Monday, 30 April 2012

And So Do I

Plenty of weather about in recent days so a good time to dig out Hardy’s poem ‘Weathers’, which, we all remember, starts

This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
And so do I;
When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,
And nestlings fly;

To thoroughly mess up Thos. Hardy’s text: This is the place the pipits like – and so does the cuckoo.

And the cuckoo was out and calling this morning. The female cuckoo is fond of the pipit’s nest for depositing her egg and this pair may not be aware they are very close to one of the best places in the region to see cuckoos. The cuckoo population is now described as declining so it’s interesting that its favoured place around here is just where the old grouse moor has become wilder with plenty of what the managers call scrub: young birch and rowan where I’ve often seen cuckoos. Now this spread of native trees onto boring heather would never have been allowed to happen had the conservation organizations been managing the land years ago. They would have kept it as close to a grouse moor as they could.

So we would not have had the cuckoos.

(But we would have had cowpats and barbed wire much earlier and that would have been so much better wouldn't it?)

Friday, 27 April 2012


After a long dry spell wildlife now is spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a place to drink. This may be a temporary surfeit but as of now up on the hills all routes are under water.

Down below near Short's Lane the stepping stones will need careful negotiating.

Fortunately walkers have an alternative via the footbridge.

Bluebells don't seem enthusiastic.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Economy...

(... and it is stupid.)

One of Sheffield Moors Partnership’s  themes for consultation was Wider Benefits of the Moors and among those they clearly wanted to get some comments coming in on economic benefits, this being good for managers generally. There is benefit to those who work in the conservation economy of course. I’m amused at this insistence that the economy must be served in the Sheffield Moors Area. Don’t we have enough economy everywhere else? Should we not set areas aside free from the economy? This cropped up briefly in the group discussion at Saturday’s SMP meeting. The officer obviously wanted to collect together some responses that confirmed pre-held policies. My response, I could see, was disappointing: It was to the effect that it could indeed be of great economic benefit in a wider sense that people working in the economy nearby, for example in Sheffield, felt the need to escape the economy and needed some relief from it. So what greater benefit than having a place set aside that is free from the pressure to be part of the economy where they could recharge their batteries before returning to the rat race? What good has the economy done to our landscape anyway apart from exploiting it? The farming industry of today is not the farming industry of yesterday or  two centuries ago. There is always something of the museum mentality within the conservation industry but the kind of museum they want is odd – it enables established occupations to keep running but to do so in a modern manner with modern practices. All very well for those who like those modern practices. These might include heavy machinery, hard-nosed profit seeking, barbed wire fencing, livestock treated as units of production and a marginalising of natural beauty in favour of the bottom line.

Much of the problem comes from visions and mission statements. The problem with visions and mission statements is that they get under the skin of minor functionaries who cease to think independently. One of these is the vision of the PDNPA as found in its management plan, which talks of cultural landscapes and working landscapes. How many people were involved in putting it together I have no idea – and even less whether any of them had any common sense. Nor whether there was anyone with ultimate and all seeing powers of wisdom and responsibility who could define its exact terms of enforcement.

Does it mean for instance that every square metre of every land segment must show evidence of being ‘worked’ or of reflecting some cultural relevance? If not where do we abide by the vision and where do we not? What about set aside for instance. And if that was acceptable what about other parts? And the PDNP is not or should not be all the same, in this or any other aspect. Landscape types differ and anyway should continue to evolve. Usually when something like this vision is put together and its woolliness becomes obvious another element quickly muscles in – it’s called self-interest. And it’s those with power who get to minister to their own, usually twisting the guiding principles into what suits them.

Monday, 23 April 2012


In the very unlikely event that anyone should consider turning this blog into a television drama, Maggie Smith should be cast in this role.

Can anyone seriously doubt who is in charge on Blacka Moor?

Not far off a stag relaxes in pipe-and-slipper mode.

