Monday, 30 September 2013

Woolly Vandals

A mass break-out of middle eastern invaders has resulted in considerable damage to the sensitive ecology of those parts of Blacka slowly recovering from last year's bovine destruction and already struggling against incursions from philistines with tractors and poison sprays.

Why can't Sheffield Wildlife Farmlife Trust* control their imported immigrant workforce? It's bad enough walking in the 'Crop&Crap Enclosure'. Now we have to put up with it here too.

Perhaps one of these people would like to contact me and tell me how they scrutinise the activities of the disfunctional organisation they are connected to?

* ...or possibly Officelife Trust?

Friday, 27 September 2013

Eating Fast

Possibly on the Fast Diet, he was breakfasting on apple and didn't stay around for long.

The presence of a shrew nearby could be an alternative explanation for his hurry.

Sunday, 22 September 2013


Probably the oldest of the locals with a broad back and true earth-born carriage, there was a certain weariness in his eyes this morning. At first glance his antlers appeared festooned with cobwebs. Hardly polished and ready for action but suitable for an old warrior.

Heavenly Prospect? - or More Conservation Industry Phoniness?

It's been amazingly difficult to get the conservation industry people to commit themselves to what they expect the  landscape of the Sheffield Moors will look like after they've been managing it for, say,  ten, twenty or however many years. I've asked them on numerous occasions but they are reluctant to say. Is that because they don't really know or, worse, haven't even given it much thought? Neither would surprise me. I once pressed them and was told they were developing something using some talented computer person. But that didn't happen. So is it unreasonable of me to ask when they spend a lot of our money on a consultation in which they claim to be asking people what we think of their plans that they should provide us with some kind of visual response. After all, in a way that's what I've been doing regularly here with photographs when I promote the value of more natural landscapes - and that costs the public nothing at all. But the point is it isn't difficult to show people what you would like the landscape to look like.

Well, from the pages of The Times we can get some idea of what the conservation people would like to claim their management will do for Burbage. That is if you assume Burbage might be comparable in some way to the top of Kinder Scout. Both are pretty bleak and over exploited. The National Trust.has released a mock-up of what they want that landscape to look like.

Looking at the desired result I'm intrigued. I expect Capability Brown would be interested though whether he would approve of a treeless prospect I'm not so sure. Because landscape gardening is what we're talking about here. The first time I challenged Nigel Doar of SWT about their prescriptive approach to Blacka he was desperate to insist that they didn't go in for landscape gardening, even implying a certain contempt for that kind of land management. There we have it again: these people never stop telling themselves and others that they are managing wild landscapes; while at the same time they're planning all sorts of management interventions designed to turn it into a farm.  As if it can be anything remotely comparable to wilderness when its farmed with new stone walled and barbed wire sheep and cattle enclosures. It's as if someone set out to live purely off the land  like primitive man, without any modern comforts while openly acknowledging his tent had a tumble drier and ironing board and fine wine cellar.

The picture of what Kinder Scout might look like under their management is another example of the conservation industry's fairy stories. This landscape should have trees on it. Where are the animals that stop the trees growing? They perversely allow trees down below but not on high. And they choose to portray an idealised vision that cannot represent a true picture. More likely it will be dull brown for most of the year. Bring back Capability Brown; at least that would be honest - we don't pretend his designs are anything less than artificial.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Gathering

Older stags are gathering after several weeks of sparse attendance. The season's climax comes closer. There's some impressive headgear on show here. And strength and self assurance enough for a champion.

But further off another head.

But this one could be the one to put your money on.

Half a mile away one of the top prizes is being modest......................

.....................................  while another looks more eager.

But among the hinds is one character we've seen before and whose experience has taught him to stake his claim early. Some serious debate to come. Must be the conference season.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Further Confirmation

Businesses often start up to satisfy a public need or perform an important service identified as a public good - something that otherwise would not get done leaving us all the poorer for it. Not so with the wildlife trusts it would seem. In their case judging by recent examples it would seem they conform to the alternative model - of those who go into business to provide profitable employment for those who run the business: i.e. the self-serving model.

