Tuesday, 31 July 2012


The colourful flowers are even more welcome when the skies are grey as earlier in the summer (is that the right word?) with rhododendron. They cheer us up. Bog asphodel's small and beautifully formed flowers have one thing in common with foxglove despite differences in colour and size and many other things. They have the raceme character - flowers start to open from the bottom and new ones appear at the top.

This one has the densest flower cluster, so packed together that you think there are no stalks. All face the same way sometimes four and even five across with spent ones below and new just about to open at the top.

Mass Action and the Law .....

....... not really the Law of Mass Action but there are similarities. At the weekend the law came up against mass action in relation to Critical Mass, the cycling pressure group in London. Outsiders trying to make sense of the growth of cycling in cities should read the theory of critical mass. But as with all mass movements some who associate with it take it into areas of dubious rationality. For example the mountain biker a few months ago who justified his illegitimate riding on a walkers-only  path by referring to ‘demographics’ and the Kinder Trespass!!

Those buying shares in the bicycle industry a few years ago might have made a good choice then. Deciding to do so now might just be missing the boat. Unless the Critical Mass people have their way and most of the world turns to two wheels. Critical Mass is related to game theory and not unlike a tipping point. But for cycling other factors are at work as well. Coverage of cycle racing on the media is one of these. One of my neighbours appeared transformed on his drive on Sunday dressed as if for the Tour de France. I’d had him marked down as strictly a 4 wheel man.

There are a number of ‘true believers’ in and around the cycling movement but I’m not sure they share the same gospel. Do those who want to reclaim the streets as a corrective to the harm done by the motor car also advocate downhill mountain biking when it harms public footpaths? Perhaps if you’re trying to gain a critical mass then you’ll welcome anyone who pedals as another addition to the statistics? And there is an underlying sense that sections of the world are unfair to cyclists not easy to deny when you see the way some people drive cars and trucks and certainly fed by things like this. (!!!)

To declare my hand, I’ve always supported travel by bike as preferable to the car on local streets and, as something of a pedestrian chauvinist, I want to join those who think our roads should be more than through routes for car drivers in a mad hurry. But I was once knocked down by a cyclist on a pavement and can’t feel enthusiastic about those whose pedal power agenda leads them to ride as fast as they can. I like gentle touring and from an early age associated cycling with pleasure rather than intensive hyper-activity.

But much of the respect I’ve felt for cyclists in recent years has been related to their perseverance up the hills of Sheffield. And now, increasingly, the mountain biking sector is driving cars to the top and cycling downhill with only mild level or uphill stretches in between. So the walker who has set out from the valleys to slowly reach up to the heights could find himself being buzzed by a group of bikers coming down at great speed having taken an easy way to the top.

Some dubious rationalisations are made on the fringe of these movements. Earlier this year a blog post on the Guardian’s website referred approvingly to Greno Woods and Sheffield Wildlife Trust’s love-in with Ride Sheffield as if these biking trails were downhill but without any downsides for other users. Some of the comments made by bikers under the article suggest they live in a parallel world alongside fairies where cycle wheels don’t touch the ground. Self belief has truly crossed over into self deception.  But everyone is prone to believe supposed evidence however tenuous if it supports our point of view.

One fellow claims that ….”Riding a bike through a wood causes less damage to the path, and leaves less alien scent on foliage (which can disturb other wildlife) than either walking or horse riding. Cyclists are obvious and natural partners for local authorities, National Trust etc who have wild land to look after, etc …….” Perhaps he’s planning a career in spin doctoring.

And best of all is the one who claims there are all sorts of academic studies, to which he links, proving that mountain bikes create no more, or even less, impact on the ground than walking!!! If he has ever been to Blacka Moor he was surely blindfolded at the time and so would have been his dodgy academics. So one might ask, what was Ride Sheffield doing spending time on the Devil’s Elbow route repairing the damage their members had caused? And does he know the Wimble Holme Hill route?

Somebody once said to me that's it's no good talking to mountain bikers because "they are all on something" and have a different perception of reality. He should have said some of them. And they are all on something but people may not be aware that in certain cases the effect can extend to higher up the body.

