Monday, 30 June 2014

Rarely, rarely ........


"Rarely rarely comest thou, spirit of delight ...."

This is the antithesis of Gradgrind whose spirit must be dominant in the Trustees of SWT.

"Where are they?"  is another question for those wanting to see the deer in summer. It's the time they can be hard to find.

So finding them is delight.

One assumes the young are yet to arrive. But the elegance of the hinds is there for all to see who can force themselves to get up in the morning.

What Are They For?

Gradgrind might have asked "What are flowers for?" And then "Do they contribute to the economy?"

This Orchid is growing outside the supposed Nature Reserve managed by SWT on Blacka. It's beside the track running along from the car park. There would be Orchids and other wild flowers on the Nature Reserve if it were left alone but SWT decided to turn the place into farmland with cows and sheep which eat and defecate everywhere they can. The farm animals bring in farm grants and that helps to pay SWT's mortgage.That's what the cows and sheep are for. But what are wild flowers for or even nature itself? Wild flowers bring in no money so they can be ignored or trampled underfoot. Last week there were many wild flowers, Orchids and others in the meadows at Great Dixter and Sissinghurst. Even at Longshaw Orchids grow where the Ha Ha keeps the sheep off the grass. Nature here though is not a priority. Farming is. The Trustees approve, clearly. They must approve of the decision to ignore appeals to keep the cows off the Bog Asphodel. The cows have been there again. The best site for these flowers has again been trampled and given the full cow treatment. In previous non grazing years this very spot was a riot of yellow star flowers.

In addition SWT has failed to maintain the Right of Way nearby. It has become severely muddy and people now walk to the side themselves trampling the flower site.

The roadside verges fighting off  fumes from HGVs fare better.

The people who are supposed to keep SWT up to scratch are their Trustees. Do they know what's going on? Can they defend it? I doubt they even care. So what are they for?

SWT Trustees:

Chair - Anne Ashe
……. a geographer and retired chartered town planner.
Vice Chair - Philip Warren
……. has worked in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield since 1990.
Treasurer - Roderick Lees
……. an interest in the preservation of landscape and the sustainability of resources.
David Bird
…….. an Environmental Health Officer, …… from Sheffield Council where he was Head of Waste Management.
Ann Clegg
…… a retired education professional and enthusiastic lover of the countryside.
Neil McIvor
………. currently Chief Statistician in the Department for Work and Pensions.
Richard Pethen
……….. graduated in Metallurgy in Birmingham then went on to gain a PhD in Cambridge.
Alice Puritz
……. works as a trainee solicitor, and is currently working full time for her firm’s pro bono legal team on a variety of charity-related projects, including some environmental and conservation matters.
Peter Quinn
……. has a degree in Environmental Science
Margaret Spencer
……… a career in research and management in the Biological Sciences.
Patrick Vaughan
……… a bird watcher since childhood, ……. researched the early history of SWT, and wrote the Sheffield entry for The Wildlife Trust's Centenary volume published in 2012
Greg Whitmore
…….. more than 15 years experience managing technical teams and working with land owners, property developers, masterplanners, lenders and lawyers.
Tony Whiting
……… trained as a Geography teacher and eventually managed a Residential Study Centre in the Welsh Marches.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Born to Deceive

Sheffield Wildlife Trust has deceived us. There can be no argument about that. They have said things that were not true and they have made commitments to the public that they have not honoured. They can't and won't deny that because the facts are what they are.  One likes to give people the benefit of any doubt, both individuals and groups and organizations composed of individuals. But what is one to make of the Trustees of Sheffield Wildlife Trust?

One of many reasons to have places in our countryside set aside that are predominantly outside human intervention is that humanity cannot avoid being flawed. Wilder, more natural places can feel more honest.  Mankind seems born to deceive. Cliches are often true (and that itself is another cliche). Men and women deceive others and also themselves.  Two books published in recent years that underline this are 'Born Liars' by Ian Leslie and 'Willful Blindness' by Margaret Heffernan. But with a modest amount of curiosity and observation and an open mind anyone can come to this conclusion without needing a guide book or access to behavioural research. You just have to set out to find out how and why decisions get made in areas of public interest and concern, and ask 'why'? - again and again.  The hard part is to avoid deceiving oneself and being willfully blind in turn. The best way of doing that is putting ones views into the public domain and allowing comments which is what I do here in common with others who blog. Those who disagree are able to comment and that hardly ever happens even though I know many readers are those I criticise. Does that say anything?