The stereotyping carries on when a troublesome adolescent appears unkempt and self conscious.

Friday, 20 April 2012


The afternoon sky threatened April showers but failed to deliver. Still looking up, one thing was delivered, a buzzard.

This could or could not have been the promised rough-legged variety the local birder had suggested might be around. Whatever kind he was he did 'hang' a little bit but went off when no rabbits appeared on the ground. Blacka is not a great place for rabbits.

Pipits, however, are well in evidence.

And two stags had been resting, one with new antlers sprouting and the other still content to sport last year's fashion - the new season's delivery having been delayed.

Looking and Seeing

According to Danny Udall of Eastern Moors Partnership talking about path erosion,
"All users cause erosion both walkers and mountain bikers"

In two years mountain bikes were responsible for turning this - A Fine Path - in 2009, into this - Faller. in 2011.

Apparently, "Mountain bikers do a great job of getting involved in that programme of maintenance making there use sustainable (sic)."

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Land Lobby

Farmers are congratulating themselves that Natural England has decided to scrap its Vital Uplands vision written in 2009 and supposed to extend to 2060. This follows N.E.'s withdrawal from action against the grouse industry’s responsibility for burning peat bogs only last month.

Something of a crisis of confidence in NE which has always seemed to be a hopeless case even alongside other bureaucracies. Is this the work of Environment Secretary Spelman responding to the farming lobby and putting an armlock on the supposed ‘arms length’ agency? The NE vision was intended, in a pretty tame way, to take off some of the pressure on the upland vegetation caused by overgrazing. This is now the second time in a few weeks that the agency has backed off under pressure from the farming and shooting lobbies.

All the more reason for those of us who are asking for less farming and more natural landscapes to make our feelings known when we’re talking about public land. On Saturday The Sheffield Moors Partnership is meeting with the public to feed back from its meetings earlier this year. It’s clear there are some pretty strong views as posted on the SMP website. All the more reason for a proper, genuine and extended public consultation. Not just with a few stakeholders and identified vested interests.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Ever Present

One of the ways the conservation workers love to torment us is through their systematic policy of leaving their mark wherever you go. Just as we think we're enjoying a fairly natural scene on a solitary walk they intrusively thrust their presence at you. It was referred to in the post Leg Cocking, and it's a defining mark also of those  more badly housetrained mountain bikers who cast off energy drink containers beside the paths.

Do we have to have piles of logs left here to remind us that the current fashion is for more and more 'management' of the woodland?

And letting people know about it as if they are in some sort of clumsy educational role. Just as good is the suitable material imported to remind us that this should not be considered a 'natural site' - in this case concrete kerbstones across the bridleway. How could they do that? You will only understand once you have met them.

Then there are the inevitable A4 laminated notices; this one on the gatepost has not been removed since last year and as usual when you read it you see that it is either propaganda or simply untrue.

If you can be bothered you can read that the cattle 'are grazing' the 'heathland' from May to October: well no, it was from June to half way through December.

Like the poor and Christian's burden,  SWT are always with us.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


I could swear that the climb up the bridleway from Shorts Lane to Piper House has got steeper over the years? Or are there other factors involved? The path starts gently enough and even at its steepest it’s hardly mountainous but it's easy to underestimate.

While struggling you can see that casualties have recently fallen on the way. The result of recent weather?

April’s a good time to admire the spirit of climbers taking their chance to reach for the light before the canopy gets dense. Ivy is the evergreen champion but honeysuckle does its bit to drive forward the greening of the woods before the trees take over.

And the flowers still to come.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Stanage and Iconography

I don’t think I’ve used the word ‘iconic’ to describe Blacka Moor on this blog, mainly because the word itself tends to make me nervous. In a letter to the Sheffield Telegraph last week Terry Howard of the Ramblers does use the word iconic more than once to describe Stanage and the North Lees Estate. The word always makes me think of Russian Orthodox priests and their icons. But then………….