Walkers/pedestrians and cyclists should be natural allies on the streets, both fnding that the dominance of the motor car can make life difficult. I suspect that some of the more madcap MTBers could also be pretty reckless in their cars.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Weeds, Herbs and Imposters

Among the umbrella plants there are clear class divisions more to do with names than with botany. Cow Parsley, which transforms the path edges with white topped tracery in May and June earns its name because of something it's not, 'cow' being a label occasionally used in the past to designate an imposter. Most people will have heard of fool's gold and there is also a Fool's Parsley and a Stone Parsley. And the member of the family that follows Cow Parsley is Hedge Parsley now to be seen along some parts of the bridleway below the road.

People valued Parsley as they still do but obviously it's always been understood that mistakes might be made in identification even in days when people were much more directly involved in the natural world.

The dominant umbrella plant of the moment is Hogweed with a reputation for coarseness and, common as it is, it's not many people's favourite of the family. It can grow tall and stately though as here, determined to look down on the nettles in a display of inter-caste rivalry.  

But there are others in the family with another claim to superiority.

Angelica is classed as a herb for it has culinary uses and herbs must be higher up the social ladder than mere weeds. It is surely only here at all because of a limestone influence brought in from road workings in the past. Its flower is not quite out yet but the swellings that precede both flower and leaf are worthy in themselves.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


A cold night and a brisk wind in the early morning persuade some of the least robust to give up the ghost.
Bracken is a softy in this respect. It may bully its way acros the ground at amazing speed changing the appearance in a week or two. But there's no stickability about it.

The first cold night and it's suffering; the tender new fronds turn brown and look very sickly. Certain parts of Blacka are more prone to this bracken scorching than others, mostly in the more sheltered spots.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


It's a question of bending over backwards to be fair. Anyone can be wrong, or present a distorted view. Even those on the side of the angels. Or, in this case, the flowers and the most beautiful around on the Blacka Moor site. But the evidence confirms what we say.
The conservation management must, if it has any credibility at all, be there to preserve, or conserve, that natural beauty which is most worth conserving. You cannot avoid making value judgements and those who claim you can are deceiving themselves. The bog asphodel flower is not endangered but it is scarce and much valued. People make special trips to see it. So you would expect that any scheme of management would allow for that. If you decide not to intervene that's another thing and you would expect there to be winners and losers - that would be the price. But once you intervene especially against the advice of those who know the site it is your responsibility not to damage the special features by that intervention. That is exactly what Sheffield Wildlife Trust has done and it has done so knowingly and forewarned. By their dogmatic following of the conservation grazing agenda they have impaired the natural beauty of the site in numerous ways. But the example of bog asphodel perhaps exemplifies this more clearly than any.

The last year that Blacka was free of cattle was 2010 and the photographs of an area where the bog asphodel occurs demonstrate that the display was stunning.

The following year, 2011, cattle trampled all over the area and the display was miserable. This year, to be as fair as possible, I've deliberately waited longer to give the flowers chance to appear before commenting; but despite that the effect of further trampling has resulted in a much reduced spectacle from that in 2010. This is the best it will get and the best it's been. I know the institutional thinking of the wildlife trust and other conservationists, people I've no hesitation in describing as philistines. They will say that the plants remain so there's nothing to worry about. Would they say the same if a group of walkers had deliberately trampled on this spot? Or if a dog owner's carelessness allowed disturbance of the nests of ground nesting birds?

Anyway the picture below shows the site today, exactly the same spot as the 2010 photograph above, and you can see the same heather clump at the top. There are still some flowers there but what is there to inspire a love of nature? There's also plenty of evidence of cattle trampling and chewing and defecating. Is this the best that these conservation charities can do, subsidised by our taxes for ten years via Natural England and the Common Agricultural Policy?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Mottled and Dappled ...

