Thursday, 30 January 2014

Washed Out

Not the Somerset Levels but wet enough to ask questions. Such as where should all this water be? The land is saturated. Could it have absorbed more water if more trees had been allowed to remain? This is the part of Blacka where approaching a hundred trees were poisoned. The recent cuttings of shrubs cannot have helped either.

Even heather absorbs water and there are still patches of bare peat from the sprayings of more than a year ago.
Further down as the water channels along the footpaths and runs into the streams the falls above the Dyke are roaring.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Seen and Scent

Large flakes quickly cover the ground. The heavy smell of deer means they are close by, having spent the night in the woods. Like the birds, once they stir they are hungry. Their morning fix of bramble leaves is easily found all over the heather, one reason they go there when cows stay on grass.

Four miles away the brake lights can be seen at traffic lights on a Sheffield main road while some are still at breakfast.

Closer to the main road running along the northern edges of Blacka  there's a glow from commuters taking the high route.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Enjoying The Sunrise

Some years are better for sunrise watchers. This winter has had fewer crisp frosty mornings with colourful eastern skies and glowing orange orbs. This morning made a valiant attempt. We did see the sun and a bit of snow improved the ground.

A romantic fancy might imagine that the big stag, standing looking over to the east for several motionless minutes, was enjoying the sunrise in his own way.

 But it's more likely he was listening to some unusual mechanical noises coming up from the direction of Totley: either work at Hallfield Farm, or something to do with the Streets Ahead improvements.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Badgers and Figures

You takes your choice. When in a mess, muddy everything in confusion - could be the approach being taken. Then, the argument goes, the general public just throw up their hands and go off to concern itself with some more graspable distraction.

It depends where you look if you' want to know the cost of the badger cull in the south-west. To some it was more than £4,000 per badger killed.
The cost of policing the cull was money well spent -almost half a million pounds - according to Owen.
Now it seems that the number of cattle affected by TB, the original justification of the cull, was significantly overstated.


A new article on Mark Fisher's excellent website - another 'must-read' for anyone interested in our landscape and its wildlife.

(Scroll to the bottom of the page for the recent articles.)

Mark Fisher has been the inspiration for many who love wilder land and have been frustrated by the phony narratives of the landowning and land-managing classes. It's hard to imagine where we would be without the remarkable series of meticulously argued and researched articles on his Self-Willed Land website. When, as a total innocent in the subject I first raised with him the bewildering policies and strategies of the local conservation establishment his support was crucial in getting us to continue our campaign against the appalling philistines who erected barbed wire and poisoned trees and brought in disgustingly defecating cattle.

His website is the place to go to get the full picture of what has been happening in relation to wilderness and the conservation industry. It is also a moving testimony to one man's search for the raw beauty that should be a part of all our lives but has been driven out by mindless dogma and managerialism.

Monday, 13 January 2014

More Trees Needed ...

... and a halt to subsidised shooting.

My last post was about the depression brought on when seeing the irresponsible and ugly clearing of trees on the slopes of Bole Hill.

By coincidence this article appears in the Guardian telling us that the recent floods are at least in part caused by the paying of public money to those who try to stop trees growing in the hills.

The insistence of the conservation industry backed up by Unnatural England that they must do all they can to maintain treeless landscapes in Britain's uplands is backed up by the wealthy campaigners representing the grouse moor owners  - with whom they work hand in glove in the Moors for the Future partnership. That organisation incidentally is the most amazing waste of public money imaginable.What they need to do on high Peak moors is plant thousands of native trees ad keep off the sheep. After that let everything manage itself. But like most projects in the conservation sector it's a massive job creation scheme. You don't produce a website like that without a huge input of public money subsidising a determined self-justification programme.

Here is the link to the informative report on grouse shooting published by Animal Aid as referred to in the Guardian article.

I applaud the concluding statement of that report which succinctly states what many of us have been thinking:

Those involved in grouse shooting try to cultivate an air of selfless and astute stewardship of the natural environment. Birds are harvested, pests and vermin are controlled ... and a civilised day out is had by all. In reality,the shooting of grouse and all that goes with it is part of the long tradition of vicious country ‘sports’ that includes badger baiting and dog and cock fighting – activities that society at large has made unlawful because it regards them as uncivilised. Grouse shooting, for now, resists public opposition; it even receives tax payers’ subsidies. But the day cannot be too far off when it too will be consigned to history.

But why on earth do the practices of these hypocritical landowners get reflected so readily in the management of the conservation industry?

Some Letters About Accountability

Letter to Liz Ballard Chief Executive of Sheffield Wildlife Trust

Letter to Anne Ashe Chair of Trustees Sheffield Wildlife Trust

Written to Paul Billington Director at Sheffield City Council with responsibility for Parks and Green Spaces.

Written to 12 councillors in wards in the South West of Sheffield.

So far a brief acknowledgement from Anne Ashe saying she will reply later. And the briefest possible response from Paul Billington saying he'll ask Chris (Heeley) to deal with it. Nothing so far from Ms Ballard. Councillors have not had time.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Before Sunrise

Looking out over the city as people start to wake up.

