Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Management Plan

Those who have walked on Blacka regularly over the last few years will have noticed that there have been no cattle on the moorland parts this year. That may be down to the fact that there is a new HLS agreement or that there is no 'approved' new management plan. But don't hold your breath.

The next meeting of the RAG is likely to be about SWT's next management plan. It's a bit surprising that it's not already been scheduled for August - then there's a good chance that some of those with independent views will be on holiday.
According to SWT's Chief Executive, Liz Ballard, who spoke at the Action for Involvement meeting the organisation will soon be consulting on this.
For SWT the most important element of the management of Blacka is livestock grazing - it brings in farm subsidies and Agri environment monies.That is despite the fact that a very large proportion of Blacka is actually woodland and has received a comparatively small amount of attention in the past. The real point though is all about money. Using livestock to implement anti-nature plans brings in funds. That is therefore the main focus of the management. It should also be thoroughly examined at any public consultation. Is this a nature reserve or is it a site to be exploited for gain?

Much public money has gone into this area.

It is part of the site and called a nature reserve. it smells like  a sewer not surprising seeing as we pay to keep it as a sheep lavatory. If the sheep were not here nature would ensure that a good range of natural plants would be visible. Instead we have a few grasses that sheep don't eat and thistles.

A few yards further on there is a change. Whoopee! Different thistles.


RAG stands for Reserve Advisory Group. It started off with some sort of official status but it was always hard to say what. By now it's a bit of a joke. When SWT first took over on Blacka there were regular meetings and groups who are identified by SWT, Sheffield Council, etc as 'stakeholders' attended. These were people from CPRE, Ramblers, various wildlife groups the Council itself, even councillors, although these have never seen this as an area that interested them, plus a number of local people and users of the site, when they eventually found out what was happening. The meetings were regualr at first, every two months or so. Over the years almost all of the original attenders have gone, 'stakeholders' rarely bother to come and many local users have lost interest, knowing their influence is less than minimal. SWT still try to maintain a fiction in their 'official' documents that the RAG has some significance but it doesn't. Those who turn up have no wish to get engaged in helping to guide any decisions - those people have long since become disillusioned. Apart from the occasional newcomer the only ones who bother to turn up to the very occasional meetings are those who are quite happy to listen to what SWT have chosen to talk about and fill the time. SWT don't want and don't expect serious questions or to be interrupted, certainly not participatory decision making or informed scrutiny. So those who've found out over the years that their views will be ignored or marginalised or misrepresented have simply found better things to do. The meeting becomes a cosy home for those who accept the official line. A bit like the old cap-doffing to the landowners, this time it's paying your respects to the managers and officers.

Well Grown

This is the weather the bracken likes, the time when it gets its own way and sometimes reaches taller than a man. Given the chance after a heavy shower it flops over the paths and wets your clothes. The warmth and the rain are good for many living things and gardeners know that weeds and slugs thrive in these conditions with even the most carefully tended plots likely to get overgrown. That's not a word that should apply to woods and areas classed as nature reserves except that the official paths and tracks that provide human access can benefit from attention. Even then I'm one of the first to get off the path and into the bracken and the bramble, for it's often there that the secrets will be found.

Places for nature should not be constrained by dubious claims made by the management lobby. The closer the woods get to a rain forest the better. The less evidence of human management the more mystery, the more raw natural beauty the more I want to explore. And it's where the trees make their own spaces and the creepers wind themselves up the trunks and along the branches, where forks become home to ground plants lusting for more light, where fallen trees are left with no chain-sawn limbs. The magic of a shaft of sun lighting up a small part of a darker scene helps to stimulate thoughts of the creatures that find a home in just these spots.

Bracken is only part of the life of the woods and it gets taller and denser when clearings are left. Out in the open progress through it is slow and care is needed when planting each foot. Once the trees are allowed to grow naturally in such places the bracken will resume its rightful place as just one of the elements. Here it dominates in July and August... deer a fine place to withdraw into away from most human gaze.

Thrushes and blackbirds leave purple droppings on walls and paths.....

......letting us know they've found that many of the best fruit are growing under the bracken fronds which only appeared after the fruit was set.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Outside Public Control

Some further comments (rather belated) on the Action for Involvement event which discussed management of the Sheffield Moors and other upland areas in the country.

This was the debate that the Sheffield Moors Partner managers did not want and wished would not happen. They now hope the issues raised will be quickly forgotten.
Several times we tried to get these public servants to listen to legitimate concerns raised by the public who are their employers and their paymasters.

The main element in this is a failure to consider future management of this large area of land that went beyond the predictable and boring.They opted for something little changed from a status quo that sets in stone an artificial landscape pretty similar to that which game shooting elite prefers.