Bilberry is now fully coloured but the true lovers of the fruit will caution waiting longer to get the best sweet taste. Sadly it's often the case that you walk past a good crop daily to give it a little longer only to find someone has been less patient and there are none left. Should we put a prominent 'reserved' sign up? It can be hard to bear when you've watched the things over several months as first the leaves fleshed out, then the red flowers appeared only to be hidden as the green berries blended with the foliage and later in June the first signs of purple were seen. As they reach maturity the leaves of the shrubs start to mottle making a pattern of colouring that serves to give the fruit some camouflage from all but the most persistent harvesters.

Mottling and dappling: the two words mean the same thing but you just feel they're appropriate for different situations. Both words are more likely to be invoked under sunlight. Gerard Manley H's famous poem always brings to mind shade and sunlight in a wood. (I've never been able to decide if Pied Beauty is a poem of genius or just too precious for its own good.)

Pied could well serve to describe the chaffinch* whose feathering is looking somewhat worn after a difficult season. He's fond of dappled parts of the woods.

Brindled is another of these words but mostly indicating different browns or greys. A good example is the path inside the gate. Can't get away from it.

* "Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;"

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Something to Chew On

This year the excess rain has created such rapid growth of grass that even in the pasture land the sheep have struggled to eat it all. Let's hope this does not persuade the avid grazing lobby to push for more of them in future years - though nothing would surprise me. There is far more long grass this year and even a smattering of common flowers such as buttercup, clover and even vetch.

This is an interesting comparison with the two previous years when conditions were more normal. During a prolonged dry spell sheep (and cattle) have less new growth to chew and therefore eat up much more of the other vegetation which means tougher grasses and non grass plants. This happened in 2011 and has generally happened in most years. This year there has been so much succulent fresh growth that much of the stuff that's normally snaffled up has been neglected in favour of the young shoots of their preferred choice. As we should all know, the more you cut grass the more it grows and that goes for chewing and grazing too. And that's happened with a vengeance this year, all going to explain why there are so many fat sheep and obese lambs and plenty of growth they've yet to get round to dealing with.

The sequence of photographs from 2010 and 2011 showing the effects of sheep grazing on the land in two years one with and one without sheep is still highly relevant.

This year has had sheep on the land and it does not look the same as 2011 but it's been exceptional. Even so it's not the same as in 2010. Those wanting evidence to support their wish for more grazing will probably try to deny the obvious lesson, or any evidence at all.

Meanwhile ouside the grazing enclosure grass still grows amazingly and now blessed by the promise of ripening under sun.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Rain Forest

The rain this year has surpassed itself to create a lush green forest of undergrowth in the valley with bracken dominating.  Now nobody walks  here but those whose curiosity outscores their common sense. It is hardly credible that such rampant wilfullness exists in a national park that's given over to controlling everything.
The commonest plants in this private world play at taking on an air of exotic otherness. Creeping thistle, standing five feet tall, disproves its public reputation.

The route usually followed is hidden somewhere under the fronds and can only be picked out by those who've walked it many times in winter months. But this is genuinely hazardous for creaky limbs as mossy stones and slimy tree roots come underfoot often unseen though the real menace of bracken shoot is not around at least as yet.  Even the stream, noisy though it is, can be hard to see, until it crashes over the rocks.

Not far away in suburban homes before screens vicarious adventurers explore in their own ways. At least they avoid the midges.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


Grasses can be fascinating but are not always the easiest of our native plants to identify in the field, even when they've been allowed to grow to full height due to the absence of industrial herbivores. So it's worth looking for a decent guidebook.

You have a choice, amongst which are the volumes by Francis Rose, probably ruled out for cost reasons, Hubbard which has questions about its robustness, and the standby Fitter and Farrer in the Collins Pocket Guide series which is robust enough but has recently climbed alarmingly in price.

In certain places you need to hurry if specimens are to be found before these ...

                        turn the grass into ...

                                              and this ...

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Damp Thoughts

Imagining that wild animals have the same feelings that we do is anthropomorphism and widely regarded with contempt and a curled lip. It's arguable that they do not 'think' at all but that their consciousness simply enables them to respond to events and associations even if they don't discuss politics over a pint leaning against the bar. But that's not quite the same as believing they might not actually relish the constant dampness we've been having. Nor that a bit of a spring might come into their step if we had a couple of bright warm days. Though the blackbird has been singing away in a downpour; just to make sure no competitor tries to take an opportunity to gain an advantage?