Leaving aside the word it’s worth saying that Terry and the Ramblers do a good job in fighting for access rights across the region. They are also right to worry about the policy of hiving off public land and assets to outside groups who might have designs on the land that don’t always correspond with our values.

My perspective is not so much access pure and simple – being allowed to get onto the land unrestricted, important though that is – as what it is that we’re getting access to. The place has to be worth getting to and has to be memorable. If I’m told I can have unlimited access to a field of cabbages I might, in common with Miles Davis, say “So what?”. ( In the interests of inclusiveness I should say I do really like cabbage by the way) But a field full of sheep or cattle that have chewed and nibbled everything has limited appeal to people beyond those who see profit in it; and that goes for grazed moorland too.

North Lees is quite likely to be sold off by the owners, the National Park to whoever makes the best bid. The estate sits below Stanage Edge and few local places can have a more promising setting because the natural looking and imposing rocky edge forms a backdrop to an area where human influence has come from those who occupied the land and therefore looked after it fairly well. And that tradition continues to this day. In that it differs from the featureless moors on the other side of the edge which was owned by those who didn’t live there simply coming up for the grouse shooting season – the worst kind of exploitation, giving rise to the most depressing kind of landscape. Most of North Lees is farm land with some attractive residences, historic associations and a fortunate aspect. One of its biggest advantages is being quiet and self-contained and mainly away from busy roads. It is one of the areas targeted by the Sheffield Moors Partnership for their Master Plan.

Why PDNPA feel they have to sell it off I don’t understand. In hive-off situations there’s usually someone making an argument that the public authority have not made a particularly good job of managing an asset like this, although in this case I don’t know. Bureaucracies can be strangled by regulations at times but if that’s the issue which are the regulations that any incoming manager would be allowed to ignore? This could be the point – that organisations that are not public bodies can be more dynamic and more flexible because they don’t have to conform to rules and procedures that have been devised to safeguard the public. So what exactly are we going to lose? And will those in authority within the public body be frank and open in explaining that? What exactly can another organisation do that the public authority can’t? Because the only precedent here is Sheffield Wildlife Trust and that’s hardly a reason for being enthusiastic about hiving off. Remember that the argument made for that hive-off was the access to funding wildlife trusts had. That proved to be wrong. And the funds that SWT have obtained have not been used for the things that local people would have prioritised

Friday, 13 April 2012

Well he would, wouldn't he......?

According to the Eastern Moors Partnership it’s justified to call the moors wild because it’s ‘a description that most people use of the moorlands.’

That then must make it alright. As managers you simply follow the lead of the ill-informed and ignorant, shrugging off any responsibility to use terms accurately. In fact you encourage them in their mistake; I wonder why they would do that? Very commendable. Where was it they were talking of their educational role?

They also point to the use of the term wildlife to describe ‘many non domesticated creatures’ that are ‘dependant on the human management of the moors’.

On this count they are of course setting themselves up to play God. “Without us,” they say, “with our management plans and farm grants and bureaucracies these poor creatures would simply die out.” Well, in Mandy’s words managers would say that wouldn’t they? How on earth did nature and wildlife cope before man came along?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

To Be Charitable....

Being charitable to the local conservation charities, we find amounts to listing their negative virtues. The list of the evils that they don’t do brings them more credit than the list of the goods that they do. Their activities frequently proclaimed as well intentioned have a habit of becoming compromised early on. It’s rare to find an unqualified success in their achievements. So what they don’t do on land they control can start with some of the more serious pollution that the irresponsible landowners may commit and move down from there to numerous petty crimes. We had better not start on those things they do that are plain wrongheaded and mean spirited as we are trying to be charitable in that meaning of the word.

Now the media is preoccupied with the terrible impact of new rules on charitable giving and the ending of the tax relief that it has brought to some millionaires. Much of the comment had focused on the effects on the giver, the usually wealthy person who hands over something to his favourite charity and gets tax benefit for doing so.

