Thursday, 30 May 2013


We never had the floods after the snow widely predicted. Instead there was plenty of dry cool weather. We've now had that rarity, a dry sunny bank holiday weekend.

This week normality returns with mild and wet, dripping leaves and racing streams.

Rewilding vs Managing

It’s no secret that the managers hate rewilding for obvious reasons and will find devious and increasingly shrill reasons for opposing it.

Here’s the link to the latest salvo in the campaign for a better and wilder countryside.

As this touches on so many of the issues around the management madness that has not been properly debated in the Peak District I’ll be quoting from it.

Here’s a link to one of the more informed comments below the article.

The same commenter refers to the tactics of the conservation industry thus:

It needs to be acknowledged that the opponents of this type of suggestion use false argument and are disingenous. People are puzzled why they never get anywhere with well supported arguments, it is because if you argue with a disingenuous person you won't get anywhere. They are manipulative and they will just pull your strings and lead you around in circles. Only a challenging approach in which you point out all their intellectual tricks succeeds. Manipulative people insist on politeness, because it's considered rude to challenge people, and yet this is the only way you will ever get anywhere with manipulative disingenuous people.

Anyone experienced this?

Wednesday, 29 May 2013


'Sheepwrecked' is the apt term invented by writer George Monbiot to describe the state of our uplands in his new book 'Feral'. Nobody who walks on Blacka and around has any excuse for not understanding what he means. To the shame of the NGO conservation organisations they have presided over and cheered on a controlled attack on the natural state of our upland vegetation using armies of woolly assault troops. The substitution of cattle is no better and can be worse. So it's now time to stop.

Interesting that reviews of Monbiot's book from all quarters including the right - Spectator and Times - are persuaded by the argument that we need a much more natural and less prescribed upland environment. Is this the tide turning? If so it's not a bit too soon. SMP did not want any debate on this. Neither did SWT.

So we now need to ask what SWT are up to. They claimed that they would be consulting on a new management plan last autumn. It didn't happen. Then they said March or earlier. No sign. Is there a re-thinking going on? Have they and Natural England realised they can no longer go on with the appalling conservation grazing that they have resolutely defended up to now? Is intelligence beginning to break through? Don't bet on it.

And of course we know that the outsourcing of management of public assets means we don't get to find out. Private organisations like SWT keep their cards close to the chest. Sheffield's Council is hardly exemplary in this but these NGOs are opaque.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Three Mornings

Despite the cold winds the three bank holiday mornings were as good as we could expect and bright as a bonus. But it's the trees that are the star characters. Can anyone seriously argue that there should not be more landscapes with some of these qualities?

Trees are the key ingredient and lots of them and we must stop cutting them down and bringing in sheep and cattle to attack them.  Not only do trees bring raw natural beauty within the woods but they release the wildlife potential of open areas between; there is always somewhere to hide.

More from the May weekend, here.

Let's Control It ?

It could be the next but one thing to be targeted by the control freaks of the conservation industry. Cotton grass has spread so successfully over the drab predictability of the heather beds that someone is sure to say there's too much of it. That's the way the minds of the managers and their apologists work. There will always be too much of this and too little of that. Too much birch and bracken and then surely one day to many deer.
Those of us who want more self determination and less intervention can only wonder at the tenacity of the intervention lobby who will continue to claim that without management there can be nothing.   ("This place is nothing without conservation" - NE officer for Dark Peak)

Shrubby Beds

The wilding shrubs bulging out where once there was carefully controlled heather and low fruitless bilberry are perfect shelter on a sunny morning with a cool breeze. Stags are up above the track in that vantage to see what bank holiday visitors might get up to. This is where, in previous years, they have been prone to look down on SWT's invading cattle.

Further down on the side of Blacka Hill hinds are also bedding down after a night's feeding. The hinds are quite large now yet some still accompanied by last year's calves. This is probably the pair we've kept watching through the autumn and winter.

After some warm sunshine some of the deer are now well on the way to revealing the true redness that will be worn for the remainder of the year.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Wood Notes Wild

First class performers out in the early hours including several warblers cuckoo, song thrush and blackbird and a rather too noisy chaffinch. Being in these woods is like satisfying a long thirst. The greening has been slow.

Now all is falling into place with most Beech, Birch, Rowan, Sycamore and Oak well dressed. The native oak gets going before the few exotic sort planted here some 40 years ago.