It's further confirmation that the only justification for the existence of Sheffield Wildlife Trust is to receive grants that can be used to perform tasks that have the sole purpose of giving them a role in life and a rake-off to keep their organisation going. Following on from the last post which pointed to one of those job creation tasks, this morning presents us with another even more disputable example: building a new 700 metre long livestock wall.

The trouble with this is: first  it spends more public money on a job which there was never public demand for. It also reinforces the trust's flawed ideology that says farming and human intervention is the be all and end all of our landscape; they would like to educate the public, from the smallest infant, into accepting their dogma that wildlife could not thrive on the land without wildlife trust intervention, a palpable nonsense as what on earth did wildlife do before they came along? And the crowning insult to our intelligence comes when they tell us that 'favourable condition' of the kind they claim to aspire to for this land can only be achieved if they spread cow defecation all over it. What kind of idiots they must think we are. The bankers pre-2008 had the same view of their customers.

Not many years ago SWT arranged for an itinerant RAG meeting onsite which I and others attended some of those there being members and trustees of SWT. At one point on the walk the Reserve Manager stopped everyone and asked whether anyone thought it a good idea to restore and rebuild the stone wall between the sheep enclosure and the moor. Nobody could find a good word for the idea and all agreed that it would be a waste of public money. The SWT people there agreed. That work is now precisely what the wildlife trust proposes to do and it will be funded by Higher Level Stewardship funds.

700 metres of stone walling to facilitate cattle and sheep grazing. The sheer hypocrisy of the notice informing us of this is hard to take. Talk of mice and voles and lizards is just so much office dishwater.. Small animals don't need rebuilt walls -it's more than likely their preferred homes, made for themselves in the old piles of stones will be disturbed in the process.  Have they been surveyed? Knowing SWT's record it would be no surprise to find they had concocted such a survey showing a majority of the  local wildlife are in favour of the plan. And some of the people who have come to consultations in the past would not bat an eyelid.

Meddling, Coppicing and Management Compulsion

The conservation industry justifies itself by doing things. Often things would be no worse, even better, if they left them alone. That's the lesson from careful observation over many years. The act of justification becomes a job opportunity in itself: a subset of the PR industry is PR in relation to farm and land management. The grouse moor owners are the most entrenched users of PR in land management. They pour sackfuls of money into it.

Wildlife Trusts have a dubious relation with the moor owners, never fully admitting they are in the same game but by their actions showing little difference; it's good for their member-recruiting to point to the few areas of disagreement like raptor persecution so they can show some distance from the shooting branch of the land management industry.

In the case of coppicing they go to extraordinary lengths to 'prove' that woods managed by man are better than anything nature can do.  A quite balanced piece by Paul Evans in The Guardian's usually conservative Country Diary dealt with this yesterday. I quote:

To some, coppicing is essential to woodland management, and without it the woods fall into neglect, disrepute, the conservation equivalent of moral turpitude. To foresters and those intent on standing in for nature, a derelict coppice is a dereliction of duty, and the butterflies and wildflowers that flourish in the open woodland spaces created by coppicing are reason enough for that intrusive kind of management. However, in this neglected, disreputable little enclave of unmanaged hazel, there is a feeling of freedom from human management, a place worked only by the wild things that inhabit it.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Some Figures and Some Secrets

Grants for Blacka Moor

Hectares: 122.87
Funding Scheme: Entry Level plus Higher Level Stewardship
Total Funding: £184,321
Start date: 01/03/2013
Recipients: Sheffield Wildlife Trust

Grants for section of Eastern Moors from Wimble Holme Hill across to Owler Bar

Hectares: 403
Funding Scheme: Countryside Stewardship
Total Funding: Undeclared (secret)
Start date: this ends this month and will be replaced by an HLS
Recipients: Secret. But new HLS funding will go to Eastern Moors Partnership in addition to the  £1.6million already committed -see next area below.