But what about the charity? Some of them are squealing because such funding from the wealthy donors may now start to dry up. One argument for the clamp down is on the grounds of transparency and accountability. Not all charities can be assured of universal approval and some that claim to be benign and altruistic don’t frankly bear looking into. If monies that would otherwise be going to the exchequer are being diverted to charities with no scrutiny built into the system apart from by the ‘donor’ who may anyway only be handing over the dosh for his own tax benefit, should we not be concerned? If it’s up to the donor to check that his money’s well spent that could work but not if the money hardly even belonged to him in the first place. Well from our experience of SWT there are many reasons for concern and it’s hard to resist the conclusion that it illustrates the problem very well: a charity that largely exists for the benefit of those employed by it.


Sometimes it's the deep brown eyes that impress. At others it is the sense of style and elegance allied to alertness.

A touch aristocratic, even a certain hauteur?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


The change in Spring from one day to another is its defining characteristic. One natural feature that chronicles this well is the birch tree. Many birch together add a feathery edging to the previously hard outline of the woods once April has got underway. It's a treat to watch individual specimens slowly put on their new clothing. Morning sunlight enhances as do the songs of willow warblers, this week's welcome new arrivals.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


The hinds were luckier today, enjoying the sun after yesterday's rain. It seemed to put them a better mood, some times relaxed and others frisking.

Leggy shrubs are fine for them. They seem more at home running through them than on smooth grass.

Early morning brightness brings other contrasts making picture taking more of a challenge.

Watching these beautiful and natural animals wild and free it's not possible to avoid the questions. Who should decide that the 'sex ratio' is wrong? And who should then decide what to do about it? Would they even dare to contemplate grazing with cattle while planning to cull deer? And would it be these hinds that would be targetted - because that is where the controllers could make most impact? There are many more questions and there is no doubt at all that some of the people in the role of managers here are capable of that. You cannot know them for long before coming to the conclusion that they have a cold enough attitude towards natural beauty (if that is they can recognise it).

Monday, 9 April 2012


I posted about blanket bogs, Natural England and the grouse moor owners here on 22nd March. There is a much more thorough commentary on what's going on in this article and it should be read by all who really want to understand the conservation industry's realtionship with grouse moors and the shooting lobby.

To whom...?

Last seen ten days ago on a much pleasanter morning the hinds were back grazing the  parts west of the woods as the rain became serious.
We wondered where they might have got to during the heavy snow but they have a wide choice of sheltered and secret hideouts on Blacka. We might look over towards some of the likeliest of them but can’t explore them all and shouldn’t try. And of course they could have beeen elsewhere entirely on land beyond Blacka, so we cannot claim they are Blacka's deer. They belong to nobody: an interesting state of affairs.

The EMP has a stated intention to manage the deer
“ to a carrying capacity and sex ratio which is optimal for the habitat on the Eastern Moors and the health of the herd themselves, also minimising any potential negative impacts on neighbours.”

Let’s not beat about the bush. This means shooting deer. The statement raises so many questions but experience shows that answers (if you get them at all) raise even more. A good start would be
“to whom do the deer belong that you to have the right to manage them - and kill them - considering that they roam over the land of many different owners?”

Friday, 6 April 2012


After a warm spell has set all nature off its guard a foot or so of snow in April can cause serious tree damage. Yet the larch does not carry the surface area of leaf that with other trees will take on excessive weight. And the fallen birch here has no leaf out at all.

Who's to say which will be the ones  to show greater resilience?

Sheltered from the northern blast on the woodland edge some bilberry is already happily flowering, while that growing in more exposed locations sensibly bides its time.


The value of actually knowing a place makes a difference to everything. Really knowing means throughout the year in all seasons and in all conditions and watching the changes in wildlife from trees to birds and mammals. There should be some kind of embargo , well limitation, on distant bureaucracies with no local knowledge deciding what goes on, even categorising the landscape type when no committee member has experienced the scene day by day.  This resonates within the cynefin/oikophilia argument Richard Maybe has with Roger Scruton in this New Statesman review.