Now they are saying, when pushed,  that they like the idea of rewilding but not here. They say they actually like a less rigid landscape. It's just that they can't see that they can do it here.  This though is only when they have been made to confront the argument through the Action for Involvement event and a high-profile speaker. Suddenly they see the point. What does that say about them?

Up to then they had been making great claims for boring grouse moors as being somehow cherishesd and iconic and telling us that 'the people liked them.

They are there as custodians of public land spending public money sometimes by the shedful.  But as employed public servants they are stretching their remit and  serving their own interests and their own chosen agendas independently of the public. Does anyone seriously doubt that the key areas of their planning are decided between themselves and only presented in a way that will give them a chance to claim public approval? Does anyone seriously believe that they set about public consultation events with an open mind?It's really beyond questioning that they plan their public events to make sure that their preferred result will prevail. They  pick and choose those elements of the public they think they can get on board and who will back them up - tame selected consultees- and favour them with encouragement and attention invitations and their attentions, awarding them a status as favoured stakeholders. They don't want the wider public debate that is desperately needed with independent and younger people who have no preformed positions. Yet they know or should know that there is no absolute rightness in their preferred way forward on artificial landscapes on which the scenery and wildlife simply reflects what those managing want.

For month after month the management clique of the NGOs and officers in Natural England and Sheffield City Council have been cobbling together a set of documents that is intended to show that an exhaustive consultation has taken place about the area now known as Sheffield Moors. The narrative these papers tell is that everything has been above board and responsive to the public - a consultation that is the last word in public engagement and participation. Fraud..........

I would like to have a pound, even a euro, for each managerhour that has been spent on putting this documentation in order: then I might be able to afford that property in Mayfair and regular trips to Glyndebourne. Yet what is the truth behind this consultation? It's probably been hard and it's been exhaustive yes but the kind of hard tricky work we're talking about is done behind  desks working out ways of presenting their own ideas which serve managers interests in such a way that enough of the consulted members of the public will accept them.

All the time in the shadowy background are the landowning interests who get to the table at the board of Natural England and the use their own grouse moor ownership and public relatioans links to set the parameters the way they want. The local managers at RSPB and NT and SWT are small beer here and simply don't have the authority to go outside what their corporate top level bureaucracies decide is in the interests of their organisations.

When I blog here I am being transparent about my views and I give those in the conservation industry who I know read these words a chance to respond  to defend to criticise what I say . And it's all out in the open. If anyone disagrees I'm prepared to respond and have a discussion. The local conservation managers and the odd band of those who support them are not interested in discussion. They were pleaded with to have a proper consultation at which these matters could be aired. But despite spending over £50k on their phoney consultation - mainly devoted to cobbling together documents that made it look like they had consulted even when they had not - it was the Action for Involvement event that got them out of their bunkers, an event that was put together on a shoestring budget.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Monbiot, RSPB and the Eastern Moors

After his attendance at the Action for Involvement meeting in Sheffield a month ago George Monbiot was taken onto parts of the Eastern Moors by the RSPB. Presumably they were hoping to persuade him that he was misguided in his criticism of the interventionist management which he described in his book as a Conservation Prison.

He guest-wrote a piece on the RSPB's blog afterwards that is interesting. Once he had paid due attention to the need for politeness he returned to his main theme, concluding that the management of the moors desperately needs to be reviewed:

Sometimes I receive coherent answers from the conservation managers I speak to, which are debatable but at least consistent. Sometimes the only answer I receive is “that’s what the rules say.” But isn’t it time we began to challenge the rules? Isn’t it time we began to question the way sites are designated, and to challenge the ecological blitzkreig required to maintain them in what is laughably called “favourable condition”? Isn’t it time we began asking why we have decided to privilege certain species over others? Isn’t it time we started wondering whether the collateral damage required to support them is worth it?
After all, how did nature cope before we came along? To judge by the actions of British conservation groups, it must have been in a pretty dismal state for the three billion years before humans arrived to look after it.

Here's the link to the full article:

Sunday, 28 July 2013

July Flowers

Before this morning's rain bramble flowers in places were wide open as if emboldened by the settled conditions.

Honeysuckle has been having a good time in the woods.

Out on the moor and coming through the gate, harebells mingle with tall grasses, all very different to last year.

Wild angelica is one of the more elegant of the umbellifers with purple stems and sometimes pink flower heads


Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Young Life - update

I've been asked for more details of the injured deer found on Sunday, so here they are with an update:

It was first seen on Sunday morning lying in the shrubbery just over the wall from the top track.
It appeared unwilling to move. Seeing that it was still in the same spot an hour later we approached and I could see its front legs were at an awkward angle. At least one seemed broken. Leaving it there did not seem an option with weekend dog -walking likely to cause it distress. The RSPCA seemed the likeliest point of contact but Sunday is not easy for contacting any organisation.