I've never quite warmed to these large leaved oaks.There is also some non standard Rowan that doesn't seem as well suited. Why they needed to go for novelty I don't know when the natives are plentiful and in my view better looking.

Whitebeam is welcome though, standing here before a Birch that is reluctant to spring to life.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Hard to Beat

The month of May and hillsides covered with newly-greened mixed woodland under the singular light of the hour following sunrise . Paradise can't offer that much more. Add to that the full bird orchestra with cuckoo, blackcap and blackbird to the fore. And all free with a bus pass.

Then breakfast calls you away - unless you choose to take it on the hoof.

                                                                                                                    More -
 Not all can be as relaxed as those who've eaten earlier.They rest away from the cool wind.

There may be many mouths to feed.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Secrets of Wilder Places

This is the place to take children. Infinitely more fun than the latest screen entertainment. But then ............ ?

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A Long Time Coming ...

We've had to wait for the question to be asked forcefully on a national platform. This blog has been saying much the same thing for several years as a response to the desecration of land that was rewilding before the managers arrived.

This should now be the start of a national debate that should have happened long ago and certainly as part of Sheffield Moors Partnership's consultation.

Something Extra ...

If any bird deserves extra rations from the Old Wall Caff it's the male blackbird. His singing is so magnificently poised and melodic and he's also trying to feed a demanding family. But the constant movement of the suspended table is not usually for him. That's alright for the tits and robins but he prefers the solid feel of the ground beneath him or the wall itself. But these are special times and today's menu is just what on his list. So, wobbles or not, down he goes.

The chaffinch and tits are now less likely to go for the grated cheese as a first course. It's seed that has that extra nutrition they like to find at this time of year. And there's not much seed around in May,(while every supermarket has lots of cheddar).

Intruder Alert

They can be quite tolerant of your presence in the areas most used by walkers, allowing you to get fairly close before making off at a smart pace. We've noticed over several years that these months when they're shedding the winter coats are often when they are more approachable.

It's a different matter if you find yourself walking in those parts they think of as their own, and not expecting intruders They don't like it at all. They spot you quickly and respond immediately. The alarm is raised with a loud bark, repeated once or twice and echoing through the woods. Suddenly you feel alien and clumsy.


Another thing to set one up for the day.

Those experiences which  delight us and stay in the mind for the rest of the day and beyond are a feature of natural sites rarely found elsewhere. It's refreshment from a raw natural beauty not found in places planned and contrived (usually badly) by a poorly motivated human workforce. Nature just does these things better by itself.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


Is it really so much to expect that animals used by man are treated with dignity? When you decide to call a piece of land a nature reserve and then you decide to put farm livestock on it (to suppress the wild flowers!) isn't there a case for treating those animals with respect? Does it have to be so obvious that they are units of production? Come in number 41 your time is up. 21 too. The mint sauce awaits.

The wild animals have kept theirs but for how much longer. In this ruthlessly materialist world now that they have been earmarked to be part of the economy what will they be looking like in a few years time?

Saturday, 18 May 2013

In the Trees

Even without sunshine there are views in the woods that deliver light. Some leaves radiate their stored energy. May in these woods brings with it a new sense of depth and secrecy.

Beech is fully out now and birch has finally made the effort.

Some are grateful for that.

Others look on.

Friday, 17 May 2013


It’s sometimes called Strawberry Lee Plantation, though within it the trees and shrubs planted are well outnumbered by those that have grown from wild seed. It has been an excellent case of rewilding which has taken the neglected interventions of previous years and turned them into something special of its own. For many years nothing was done to this woodland and it has been much the better for it.  Near the main road it was at some time in the distant past the site of a house of some sort. Rhododendron  was planted in the gardens plus Sycamore and Scots Pine. The Sycamore is mostly fringing the road, the Pine fairly well scattered and the Rhododendron has managed to circle the whole woodland enclosing the wilder inner parts of it in a protective shelter from wind and noise.  This inner part is a delightful unmanaged mix of alder, pine and birch underlaid with bilberry, grassy area and bramble and at this time of year plenty of wood sorrel. In some places the bilberry can be seen growing in alder crevices 6 feet from the ground. 

How long it has gone its own way is not known. It is part wild and part secret garden a haven for wildlife who seek out its spaces within the shelter belt of rhododendron when the cold winds blow. Undeniably the rhododendron spreads and would continue to do so. But its value is also immense to the area. Having lived this way for many years it has become an established network of wildlife links with foxes, deer and unusual bird species patronising its environs and enjoying the encircling shelter belt it provides. 