The Trustees of Sheffield Wildlife Trust were considering my complaints early this year. They claimed that they were taking them seriously and that there would be public consultations on a Blacka Management Plan this spring after previous promises that there would be consultations from 2011 on that never happened. Now there has been nothing. My assertions that staff had not been honest with us were immediately rejected, following which the manager who had dealt with the public for some ten years left SWT. Points made by various users with an interest in seeing sensitive management have not been addressed. Cattle have again been put on the moor this summer and have again trashed the main site of the special Bog Asphodel flowers. Nothing has been done to prevent this. That failure is itself a positive act of destruction and insensitivity. Shameful and unforgiveable.

Who are these trustees? Their potted biographies on SWT's website suggest they are fine upstanding and well qualified citizens. I suppose one has to ask whether anyone accepts CVs and self written biographies unquestioningly these days. It is everybody's own  choice whether to buy a second hand car from anyone.


Back to the Wet

On wet days after midsummer the higher parts of Blacka are for more dedicated walkers and explorers. It's hard to keep legs and feet dry. When you return from dry weeks in Kent and East Sussex just as the weather changes the contrast is unfair.

There are pleasures for the eye remaining in the unfarmed parts  protected from conservation intrusion. Rain changes things and not always for the worse.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Running Wild - For Now

Stags may be elsewhere. These are young, one and two years and they're running across the moor. Higher up they're freer from midges. A lot of ear flicking goes on when the midges are about. Running certainly gets rid of them temporarily but these were disturbed by a man walking early in the morning.

It seems the managers have been out counting the deer again. All part of fitting them into their business plan. I'm sure they're happy to be relegated from free spirits to cogs in the machinery of a conservation industry process. According to what I've heard they think numbers are increasing and the figure of 200 was suggested across the whole of the Eastern Moors. Hmm, I'm still sceptical about all data collection. Just how did they avoid double counting?

No sign of the group of hinds nor of the wandering stags but very early in the morning this pair was browsing in an idyllic scene.

If they are mother and year old son as I think may be the case, her shape suggests she could calve quite soon. Then what will he do?


According to the Sheffield Standard Assessment of Blacka the management of this site scores well under Signage. It seems futile to say any more. One searches for parallels. Did Dylan Thomas score well for sobriety? At least he had style.

What it does have is quantity. Quantity of A4 laminated pollution, six at the last count. Some of it finishes up on the ground to be found years later in a state of decay. Who are they trying to impress? Do they even know? It declares a great sense of insecurity. Not having much of an idea what they should be doing and whether it's right to do it, they flounder around: "at least we're doing something!"

Thursday, 19 June 2014

War on Nature

Blacka is being managed as agricultural land, in accordance with Unnatural England's drearily mind-numbing and prescriptive Landscape Character Assessments;  so we don't expect to see many wild flowers happily enjoying the summer. For that we need to walk along the edges of roads, putting aside tranquillity and risking death. Along the A625 go quarry vehicles exporting the fabric of the Peak District in the direction of the M1, much to the approval of those members of the National Park Board who like to see economic value in the land. The verges are often picturesque in their way. Another repository of nature friendly wildlife is found to the west of the track bordering Blacka fenced and walled off to prevent too much nature spreading onto the moor.

There are parts yet which the bovine anti-nature storm troops have not yet found and converted to something brown. They will eventually we can be sure. The variety of plants may be unexceptional compared to elsewhere but they have their beauty. Tormentil (above) and Bedstraw seem to be better than most at resisting annihilation.

And the grasses that have grown taller are now in their prime having benefited from the late start to the cow-invasion. It's not simply the lack of other flowers that highlights their appeal. They each display special characteristics, sedges too.

