Saturday, 29 March 2014

Thorns and Falls

I think of this valley as Thorn Valley. As you walk along on indistinct paths you come across more thorn trees than anywhere else on Blacka. And they're the true twisted thorns that fascinate sculpturally in winter before the brilliant white blossom dazzles in May. Today they suit the misty start to the day as they suggest a link to dark superstitions, charms and spells.

For some of us from the post-war days when children were encouraged to go 'out to play' old Hawthorn trees were excellent play spaces and easy to climb. I can't remember being bothered with the thorns on the older inner parts of the trees though they can be fierce on newer growth.

They're outnumbered by Rowan which in Spring challenges it for floral display being a bit earlier here and the flowers more creamy; but Hawthorn has the more distinguished twisting trunk and resilient bark. Each one is shaped as a separate and unique being.

Deer tracks now give a choice of routes through here for those not content with official paths and tracks increasingly rendered unattractive by bikes and sometimes horses (and cows to come!). This one brought us to the top of the valley falls, better seen from below.

For the moment we can enjoy the absence of intervention and wonder at nature's way of doing things. Such presumption. Doesn't it know we have managers to make such decisions?

Frequently you find fallen or uprooted trees lying where they fell.

This is the place for those hankering for the untamed secret world. And, so far, no piles of sawn logs.


The resident singers have had it their own way but now we wait for the arrival of those from the south. Unless my ears were deceiving me the first of these arrivals was chiff-chaffing away in two places this morning. And it suited the change in temperature despite the mist spoiling the view. The sun ungratefully waited until we had left to show itself.

Our regular Chaffy has been one of the strongest voices around so far. Too brash for some but you can't fault him for cheeriness.

The Robin's has been the sweetest to date, the only one to rival the coming Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers and Blackcaps. He can produce the most pure and refined tones and his phrasing is rarely bettered.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Can You Beat It?

These  woods are as good as anything Blacka has to offer.

Landowners' Rights

As I understand it landowners are within their rights to shoot wild animals that have strayed onto their land unless the animals have protected status which very few do. Certainly not deer. So private land carries rights but duties are not specified. I've speculated about the practices of local farmers and others

As for wildlife and public land all has to be different. The wild deer cannot carry their grievances to Strasburg. Being a member of the public my land on Blacka is shared with many other members of the public and the law, skewed as it has always been in favour of the private landowner, does not give me the right to shoot the beasts belonging to those private landowners who contemplate shooting deer even though they get onto our land. So I had no rights over the group of sheep who had got away from their enclosure and wandered up from Totley the other day. They were friendly and charming anyway and I wouldn't wish them any harm.

Their eating habits though might just cause problems if they come near to certain plants that are a feature of a nature reserve. And the cattle that broke down the eastern wall and invaded the woods in 2011 were also a potential threat.  It would be considered quite wrong to shoot a cow. But a deer is another matter even though it is such a feature of the place and captures the attention and imagination of visitors to this place. Nevertheless it is the farmer who can use the argument that wild animals are threatening his business and his land when what he may really want to do is get a chance to use his gun.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Guns and Thinking Don't Mix

The Prime Minister takes some of the blame. He too is a shooter who seeks to justify what he does with dishonest arguments. It seems to be what happens when you put guns in the hands of people. Shooting a stag cannot be defended on the grounds that it helps control deer. It doesn't. It temporarily reduces the number. But stags are male and they don't have babies.

The reason that men shoot stags is nothing to do with management and controlling numbers, It's for the same reason that some men kill tigers. They are trophies to impress other people with.

Stay where you are. Whatever you do keep away from adjoining farmland. Those great protectors of wildlife, SWT, will do nothing for you.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Green Zone

The birch woods are a green wonderland. Mossy coverings add magic to boulders, boughs and branches. Here it's not so easy to move about as in the woodlands on the other side of Blacka Dyke. Before the birch arrived the floor was already scattered with boulders.

These now have a thick green cover making it a place to send someone craving for an ankle injury. Somehow the deer navigate skilfully and you can make out their routes even where the trees are at their densest and the stones are everywhere.