By the time the RSPCA did attend it had been lying there for more than 24 hours. I had returned to check several times during Sunday and early Monday. The RSPCA officer who did come kept in contact with me by phone, necessary because finding the animal was tricky - it had managed to somehow drag itself further away from the track and into the woods. But it was plainly in distress and frightened. We agreed that its injuries were untreatable and that it would need to be put down.

Wildlife is always vulnerable and the difference with large animals like deer and also foxes and badgers is that we are more likely to see them. It's also more distressing somehow when you know or believe that man has had a hand in their injury - a roadkill or something more intentional like the stag's head found in the car park 3 years ago. In this case we agreed that the likeliest cause of the injuries was the animal's attempt to jump the wall at a place where various tree cutting debris had been piled leading to a disastrous landing.

One cause of concern is that the wildlife of the area is under the protection of various organisations including the wildlife trust, the Peak National Park, and other conservation organisations. Yet attempts to contact these people on a Sunday when many people would be expected to be out enjoying the outdoors and might see problems led to no action being taken - at least those we did finally make contact with did not get back to us and the animal was still there on Monday morning. SWT operate an office hours phone line. They say they are there to build a better future for wildlife but the only emergency number I've seen on Blacka has been for the farmer who grazes livestock. PDNPA's Ranger service was contacted on Sunday and I reported the situation mentioning dog walking but nobody got back to me. The RSPCA was good when we finally got through but the only number for them was a national number and the wait was more than 30 minutes.

Scenes from the life of one wild animal:

One Year.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Young Life

Young deer on Blacka Moor are not in danger from predators such as wolf or lynx that would be around if we only had a more natural landscape. Man himself can be a problem. The severe winter this year must have been a serious shock to the system. But throughout the mother hinds have been close by and looking on.

Now only just a year old a young stag has suffered a, surely fatal, broken leg probably from leaping over a wall and into some logs lying awkwardly on the other side. However much you're aware of the inevitable state of life in the wild it's hard to resist the welling anthropomorphism telling you that it's so unfair. This is probably the one we've watched from his first spotty appearance and whose mother could occasionally be seen doting on him until just recently. This post now seems a bit prescient.

One Year

Influence Without Accountability

Observation suggests that some decisions are made by show of hands some through favour, influence and lobbying power and some via the particular whim of whoever's been put there by the small number of voters who can be bothered to turn out at elections. But most well informed people think decision making processes at all levels should be transparent and subject to rigorous scrutiny. Queries should be answered not evaded. It's a cop out to do things purely by numbers. And I have examples to show that the present Sheffield Council rejects the majority anyway when it suits it.

According to Councillor Bowler who does the environment stuff for Sheffield's political decision-making Cabinet, 'not everyone agrees with you' (i.e.with me).  Hmm. Did I ever think they did? It's odd that others who don't want to answer serious points raised also use these words. No response to points made just 'others think differently'.  And numbers don't seem to come into it either. The petition of 2006 with 761 signatures was dismissed out of hand  with no opposing petition and flawed arguments against.

The argument was from this side for more natural public land and less farming exploitation of the landscape and less farm subsidies. All entrenched in the Master Plan of SMP. But it was principally for more public debate on these vital issues.

Those who were on the other side who were quoted by Cllr Bowler as supporting the farming and the subsidies and presumably the lack of meaningful debate were Terry Howard whose twin fiefdoms are the Ramblers and Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland, added to a regular presence at the Local Access Forum. People in these organisations may be qualified to speak on access issues but have no authority to speak on anything else; certainly not without engaging in wider debate. But they conspicuously refrain from debating these other  things and have never tried to discuss them with me or comment on this blog despite knowing about it and doubtless seeing it at least occasionally. They prefer to make their comments behind the scenes away from the public gaze, a profoundly undemocratic practice. They shied away from attending the Icarus consultation on Blacka Moor in 2006 and have given their support to the conservation industry's empire building by the back door. These access campaigners go on fighting yesterday's battles but don't ever seem to notice that the fight has moved on from access rights to what it is we're getting access to.

Where do I get the chance to swap views in public with Terry Howard who for all I know, and it's a fair bet, believes that no trees should ever grow on our uplands and sheep should be everywhere, if he does not comment on this blog or any other forums I know of? Well informed discussion and debate is a precondition of good decision making. We don't get much of it in the conservation sphere nor in Sheffield politics.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


There comes a time when they have to be sent out into the world to make their own way. A group of yearlings who until very recently were being watched over with a keen maternal eye. Now mum has other business. They look as if the world is suddenly less predictable and soon make off into the bracken.

