Thursday, 31 July 2014


Gatekeeping may be alive and well on Blacka with plentiful opportunities for reminding us of the managers. But this Gatekeeper is a bit the worse for wear. It's a male and has the usual two white pupil like spots on its remaining complete 'eye'. Only one is visible on the other torn wing.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Thriving with Minimal Intervention

If only they could accept that areas of historically exploited moorland should be allowed to slowly return to nature they would get much satisfaction from this land to the west of Blacka, part of the parcel designated on the map as an extension of Totley Moor. Only one path crosses it towards Stony Ridge.

It stretches across a wide part of land to the right as you walk away south of the car park on Hathersage Road. It's near impossible to walk on, the varied low vegetation being surmounted on a tussocky base.

A determined walker/pathmaker might, in time, create a route but that would be a pity. Its great advantage is 1) it's not grazed nor has been for as long as anyone can remember, and 2) wildlife on there are never troubled by humans.

Any proper appraisal of management strategies in the Eastern Moors should start here. This land was once grouse moor, relentlessly managed. It has been the subject of a regime of minimal management for as long as anyone can remember; arguably it was no management at all. Very, very slowly a few trees have begun to establish themselves here and that has benefited the wildlife, especially birds. Otherwise the low shrubs have wallowed in the freedom to create new patterns of vegetation (what the conservation mafia call 'mosaics').

Bilberries are in their element and so are the blackbirds and thrushes that come up this year from the dry lawns of Dore's gardens where worms are hard to come by. Many other small birds love this area as do deer and many small mammals.

Let's be clear. This is a vegetation cover in transition. It's not a garden, much as it looks like one in places. If it's untouched by man it will gradually change just as it has over the last fifty or so years. If it is managed it will also change. I am as certain as I can be of anything that the change resulting from management will leave it looking much uglier. Why? Because the people who would be making the decisions and the others who will be implementing them will be insensitive and incompetent. I would sooner trust nature and natural succession to go its course. It will look right. Much as they talk of plagio climaxes and this and that and quote pseudo-ecological expertise and biodiversity action plans (BAPs) they simply don't know how to keep a certain dynamic vegetation in a stable unchanging state; not at any rate without the kind of ugly intrusion that destroys any attraction it has for the visitor. It is, simply, industrial; and I can think of nothing that is more inappropriate. Unless you call it landscape gardening which they can't do because they haven't got the numbers of qualified gardeners. I have this feeling that the mindsets of these managers are sustained by an idea that a certain ideal of the chance lucky finding of dwarf shrubbery can be imposed all over in a fantasy land of favourable condition. Clouds and cuckoos come to mind.

Elsewhere the similar heather and bilberry based vegetation has become more and more encroached with birch because it's close to birch woodland and sheltered.

The promised cattle management has not worked and it won't, unless they use far more cows and for a much longer period of the year; and they would probably need sheep as well and a permanently based shepherd/herdsman to continually move them around. That herdsman would need to have such knowledge and training that you would need to pay him well.

There is really no alternative, as that woman once said in a different context.  Nature's own volition must be respected. In accepting this you give back some integrity to management. And each stage of the succession will produce its own natural beauty untainted by the grubbiness of the conservation economy.

Health & Safety for Birds

Wondering how an owl could get itself caught on the barbed wire, I had a look at the ghastly structure again. In places there's barely an inch between the top strands. This looks particularly threatening.

Some of them are more vulnerable at this time. Even this nuthatch could do with a makeover.

But nothing else looks quite as pathetic as our  great tit.

Rather Cheerful

With cause the melancholy thistle can feel happy. After all a nearby one has been somewhat mangled by a passing cow while this one survives.

It's not the spot some of us would choose, under the wall of the A625, a couple of feet away but 6 feet above. When motorists lose control on this dangerous bend and go through the wall masonry rains down and odd bits of bodywork, hopefully not human. Later, likely to be much later, contractors arrive to rebuild the wall and could be trampling just here. Then there are the cows. Enough said.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The National Park Fragrance at its best

Here they come, the custodians of the National Park Fragrance beloved of Jim Dixon the Chief Executive of our Peak District. This is what he sprays in his house to mask less acceptable smells that sometimes happen.

So much could be said in support of this business tie-up. So let it speak for itself - fragrantly of course. Sample it in the air, on the breeze and on the ground - walk in it even; don't hang back.

Two prime sites - just beyond the cluster of gates at the end of the main track from the car park.

And below the bottom gate to the sheep enclosure near the sycamores where the fragrance is further enhanced by the woollies and what they get up to.

Saturday, 26 July 2014


It could simply be that SWT people have different kinds of brains to the rest of us and what we see they don't. The other day its Chief Executive came along to look at the effect the cows have had, particularly on the Bog Asphodel.

Since then there have been new notices telling us of the benefits of conservation grazing propagandising the car park. They're identical to those they started displaying from April. The only  explanation I can think of is that they live in a different world - presumably an office world not the one we've always thought was the real one. This is an existential problem.

The notices are the same as the ones previously put up except the cuddly highland cows have been cut out. And now there is not just one notice here, but three saying the same thing!!!  Not for the first time where do they find these people?

The Land Lobby

There is so much money in land that landowners as a group can afford to employ the cleverest and most devious city PR people to spin a narrative that reflects well on them. It persuades a few. It should not persuade the majority.
The one thing that ordinary people should try to understand is that the establishment exists as it is because it tells lies. Call it spin, call it dissimulation, call it what you like but everyone who has a power niche that privileges them against the majority protects their privileged position by deception.

A brief look at the Countryside Alliance website should be enough to convince anyone who hates manipulation and spin that we should make our own minds up. There is an enormous amount of wealth being channelled into this PR lobby.

Fair-Weather Conservation

The Conservation Comedy is a subdivision of the Bureaucracy Farce that panders to those who control the land base of our countryside, holding it back from realising its potential for natural beauty. All is about jobs and money. the conservation economy is related to the farming economy and the interests of various entrenched rural groups. After a while each new employee at whatever level gets so they can't see beyond the office view. That's helped by spending most time inside the office grappling with budgets and grants and reports and going to meetings and conferences which get more remote and infested with self congratulation as the career progresses. Organisations like the National Trust, RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts are intriguing. The latter are supposed to be autonomous but I'm as sure as can be that all key policies are set centrally and support mechanisms are so constructed that responsibility is only partial for blunders and mistakes. That erodes local accountability. Nevertheless they have 47 Chief Executives!!! .. and goodness knows how many other senior postholders who contribute to this overweight phenomenon. One particular essential is a publicity and communications manager in each trust, whose duty it is to present each cock-up as a great achievement.

A long time ago I tried to resolve a dispute with SWT by making a plea that they should put aside top-downism and remote decision making by ensuring that at least one high ranking officer in the local organisations actually spent most of his/her time on the site. My argument was that only by actually getting to know a place really well  in all conditions and all seasons could you begin to understand what's special and valuable about it. Senior people were essential because the ignorance of even these post-holders was alarming. they should get to know the ground itself before relying on the judgement of others and policy documents.

I've noticed, as have others,over the years that the appearance of these senior people in the organisation on the site are few and far between and are almost invariably when conditions are absoultely spiffing - the middle of a longish fine spell in summer or when the heather is just coming into flower. Their jobs are office jobs yet they claim expertise which is questionable and make key decisions -although that may be the privilege of those in London - though they've now relocated I believe. A few years ago Nigel Doar responded to one of my posts -it clearly exposed a sore spot - with a long rambling self justification and thinly disgiused resentment at my blogging. In reply I asked him a simple question - how often had he himself been on Blacka in the previous year? He didn't answer.  Although the question rankled with him: About a year later he volunteered in another context that he had been up to Blacka with his children - of course he had had time to by then.

Anyway senior SWT staff turned up on Blacka this week - a lovely day for it. And I believe I saw one of the trustees in passing too. My problem with this is that you get a completely distorted picture of the place by only coming when conditions are like they are. The things that look fine now don't look like this for 90 percent of the year; and the same could be said of the things that look less good now. For example paths that are quagmires for most of the year are no trouble at all now. On the other hand bracken has minimal influence for most of the year but is now in some places a barrier to walking.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

From Green to Red

As someone who likes asking why, I might have expected by now to get reliable answers to questions based on elementary observations of the natural world. Sometimes I do. Sometimes it's a 'probably' and sometimes there's just a number of theories, none of which achieves consensus. That doesn't bother me too much. It's oddly satisfying to think that there are some things we still don't know. Curiosity should always have more things to exercise itself on. One problem with Google is it gives instant satisfaction and that fails to nourish the mature pleasure of deferred gratification. Our brains are the better, or so they say, for having problems to mull over.

So the way that leaves on Blacka turn red even well before autumn remains a puzzle that nobody has yet explained  - to my satisfaction at least. Well, it's sort of known how it happens but why is less certain. One likely story is that the plant halts the chlorophyl process early, stores the nutrition in leaves at a point when it's made a reasonable return - like someone cannily banking a proportion of their winnings.

It's enough for now just to enjoy the phenomenon. Bilberry is a good study because reds and greens are crucial to its cycle the aim of which is to produce the valued purple fruit. The patches of red can be as startling as a gunshot wound.

Oddly this is the time for harvesting of the berries yet more red flowers are still appearing ready to give us more fruits well into the last months of the year. The summer expeditions are now at their peak.

Once it was Sheffield people coming up on the buses laden with containers often glass jam jars. Now they come along by private car with tupperware. But the real intrepid bilberryers are the wild birds and mammals. Thrushes evidently read their health and diet advice in magazines and supplements and come along in organized parties bent on an antioxidant binge. I counted 28 in one group this morning and decided they must be mistles; when I got closer all of those heading for the woods in alarm were actually blackbirds. Pigeons as well of course, capable of eating so much they can be too heavy to get off the ground.

The reddening on bilberry looks standard practice but the mountain cranberry is different. The red leaves look like mutations.

But plenty of red berries are around, another shrub that carries on fruiting from now to near the end of the year.

Even bramble produces occasional vivid reds something of a mystery as the green bramble leaves stay around all winter, something that red deer value highly.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Safely Flowering

It's not just the spectacular or the rare flowers that we love to see in summer and dream of in winter. Not everything is as handsome as Bog Asphodel or Orchids. Common wild flowers are always welcome. Not far from the bog flowers and very close indeed to where the Orchid was flowering recently is the ungrazed area to the west of the track. Wild plants are under threat where livestock graze, and that's particularly the case when the grazers are industrially bred to eat and create meat for the table. So it's wise to look outside the grazing enclosures for the best examples. None of these is a rare plant in fact they are all very common indeed. But when allowed to reach maturity unhampered by the conservation industry they are delightful. Our countryside without them would be a poorer place. Above Mugwort before flowering, below Burdock  - another member of the thistle family.

The spike of Common Dock is well worth a closer look.

And there are always grasses which when left alone, singly and in groups, can develop a sculptural elegance that few flowering plants match.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Amber and Tawny

Eye-catching against green. Skipper butterfly and Tawny Grisette:

Gatekeeping (2)

Following on from the previous post it needs emphasising that gates are instruments of control. They force the public to use this point of access and take the opportunity to lecture us using propaganda pinned to the gateposts where most people will see it.

I understand that a response to the yellow notice on the gatepost above was pinned below. It was removed within a day presumably by the farmer or the wildlife trust who've never been keen on exchange of views. Here is the original notice which is still there and below is the text of the notice pulled down.

What is not said on that notice is that cruelty and neglect towards sheep in this area has been most prevalent in members of the farming community. See this post. At the time I was not aware of notices being put up telling farmers to behave responsibly and I was not aware of the N$A or the N£U nor Natural England or the PDNPA or Sheffield City Council taking urgent action to deal with the problem.


An owl has been found trapped on the barbed wire that was erected by Sheffield Wildlife Trust to contain their cattle. There have been many complaints that barbed wire is not suitable for a wildlife site.


All these fences and walls we've paid for on Blacka are grand for those who like fences and walls but most of us don't. We can admire the craftsmanship and hard work in construction but prefer the freedom to wander unrestricted. Around my garden I would love this. You and I have recently paid some £35 per metre for more than 330 metres of stone walling to keep cattle in*, cattle many of us don't want - 761 users of Blacka once signed a petition  to have them kept out.

Walls and fences mean gates as well.

Gates are good places to concentrate the traffic which walkers know means extra erosion, and mud when conditions are damp. Gates are particularly noisy too. Try sliding through when you're wanting to observe some wildlife without distracting animals or birds. Those long handles are meant for horse riders who don't want to dismount. They are often stiff and the extra effort needed to move them causes a grating sound that carries quite a distance. That bird or animal you may be following on a nature reserve doesn't hang around.

One young bird did decide a gatepost was a good lookout. It looked like a young chat - Whinchat or Stonechat - but could have been something else. Not much different to this group making the clicking sound familiar to those who've watched Bogart in The Caine Mutiny.

Gates are valued by the managers and farmers for messages letting the public know they can't do just what they want. Usually it's 'don't do this or that' carefully wrapped up in management speak. Or it can be a reminder that we are privileged to use this land and we should thank the conservation managers. We have no alternative but to use gates so you can't avoid it and they know it's a prime propaganda opportunity. No wonder some get so irritated they tear it down. The wildlife trust is especially fond of the A4 laminated notice stapled to gate posts and even trees. It looks pretty amateurish, the kind of thing a youth club would use. And they get into a mess because people don't believe what they say, with some reason. This one first appeared back in April signalling to the concerned users of paths that they are putting farm cows on the moor, something that SWT know is not popular.

So the notice explained why they are doing it using whatever dodgy reason they could think of while conveniently missing out the real reason (the farm subsidy they get). In order to sugar the pill they use their clumsy presentation skills to add a picture at the top to show that the cows will be those cuddly highland cows that people like so much. Except that the cows when they come are not those at all.

Understanding their own reputation for misleading the public one of their staff comes along with a pair of nail scissors and cuts out the misleading picture! But doesn't cut out the misleading sentences nor replace them with the real explanation for the presence of cows: the £12k per year C.A.P. farm subsidy.

But does anyone expect the truth these days - even on a gatepost?

* This money actually comes as conscience money from industrial polluters. Nevertheless it's public money which would otherwise come to the public purse. Note the smart PR exercise/greenwash.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Flowering - and Deflowering

The Good News and the Bad News.

Good news that there is a decent small area of Bog Asphodel thriving, as yet untrashed by cows, not as splendid as the once magnificent scene, but there nonetheless; we must be grateful.

The bad news is that the cows were seen wandering  off that direction early this morning.

It's good news that some flowers can be found in the sheep enclosure of this 'nature reserve', as they choose to call it. It's less good news that the varieties found are severely limited compared to what might be found when no sheep have been in occupation. Some years ago I called the high ground here Thistle Hill and I see no reason to change that. Being one of the few plants sheep don't eat gives it an advantage. Some sheep now want to change that.

Today I could  see no Sneezewort nor Vetchling nor Orchid and very little Harebell. These and others should be here. Clover is present of course and Lesser Stitchwort in one or two places, cowering away lest the all-devouring woollies might spot them.

But thistles are interesting if there's little else to admire. Spear Thistle has its points, as they say, and were it less common might be valued in the herbaceous border. But I sometimes wonder if the person who first christened the Creeping Thistle ever had second thoughts. It's the tall erect one in the picture below.

Thistles reminds us of an unexpected resident plant that can be seen on Blacka, namely the Melancholy Thistle whose flowerhead seems dejected  at early stages. It must indeed be the plant dominating the edges of the 100 Acre Wood where Eeyore spent his gloomy days. Actually its most favoured place in the Peak District is the limestone dales. Blacka is hardly the place you would look for it but the past practice of using limestone in road construction means that the area below the boundaries onto the A625 have become a more calcareous habitat and some flowers found there are not at all typical of the rest of Blacka. Among these is Vetchling .....................

.... and Meadow Cranesbill, both very common on roadside verges in the White Peak but not so common here.

Teachers of botany who want to show students the differences don't have far to come out of Sheffield to see  flowers that prefer less acid conditions. But they will be less than pleased if cows have trashed the Melancholy Thistle. I've not seen it this year and cows have certainly been around.