Health and Safety should keep managers away. Let's hope so. Heaven knows what injury they could cause themselves strolling along with a chainsaw.

One day I may gain a full understanding of classifications and identifications of mosses and liverworts. For the moment it's enough to savour the magic, the atmosphere and the natural beauty.

More mosses, algae and lichens on Blacka....

In Possession

They are after all the rightful possessors. We are merely tolerated guests. This was one of the mornings when they seem to be everywhere, in the open and in the woods; making up for those times when we look for them in vain.

Those who were down from the Eastern Moors a few days ago were back, I assume it's them. They showed as just a few shapes in the small wooded area alongside the stream.

Then three odd looking characters appeared looking puzzled as if they had forgotten something but couldn't think what it was.

A large bilberry cushion is swelling on the top of Blacka Hill, but not yet flowering.

A Pipit floated down onto a Rowan twig.

Then through the birch wood towards the southern stream another group of hinds were feeding before it's time to return to deep cover.

Returning later we find the odd looking crew have settled down for as long as they're undisturbed.

Six Down

Even in a keen north-east wind they lie down on the hillside. Not much energy for anything else perhaps. And the tall heather and bilberry serves well as extra layers of insulation.

They're like a different animal entirely when antlers have gone.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Favoured or Doomed

These parts of Blacka are favoured by being unfavoured by the attentions of managers.
Is it worth grappling in your mind with the idea of what the unfavourable condition on the land would turn into once it was truly favourable? If we know anything it's that they have no idea at all what favourable condition looks like on this kind of land; it after all a fictitious concept driven by someone's idea of 'culture'. The pictures seen of Moors for the Future projections are amusingly Disneyish.

Why not just go to those parts where they've kept away and enjoy the closest to 'wild' and untouched in the woodland before they decide it too has to be exploited?

Enjoy the fallen boughs covered in moss, trees growing as they are not supposed to grow, the twisted forms, the unexpected encounters, the sense of tranquillity, the many and various kinds of decline and decay, the natural artistry of the woodland floor, views changing with each step, spacings too close or too far but never just as man would design it.

Maybe not for everyone but there are those who prefer junk fodder to decent grub and anyway there's something for everyone. If the standardisation and homogeneity carry on through Unnatural England's landscape categorisations these places will be doomed.

Managerialism is itchy to get its grasping fingers on anything that can be used and someone one day will be along with a clipboard and a grant application to declare these woods need thinning or coppicing. Let's hope they trip up on a bramble shoot or that exposed tree root.


Sunday, 23 March 2014


Not seen for some time, perhaps the first time this year. In the morning letter box skies are best for seeing Lincoln.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Resident Variety

There was just a hint of a warble amid the confusion of birdsong in the trees this morning, but the last few weeks have belonged to the residents, making a good show of welcoming longer hours of daylight.

The birdsong in the woods has been particularly marked, chaffinches robins and tits as usual being the most frequently heard.

Many of these resident birds are now resplendent in their best gear and robins are beautifully coloured when you look beyond the red breast and see the subtlety of the greys and brown.

But there's plenty of variety. Our old friend here doesn't get involved in this beauty competition. His pride rests in an indomitable spirit.

Better Places

In these woods you are able to get away from the signs of management that intrude elsewhere, though never as far from barbed wire as we would like. To walk where there's been no human input for many years is a treat not valued enough in our manager dominated countryside.

On a morning of cold winds from the west it's good to get into woods that slope towards the east and the bright March sun gets further in than in coming months.

It's not always easy walking but deer tracks have made a difference. If you're aware of bramble snares and don't snap the twigs with your heavy boots you may see them as we did this morning. A fox also shot ahead and ran off quickly; he looked a fine beast, large with thick red coat.

Honeysuckle is now making fast progress before the canopy darkens the floor. The cultivated varieties need thin twigs to help them climb and that's usually true of the native wild kind. But one was trying another method, using the flaky bark of larch.