Now to Cash In

The Sheffield Moors Partnership's Master Plan duly got its approval from Sheffield's Cabinet yesterday. In reality that was secured months ago and the appearance on the Cabinet agenda was for purely formal reasons. The organisations trusted with management of public land now have the go ahead to rake in lots of subsidy monies from Higher Level Stewardship and Single Farm Payment by treating all the land as if it is farm land with grazing sheep and cattle. Despite the voluminous report going to Cabinet on the consultation there has in truth been no debate on this aspect of the plan , though people were not discouraged from writing comments on post it notes. If consultations like this are now an essential part of the democratic process in an advanced country then God help democracy.

Bells and Stars

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Country Diary

I was interested in this.  As an occasional reader of the Guardian's Country Diary I noticed that today's was about Ringinglow and the unusual excess of cotton grass (bog-cotton to some) just round the corner from here, mentioned numerous times on this blog. And it's written by Ed Douglas a journalist who, according to his profile on The Guardian, has a 'passion for the wilder corners of the natural world'. Surely then he knows that there's nothing wild about the moors he's talking about. And that the cotton grass explosion this year is welcome mainly because it's a  change from the monotonous look of this stretch of over managed moorland. But reading his piece I sense he's not really thought about the management issues. Unless he has links with the farming and grouse moor industries.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Pick Your Own

There weren't many ripe ones available when the mistles first came looking this year.

That's changed.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Joint Appearance

Has there been another year when the two have been seen together?

Cotton Grass and Bog Ashodel.

Happy accidents?

Friday, 12 July 2013

Beards and Spikes

Rarely does cotton grass stay around so far into the year. Any longer and it will provide useful disguise material for Christmas.

Foxglove though is about on time,

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Male and Female

In different parts of wilder Blacka, stag and hind

More photos of deer taken on Blacka this morning, here.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


A recent comment on the subject of a more natural landscape

"In Germany, where I partly live, the wolves are back again .Wild boars roam everywhere. Beavers populate the rivers. Sea Eagles fly over the sea. Lynxes hunt in the woods.The European wild cat is seen in many forests. Small herds of woodland bisons, being reintroduced,exist.Sometimes a bear crosses the borders ( they will be back in ten years time, say the specialists).
It works in this modern country, which treasures it´s woodlands.
It would work in England too."



'She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways' is a short poem by Wordsworth. It came to mind unexpectedly when I arrived at this spot. An association of sorts.

The bog asphodel is flowering here this July. Whether or not it would be untrodden if cattle had been on site we don't know. So far, and this is early yet, there are not so many as some previous years and we hope the damage done last year has not caused lasting effects.

Wordsworth is describing an idealised but under-appreciated woman, Lucy, with whom the poet has fallen in love partly because of her modest and retiring nature.

"A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye,
Fair as a star............"

Some of this seems relevant particularly the star. Bog asphodel may well be a lot more spectacular than what Wordsworth imagined.

Should the managers decree that cattle will come on here later, i.e. after the flowering period, of course trampling might do just as much damage to the following year's display as an earlier invasion. But then, as Mark says,we, the public, can have no serious influence now that the HLS has been set in stone.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Feral by George Monbiot

This inspiring book was worth waiting for. It complements the work of Mark Fisher by providing a positive and uplifting vision of what a rewilded landscape could give to the people who visit it once the dessicated  bureaucracy of the current dead conservatism of wildlife conservation has been swept away along with its addiction to farming and subsidies. It would be marvellous if that could happen easily of course and it's Monbiot's gift that when reading his book we believe with him that it's not just possible but just round the corner.

Some of us have waited a long time for this issue to be projected into the public arena. The vested interests even  those in public bureaucracies who prefer a quiet life and resent challenge have been anxious to avoid discussion of these issues and they have been supported in numerous ways by the farming/landowning/game shooting interests. Now this has been brought out into the open and we just have to see if it will be followed up with a level of public interest that's enough to get things moving.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Managerial Nimbyism

I have a soft spot for Nimbys, in as far as they try to protect their area from exploitation, but not much respect for those who wish something was just somewhere else so they can forget it and leave other people to deal with the implications. Defend your own backyard by all means but be consistent and fair to other communities.

Sheffield Moors Partnership people got into a tangle on Thursday, a kind of institutional nimbyism. They were at the Action for Involvement event on the Uplands and Moorlands.

They listened to a compelling case made by George Monbiot for a wilder landscape without farm livestock where nature makes the decisions not managers. They had recently of course completed their own Master Plan for the Sheffield Moors and it insists on having 'extensive grazing' and plenty of management intervention. So they could hardly agree could they?

So we had the spectacle of Roy Taylor of RSPB saying he was all in favour of rewilding but not on his patch thank you. Let it happen in the Lake District or somewhere.

This was music to the ears of the National Trust and Sheffield Wildlife Trust who, along with RSPB and Sheffield City Council, had indicated in their draft Master Plan that what they were doing was 

               creating a model for the way all UK uplands should be managed.

So when do we believe them?