Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sheffield Cabinet Giving Away More of our Land: - Burbage this time.

The City Council predictably rubber stamped the Sheffield Moors Partnership's Master Plan at its July meeting, the Labour councillors on the cabinet knowing nothing about the issues and daft enough to fall for the inflated sales pitch vocabulary despite its being obviously fraudulent.
According to the minutes:
The Executive Director, Place submitted a report seeking support for the Sheffield Moors Partnership (SMP), a unique partnership with the purpose of leading an innovative approach to deliver the vision of the SMP area as the UK’s leading model on how the uplands should be managed in the future and securing the long term sustainability of this wild and open landscape. The report also sought formal support from the Council as a key land owner for the recently developed Sheffield Moors Masterplan.
This is typical of the kind of fatuous vocabulary we get in minutes from this source and is familiar stuff in officers' reports.

No member of the public asked any questions. I could not get to that meeting so sent in my views to the Cabinet member Isobel Bowler. She promised they would be recorded but there's no sign of them. Is that a surprise?

Further on in the minutes comes:

RESOLVED that the Cabinet
a) supports the work of the Sheffield Moors Partnership and agrees that the City Council should continue its collaborative work within the Partnership,
b) endorses the Sheffield Moors Masterplan and as a major land owner and partner in the area agrees it as a statement of the City Council’s vision for the Sheffield Moors; and

........ and it's the'and' that's interesting. I've only just seen it but again I'm not wholly surprised.

c) authorises the Director of Capital and Major Projects, provided the disposal has been advertised and no objections received, to negotiate a lease with the RSPB and National Trust for Burbage, Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors on terms that meet the requirements set out in the report and to instruct the Director of Legal and Governance to complete the necessary legal documentation.

So Sheffield City Council is getting rid of our land again. They're back into the policy that has been used more and more in recent years: give our major assets to someone else so they don't have to bother with them. Don't forget that the officers who come up with these ideas are often rewarded with jobs in the organisations that get to run these assets; several examples spring to mind. This means there will be no chance of transparency in the management - the National Trust will gather a group of people together who are already sympathetic to what they want to do and ask for their views on how the place should be managed. they will then record this as being a positive response to a consultation and use it to help them rake in lots of farm subsidies. Why Sheffield City Council can't do this God only knows.

Another interesting thing about this is the capacity for deliberately misleading the public exhibited in both councillors and officers. Seven years ago someone told me as if it was absolute truth that Burbage and Houndkirk were to be handed over to the National Trust and RSPB. But each time I've asked an official about this in recent years they have feigned total ignorance of it. I have also been told more than once by senior officers that there's been no consideration given to handing over the land to outside agencies and further that if it happens at all it will only be considered once the Master Plan had been confirmed. Yet the moment that the confirmation was confirmed this is precisely what has happened with no record of any discussion. Who can we trust? Hands up anyone who wants to say they trust Sheffield City Council. its Cabinet or its Parks and Countryside Department. Transparency and accountability are not words recognised in their phrase book.

Top Fellow or Opportunist?

This stag has ten points and has been a regular, accompanying two hinds and a calf around the moor. But he makes no noise.

Meanwhile noises coming from the woods below Bole Hill suggest the beast with 16 points is still present. He's been hard to see however except for a sudden face to face in the rain a few days ago. Does he have a group of hinds with him and has 'ten points' just picked off a couple from the edge of the group? Hard to tell when the woods at that point don't allow much of a view.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Visitor and Resident

Fieldfares are everywhere to see. Redwings came earlier.

This is not the oldest stag around but he's attached himself to two hinds and a calf.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


End of October is when we can expect blustery, volatile conditions. No storms here, but one minute can be very different to another. A bit of sun brings out the colour in bracken, looking better than many a herbaceous border.

Soon after we're soaked by wind driven squalls and only the welcome shelter of a beautiful young oak saved us from more.

Why would anyone want to walk on treeless Burbage or Wimble Hole Hill when Blacka rewards us so well? I've even sheltered under bracken at odd times - not as strange as might be thought.

In time all settles down.

Another Path

Another attractive walkers' path.