Shortly afterwards just after sunrise, in the queue:

Saturday, 11 January 2014

So What Matters?

Further to the post Who Asked Them? How can it be that a nature reserve could possibly put wildlife  as a lower priority than human concerns? Nobody can be in any doubt that management here is driven by money. Some don't seem to have noticed that wild animals don't use money so have no understanding of farm subsidies. Where are the people who make these decisions and why don't they defend them? One can only assume they have no confidence in what they are doing so hide away pretending nobody's asked the question.

I remember the meeting when a group of us were asked how the economy could be served by the Sheffield Moors? My contribution was clear and I think forthright: we need places which are free from all considerations of the economy; we get enough of that in our jobs and it's vital that we can get right away from work and business and the economy. Notes were written up later and distributed summarising people's comments. Mine were left out. Ideas like those I expressed are not particularly radical or absurd and many people agree. But they frighten these managers so much that they pretend they've not heard them. What cowards.


Sheffield and the Peak District still has its dinosaurs. The various landowners and their servants over the centuries may have killed off nearly all of the distinctive mammals that should be roaming this land but if you know where to look you may find evidence of prehistoric activity still going on not far from Blacka.

Try here first. It's where you will find links to the minutes of the Local Access Forum for Sheffield. Resistance to change in particular natural change, and refusal to accept new ways of looking at our landscape are easily found here. These are people whose names can be seen at the top of the minutes. Most of them have swallowed wholesale the propaganda from the conservation/moorland landowners/grouse shooters who love 'open landscapes' because they give jobs to managers and privilege ground nesting birds that shooters like to shoot.

This from the item on Wadsley and Loxley Common. As a forum restricted to access these dinosaurs have no remit to comment on conservation matters. Nevertheless they do and the public servants who should know better exceed their remit by recording their ill-informed comments

TB stated that there was a misunderstanding that neither the community or local councillors have been consulted and that SCC were going to face the same problems it has in Blackamoor. He stated that the Common is a very rare lowland heathland and the council is required by NE to protect it. TH said cattle are the best way to manage this area, it is the best way forward and RO seconded it. RK said with no management this area would resort back to woodland. The advantage of the grazing scheme means that fencing would be paid for by grants available whilst manual works could not be funded.**
One has to have compassion and understanding and it's clear these people have no sense of perspective, never having thought about the wider implications. But they have no authority to talk about 'rare lowland heathland' a concept that is totally phony anyway, invented as it was to give grouse shooters a chance to justify their anti-wildlife practices.

You have to understand too that some people spent many years of their lives believing that the moors were a natural landscape and it's hard to change your mindset once you're beyond retirement age. And these members of the Sheffield Local Access Forum have been around for a long time and are self- satisfied enough to believe they don't need to reconsider their views. Just as previous generations doffed their caps and tugged their forelocks to the gentry these dinosaurs kowtow to the spurious authority of landowners and Natural England dominated by the same landowners. 

Oh for just a dash of intelligent scepticism.

** It should also be noted that this Local Access Forum is about access and has absolutely no authority to make declarations about the management of land outside this specific area.

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Woods and 'The Open'

"Oh so you're the people who want it all to be woodland?" said some youngish people who had recently been talking with Annabelle the SWT manager, someone who  likes to put a partisan spin on things. My response was, as usual, to say that we simply want the site to be free from human control and to be allowed to express its own nature. If that means more trees, then so be it. I love trees and greatly dislike the dishonesty of managers who describe managed land as  'wild' or even 'wilderness'. When that land has begun a process of 'wilding' because of the absence of serious human intervention over many years bringing benefits not seen elsewhere it is the height of insensitivity and irresponsibility to go ahead with an anti-nature process of destroying native trees and then to institute a plan to make it more like farmland - when it has been farming practices over the last century that have caused the loss of so much valuable wildlife. When the organisation responsible is a charity dealing with wildlife and has the word wildlife in its name it is reprehensible.

Birch trees are native wildlife and those who destroy them have failed to appreciate what wildlife is and the value it has. If they can destroy natural growing trees they can easily destroy birds and mammals. I'm waiting apprehensively for news about their plans for the deer. The managers abhor the uncontrolled; they themselves are most likely the sons and daughters of farmers who have never thought it could be questioned that it is their birthright to control everything that grows and moves in the countryside.

The red deer came onto this land in response to the increased tree cover which had distinguished Blacka from nearby moors. Looking at the deer you cannot but notice that it is the unmanaged parts that appeal to them most. All that vegetation the conservation freaks seek to control and even destroy is their focus of attention. At this time of year deer are usually to be seen eating whatever greenery they can find - bramble and fern and others.

There is a lot of this  'impurity' in the heather much to the distaste of the conservation wallahs who should really be called gardeners; lots of stuff that the Heather Trust, Moorland Assocaion and other shooters hate to see because it compromises their weird idea that there is some kind of perfect pattern of heathland.

