Two things this week are giving the upland managers cause for concern. How easy it would be, they must think, if we didn't have the public to deal with. They can be so annoying. Land management organisations feel this more than most. The public can be difficult. And you're expected to have consultations. After a while some of the public out there get to see behind the tricks of the trade - you know, how you can set up consultations to get the results close to those you want.
One of these consultations is about the Sheffield Moors Partnership. By now the draft Master Plan was supposed to be circulating and gathering lots of positive comments aided by guest appearances at various events where people would be sure to be in a receptive mood. Now the publication of the draft plan has been delayed until somewhere near the end of September. We can only speculate about the reasoning for this. Has it been less easy to get agreement from the partners? Is there a funding problem? I remember a pledge given to me that all projected figures for income to each organisation from farm subsidies and other grants would be made public when the draft plan is launched. I'm waiting with interest. I hope SWT are not invoking commercial sensitivity. I'm told that the draft will be about 30 pages. That has to be put alongside management plans for each organisation that can run to 2 or 3 times that, though the recent example with the EMP was much less - more a summary with a 'technical' document somewhere unrevealed in the background that the public is probably not clever enough to be shown. SMP's consultation mechanisms will be very interesting to see.
Another plan being consulted on is that for Wadsley and Loxley Common where the managers want to install highland cattle. A letter in this weeks Sheffield Telegraph from a horse rider gives an indication of just how Sheffield's Parks and Countryside service sees the role of consultation. The approach is familiar to many of us. The writer expresses concerns that the meetings were unsatisfactory because different officers gave contradictory messages and because those at a specially organised meeting didn't really want to respond to all the questions. When have we heard this before? Local users are wondering how the cattle and people will interact. This is the usual problem of farmification. The managers are just holding their breath crossing their fingers and obeying orders to get on and do it while going through the motions and compiling anything they can put together that helps them claim they have the backing of enough of the public. Their main weapon of propaganda is the press release, usually repeated near-verbatim by the under resourced local newspapers. This is the story as it often is with the conservation land managers. Almost certainly the next move will be a replying letter in the Telegraph next week from somebody full of reassuring noises and expressing support for the intervention. This will probably from the local 'quisling' group, one of whom once claimed that the management there was necessary because otherwise too many trees might grow where evil men would hide waiting to jump out and frighten respectable ladies.
They might even get someone from SWT claiming that highland cattle at Blacka Moor have created no problems; these groups have a habit of closing ranks. If so they will be skating round the incidents where young girls on ponies were prevented from getting through the newly installed gates by cows clustering the other side and then blocking the bridleways. Not to mention turning much of the place into a brownfield site, destroying displays of wild flowers and creating a broad quagmire where there was previously a nice narrow path. It is a simple choice: do you want the place to be for people or do you want it to be a farm? Very simple really. Farms get lots of lovely farm subsidies that the managers want to get their hands on.