Paths like this have stood the test of time. Compressed by many boots it's reached a state which looks to be able to continue for many years with little or no change or widening. There are those who try to say that walkers erode paths as much as bikers. I wonder which people might be tempted to say that?

Try looking at this bridleway which has changed and widened considerably during recent years. Pictures taken half an hour apart.

Monday, 28 October 2013


.. the weather: wild animals are out in it all hours. This year all my sightings of deer around the rucking period have been of small groups.

One stag with two or three hinds; no more.  Other years there have been larger groups. Why should that be? It could be that the weather has kept them to the more sheltered parts of the woodland. It could be that there have been two separate groups in opposite parts of Blacka.

There were more hinds than this some weeks ago. Always at the back of your mind you can't forget that there are those who would want to harm these lovely animals. Not long ago a simple snare was found on a deer track. Regular walkers must be on our guard.


The season's well named. Today's likely to make big changes to the appearance of the woods which some years stay well covered into November. But we're not far off. And it's not just leaves that fall. Rowan berries and birch seeds are all over the paths.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


The fruiting bodies of mushrooms are the bits we see. It's often the case therefore that a good year for apples and soft fruit is also a good year for fungi.

That goes some way to brightening up Blacka's most depressing hillsides with various examples including waxcaps.

The conservation officials who claim that fungi here are so special as to justify SSSI and hence over management using sheep to stop trees growing are, not for the first time, talking rubbish. My garden's grassy areas have no sheep, it's surrounded by trees and is at present covered by mushrooms including waxcaps, some the same as on this hillside.

 The truth is that any unimproved grassland (i.e. no fertiliser or weedkiller has been used ) will produce a similar variety of fungi. Management is what is used to stop fungi appearing.

Gold Standard

Spring may be sweeter but autumn wins the prize for drama. This year the gamble that early mornings are best has not paid off. Recent weeks have been mostly grey and wet before nine with the sun appearing later in the day. An exception was last Thursday, as luck would have it the day I was otherwise occupied.

This morning with the wind picking up the skies were constantly changing bringing moments of absurdly dazzling gold.

Yet autumn is not only about shiny sensational views.

The subtler shades are in their way also captivating.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Paths to Relish

Certain walkers paths on Blacka call you back time and again. Part of it is the way they bring new natural views every few paces; part too is the way they gain a new character with each season. Today it's the patterns made by fallen birch leaves and the shades of dying bracken.



Friday, 25 October 2013

It Must Be The Uplands

The place where we absolutely must get more genuine wildlife is the uplands. As quoted in George Monbiot's recent article that is where there are fewer people where it's furthest from large concentrations of population and conditions are less favourable for farming. Frankly, re-wilding lowland areas is poor stuff because there's bound to be conflict with farmers.

On Blacka Moor we are lucky -we have small numbers of wild red deer which have returned to a wilder landscape they like, one where trees are re-colonising. In parts of Scotland they are unlucky - they have too many red deer, because people want to stalk and shoot them so keep the numbers artificially high in a bare landscape without trees where it's easier to follow them; that is almost as bad as covering the hillsides with sheep.

Sheffield Moors Partnership composed of organisations little better than the farming dogma dominated SWT chose to make their key statement in their Master Plan that their management was to be a model for the uplands across the whole country. In other words their view was that all Britain's uplands should be farm managed and that they should be managed in the way that the Sheffield Moors managers wanted to manage this area, i.e. with farming strategies, putting domestic livestock on the land, the animals usually being provided by distant farmers living a long way from the grazed land.

There is no credibility in this and nobody who thinks about it for more than a few seconds could agree with this. Yet it is quoted in the minutes of the Sheffield City Council's Cabinet Meeting of July 2013. The Cabinet seemingly applauds this sketchily ill-thought- through nonsense admiring
 "the vision of the SMP area as the UK’s leading model on how the uplands should be managed in the future"

What a useless collection of gullible place holders, people with no commitment to public scrutiny or indeed democratic process:

What is worse, the minutes show that the Cabinet authorises the disposal of Burbage and Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors to the RSPB and the National Trust and that the Director of Capital and Major Projects should start negotiating with these charities to that effect.

This is of course disgraceful. It means that there will in future be no facility for the public who own this land to have any influence or indeed any timely information on what is happening or planned because those charities are not public bodies. That is what happened when SWT was handed Blacka Moor and is now set to be extended to Burbage.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Anti-Nature and Anti-Democratic = Sheffield Wildlife Trust

..... about sums them up.  The Sheffield Wildlife Trust management of Blacka Moor is now tied to a Higher Level Stewardship agreement that continues their policy of treating the land as farmland. This is on public land with no discussion with the public in a national park which is already dominated by farmland and where there was an opportunity for a genuinely natural landscape to emerge: that represents a gross failure of imagination and lack of ambition for a charity that claims to put wildlife first. It is also cynically anti- democratic: Several years ago, in 2006, when the previous management policies were decided on, against the wishes of many regular users, they contrived to leave us with an understanding that the previous policy was to be subject to  public examination and evaluation after a period of 5 years. That commitment has been swept aside by people who have no interest in the site apart from the job it gives them because they simply do not want to subject their policy to any degree of public scrutiny. They hate being put on the spot to defend their self interested decision making because they know their own guilt like children caught sticky fingered from the sweetie jar.To call this shameful is to be more polite than any of the local conservation managers deserve; because something similar is happening across all the local tree starved environments of the Sheffield Moors. Elsewhere this has been called immoral and corrupt and it's hard to disagree. But the deepest guilt should be with those who should be holding these people to account. Politicians locally and nationally are just not up to the job of scrutinising the behaviour of managers in the conservation industry; they are either too gullible or afraid to ask obvious questions because they believe nodding gormlessly makes them appear well informed.

Why is this 'anti-democratic' rather than 'undemocratic'? For the reason that these conservation managers try to deliberately to deceive large sections of the public by claiming that a bona fide consultation has been held. Yet they never engage in meaningful discussions at all. In some cases they make deliberately false and misleading statements. In other words they claim to be democratic while being anything but. To me that is anti-democratic.  It has to be said that anyone taken in by this deception must be easily fooled or reluctant to speak out because they themselves have been engaging in a similar game in another field. There's no argument in their book to beat "they're/we're all at it "; the ultimate corrosion. It follows therefore that those in the conservation industry are not the only holders of public money and public office who are guilty of these tricks; it is getting increasingly common throughout public bodies who play on the gullibility and apathy of the majority. Why do they do this? Our local and national politicians and the national and local media who should be holding these appalling people to account have been silent and uncritical on this scandal seduced by a constant stream of wildlife charities' press releases and media management which the politicians swallow gruel on a baby's spoon.

Now at last this year there has emerged the beginning of a debate we've waited for far too long. This is a quote from the latest contribution in a national newspaper.

"So why does Britain lag so far behind the rest of the world? Why do our conservation groups appear to be so lacking in ambition and aspiration? ......................................................................................I cannot emphasise this strongly enough: the entire basis of upland conservation, as pursued on most of the upland reserves owned or managed by the Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB, the National Trust, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage and other bodies, is based on a misconception: that in keeping them open and largely devoid of trees, they are best protecting wildlife. This belief, which is largely unexamined by the groups that propound it, is diametrically wrong. It explains why many upland reserves are about as biodiverse and ecologically inspiring as the average car park.

(For more on British conservationists' obsession with keeping habitats open, see the devastating set of slides compiled by Mark Fisher. Some of the policies he has unearthed are so strange you hardly know whether to laugh or cry.).

Our conservation groups are obsessed with the vegetation that results from repeated deforestation: primarily heather moorland. Heather thrives on burnt ground and depleted soils. Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB, the National Trust and Natural England all advocate "cutting and burning" to maintain these ecological disaster zones and prevent the restoration of the cleared forests. Need I point out that a conservation movement which believes that cutting and burning is the best means of protecting the natural world, is one that finds itself in a very strange place?"
George Monbiot,   The Guardian

So Sheffield Wildlife Trust in common with the other conservation and wildlife charities is not simply being timid and lacking real commitment to making more nature happen. It is guilty of that, prioritising farming management practice where there is a wonderful opportunity to develop a wildlife friendly self managing landscape with little intervention. But it is worse than that because it does not consult: this year there has been no attempt to engage people in discussion even in their unsatisfactory RAG meetings; none have been held. And yet to read their website, their documents and publications and reports presented to council and other bodies you would receive the message that consulting is just what they do. And this, it has to be repeated, is on public land. They are anti-democratic.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Friday, 18 October 2013

Conservation Industry Damned Again (and deservedly!)

"Unfortunately much conservation is little more than painting by numbers. There are these habitat management manuals, and the management techniques they describe are often used unthinkingly and often inappropriately."

from here.

And the whole article is desperately needed. And should be read again and again especially each time the NFU/NT/Wildlife Trusts push their propaganda via press release and spurious education programmes at us.

Why are Britain's conservation groups so lacking in ambition?

I completely agree with the following comment:

"The places in which you would expect to find most wildlife, and in which you would expect a significant ecological recovery, are those:
a. where the human population is lowest
b. which are furthest from the cities
c. which are the least favourable for farming.
In Britain this means the uplands. This is why I have become obsessed with the way they are managed. But wildlife in the uplands, amazingly, is faring worse than it is in the crowded, intensively farmed lowlands. The State of Nature report, published in May, revealed that while 60% of wildlife species in Britain as a whole are in decline, in the uplands the rate is 65%.
The primary reason is that almost all the trees and scrub – on which the majority of species depend – have been removed, mostly by sheep farming. On the continent, the uplands are now largely forested, while the lowlands are largely bare. That is what you would expect. Upland soils tend to be much poorer than lowland soils, so farming is less productive there: generally many times less productive. But in Britain, while the lowlands are largely bare, the uplands are even barer. The places that should be our wildlife reservoirs are in fact wildlife deserts.
This state of depletion has been maintained by three means, in escalating order of importance:
a. Stalking estates artificially boosting the population of deer
b. Grouse moor owners cutting and burning the land (and killing hen harriers and other predators) to maximise the population of the upland chickens people pay to shoot
c. Governments spending public money to sustain farming – almost entirely sheep grazing – in the hills.
There would be no hill farming in Britain or anywhere in Europe were it not for subsidies."

Thursday, 17 October 2013


He spends a lot of his time in vocal exercises interspersed with sudden rushes, the point of which being to let all of us know he's around.

But he did find time for this quieter moment though the young calf wasn't sure it helped efforts to relax.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


Somewhere in here are numerous migrating thrushes. It's coincidence they arrived in the trees above the Old Wall Caff just before opening time.

Intruders in the Woods

The rut last year coincided with some fine mornings and the deer were sometimes out in the open making them easier to see, but also easier for them to see us. The mornings this year have been dark and often wet and the animals have been in the woods. Although it's harder to find them and photograph them it can be possible to get closer with care.

Yet no shortage of noise from the chief male of the herd. And his voice sounds even more commanding close by in the trees than across the moor. One challenger had been rebuffed with excitable charges and  vocal threats and was biding his time for the moment. To him we were the intruders.

 Younger deer were looking bemused or alarmed while hinds stood by eating and grooming.

They were easier to see than the top stag who was hidden apart from his headgear.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Village

In the case of Dore it's The Village. Blessed with many advantages not found in other Sheffield districts and a streak of independence, being apart yet part of. There are certainly some fine houses there but to me one of its greatest advantages is that there is no through main road with traffic blight to  hustle through it separating one side from another. Its other unbeatable asset is of course Blacka Moor and those lucky residents are privileged who can pull aside their curtains in the morning and look up here imagining the woods and secret places harbouring wildlife.

They may even be looking in my direction as I explore those secrets as the sun rises. This morning the heavens provided some lighting effects to flatter Dore when its residents were rising from their beds. I don't look towards Fairthorn apartments if I can help it and hope that King Ecgbert's School is not too conspicuous but most other aspects are enough to maintain premium property values.