To one who looks at the scene daily the removal of the power lines from Blacka is enough to make your heart leap as you see in each seasonal change something not seen in the same way before. While the power line was there it was harder to conceive of a landscape free from human influence. Now with it gone the visual intrusion frees the imagination enough to challenge again the 'humanisation' at the heart of the farmland management agenda. To the dwellers at office desks at SWT's headquarters it means nothing.

CPRE's local magazine (Friends of the Peak District) has a page about the removal with a couple of good photos before and after. It describes Blacka as 'amazingly wild'. Well it's certainly better qualified to be called that than most other local public spaces but it has been getting steadily less so over the last ten years. The power line removal does something to restore that but we need to be more and more alert as the conservation lobby gets bolder. The Icarus meetings in 2006 may have been flawed in many ways but they did establish some sort of consensus that Blacka should be managed with 'minimal intervention'. How much the farm subsidy dependent conservation managers must have hated that; and it has shown in their ignoring of it in following years.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


Trees in snow.


But if I see those words "Wild and open" once more...................

A Model

A model for managing the uplands is what they say. So we have to assume that all the other upland managers are clamouring to fall inline with the E.M.P.'s prescription. Hard to believe. Or is it? You have to consider the conformism and closing of ranks that prevails in the conservation industry. But perhaps that's what they mean. However different the circumstances in other parts of the country all will agree that there's much capital to be made out of farm-management, Higher Level Stewardship and generous handouts with little scrutiny from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Perhaps that's the model. And another part of the model will be the policy on transparency and accountability. Anyway the exchange is here, via the consultation on the E.M.P.'s draft management plan:

Question:  Why no consultation about the Agri Environment Scheme and the other ways of this being funded? Is this public land or is it not? Where is the money coming from? How much from public funds controlled by Natural England? How much from Why no consultation about the Agri Environment Scheme and the other ways of this being funded? Is this public land or not? Where is the money coming from? How much from public funds from PDNPA and how much from members of NT and RSPB? Is EMP a separate charity? Will it submit its accounts to the Charity Commission?
Answer: There is no requirement for the EMP to publish accounts. It is not a separate charity but managed by a collaboration agreement between the NT and RSPB The land is still in public ownership by the PDNPA. They contribute for the next two years. The Charities   both contribute a significant amount. The Eastern Moors will become a model for management of the uplands and in doing that will demonstrate the costs involved in  managing an area like this. The input of agri-environment is vital if we want to continue the public benefits that the Eastern Moors brings.
I daresay "The input of agri-environment is vital if we want to continue the public benefits...." would be echoed by Sheffield Wildlife Trust. Because the public benefits brought to Blacka by agri environment schemes included the following.

Already We Don't

How Favoured We Are

No Farmland Here ?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Little Ideas

Last year E.M.P. stopped taking comments on its draft Management Plan and it has only now published here on its website a resume of those comments. Given the time they've had to respond to comments one might have hoped that they could have made less of a dog's breakfast of presenting some of the responses in the document. At times they are made to look incoherent. The document has a good solid line in presentational graphics and charts laid out with compelling style. But once you get to actually reading, things are different. For the target audience is those who are easily impressed by appearance and prefer quick skimming to close reading. They are in fact the people who dispense public money on behalf of you and me in the form of grants and subsidies and who have criteria in a tick box insisting that a well run consultation has been constructed before the dosh is handed over.

In truth there was never the remotest chance that anything imaginative and inspiring would come out of this process however many times the managers used the word 'inspiring'. Setting the consultation around four themes carefully chosen to reflect their own agenda kept them well in control especially as one of the themes was:

Farming, land management and economics

Understand how land management, particularly farming can be used as a vehicle to deliver a rich and healthy place for nature, while striving for a sustainable economic model that supports the concept of a living landscape.