The deer come out of the woods to scoff this, often doing it at night to be discovered by the early morning dog walkers and others who stroll out to watch the sun rise. And it's fun to watch their elegant forms lit up by the early light of day.

But better still to find them in their secret parts of the woodland, to most people inaccessible but just needing a bit of persistence; and deer tracks are quite easy to follow, the animals having a natural instinct for finding the best gradients.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Who Asked Them?

Mark Fisher's brilliant talk at the Action for Involvement event last June began with this question "Who asked the deer?" Management Plans and HLS agreements are made, we all know, in the interests of landowners and just calling yourself a wildlife trust doesn't change that. The deer and the other wildlife, much of which is rarely seen, should be top of the agenda but it's the wellbeing of the managers that really matters.

The great thing about deer is that they are large enough for you to see with a little patience and persistence and they remind you that there are many other creatures much harder to see and just as important. The place to look for them today was where I had guessed. Proof that however dull witted one might be one eventually learns. As for the deer,  they are not so stupid as to ignore the benefit of being on the eastern side of a steep hill when a westerly gale is blowing. They also look wonderful in the woods where it's harder to see them and much trickier to focus a photo.

This part of Blacka has been one of the most secluded and untouched before SWT were given the site. Now they like to get their under-occupied volunteers and 'Wildscape' staff to fill in time cutting trees down in winter. To call it dysfunctional hardly suffices.

Truly nobody cares at all about wildlife. If they did they would leave the trees alone and stop discarding potentially dangerous items around that can cause injury. This barbed wire is bad enough in a fence like the one the eastern moors outfit have erected across Wimble Holme Hill. Just discarding it on the ground so is plain irresponsible.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Finding Wildness

It is getting harder and will get harder still, to find parts of Blacka that remain unmeddled with by the spoilers. But if you really look there are places to escape the dreariness of managed land. And this part is wet.

Walking is fraught and staying upright sometimes a challenge. But there are rewards in the atmosphere. Only tracks to be found are of wild animals and that is  a bonus. It's doubtful the sun ever penetrates here apart maybe in the middle of the year.

Fallen trees lie untouched and create barriers to easy progress. Ferns, liverworts and stones covered by thick moss are all over. An old wall shows this place was once exploited. Some of the meddlers would like that to happen again. Climbing the steep damp sides of the gorge in best clothing is not recommended.


Where there's management there's muck. Obvious really. In this case gates are only there to contain the livestock, otherwise known as a management tool. Gates mean everyone has to be channelled through one narrow passage. In normal circumstances this would not be a wet part of the site. livestock, no management, no mud. Simple.


The old stag finds it's still a pleasure to spend his lazy afternoons among a large group of hinds. And they are attractive, browsing here on the quiet slope of the least visited bit of scenery hovering around between sun and shade before shadows cover all.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

......before a fall.

Proud and resplendent in any season birch thrills especially in winter when at sunrise branches are beautifully set out against the sky and low sun in afternoons shows off the elegant shape and magnificent bark.

There are those whose sickness takes the form of wanting to destroy the beautiful. And they have been here again. They tackle a few each year to keep their hand in and let nature know that the uglifiers are in control. Or they may just be trying out the new toys they got for Christmas.


A Charm

A large flock of small birds circled round for several minutes. They finally settled conveniently in a nearby birch; and prove to be ... goldfinches.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

"You May Not Confer....."

Taking their cue from Mr Paxman the local managers on Blacka don't like people to talk. This year will see the return of Sheffield Wildlife Trust's discredited policy of farmland management on Blacka with cattle grazing. The equally discredited managers in this organisation are clinging desperately to this policy despite being unable to show benefits over previous years and explain the disastrous results pointed out here. They have not conferred with the public on this and there has been no attempt to have a consultation. Issues have not had a chance to be scrutinised in any meaningful way.

At one time I would honestly never have believed that an organisation of this kind could have habitually indulged in distortion and disdain for the truth but since various scandals in public bodies over recent years it seems nobody cares any more. They see that other people including top institutions, have got away with it and the world has not caved in - yet; the place has simply got more cynical.  So, they think, who bothers?

It all started in 1999 when SWT persuaded the city council to believe a story that a huge bonanza of funds for the city's green spaces would be handed over if the trust was given a lease on Blacka and other sites. This would come from lottery funding and was ring fenced for wildlife trusts with a 25 year lease. This was a lie* but council officers fell for it. The council could have got the funds without leasing the land. Since then there has been no attempt to make truth a priority. All we have had is self interest. You look round for an excuse to use labels like spin and half-truths - but actually that's only the half of it.


* The officer at Heritage Lottery Fund was amazed that we had been told this.


"Attack" hardly seems accurate. The animal was evidently terrified and disorientated.


The picture in this article is even more misleading:

You do wonder. Where do you have to go these days for balanced news reporting.. That picture is of a rutting stag. How much misinformation would we have to deal with if the lynx and the wild boar re-established themselves across the country - let alone the wolf?