and received funds on the basis of their own agenda. This was so stressful for them that one of their number actually threw a tantrum and made offensive remarks which I personally found very embarrassing. For a public official employed by Natural England to do this was not what I expected. Another officer employed by Peak National Park became similarly upset saying "Didn't we realise that people had worked very hard at these plans ?" It had not occurred to her that hard work does not guarantee good results though it may feel like that at the time. It was doubtless hard work to build concentration camps but I don't want to pursue an analogy with barbed wire.

Neither do I wish to show sympathy with these people. They just don't deserve it. Their true colours were exposed later on when they made disgraceful accusations amounting to defamation which I would like to hope will trouble their consciences for many years.

Anyway the MasterPlanning Race has now got a website up and running with a timetable of their campaign to enforce their will upon the local hillsides. I reproduce Stage 2 below of the timetable. The elements have been very carefully chosen so that it all looks proper. But look carefully and say just where there is any element of discussion or exchange of views before the MASTER PLAN is produced. Did you spot it? No, nor me. We all know of course that any discussion after the Draft Master Plan is most unlikely to lead to significant changes. Once a glossy brochure is launched the public is deemed to be suitably cowed. Now that was one feature of the 2006 Icarus sessions. Things could be taken away from the management's preferred agenda. Here it's most unlikely. In fact I would say improbable.

Stage 2 – Develop a draft masterplan with stakeholder input (Timescale: Jan-June 2012)

•Engage with stakeholders to ascertain their views and aspirations for the SMP area through 3-4 workshops in Sheffield and the North Derbyshire area
•Compile and analyse the information gathered, and provide a feedback session on the stakeholder input collated to check the key information and aspirations have been properly gathered
•Take the outcomes of the above forward to inform the production of an initial draft masterplan
•Produce the draft masterplan proposal and associated maps for wider community consultation


Antler fall has begun and the year moves on into another stage. There's also an increase in bird song. Thrushes the last day or two have been evenly divided between song and mistle. The leader of the herd running up the hill must be one of the proud stags showing splendid headgear on 23rd February.

In today's group the antlers sported were all of modest proportions or belonging to much younger stags.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Set Aside

So when the EU insisted some years ago that farmers should leave areas of their land as ‘Set-Aside’ it was hailed as being good for wildlife and the environment and the farmers were awarded their farm grants.

It had been the intensive farming over previous decades that had led to the decline in wildlife so farmers were being rewarded with a bribe to do less farming.

Now in the Humpty Dumpty world of the conservation industry wildlife trusts and RSPB etc are working hard to get land that should not be farmland designated as agricultural land to get the very grants that were originally intended to woo farmers away from farming all their land. It’s all about money, folks; and being in control etc.

So land that should never have been anything but 'set aside' from farming is now farmland just to keep conservation managers in jobs.

Upside Down?


The irony is that you set out to go for pleasant country walks hoping to enjoy unconfined wildlife in order to escape the scheming, the machinations and the skulduggery that so often goes with aspects of human affairs; and what do you find? Deception, fraudulent claims, spin and skulduggery; and you meet the kind of people who can live with it and even promote more of it. Not difficult to understand why you don’t see them spending much time out on the land themselves apart from in the line of duty: they know you can’t come here to escape the kind of racket they go in for themselves.

What brings on these thoughts? Simply the accumulating evidence that the conservation industry is hell-bent on deceiving the public into thinking that they (the public) are being consulted on the future of the Sheffield Moors. In reality they’ve already decided what they intend to do and have calculated how much they will get out of it. The present series of meetings run by the Sheffield Moors Partnership is a stitch-up and nobody seriously believes otherwise including, I guess, those who are planning them (particularly them). The admission that funding provides a significant motivation was hardly avoidable. It was put in terms of scale – a larger area would be able to attract more money than several smaller sites. But we know that there is very little if any public involvement in these decisions and that the larger the unit the less say the people will get. It was always true. And for us on Blacka that will distance us once again from the important point of decision and give Sheffield Wildlife Trust an extended comfort zone to shrug off criticism and accountability.


Scandals surface periodically around the subject of Common Agriculture Policy and Farm Subsidy arrangements. Monday’s Panorama programme on BBC1 concentrated mostly on the purchase of entitlements, the way anyone can claim to be a farmer and the fact that immensely wealthy people get huge annual payments by doing very little apart from sitting on their assets (!!)

Other serious concerns relate to lack of transparency and lack of accountability. Who gets what of our money? Who checks up on them and whether they do what they say? etcetera

Relevance to Blacka Moor and the Sheffield Moors starts with the consultations going on in 2005/2006, when there was considerable coyness from the managers about whether Blacka would be designated as farmland once they put cattle on the land.. It’s necessary to recall that many of us outside the industry, including elected representatives, were very ignorant in those days both of the farm payments system and the way the conservation industry works. The subject of farm payments was raised at a meeting called to consider whether cattle should be brought onto the land, and after some minimal discussion I can safely say that those not in the industry were left very much in the dark. Now, seven years later we know that the farm subsidies and agri-environment schemes were a major factor in decisions made – decisions that have left us with an ongoing reduction in the appeal of this area of countryside, with what is natural and more natural being marginalised in favour of what is managed – and managed means farmed and exploited.