As the grouse moor style favoured by managers is about as close to dead and frozen in time and as far away from a genuine dynamic natural approach as you can get the words 'living landscape' have a hollow ring. The best comment would be a link to one of the websites that comes up if you google the words living landscape - a picture of a paved patio with spaced out pot plants. As a comment you couldn't beat it. But just note that word 'understand'. It speaks volumes. No blank sheet consultation here then. Educating the public in what the managers want is the aim - (Stand up that person who called out "brainwashing"!). So those who vet the consultation - if any exist - can be shown that nobody thinks outside this particular box; they were not invited to.

Because when you scrape off the hype and the middle management thinking what you're left with is something stale and static. Farming takes much of the essential life out of a landscape. And on a large expanse of upland heather moor grazed by livestock there's not even the compensation of hedgerows that can still be found in traditional lowland farm scenery.

So in response to our call for more ambition and a big idea to inspire future generations we get more of the same:

In relation to being radical the EMP proposed changes are more radical, but this is balanced with a sense of responsibility to enhance not harm the special features of the place. As the Eastern Moors are not managed for their completely natural state (forest), the type of wildlife here is dependant on management.
This is essentially a bureaucratic exercise and should never be expected to produce more than little ideas. A big idea to a bureaucrat is upgrading to new computer operating system. Being radical is.... Well that's an easy game to play

Sunday, 1 April 2012

"Back to Nature" ?

Another devastating debunking of the nonsense put out by the conservation industry in this recent article.

As usual there's much food for thought but here's a quote for starters, mentioning the:

....assertion in the fencing and grazing proposal for Padworth Common by Sara McWilliams that rides on the back of a particular perversion of natural reality that has gained a lot of traction in NW Europe (17):
“The most compelling reason for reintroducing grazing must be that it is a traditional way of managing heathland, in essence giving the heath back to nature”
Heathland was never “managed”: the tradition was its extractive use to the point of sucking the life out of it, or as Dr Peter Shaw, Department of Life Sciences at the University of Roehampton, puts it in a lecture on heathland management in his module on Conservation Ecology (29):
“Peasants used the heaths in several ways…… these impoverished and acidified the soil”
Dr Shaw is very frank with his students about how heathland should be managed now, seeing a barrier as being a shortage of modern day peasants:
“But the biggest problem is natural succession. What it really needs is a force of peasants, heating their hovels with peat and grazing their skinny cattle on the heath.
He goes on:
“How to manage a modern heath: (pretend to be a family of peasants)
Killing scrub. Wage incessant war on pine/birch seedlings, by hand (worst), herbicide, or graze with goats/highland cattle”
Is this giving heath back to nature? McWilliams uses a sleight of hand in the fencing and grazing proposal that compares livestock grazing to the mechanical methods of heathland management, such that we are to believe that the former is more natural than the latter.
Mark Fisher goes on to demonstrate in the article, "The revisionism of the conservation industry....",  just how misconceived is the emphasis on grazing and the justifications invented to promote it as a policy. There is some  analysis of the rewilding projects in the Netherlands too and a reminder of the role of predators. Strongly recommended.

I suspect our local conservation people wouldn't even try to justify their shackling of the countryside by invoking nature. That wouldn't be on their agenda at all. To them Blacka and all around it is simply farmland - just that; but they would pick 'n mix from the points of flawed justification used elsewhere to temporarily muddy the waters in any discussion.

This is all very relevant to the comments we hear from various local conservation workers whose lack of knowledge of the background does not prevent them from stating or implying a kind of golden age in the past of heathland being managed for a landscape good. As the article makes clear, managing just did not happen, certainly not as the word is taken to mean today. Heathland was exploited just as a seam of coal was mined for its short term value. As for moorland, the upland (mainly) northern equivalent that was exploited in an even more ruthless way by privileged people who used it for sport.  Time now to give it back to nature - really: not hand it over to bureaucrats and middle managers with no vision.