Needless to say you won't find them anywhere near here:

You're more likely to see this:

And there's more than a hundred acres of sheep enclosure claiming nature reserve status too, even more prescriptively denied any natural freedom. One has to conclude that the essential role of the sheep is to promote a habitat suitable for thistles.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Bog Standard

Some years ago Parks Department of SCC (Sheffield City Council) decided to spend a lot of time and resources in introducing what it called a 'Sheffield Standard' for Parks and Green Spaces. The department is proud of its Sheffield Standard. Officers go round with clip boards and tick boxes under 13 different headings, finishing up with a score for each green space.

For example a score of 7 means Good, 8 means Very Good. When Blacka Moor was assessed 3 people went round including the now departed SWT manager. Below are some of the scores for Blacka:

There is no category for Bog so we have to reach our own conclusions about the Bog Standard in this post's title. Some of us might have some views on Cowsick Bog and its management; please forward to SCC.

Good and Safe Access gets a score of 7
Signage gets a score of 7 too
Welcoming gets a score of 9 (excellent)

One of the factors in giving such a high score for 'Welcoming' is the fact that there are "Regular meetings of the Reserve Advisory Group" - ( the last one was in 2012, see this post)

In the overall assessment it says Blacka "is already well above the pass mark"

No real people were consulted on this. Make of my use of the term 'real people' what you may. You might consider first the people who regularly use Blacka.

The full document can be seen here.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Heads Up

White, Cream and Yellow

Spectacles of wild and independent  bright flowers are a feature of June. Most are white or cream. Rowan and Hawthorn dominate well after Blackthorn has left the stage. Cow Parsley adorns the path edges, sometimes substituted by Sanicle.

A later comer is Elder, perfectly-timed for enterprising folk to make the very best thirst-quenching cordial. Nothing goes down better than this honeyed drink, home-made and quaffed in a hot garden in mid June. Wild honeysuckle itself is also decorating the woodlands at the moment,

its creamy yellow seeming a natural progression in the flowering sequence.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Hidden Hinds

 Bracken and Birch give them more options for keeping out of view

While still watching out for intruders

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Cuckoo Land ?

In recent weeks parts of Blacka might be called Cuckoo Land, great fun for all those who like to hear and see the bird and the other wildlife that thrives here, where nature has been reclaiming land once over- exploited.  Scrub (horrid word to describe a fascinating habitat) and newer woodland must never be described as unfavourable unless your standard is its fitness for fattening livestock and growing feed crops. They are the perfect neighbours to older and ancient woods.

Some of the self appointed local wildlife 'stakeholders' however seem wilfully blind to the point of inhabiting Cloud Cuckoo Land. I remember the bird expert who was held in awe by the wildlife trust and others, attending consultations and holding forth. He once came to an early RAG meeting, his brief being to present a case for the wildlife trust's conservation grazing, bringing the heathland into favourable status. His argument rested on a bird survey which showed a decline in the number of species on this unmanaged land.  His message was that this was a catastrophe and needed to be rectified by good management. He made a great fuss about the lack of breeding grouse. I asked him if any species were actually doing well or increasing. He made a bit of a face, thought a bit and said "Wrens" but volunteered no other birds. Now this man was not stupid so why did he decline to mention the huge numbers of summer visiting birds that thrive on the least managed parts of Blacka? The answer is that people like him have an agenda which must keep them on-message: "Management is good." They have swallowed the propaganda (or written it themselves) as part of the land-managing, landowning and land-exploiting classes.

The post written about Houndkirk Road and the moors to either side is just as relevant today as it was then. A few weeks ago I did another comparison of this area with what I had seen and heard on Blacka less than an hour before. It was 8 minutes before any bird was seen in the heather - a pipit of which there are many on Blacka (and nothing to do with management). There are people you meet who rave about birds that they never see and who don't see birds that everyone else sees. This is what's meant by being on-message. There's an audience for their propaganda, people who will hear them but who won't go out and check for themselves that they are being told the truth. Some of this audience is to be found in the groups identified by Ian Rotherham and mentioned in this post.

Rotherham in the same article claimed that descriptions of part of the Peak District as an ecological desert, referring to an article by George Monbiot were inaccurate. He retorted that he regularly sees
"skylarks, meadow pipits, stonechats, wheatears, red grouse, curlews, lapwing, snipe, short-eared owls, kestrels, peregrine, merlins, ravens, snow buntings, cuckoos, whinchats and more"
and I see them too but most of them not on the high treeless moorlands to the west of Sheffield where for me and many others, there's very little interest.  Is he being disingenuous here?  He claims to be indignant that it could be described as boring. If we disagree so much about what we see then we all ought to get out more and look with our own eyes and not see what we hope to see but what's actually there.