Off Season

The months when lichen draws atention to itself have usually been March and April. They are damp loving organisms so they have been happy to exploit the conditions in this dampest of summers. By now on rowan trees we might expect to be looking at berries. Have I missed them?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sun Up - Head Up!

No raindrops on the grasses but genuine sunlight instead. Cows continued to graze heads down as only those bred to do so.

Deer will also spend much of their time heads down among the grasses and sundry other tasty shoots. But we're more likely to see them reaching up for the sweeter lower tree leaves. Apart from other considerations, animals with heads up manage to be more appealing than when heads are down.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


Grass is having the time of its life and not just in my garden where it's in celebratory mode, almost the only thing not being devoured by slugs. Out here the gramnivores have made effective use of their time converting as much of the growth into meat and by-product as they can. While there are parts of their enclosed territory that they miss, it's inevitably in their character to munch and trample anything you would prefer them to leave.

But the grass left alone and secure beyond their influence is thriving and often iridescent in the morning drizzle. It manages to be the compensation well deserved on a wet walk. The common grasses such as false oat grass, cocksfoot and Yorkshire fog are having a - well, a field day but mostly near the paths along with creeping and spear thistle, nettle and meadow buttercup. Much of this is land that must have been disturbed somehow in the recent past and opportunistically colonised. When the track has flooded walkers have spread out onto the heather which then breaks and allows the grass to get a hold,  though some further out beyond the heather and bracken has been grassy for much longer.

Green plants reaching their full maturity proudly unhindered are welcome when much of that land grazed by cattle has such a depressing lack of character.

The small area that had the best show of dazzling Bog asphodel two years ago is now poorly represented as it was last year. And what pleasure is there in looking at cropped grass stems?

Friday, 13 July 2012


In the unmanaged area to the top west of the Blacka boundary wall the stags were grazing peacefully at first light in rare morning sunshine. After a while they wandered down into the large patch of bracken that's become part bedchamber and part playground.

Every so often a head bounced up and then disappeared into the greenery. They've created a place of their own preferable in many ways to the grassy areas now occupied and exploited on an industrial scale by cows, an area the stags themselves were happy with a few months back but have increasingly shunned as the cattle have immoderately spread their waste  across it.

I remember it used to be common practice for gamekeepers and farmers to string up dead small mammals on fences; and passers by could see they were serious about getting rid of pests and predators. I think there are still places where it happens, anything from stoats to rabbits and even buzzards.
From a distance I wondered if that's what I was seeing in the sheep pasture. 

There is much more than this on several stretches of wire fence. Irritation caused by mites or other problems leads them to rub against the fence and it means the stock is not as healthy as could be. Those who try to tell me that the countryside is at its best with farm animals in fields and no wildness about at all will probably claim that this is not serious.

To me it is. I've seen farmers who say that wildlife threaten their business, badgers and even deer because they are not subject to dips and medication that farmers have to administer to their flocks. And we know that the badger is blamed for cattle problems that have been considerably worsened by the movement of herds.

But another side to this is that the land we are walking on is there specifically for public recreation. My experience of the land is not improved by seeing sheep in this condition nor the results of farm animals having been lying in their own waste. It is enhanced by seeing wild unmanaged deer whose coats look immaculate and whose alert manner could not be further from the coarse bored expressions on the faces of most farm livestock - suitable to the units of industrial production that they are. Why we have to put up with it in a site which could be a beacon for recreation alongside wildlife I don't know. Could it be that the concept of natural beauty is simply alien to these managers.

Thursday, 12 July 2012


It's nearly all young birch woodland and quite delectable when the sun shafts down to the lowest levels of bilberry and bracken and the birds are active.

The fear might be that this is just the sort of place that meddlers cannot leave alone because woodland 'has to be managed'.  Today we were just pleased that the stream could be heard down below and that we were sheltered from a cold north west wind.
But the surprise was the powerful fragrance.

We tracked it down to the loveliest honeysuckle of the season, still at its best at this height.