Monday, 5 March 2012


Tesco's empire building is visible along the A621 Abbeydale/Baslow Road and similar things are happening along the A625 Ecclesall Road. Stages along the route towards Totley have a Tesco convenience store or a Giant Superstore or there's a planning application awaiting approval. Where will it stop? Meanwhile on the A625 a planning application is in at Parkhead for a Tesco store, a new Sainsbury's will shortly open before Hunters Bar and a new one is to be built at Banner Cross. Empire Building is what such businesses go in for.

I can remember the start of it - the time when government and various others of the great and the good started to address charities asking them to organise themselves like businesses. That's just what they have now become. RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust are serious businesses with the added attractiveness of impenetrably bureaucratic management and administration. And they are bent on land acquisition to expand their empires. Co-operating within SMP is logical in preparing the field for a big sell off (or rather give-away). And there is enough new land coming available for each of the partners to get a share. And a share of the land means a share of the agri-environment money and a certain route to extra funds from N.E. and H.L.F.
Another parallel with the High Street is the uniformity we see and lack of diversity with all centres looking like all the others. And that’s just what grouse moors are like –samey and boring.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Deer and Managers

Further to the content of the last post. I said it would be unthinkable to have no deer on Blacka after ten years or so of looking out for them and sometimes being lucky enough to see them. It would also be unthinkable to have the deer 'managed' in any way by the managers. The whole fascination with the deer is that they are wild and free. Managing them would ruin their appeal. Every time there is any suggestion of controlling them in any way we need to be adamant that the managers should not get their way. They are unrelenting in their quest for command and control and will take any opportunity to pursue their interventionist agenda and spend vast amounts of time devising bamboozling justifications - all at public expense. Remember that the Eastern Moors Partnership's draft management plan claimed that they would be managing the deer and that the National Trust officer responsible at that time was boasting about management and talking about selling the venison in their shop. One thing leads to another. They talk about wildlife but have no understanding of the beauty and appeal of genuinely free and wild creatures. Managers will always find an excuse for management and especially if they can get some grant or subsidy for doing it. For them leaving a place to be itself is simply not an option.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Right ....?

We don’t see deer every day. As shy creatures they often favour those parts less frequently visited. So it may be only once in 5 days or more averaged over the year. And many times we’ve had to wait several weeks, all the time wondering if something had happened to them. But it’s now got to the point where Blacka is unthinkable without them and the knowledge that the place is truly theirs not ours. It comes down to them looking right in the landscape.

Wild animals living unmanaged with the elements, completely changes the perspective of the place. It is no longer our place in the same way. They have earned a right to be considered the authentic owners by reason of their continued occupation, night and day. They also remind us they are only the largest and most visible of the wild inhabitants. Blacka belongs to them, not to the ramblers, bikers, dog walkers, twitchers and certainly not to the managers whose true habitats are the office desk and the awayday meetings.

It’s a week since I saw 9 stags here and much longer, more than a month from the last sighting of hinds. This morning 7 hinds were browsing to the south of Cowsick. The sight was profoundly beautiful and satisfying, demonstrating that it is possible to show a world with minimal human intervention where natural animals inhabit a landscape that looks absolutely right for them. A year ago this was a regular haunt but who’s to say one year must be like another with wandering free-spirited wildlife?

The hinds characteristically looking down on us from the brow of the hill is another precious moment confirming again their status as holders of the land. Later looking back we could just make out their shapes as they relaxed lying down in the leggy heather. Can anyone doubt their value in adding beauty to the place?

The real question, though, is why the place should have to submit to farming with cattle with the resulting mess and squalor, when deer browse here? The gentle effect of the deer on this land leaves it looking much, much more interesting and natural than the industrial scale mindless chomping of cows.

Am I right? Or am I right?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

First Flowers

Coltsfoot is usually the first wild flower to make an impression. Here it is, away from the serious nature reserve stuff getting on very well in land adjoining the car park amid the litter. It wins no prizes but has more luck than the flowers that try to survive in the nature reserve. Bog Asphodel, for example, received no respect from the managers of the wildlife trust. It was they who were responsible for Bog Asphodel being trampled when they imported cattle onto the site, making no arrangements for its protection. So much for agri-environment schemes. It's not as if they had not been warned about it many times.
As for the sheep in the enclosure, still part of the supposed 'nature reserve' and a SSSI and SPA to boot. the woolly mowers systematically demolished every wild flower in sight last year.
All in a good cause of course: the business strength of the conservation organisations funded by C.A.P.