How to Deal with Bilberries

Much better than allowing people to come along and pick them, making pies etc and storing in their freezers.

Import some cows to convert them into what comes out the other end thus adding to the biodiversity, not to mention natural beauty, of Blacka.


A genuine Birch fungus often found on Blacka is the Hoof Fungus. It's nearly as common here as the Birch Polypore and has the unusual quality in a fungus of being rock hard so there's nothing either delicate or indelicate about it.

When it's simply left alone Birch produces fascinating forms.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Simply Untrustworthy

In the light of the failure of Sheffield Wildlife Trust to hold Reserve Advisory Group meetings (last one November 2012) despite assurances in June 2013 and January 2014 that they were just about to do so. And in the light of the proposed leasing of Burbage, Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors to another NGO (NT) let's look back at a Sheffield City Council Scrutiny Board meeting of 2008. Can anyone these days be believed?

2008 Scrutiny Board Meeting Minutes.

Mr. J. Derricott, Legal and Governance, presented a joint report of the Assistant Chief Executive, Legal and Governance, Director of Parks and Countryside and the Head of Corporate Property, responding to the Board's request made at its meeting on 20th September, 2007, for a further report (a) on measures to ensure that leases relating to the disposal of land/buildings to partner organisations included mechanisms to ensure that the public had access to question the organisation concerned and influence its decisions where appropriate and (b) providing details of how the terms of leases were enforced by the Council by reference to recent examples relating to the disposal of land at Castle Dyke, Ringinglow and Blackamoor……………………………

In the case of Blackamoor, the Management Agreement which ran along side the lease, provided for public involvement through a Reserve Advisory Group which enabled Sheffield Wildlife Trust, to whom the lease of the land had been assigned, to comprehensively consult with the public and facilitate public input into the land's five year management plan. The Management Agreement also provided for the provision of a Steering Group comprising representatives of the City Council, the Peak Park, Sorby National (sic) History Society and representatives of the Access Group, which met on a quarterly basis and dealt with matters of a more strategic nature and with any items referred to them from the Trust's Reserve Advisory Groups.

The Board heard representations made by Mr. Fitzmaurice advocating the need to improve the way the City Council and its partner organisations (for example, in this case, the Sheffield Wildlife Trust) took account of the views of local people in any decisions relating to the management of green open space or the disposal of land by the Council to voluntary organisations. He suggested that there had been a lack of consultation and publicly available information on the disposal of land at Blackamoor to the Sheffield Wildlife Trust.
He also suggested that any partner organisation to whom the City Council disposed of land should, at the very least, provide access to meetings of the Management Body, as well as a transparent complaints procedure and prescribed standard of conduct in the consideration of the organisation's business.
The Chair of the Board responded that the Members of the City Council had the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the City's green open spaces were maintained and sustained to a satisfactory level ...................................................................................................................

Nigel Doar, Chief Executive, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, advised the Board that the description of arrangements for the conduct of the Trust's business through a Steering Group and Reserve Advisory Group were exactly as described in the report.
He added that the Council's current nominated member representative on the Steering Group had not yet attended a meeting, but he was circulated with agenda papers for the meeting. He added that the Trust's Steering Group considered matters which were of a strategic nature and were not open to the public. ...........
...... He emphasised that the Trust wished to involve the public in the management of Blackamoor and maximise the input of community opinion but that this should be achieved in a constructive manner. He felt that the mechanisms in the joint report before the Board were working well, although he acknowledged that there were a small number of issues still to be resolved.
In response to a question by a Member of the Board, Mr. Doar indicated that meetings of the Reserve Advisory Group were advertised on site, in "The Star" newspaper, Radio Sheffield and mailing list of over 200 interested people.

Meetings of the Group were open to anyone and they met approximately every two months.

There is only one position that any responsible citizen can take and that is to assume that nobody in the conservation sector, public body or NGO can be trusted.

Indelicate Headgear ?

I've never tried to pick an argument with those who wear guards uniforms. They tend to be a bit on the tall side anyway. So I've kept out of the controversy about what should be called a Busby and what a Bearskin.

This though is a completely new fungus and looks as much like a giant version of the Stinkhorn fungus.

It's actually growing from the empty shell of a dead birch stump and is about 9 inches across. I've no identification yet so would be glad to hear from anyone before I decide it's simply someone's woolly hat disguised as a fungus.

Monday, 9 June 2014


I'm sure this plant was much less abundant five years ago. Now I'm seeing it everywhere. If we're not vigilant the biodiversity police will be out to control it as bringing on unfavourable condition status (having first lobbied Defra to provide generous grants for herbicides and associated management rehabilitation programmes).

This must be good news, further proof that bracken does not blight the ground so much that other things cannot adapt to it. Walking around the areas of greatest bracken dominance from mid May to mid June gives a more realistic picture than some of the hysteria often to be heard. Birch and Rowan keep a check on bracken and the practice of cutting trees where it is present is misguided and frankly ridiculous. I know numerous places where young growing Birch and Rowan take the vigour out of bracken and when deer tracks surround the trees the effect is greater.


This must be the earliest yet. But not enough to make a pie. Some of us still have a supply in the freezer dated September 2013 but a few fresh ones may just make the flavour difference.

Most bilberries have gone into hiding, green among the leaves.

It's not unusual to have the fruit ripe by the end of June but most people wait longer for the best and sweetest taste. Just don't tell the Mistles.


It must be the freedom they enjoy that makes it such a pleasure to see deer on Blacka. When you've not seen them for a while, as with these hinds, your walk immediately becomes a better experience.

No signs of calves yet but a couple of yearlings were a short distance off. The Cotton Grass is now in flower but making less impact than it did last year.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

By Any Other Name

Should we call this place Blackamoor, Blacka Moor or just plain Blacka? It's possible to come across those who get quite sniffy about others who use the 'wrong' name for something, even if it's one that's become common currency. My preference is for plain Blacka but you have to bend to expectations from others. For example, when deciding what to call this blog a long time ago, one consideration was how easy would it be for people to find it via a search engine. There's a tropical fish called blackamoor and a few years ago most of the web pages that came up were connected with aquarium matters. Blacka by itself brought up certain commercial firms and a family name. Blacka Moor seemed expected in relation to neighbouring Houndkirk Moor and Burbage Moor. There are also roads in the village that bear that name.

Even the title of this post instead of bringing up Juliet's speech first, directed searchers to an episode of  a science fiction TV series! It says something about today's culture, though I'm not sure what.

So the title here remains Blacka Moor while the web address runs things together with blackamoorsite. Every so often we refer to Blacka. Having it all ways.
As she says, what's in a name?

Changes of Tune

Tradition has it that in June the Cuckoo changes his tune. That happens about as often as it doesn't from my observation. In fact some Cuckoos have non standard calls from their first appearance. The one in the tree was calling cuck-cuck-coo in between standard calls. This may have been down to over-excitement or disappointment. He was in a line of three that went over, the first two disappearing into the woods to make a twosome while he was left behind.

The intensity of the May birdsong has now moderated and the music is more relaxed. The small warblers are still heard but take their place along with the later comers such as Blackcap, now at his florid best; and Chaffinch has become dominant in parts of the woodland.

Cows are pretty tuneless but they've also changed after less than a week. They had been let out onto the moor to cause havoc to the paths and wild vegetation. But now they are back in the sheep enclosure; all but three standing by the fence communing with those inside. Was it those back inside their open prison who had misbehaved or were those outside too difficult to recapture?

Friday, 6 June 2014

What Comes Naturally

It's no surprise that one of the first things that the cows did when released onto the moor was to make for the bog and specifically that part of the bog where the special flowers of Bog Asphodel grow. After all what is a bog for? They may return to do again what comes naturally for them though they had to make their mark early on much as do the passengers getting off the coach at the motorway service station. They like the grass there too as can be seen from the bitten edges at the top of the stems.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Tranquillity With Sound

Odd how a scene can be tranquil with all that sound going on.