Looking Down

One thing about mushrooms; when they're around it gets you looking at the ground and seeing things you might otherwise miss.. And that's often where some of the most attractive patterns are found. Small leaves like those of birch usually look better than larger ones such as sycamore, more so when the latter are covered with black tar spot fungus. Birch have another advantage in that they turn more attractive colours in autumn. Though this rather fine specimen of an Ugly Milk Cap here finds this is a great place to blend in.


The only roar was fairly restrained but still resonant. Walking in the deep shrubs with deer tracks being the only course to take. Even those are hard to follow and you're likely to have problems with partly hidden boulders covered with moss. Still no sign of him nor of his followers. This is not like last year when all was clear to see with the large fellow marching around daring any rivals to come near his group of hinds. Then this one appeared just ahead lying down.

He's big as can be seen from the antlers. But his position suggests that he's a potential challenger waiting his chance.

Woolly Business

It seems the breakout of sheep referred to in this post was connected with a change in grazier on the Eastern Moors as a result of the ending of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. The Eastern Moors managers and the grazier who put his sheep on the moor didn't see eye to eye so the arrangement was terminated leading to a new grazier taking over when the CSS ceased and a new HLS started on the first of October.

It's interesting to speculate why this should coincide with sheep going out of control and invading other territory: so here's some speculation. Anyone seeing themselves as better informed is welcome to correct me. Despite some upturns in recent months sheep are not profitable for graziers and hill farmers. What makes the money is subsidies and Single Farm Payments which they get just for using the land for grazing according to the number of hectares. So there's no money in looking after your livestock and no incentive to go in for compassionate husbandry. That would explain why we see so many instances of sheep on the road and sheep looking less than healthy. I've referred before to the common practice of livestock being provided by a farmer living many miles away therefore in no position to adopt a caring role for the animals who we all thought were his livelihood. Despite news items in the media planted by PR people working for the farming industry about sheep being dug out of snowdrifts in a freeze up, reality is quite different. Because the main source of income for the farmer is the grants they care precious little for the animals themselves; and theres' no shortage of evidence for this; do they even count their sheep when they move them? Because, as in the present case, there are often a number left behind. If the animals themselves are not the key source of income then looking after them is not a priority. That's business. So much for all the faux outrage about dogs worrying sheep. All leads to not caring much about fences and whether every one of them has been accounted for something some local farmers were hardly famous for even when the old subsidy regime gave them £17 or so per sheep.

Anyway I've not seen the left-behind sheep for a few days so perhaps they have been caught or wandered off down the lanes into some rough pasture somewhere. The view expressed to me from the managers was that it might be weeks or months before they could be rounded up.

Now it looks like a fresh  batch of them has been legitimately dropped off on Blacka's enclosure.

These also will be financed via Single Farm Payment and Higher Level Stewardship. These welfare payments never seem to be the subject of a crackdown by Mr Duncan Smith. And what a sorry bunch these are to be representing the vogue for Cultural Landscapes, smeared all over with blue dye and as miserable as a bunch of disaffected teenagers with their trousers half way down their bums. And several of them were clearly lame. Does nobody in the conservation industry seriously question this process?  I thought not - not while the subsidies keep rolling in.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Mellow and Patterned

It takes a bit of autumn sun to bring out the best of bracken among the mellow wild fruits. There's no doubt that it's infinitely preferable as a patterned backcloth for wild animals to anything farmed, cut, sprayed or burned. It would look good on a tapestry;  a project for the cold winter months?

One of the more mature stags was quietly accompanying a hind and her calf this morning. But over in the secret parts of the woodland the best of this season's bellows could be heard a long way off. Something tingles on the back of your neck.

Not much chance of getting a good view of this undoubtedly large stag among the birches. Just enough to glimpse his bulk and understand why the noise is so resonant. This really is the greatest sound to be heard in the whole Sheffield region, deep in the woods away from human activity and bringing more than a taste of what wild countryside should be like. Why is there not more of it?
One of his entourage was the first to spot me.

Saturday, 5 October 2013


The serious stuff was going on elsewhere.
These were apprentices busy on the practice ground.

Ready for some more?

Someone has to win.