There have been some magical moments when wildlife has been seen through the writhing boughs of trees that could have come from a story by Grimm or an illustration by Rackham.

Only the most sensitive and imaginative people should be trusted with the management of this site and true to form and expectation we’ve got anything but that. The sensible approach would be to declare ‘as far as this and no further’, firmly stopping the spread of rhododendron and checking it once a year. Instead SWT have done the opposite. Tempted by seeing pound signs flashing and the prospect of grants and the needs of their organisation they decided to go to war laying waste to large sections of the growth. The mess and the devastation has managed to destroy the magic of yet another special place. And the debris has been left around in many places for over a year. It’s enough to make you wonder if we belong to the same species when you read the words ‘it will take some time to recover’.

Meanwhile in fine woods further east there are several  rhododendron shrubs which ought to be dealt with before they spread any further.  Nobody would have complained. But it’s too small a job. It is typical of the way that SWT operate that they respond to grants rather than consider priorities or the appearance and character of the site they’ve been given to manage.  

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Foaming Streams

Those who want to control everything can't yet control the weather. There are people who would not consider walking in such weather as this. But it is Blacka's best feature that it owes a lot to the years of no management. A good time to see nature in control is when the water is flowing fast as it was today.

The management would if they could of course. It is simply what they do. It must give them real pain to see the 'wrong things' growing, just as to see the 'wrong ideas' being promoted or even, in some cases, recorded.
But raw natural beauty beats anything that is designed by a committee be it the Board of Natural England or the Steering Group of the SMP Master Plan or the coordinated professional Lobbyists of the NFU.

A lone stag, one of the bigger ones, was shaking himself dry near the woods, his velvets already well advanced.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Paths of Bygone Days

Some routes on Blacka have still not been discovered by bikers.

This reminds us that hundreds of paths in the area used to be very similar to this, genuine walkers paths that never got past a basic level of erosion if it can be called that; some might describe it as a benign compression that remained much the same from one year, even one decade, to the next.

The hope that this one (below) would remain the same - much as it was when I first walked it and continued for nearly 30 years - has long since gone.

This is one of the stretches that has held up best to date but close looking reveals a steady decline following increased biking and a lack of regrowth of surface grasses. Meanwhile other sections of the same path further along have developed deep ruts and then serious widening even deltas. Once it becomes obvious that bikers are ignoring the 'walkers only' signs as it already has, then it becomes open season for others even horse riders.

We will then finish up with similar ugly repairs to those carried out on the Devils Elbow and the Wimble Holm Hill bridleways, changing their appearance permanently and for the worse but with the advantage for the managers that it gives them something to claim credit for  in their reports which is why they do nothing to prevent the situation developing.


I've been told that an item appeared on a BBC TV programme that I never watch called Countryfile recently in which there were scenes of Wimble Holm Hill. I understand it concerned the repair of footpaths in which case it will have been about the bridleway I've posted pictures of.  My informant tells me it was presented as if the bikers were not the cause of the erosion. It wouldn't surprise me at all. There's been a coordinated propaganda campaign not just from bikers groups but also from land managers like those of EMP and SMP.  They are adept at using press releases as you have to be if you spend your time excusing the indefensible. The true situation speaks for itself but only to those who actually see it. Press releases and propaganda are addressed to those who have no first hand knowledge.

Before the bridleway repair you could hardly make out the path when looking up from the north. Now it looks like this:

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Birds

You don't have to label yourself a 'bird watcher' to enjoy birds. Labels anyway are best avoided if you want to stay independent.

Neither does it matter so much if the bird you see is exactly what you think it might be unless you have a meticulously kept journal in which you tick off each specimen that you see. (I did collect train numbers as an eight-year-old).

The weeks in early May are often the best to actually see the birds rather than tell them from song and call.

Our friend here is just visible because leaves are not fully out. But is it a warbler or a Whitethroat?

Other birds make life easier for the identifier.

Floor in Spring

The woodland floor in Spring is that way because there is enough light coming through to encourage those that are discouraged by deep shade, and because the competition is less intense.

Whatever the merits of Bluebell it's the much smaller Wood Sorrel that wins favour here.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Where We're At

As at 12th May:  state of the greening.