Friday, 21 March 2014

More Laminated Propaganda

The A4 laminated notice festival continues apace. Soon every surface will be contaminated. And that's the word. Nothing's straightforward from this source; all is contrived or spun. This one's on the gates to the ecologically deprived sheep enclosure.

'Most people know.... Blacka Moor .... is a haven for wildlife' We then read not about species that we are used to enjoying on Blacka but about those that rarely nest here if at all and are characteristic of land managed as farmland and grouse moors. The special thing about Blacka is the land which has been reclaimed by nature from the managers and exploiters and all the wonderful creatures that thrive there. But that's as nothing to SWT. They bring in no farm subsidies.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Risk Assessment for Wildlife

Health and Safety and Risk Assessment figure large in the minds of those employed by bureaucracies like SWT. There've been a number of occasions when we've had responses from them indicating something can't be done, or alternatively something had to be done, because of risk assessment issues.

Yet all seems different when it comes to wildlife, confirming once more that far from being a sanctuary for nature this is a place where human needs and concerns take precedence.

Take their horrendous barbed wire for instance, still a constant sore 9 years after installation. We've often speculated on its effects on wild animals. One strand is bad enough but four strands is beyond any definition I know of barbarous. One of these strands is close to the ground and not at all user-friendly for smaller or lower beasts such as badgers. Deer however are quite happy to leap straight over high fences. Or so we thought until recently. There's no doubt most deer sail comfortably over walls and fences. But what about the smallest?

Some months ago I was watching a group approaching the fence. The first few could be seen leaping clear. At the point of the leap my view of the fence itself was obscured by low trees shrubs and bracken but the deer could easily be seen high above as they jumped high over the wire. Then something puzzling happened. Two small hinds appeared on the other side without being seen to jump. It was as if they had simply walked straight through. Yet when I walked up to the fence shortly afterwards it seemed most unlikely that they could have got through without jumping. Since then I've looked at the barbed wire fence every time I've been close to it; and particularly where deer tracks lead up to it and continue over the other side.  And the evidence is clear and hard even for SWT's wilfully blind trustees to disregard.

The most common place to see deer hair attached to the wire barbs is not at the top but lower down on the third strand from the top. Some, at least of the deer are struggling through the narrow gap, ignoring the barbs.

That is concerning because barbed wire is, well ... barbed, and that can damage eyes as well as catch on thick coats.  There have been instances of young deer being found dead after being trapped in wire fences.

So come on SWT:  where's the form you have to fill in that makes you feel less bad about it? We know the wild animals are unlikely to have their own lawyers so all we can fall back on is some goodwill and compassion. Can we really hope for that?

4 minus 3

Two big fellows and just one left between them.

That's eight points so these are certainly the two most senior stags around.

Others who from a distance looked to have no antlers turned out to be younger ones with simpler antlers that were not easily visible.

It's probable that the big stag above with one antler is the one seen here still sporting two on Friday:

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

What Went Wrong?

Pondering more on the Blacka pasture area desecration it's worth taking a step back and asking how on earth this comes about.

I'm sure if someone had said to me many years ago that this was a SSSI and a Nature Reserve that had been managed as such for over ten years and was in receipt of a substantial public subsidy I would have said  "pull the other one". So what's happened in the time between to account for it? Is it the result of culture change? A sign of dumbing down? A perverse and scary paradigm shift? A symptom of demoralised and confused people losing their way? The abandonment of standards and norms that were once accepted unquestioned? The abdication of leadership and responsibility by those who should speak out but now wearily exit shaking heads, drive off home in their Audis and settle down with something alcoholic in front of the box?

The question remains about wilful blindness and it's a terrifying prospect that people are so defeated in spirit that they are fearful of responding to what their senses must be telling them. What else could people turn their backs on if they can't see this?

Not for the first time, God help us all.

Galls and Growths

The Oak Apple gall is well known.

Other strange growths now appear on some oaks.

One Rowan is now covered in unusual growths.

Apart from their smooth, rounded form there's no common shape: