Friday, 31 August 2012


Another example of the enhancement of the moor under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Along with other members of the public I have paid for this work to be done on the moor so it can be brought into favourable condition. It's been like this for at least three years after spraying.

Shall we give them some more money so they can put right their mistakes?

Leggy and Lovely?

Heather on Blacka in August can be leggy and lovely. Those hoping for a saucy tabloid picture at this point may be disappointed.

Why the flowering heather is so eye catching is that it is badly managed by the standards of 'good moorland management', as it’s promoted by such groups as the Moorland Association or The Heather Trust or any of the large number of the clones set up by the wealthy shooting sector. Those places where heather is kept short give us nothing like the vividness of flowering in August that you see on Blacka. It also improves the visual attraction that the heather is just one of the components. Among the others are bilberry cowberry,bracken, bramble, birch, rowan and oak. A monoculture of continuous heather even when it's less brown and becomes tinged with purple is a pretty poor spectacle in my book. At least you can eat broccoli.

It's the one time when the brownness of the heather gives way to something more pleasant. At last you've stopped boring me, I want to say. Not just the shooters but the conservation people are always filling their publicity material with photos of flowering heather, as if the other 11 months of the year don't exist. But the shooters are always playing up the threat to heather and especially their kind of heather. Among those threats is the heather beetle, now giving these people problems in the Peak District. And this can now be seen on Blacka. So are we now to have pesticides as well as herbicides on a nature reserve?

Well, no, the shooters are not in favour of chemicals for this problem, mainly because there is no effective treatment. I bet they would spray if they thought it might work. Though I do note their recommendation for managing a moor affected by the beetle.

In years when beetle outbreaks occur, the carrying capacity of the moor for grouse, deer and sheep is reduced. Managers should take steps to shoot the game species hard (!)  and reduce the sheep/days per hectare on the hill in winter to reduce the browsing impact on the remaining heather.  
These outbreaks look like the usual problem of monocrops. Nowhere in the world can you devote large areas of land to promoting one species of vegetation without attracting pests and diseases that are specific to the crop and therefore don’t have to work very hard to find their host victim. The heather mob are farming the landscape for the benefit of one bird and for the people who get fun from killing it, cultivating huge parts of the uplands artificially with one plant. This is so unnatural that pest and disease problems are inevitable. The answer could be to plant lots of native trees. Why not? Much more natural than all this heather. Or, alternatively, what about carrots, or broccoli, or cabbage; in rotation of course.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


First one head then another appeared. This must be one of the most fragrant places to enjoy the sun quietly. But once intruders come on the scene it's time to gather the children together.

Still time though for some more maternal tenderness. This one does seem to be more than usually attentive.

They soon disappear into the wood.

Meanwhile stags are at the opposite side of the moor inside their favourite bracken patch.

One of the things that's so appealing and teasing about seeing deer looking out from the bracken like this is that something in my head insists on thinking they're sitting down!! There is evidence that this can happen, but don't hang around waiting to see it. How many times have you seen a cow sitting, or a horse? But one sheep is quite expert.

Monday, 27 August 2012


Starting much earlier brought more success, but only after I had given up. The light had been special with that kind of mix of haze and low sun that suggests mystery. Blacka can look beautiful in these conditions and the prospect of unusual happenings is always present. That can be just a new vista or an unexpected trick of the light.

Then the cloud came down, the light became grey and some of the charm was lost. Having explored most of the likely parts in the hope of a better view of young deer than yesterday's (four ears over the bracken from a distance), I had turned to go back when their movement revealed them right in front. After starting to run off they slowed. There are nine in the group of which three are young calves still showing the characteristic flecking.

 Three of the hinds may be immature. Three are certainly larger animals. Occasionally the hinds nuzzled their calves.

 One of the calves looked somewhat sturdier than the others though I can't say that means a stag.

More pictures from this morning at this link.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Winners and Losers

This has been a summer of winners and losers and not just in international sport. The wildlife has responded to the extraordinary weather in its own way. Insects are among the losers not relishing the cold and the wet. And that has affected birds who rely on the source of food. Customer numbers at our feeding station have been consistent throughout the season.  

One or two warm days have led to only an occasional appearances of butterflies.

This peacock had sensibly picked out the most favoured part of Blacka, a suntrap beautifully sheltered from west and north winds. Bees did not do badly up here in May and the good crop of bilberry testifies to that. Later all went downhill. Are midges ever anything but winners?

Bracken has also been a winner as has grass, both benefiting from lots of rain. 

The bracken here was supposed to be only background to the intended subject - a dragonfly - bringing me to my own failed attempt once again to photograph a dragonfly in flight and declaring me a loser as in previous years.

As well as grass and bracken other winners include ,in a wet year, lichen ........

...... and alder fruit.
We may be about to see a very good and early autumn for fungi, these Amanitas being in a place not usually noted for such things.

They may turn out to be the biggest winners of all. No comfort to the butterflies.


Everybody would like to see young deer calves especially at that stage during the first twelve weeks when their coats are flecked with white. But the hinds take such pains to keep them hidden that for most of the summer, especially July and August, you could be forgiven for thinking there are no deer around at all. My efforts have been mostly no better than anybody else’s. And the reason for that is largely the very same reason why they are so attracted to Blacka in the first place. The range and extent of the cover provided is so great that it’s easier for the animals to stay hidden than in any other comparable part of the local landscape.

But very early in the morning close to the edge of the woodland you have the best chance and there’s one place where I always look. I was lucky last year to see two calves in the very same place and that’s where my eyes are drawn. This morning there was a shape just visible even from some 500 yards away and the camera zoom confirmed one hind.

Even from that distance she was staring hard in my direction. What chance does anyone have of getting closer when they are in such a protective mode? Not much and despite some persistence and getting a lot closer the best that could be seen was the heads (or just ears) of 5 animals and only a guess that two might be calves.

Soon after this they had disappeared into the woodland. The vegetation around here must be a godsend to them; you have to remember that their behaviour is determined by an instinctive need to avoid much more alarming predators than a man with a camera.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Over the Hills.....

..and Far Away.*

Ballooning should be a beautiful way to see the country.

They can look wonderful. Until the burner roars the impression is of silent floating. Much preferable to the irritating racket made by helicopters. But two things have put me off trying this, both reported by people who have taken a flight. One is the explosive noise of the burner and the other is the heat on top of your head – a hard hat incorporating an ice pack was recommended by one person who said it was not something he would be doing again.

From the position of those on the ground there are other reservations. It’s not a problem when they float high and peaceful. But I’ve seen farm livestock and wildlife thoroughly alarmed and panicked when balloons make an unexpected appearance and sudden roar only just overhead. And it’s when they are low down that they need the extra bursts to regain elevation. Surely someone could invent a quieter means of maintaining inflation? Some years ago I read an article in Balloon Life magazine mentioning concerns and saying that burner manufacturers were working at trying to reduce the noise made for the benefit of the users whose hearing could be harmed. A check on the web shows that article is still available but I’ve no information about any progess being made. Is another system altogether not viable?

*'Over the Hills and Far Away': title also of an early piece by the Bradford born composer Delius

Friday, 24 August 2012

August Blossom

The white flowers stand out amid the deeper mature green that trees display in August. An unusual sight that I can't remember seeing on Blacka before. Second flowering itself is not a rare thing but in this case may say something about the unusual summer. Rowan is of the rose family which in garden varieties commonly comes again later into autumn. But the Bramley apple in my garden also produced striking flowers this year in late July alongside the swelling fruits. Here on Blacka's Rowan the flower is on the newer pale green growth with red fruits on the darker leaves nearby.

In some years, drier ones, this tree becomes heavy with red fruit near the start of July and soon the leaves become discoloured. This summer has been quite different, with the constant rainfall keeping the greenery well beyond normal and the berries appearing later.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


Shorts Lane bridleway in August is a wooded track popular with riders. In fact it's one of the best parts of Blacka and at this time of year the stability of the vegetation adds to the peaceful atmosphere. In May wild flowers border the track edges. SWT rarely come here but they do annually send someone down to strim the edges.

That's not always been done as late as it should be but by now the coarser plants are those affected.

Hathersage Road by contrast is a busy A road running along the north side of Blacka. It's much used by HGVs many of them coming through the national park quarries and heading for the motorway.

Although it's not much fun standing in the laybys with traffic hurtling past, the edges are  gorgeous with a happy assortment of flowers. This is contrasting with the sheep grazed moorland just back from here and over the wall, where variety and beauty is sacrificed to heather and farming.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Let There Be Light....

Early mornings are not always better than the middle of the day. Bilberry picking is best left to later when the morning dampness has had a chance to go. Midges can be less troublesome in the dry heat of a sunny afternoon. Some wild animals prefer those times when the sun has had a chance to bake the ground and others have learned when people are likely to be around so confine their appearnaces to dawn and dusk.

Mornings do have other advantages. From earliest times people were cheered by the sense that each new day was a kind of re-birth; it's easier to be optimistic. Special lighting effects are commoner, and distant views of parkland are transformed by haze and long shadows.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Cowpat Empire

The empire builders of the Cowpat Tendency, the zomby-thinkers in the cattle grazing lobby, now have their eyes fixed on Wadsley and Loxley Common.

There have apparently been site meetings as part of the 'consultation' (and don't we know what that word means?) and they are holding public meetings on this Wednesday evening the 22nd August and Wednesday 26th September at Wadsley Church.

I can tell the users of the Commons that the propaganda that the managers put out is a creative mix of bamboozlement and wishful thinking. Cattle do not go searching through heather and bilberry for young birch to nibble. They walk along the same paths that people walk on because the fringes of those paths are where they find grass. And the grass that they find goes in the front end green and comes out the other end as a brown substance which everyone will have their own term for. This will be deposited liberally on the paths. People who believe in fairies along with  key managers in Sheffield's Parks and Countryside service are not aware of this and probably think the end product magically wafts away into the breeze leaving no trace.

I suggest that those who want to resist the cattle grazing proposal should employ the following strategy: Take hundreds of photographs of the paths on the common as they are today and other strategic places. Number them and  correlate the numbers on a map. Send the map to all council officers involved plus councillors. Then tell them you are going to take photographs from the identical positions in years to come. Ask them to show you exacly what these places will look like in two years, five years, and ten years time. If they have any understanding of the process they should be able to draw on a photo to illustrate. If they can't tell you or refuse to, declare them and their plan to be fraudulent. At this point ask them how much money is coming from the Higher Level Stewardship scheme and the Single Farm Payment CAP monies and any other grants over the ten year period and demand they make an estimated value for money statement which you threaten to send to the Audit Commission. There's lots more in this vein that can be done. Best of luck to the resisters but zombies can be resisters themselves - highly resistant to argument.


What most distinguishes management of the moors over centuries is the status of the absentee landowner. He has typically been a member of the aristocracy owning huge expanses of land and the moors were only useful to him as a shooting estate which he turned up to at most several times a year with plenty of ammunition and a few choice guests. There were occupying workers, gamekeepers and sheep farmers who helped keep the land in condition just right for grouse to thrive. But the landowner himself was rarely seen He preferred for his daily surroundings the pleasanter prospect of a landscaped parkland with a mix of woodland, lakes and open green spaces between.

The publicly owned moors around here today are not that far from that situation. There are no gamekeepers and we don't often see national park rangers. The sheep farming is done from a remote farmhouse some 20 miles away by road so understandably little is seen of the farmer except when he turns up to do the sheering and garish daubing of his flock. (Just as SWT have been using up stocks of banned herbicide, the farmer has been using up a job lot of make-up obviously obtained from studios of Disney, or maybe a horror film production unit)

The managers at SWT are also rarely in evidence unless there's some half hearted accountability exercise coming up soon: such as a visit from NE, an application for another grant regime or even a coming RAG meeting. They prefer the comfort zone of the office and the satisfying schedule of meetings and reports. At one of these meetings* an SWT manager told the Sheffield Moors Partners something interesting:
"when reviewed (the SMP Master Plan) the Blacka Moor Management Plan would dovetail into the SMP masterplan; this had been agreed at the Reserves Advisory Group."
(My italics).
But then they will probably alter the minutes to reflect that. As I've said before SWT's Blacka Moor Reserve Advisory Group meeting is where Sheffield Wildlife Trust advises the few members of the public who turn up about what it's going to do. They are also not beyond telling us what we think.

* SMP Steering Group 12th May 2012.

Saturday, 18 August 2012


I’ve just discovered that there’s a report on Sheffield Moors Partnership’s website about the 21st April meeting. It’s amazing. Truly a work of art. That so little can be presented to look like so much. Somebody’s worked their socks off to transform a strangely unfocused and unsatisfactory meeting into 20 pages of report fodder for a Committee meeting of Sheffield councillors to be impressed by. As for the ineffectual group discussion which I sat in on, it seems to reflect what was said sotto voce by two ladies mostly, as far as I could hear, about signage and archaeology. I did say a few things later on but can’t see any evidence of my opinions in the report. I really thought the group discussion was not fit for purpose and I think I indicated as much, but there’s just one ‘individual reflection’ appended in the form of a ‘positive feedback’ probably from one of the inaudible ladies: - "I have found the discussion process very valuable / interesting. The ‘small group’ worked well. Lots of good, thought-provoking discussion."

I gather they have to attend a 6 month creative writing course before the bureaucracy allows them to write these novellas reports.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Common or Garden...

Wildflower lovers may be tempted out into the limestone dales to enjoy the flowers that flourish in sweeter conditions than those here. But there's lots to interest those who want to puzzle over identification even of very common specimens. Small willowherbs are persistent weeds in my garden, but on tracksides and around streams and ditches where they are allowed to reach their full height they are well worth a second look. Presumably they are so called because their leaves are similar to those of the willow. The family has numerous members and, common or not, needs careful attention to identification and a good handbook. there is the Great Willowherb, the Broad Leaved Willowherb, the Rosebay Willowherb; and then there are the Hoary, the Marsh, the Pale, the Spear-leaved and the Square-stalked. Some are very close relatives indeed: variation is a wonderful thing.

Great Willowherbs have hairy leaves, downy stems and stigmas with creamy lobes.

Rosebay Willowherbs are the commonest sight at this time of year; their  leaves are arranged spirally and are nearly hairless.

Once you get to the smaller ones things get difficult.

But also nearby from the same family is Enchanters Nightshade, common but often missed alongside the bramble. It has small but attractive flowers with just two divided petals and tiny ball shaped fruits.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


The area I think of as 'not Blacka Moor' immediately to the west up the hill from the track that is the boundary of Blacka is now the place that gives us some comfort when interventionist management is going on at Blacka itself. It has the benefit of being mostly pathless and undisturbed.

All the common grasses and plants that are targeted by cattle and sheep within enclosures are free to do as they will and that has to be a good thing. Where else can we find a similar expanse?


Let’s tell it simply rather than ponder over what gets into people that behave this way. We’ll just put it down to ‘culture’.
At the 21st April Sheffield Moors Partnership Feedback Meeting I asked a serious question. Would there be meaningful discussion on aspects of the management which obviously concerned many people who had expressed different opinions? I voiced concern that the consultation when it happened must not be superficial. One of the reasons was that the question of management of the uplands needed public debate especially after Natural England had withdrawn its Vital Uplands policy amid some controversy and that there was no consensus on the way forward. I also wrote to SMP members afterwards including this:

The question of public debate and discussion seems to me to be central. For a 15 year plan to have strong support there needs to be a lot of opportunity for interaction between those with differing views and it’s not clear how this is to be engineered or if it is even to be encouraged at all. Once you look at the wide divergences in view on the most strategic element – landscape and land management - it’s clear that consensus will not easily be obtained but one has to give it a chance by examining the assumptions and conceptions/misconceptions around. If large amounts of public money are to go into management then that’s the least that should be expected.
I was given assurances that my comments would be discussed at the coming Steering Group meeting two weeks later.
The minutes of that meeting have only now been published on SMP’s website 3 months later and there is no reference to my request.

This means either that discussion did happen but was not minuted or that these publicly employed officers had quiet off-the-record talks so they could not later be held accountable for their views. The letter I received from Nick Sellwood shortly afterwards was therefore not based on discussions shared within that meeting. It claimed that my comments ..
......have been discussed by the partner representative’s within the Sheffield Moors Partnership – Sheffield City Council, National Trust, Natural England, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, RSPB, and the Peak District National Park Authority.
But they did not discuss them at that meeting so when did they discuss them?

The fact is that they will go to any lengths to avoid acknowledging that this whole project deserves to get a proper public consultation rather than a flimsy one heavily disguised with reams of paperwork to give the appearance of being more weighty than it is. The deviousness is something learned when you are employed by groups including Sheffield City Council whose officers have a poor opinion of their citizens. They are not used to their assumptions being challenged or even vaguely scrutinised. A culture just as dangerous as that which led to national scandals in banking, MP's expenses and newspapers. The solution is total transparency.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Powerful Lobbies

The grouse moor owners, their gamekeepers and their farming allies are the key people in the campaign against the ban on Asulox which comes into force at the end of this year. Others who gain from a U turn are surely pitching in to the campaign from behind the lines, people related in one way or another to the pesticide, herbicide and chemical industries, in numerous roles including that of scientific advisers. The decision to ban it was taken at European level and the squeals of rage have largely been orchestrated by those who earn their living from the raising and shooting of ground nesting birds. Their fingers are firmly crossed each time they tell us how valuable shooting is for the environment; the mutterings about the ‘rural economy’ and problems for hill farming are played up only because there is hope of harvesting public sympathy. The wealthy shooting moor owners and their friends in the city control access to prime opinion forming resources through media contacts and public relations strategies. The BBC are like putty in their hands as are the rest of the media including The Guardian who either have no time to look beyond the cynical press release or maybe their Media Group has executives with a concern for the welfare of the grouse extending up until the ‘glorious twelfth’. The Moorland Association are rampant after their successes in campaigns to overturn Natural England’s action against blanket bog burning and NE’s Vital Uplands earlier this year. Now they have the EU in their sights and are gunning for another policy reversal.

Wildlife Trusts you might think would not argue about the banning of chemicals but as we have found this story is not so simple. Links between the countryside vested interests and the conservationists are well entrenched in some places even if they fall out in others and there’s not a great deal of difference in the way the groups look at the land: both the grouse moor owners and the conservation industry are command and control managers.

So I’m not surprised that SWT are going ahead with spraying this year even though they won’t be allowed to do a repeat dose next year which makes the exercise largely futile. There’s also the little matter of their vision which they quote when it suits them but ignore when it doesn’t. Minimal intervention’ is supposed to be part of that vision but minimal according to their definition still includes installing barbed wire costing many thousands of pounds, also stone walling for many more, bringing in farm animals to crap all over the paths, cutting down trees and now spraying with banned herbicides which turn green areas into defoliated brown ones.   It would be interesting to see a comparable area managed with 'normal intervention'.

This year the bracken spraying has started earlier than in previous years. The criticism from this blog may have had an effect in that the cattle were taken off and put on the pasture area. In other years they have been wandering among the newly sprayed bracken only two hours later. Official advice seen refers to several days. Other firm guidelines were just ignored. This is the measure of our problem in dealing with Sheffield Wildlife Trust. It's not just that they make policy decisions that we don't agree with. They are simply so useless that they can't even implement their own policy properly. If they came along driving a bus I would phone for a taxi or buy a bike.

But then we always knew we could trust a wildlife trust. Slug pellets next?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Powerful Views

Those who get themselves to a part of the moors where there's nothing worth looking at except miles of monocrop  heather may find their attention drawn to the eastern horizon.

An interesting activity somewhat better than twiddling one's thumbs is attempting to work out which distant power station is which. The Rotary Club were responsible for putting this excellent guide on a stone plinth at a suitable spot on Greenhouse Lane. From Blacka Moor the features would seem to be some ten degrees further anti-clockwise so Lincoln is almost exactly East, but the sequence is what matters: from North to South therefore we can see Ferrybridge, Eggborough, Drax, then a gap before West Burton, Cottam and High Marnham. Although those who have identified High Marnham may need to think again because the cooling towers were demolished last month!! While the different distances from Sheffield are not substantial they vary in visibility for a number of reasons; weather, time of day and which ones are actually working at the time.

Power Stations

Those who get themselves to a part of the moors where there's nothing worth looking at except miles of monocrop  heather may find their attention drawn to the eastern horizon.

An interesting activity somewhat better than twiddling one's thumbs is attempting to work out which distant power station is which. The Rotary Club were responsible for putting this excellent guide on a stone plinth at a suitable spot on Greenhouse Lane. From Blacka Moor the features would seem to be some ten degrees further anti-clockwise so Lincoln is almost exactly East, but the sequence is what matters: from North to South therefore we can see Ferrybridge, Eggborough, Drax, then a gap before West Burton, Cottam and High Marnham. Although those who have identified High Marnham may need to think again because the cooling towers were demolished last month!! While the different distances from Sheffield are not substantial they vary in visibility for a number of reasons; weather, time of day and which ones are actually working at the time.


Friday, 10 August 2012

Bridleways and Eastern Moors

On Saturday (tomorrow) the Eastern Moors Partnership is meeting people on site who are inetersted in the bridleway erosion on land very close to Blacka at Wimble Holme Hill and on Moss Road.

I've submitted the following suggestions on behalf of Friends of Blacka Moor:

Moss Road and Wimble Holme Hill Bridleway.

Friends of Blacka Moor proposals.

1 The landscape implications are our starting point. What will the area look like when changes have been made – from different viewpoints and in all seasons.

2 Moss Road’s erosion is a serious eyesore because its shows up as a dominant feature in a landscape that has been kept artificially open. There is little to distract the eye because there is no relief from the bareness of the view and the lack of diverse levels of vegetation which is all low.

3 Following from 2 the best solution to put right the way that the eyesore draws attention to itself is to arrange for a more naturalised vegetation to develop around the most seriously eroded sections of the road . This would mean some planting of native trees and taller shrubs such as gorse at strategic places along the route of the byway itself while carefully landscaping a diverted bridleway to the side. If done sensitively this would look like a naturalising landscape. And be an improvement on and softening of the bleak vegetation there at present allowing for more diverse wildlife to use the moor.

4 The advantage of 3 is that this can be done slowly over a period of time starting with the worst eroded sections. Especially that near Bole Hill.


Wimble Holme Hill Bridleway

1 There are two routes coming down from Wimble Holme Hill. Both are clearly visible from much of Blacka.

2 The easterly one should be an ideal walking route up to the top of Bole Hill but has now become so badly eroded that in certain conditions and at many times of the year it is unpleasant to use and some walkers refuse to walk on it.

3 We believe that these two routes are unsuitable as bridleways and should for that reason be no longer bridleways or public rights of way. Declassified but used by walkers who should be free to develop their own route as a desire line.

4 The exact route of the present bridleway should be overplanted with native shrubs and trees which should be sensitively planned to naturalise with those trees which have colonised at the bottom of the slope. This should also allow for maintaining open sections to promote views with most of the plantings being done at the top and bottom of the route(s).


The choice of this route as a bridleway was unwise in the first place. That now has to be dealt with responsibly and with imagination, thinking many years ahead. There are many bridleways in the vicinity and those most valued provide a round route. One possible future development could be provided by linking to the track near Stony Ridge – running parallel with the top boundary of Blacka Moor: a slight diversion just before the track reaches Stony Ridge would keep all users off the fast road. This could be done with a minimum of disturbance to the valued and largely unmanaged section of Totley Moor – an area good for wildlife because little disturbed. The details of this, if it is considered, would need to be consulted on.