Grants for the remainder of Eastern Moors (including the section adjoining the Stony Ridge track west of Blacka.)

Hectares: 1,976
Funding Scheme: Entry Level plus HLS
Total Funding: £1,664,579
Start date: 01/09/2011
Recipients: Eastern Moors Partners (RSPB/NT)

Grants for Burbage and Houndkirk Moors

Hectares: 905
Funding Scheme: Entry Level plus HLS
Total Funding: Secret
Start date: 01/06/2013
Recipients: Secret
Owners of this property are Sheffield City Council on behalf of the Sheffield public!!!

It is astounding that property owned by Sheffield City Council is attracting what must be a huge sum in HLS and the name of the recipient is secret. What is there to hide? We know that until three years ago a Derbyshire farmer held a tenancy on this land bringing in a huge sum. He was kicked off after being prosecuting for mistreating his livestock. Surely SCC cannot have handed the land and the potential for raking in more wealth over to another farmer? And don't we, the landowning public, deserve to know the details?

Monday, 16 September 2013

High Level Scam

I have sent in a request to Natural England for full details of the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement dating from March this year with Sheffield Wildlife Trust. Among all the deceptions and manipulations surrounding SWT's management of this public land this is the most scandalous.

With people all over the country suffering from serious hardship and budgets for vital public services reduced, Natural England, the national organisation charged with handing out farm subsidies, is distributing huge sums to landowners in HLS payments with minimum public accountability, based on wholly subjective condition assessments. The success or failures of these schemes are rarely the subject of even minimal scrutiny apart from by those who administer and benefit from them in the first place. We're getting used to scandals and scams by people in public office but that does not mean we should be less shocked. Yet even the BBC bosses' payoffs get scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee. I think that if it were any other sector of society but the largely Tory landowners who are the major benefactors of this there would be considerable indignation in the establishment press and  in parliament but Defra ministers such as Owen Paterson and Richard Benyon ensure their personal priorities are addressed.

In 2010 SWT were asked what kind of consultation was planned for their new management plan and the new agri environment scheme that would run alongside it. They distributed a paper  to the RAG meeting describing a number of phases to the consultation all to take place in 2011. These did not happen. In June 2013 Liz Ballard whose job is Chief Executive of SWT stood up before an audience at the Action for Involvement event explaining to the gathering just how responsive SWT is to the public and 'stakeholders' and how important is its relationship with the local people. They would shortly be consulting on their next management plan, she said.

It is now nearly a year since the last RAG meeting; meetings were once four or more times a year. A HLS agreement was put in place since March over which the public have had no say and no information, not even those who've been on SWT's mailing list for many years. This HLS hands over to them some £184, 321. A previous agreement now expired handed over annual funding on the clear understanding that certain management should be undertaken each year. This was still claimed and paid out even when the management conditions were not carried out.

This is an organisation that does not believe in consultation, nor in accountability, transparency and democracy. Anyone giving them any credibility or making excuses for them, should consider whether they can claim to have any judgement at all.

Its brazenness suggests it's a joke at our expense. Even opposition councillors do nothing. Some may even support SWT, being seriously afflicted with wilful blindness.

The land surrounding Blacka, in the hands of the RSPB and the National Trust, is in receipt of even greater sums and just as little public accountability.


A better view of the Beechwood Sickener among the mast and with the advantage of a ray of sunlight. Previous attempts have been thwarted by deep shade from the tree.

Stair Rods

Sun, berries and downpour.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Conservation Grazing Dogma

Ecologist Dr Mark Fisher has written a comprehensive critique of the corrupt use of Higher Level Stewardship agreements one of which is now in place on Blacka, courtesy of Sheffield Wildlife Trust and Natural England an agreement forged with no proper consultation involving local people despite requests for one dating back several years. Dr Fisher's article can be accessed here: The moral corruptness of Higher Level Stewardship

One of the characteristics of HLS, much used by both farming and conservation industries, is a reliance on long term use of conservation grazing - otherwise known as shoving farm animals onto land and leaving them to eat and defecate. Its referred to in my previous post.

There's increasing disquiet about this from those who are well informed about the practice and its effects on natural land. One of those who've commented on it is Dr Chris Reading, mentioned in Mark Fisher's article, who says conservation grazing....

".. appears to be governed by a ‘one size fits all’ mentality in which the specific habitat requirements of different animal groups are ignored resulting in habitat mismanagement and the conservation of nothing in particular, other than dogma” and that the management of lowland heathlands in the UK, through the use of “conservation grazing”, amounts to “little more than large scale ‘habitat gardening’ in which the primary objective appears to be the achievement of an aesthetically pleasing landscape, driven by low financial cost and the welfare of the grazing livestock, rather than concerns about habitat and wildlife conservation"

Friday, 13 September 2013


To Sheffield Wildlife Trust Blacka is valuable as a farm site. Their interest in wildlife is marginal if it exists at all. When have we ever seen them out here actively protecting wildlife? * Hence their determination to remove much of the manifestation of wilder vegetation and adapt it to be useful to farm livestock.

Twice this year they've been out with cutting machinery adapting areas of land to be suitable cattle pasturage. It's quite likely they will be grazing cattle at different times of year to the summer months they've tried before - probably winter. That is one explanation for the ecological warfare they are waging on the moor, attacking the natural regrowth of vegetation that had been restoring the land from the exploitation previously endured. Their dogma is a simple one - that all of the country should be farmed. They dress up their plans in sophistic justifications relating to bracken clearance and bilberry protection but actual reasons are never declared: the dogma of farmed landscapes and the temptations of farm subsidies.

If they were really troubled by invasive species, instead of attacking birch and bracken, which are both native species they would have been dealing with the alien invader Himalayan Balsam which has been spreading in recent years and which they have ignored - assuming they have registered that it's here at all. (I did tell them)

* And how many times when they are on site are they promoting farming and livestock?

Change to Come

Autumn weather will be here at the weekend.Today green still dominates. Bracken goes early.

Not many oak leaves are like this.

Second Flowerings

Cowberry* and Rowan.

* also known as Mountain Cranberry or Swedish Lingonberry

Given a Name

If you give something a bad name that's how it behaves.

The Ugly Milk Cap skulks close to the  ground ashamed of itself. The Tawny Grisette is common and unmissable just now.

It's an attractive name and usually it is attractive.But it's an Amanita and they've certainly got a bad name as a group which includes  some of the most poisonous mushrooms. You can't get more of a bad name than Death Cap and Destroying Angel. Tawny Grisette is probably pretty inoffensive in itself, but caution is necessary with the Amanitas.

Grisette itself is not exactly a flattering name arising from the term used for ladies of easy virtue on the streets of Paris who wore grey. The book by Abbe Prevost, Manon Lescaut, uses the word and it's repeated in operas based on his story by Puccini and Massenet.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Caps and Rings

Ideal conditions for mushrooms. There are Amanitas, Russulas, Boletus, Agarics, Lactarius, (milkcaps), and others. Under the beeches are Ceps and red-capped russulas including the dreaded Beechwood Sickener.

Most have been feasted on by slugs and snails. Yet this milkcap, .....

exuding drops of milky liquid from the gills beneath its cap has been left alone.

Out on the heather and bilberry we wouldn't see fairy ring mushrooms but did see a gossamer ring.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013


My enjoyment of fungi gets greater though I get no better at identification. There are several reasons. First I like the fact that some things remain a mystery, and nothing is quite as mysterious as fungi. Secondly many of the fungi have only hard-to-remember Latin names. And thirdly I like to leave the specimens where I've found them: serious mycologists and amateurs know you have to remove a sample and take it back to inspect the gills or spores; some even use chemical analysis for tricky specimens.

This bolete has an orange cap as if it's an Orange Birch Bolete but there's no birch tree nearby - only sycamore. It's cap is also sticky.

Are these small examples of the same thing?

This one has a beautiful brown cap and loves to live alongside bracken.

One mushroom that's very useful to be able to identify is Honey Fungus.

It's got its tentacles (properly mycellum) into this tree and little doubts that its days are numbered. The woods decay, the woods decay and fall, and all that. No matter unless the bird table is attached to it.... Which it is.


In recent weeks only mixed groups of females, young and immature animals have been spotted.
They include some very young calves.

And some elegant hinds.

This one was enough to attract a partially-hidden admirer.

.... 16 points!!

Best for Fruit

Cowberries and ice cream yesterday, blackberry crumble today and endless bilberry possibilities for tomorrow.

Bilberries here are at their large juicy best. It's only where nobody's tried to interfere that we get wild fruit gardens like this.



Saturday, 7 September 2013

Native and Non-Native

It's always a bit of an argument just how far you go in advocating species fundamentalism in relation to native and non native trees and wildlife generally. The trusty rule of thumb that what looks right may well be right works for me but sadly might not be the same for you. Still I think it should be part of the picture.

More likely to be used in arguments are tables of species diversity and biomass. Like all statistics they need regular updating and rigorous appraisal. The table of Value of Different Tree Species for Invertebrates and Lichens is useful as a guide though it might need some more work to be comprehensive. It shows the introduced Horse Chestnut as having only four insect species associated with it.

This one is very much a lone specimen at the Lenny Hill cross-routes. Some promising conkers on it, and I've always suspected its origin was a conker falling out of a small boy's pocket. I've not seen any others within half a mile.

Oak and Birch are, along with Willow, at the top of the table for this biodiversity measure. Willow is present but doesn't dominate on Blacka as yet while Oak and Birch are plentiful. Native Oak is quoted as having 423 species plus 324 associated lichen species. For Birch it's 334 and 126.

The introduced Oak here, which I take to be Turkey Oak, does not figure separately in the table. Interestingly its early foliage this year was devastated by certain insect activity and those leaves can be seen on this photo. As can be seen it recovered vigorously later on leaving the ravaged early leaves 

Generally I stick to the view that we should do all we can to encourage the natural renewal and the plantings of native trees. They have a vital role in ecological restoration and, anyway, I just like the look of them in the wilder setting. The other more exotic stuff serves a purpose in the fantasy lands of landscape gardening found in stately home parkland that I occasionally enjoy. But wild land has its own enchantment. In all the talk of heritage in our landscape what can have more heritage value than the plants trees and other wildlife that is native to our island?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Late and Early

Late summer brings a few delights. But it pays to get up early. Seeing the fly agaric before the slugs get out of bed may be a fanciful conceit as most of them in my garden work nights.

Those few flowers that wait until September are always welcome when they do come.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

'Cultural Landscapes' Nonsense

We have to be grateful for George Monbiot for highlighting the conservation industry's failure to come up with any coherent approach to uplands policy. He has the knack of making people question their dearly held but not deeply considered attitudes. His latest article is on the Lake District and its being put forward for World Heritage status. As he says the wildlife in the lakes could be so much better but any improvement is held back by land management that will not look beyond sheep farming.

The horror of this is that 'cultural landscapes' is being set up as a measure for the health of our landscapes whereas it could be interpreted as almost anything at all - grouse moor, quarry, slum streets, even one day surely a business park, a slag heap or a shopping precinct in a recession.

People claim the Lakes are beautiful as they are. But will more nature make them less so? Of course not. It can only improve the place.


If I use the word magic in relation to the beauty of mushrooms I know just what the result will be: lots of hits from those with a different idea. There will then be numerous early morning sightings of younger males bent double over the grasslands.

These are only two of the many lovely fungi found in Blacka's woodland.