Sunday, 31 August 2014

Time and Colour

End of August. It seems that summer races away from the departure of the cuckoos. Already some of the features of the months to come are showing themselves. This outrageous colour could have been exotic butterflies until we got closer.

Something more restrained among the low shrubs and bracken. Tawny Grisettes always sound a colour contradiction. 

And they are in other ways, being Amanitas which is a notorious fungi group yet this one member is apparently edible. Hmmm.

I've never had the courage to try it and don't recommend anyone else does. Remember the Amanitas contain the Death Caps and Destroying Angels and as families go are best avoided as you would the Mafia. Nor is it wise to sample this pretty group of Roll Rims.

Others include some boletes glistening in bracken and path edges.

Not the only thing to glisten to the approval of enthusiasts for stools rather than toadstools.

Is nowhere free from them?

Is it a Plane, Is it a Bird, Is it a Boat?

Often on still summer mornings it's a balloon.

Kestrels have been busy lately; this, I think, is a youngster.

More herons this year than I've known and they've been moving around like ocean liners.

To answer enquiries about Scruffy and his current condition, after earlier pictures: he's doing well and acquiring some gear for the winter, but not trying to look too sleek.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Badgers Under Sentence

There were rifle shots heard on Blacka this morming. There's no plan for an official cull here either of badgers or deer but we know there are those who love to point guns at wildlife everywhere. And farmers have shot deer (while some of them have hypocritically claimed an affection for wildlife).

Defra and Natural England have just given the go-ahead for another cull of badgers in the west country. This is the reaction of the writer on The Ecologist:

Badgers live on Blacka and also the surrounding land. Two to my knowledge have recently been victims of roadkills. We always have to be aware that some farmers will shoot a badger and then leave the body alongside a road as if it has died in an accident.

Their scratch marks and foot prints can sometimes be seen. They also scrape away turf to get at worms.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Says It All

Heavy contractors vehicles, ugly scarrings of the landscape, despoilings of a natural site.

A management regime in the hands of vested interests.

What other confirmation do we need?

But this is South Yorkshire. We don't do sensitivity.

We already know the priorities of Sheffield City Council and its Public Rights of Way Department.
From the home page  of BikeTrack.Org

"We specialise in all aspects of extreme cycle tracks"

(Next priority: a tarmaced area for skateboards.)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Beyond Account

According to notices stuck up and emails received recently SWT will shortly be holding 'public engagement' events about Blacka.  Anyone who thinks these will give local people any meaningful say in what happens at Blacka is recommended to seek immediate mental health advice. The fact that these events are not called a consultation is significant and so is the fact that they are not part of the Reserve Advisory Group meeting process which has presumably been abandoned despite all that has been said. That again is no surprise. Why pretend that serial misleading of the public may be about to cease when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Consultations have been shown to be phony, the RAG to be fraudulent and there have been more broken promises than cowpats on the footpaths. And that is saying something.

The only positive thing about this is that the ditching of previous commitments and processes demonstrates an acknowledgement that they were dishonest all along. It's not much to cling to but those of us who have been saying that we were being misled have been shown to be right.

The whole conservation cabal is about as anti-democratic and impenetrable as it gets and it's of course about money, touched on at the end of the previous post.

Having had trouble getting RAG members and regular users to accept their obviously mercenary and cockeyed plans they seized on the Sheffield Moors Partnership as a lifeline that released them from a commitment to be guided by the views of local people. That Partnership listens to each other and doesn't give two figs for what the public say and especially resents  those who are well informed and know what they are up to. The exception, of course, and there's always an exception, is with Ride Sheffield and the mountain bikers generally. These bikers are favoured stakeholders - that word again - and SWT's managers are very fond of them. The bikers are allowed to set their own agenda. In fact key SWT employees are enthusiastic bikers themselves, obsessives for whom the activity is one of their main interests in life rather than occasional participants who keep it in perspective. They would probably like to turn the whole site into a mega mountain biking facility.

If you speak to conservation managers about the lack of accountability they will deny it because they  claim they are responsive to their stakeholders. But they chose the stakeholders, some of whom they could not ignore being determined vested interests. What is lacking is a genuine public accountability. Instead there's a funny mix of self-appointed and pushy single-interest groups and vested interests who get to have a say alongside some tame individuals who will accept whatever the managers say, the linear descendants of the forelock-tuggers from the days of the Duke of Norfolk and his gamekeepers. The broader public including those of us who know the sites and use them more are not even allowed to know what these other lobbyists are saying!!

The decision makers among councillors and officers in Sheffield and elsewhere have still not cottoned on to what is happening here. And the reason for this is these people themselves are not transparent in their processes so do not hear alarms being sounded from the general populace. We can only raise concerns about what is happening if we know early enough to make an impression. That is the main story in the saga of local council inefficiency: it's masked by failures in transparency and hence the defeatism of once conscientious citizens. Democracy should be a partnership with citizens, not a flawed representative setup whereby those elected get on with what they want to do until the next election, as we have now.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Longshaw and the National Trust

The National Trust is responsible for the management of substantial parts  of the land around here and will shortly be receiving Burbage and other adjacent moors near Blacka on a lease gifted by Sheffield City Council, unless Sheffield’s citizens rise up and demand this will not happen (pretty unlikely). That will give the National Trust a sum of something like a million pounds, probably more in addition to the many more millions it receives from the public purse and the purses of the public. That latest sum, for environmental stewardship, can be verified on Natural England’s Nature on the Map (Magic) site. A Freedom of Information request to Sheffield City Council from me asking SCC to say how this money was going to benefit its citizens was unsatisfactorily answered –receiving the equivalent of a blank stare. Public debate has not happened.*** (see below)

It seemed therefore a good time to have another quick look at how the NT is managing some of its other nearby properties and cast a critical eye. Scrutiny of what the trust does in the national media, if it happens at all, usually focuses on its role with historic buildings. There was a debate at the Hay Festival a few years ago between cultural commentator Stephen Bayley and Sir Simon Jenkins, NT’s Chairman (once a critic of the trust himself doubtless appointed on the ‘better inside the tent’ principle). You can listen to it here:

Interestingly, perhaps, there is a BBC Radio 4 programme tomorrow morning entitled ‘What Is The Point Of The National Trust?’.  It may continue to be available later through the website.

(Tues addition: It is, here

Longshaw is less than a mile from Blacka just outside the city boundary. It is owned now by the National Trust. Its buildings used to be a lodge for the Duke of Norfolk when he was up here shooting grouse. But there are no tours of the buildings and the estate is managed as a country park/farm. 

When our children were younger this was one of the options for a weekend walk and for many families that continues now, although, unlike then, if you’re not a member ( typical family membership £73.50 with Direct Debit, £98 otherwise) you will now have to pay to use their car park; another of those decisions about whether you're going to stay longer than an hour.

The NT now also manages Padley Gorge and land beyond so talks not just about Longshaw but of the Longshaw Estate. When that's added to the even newer acquisition of Burbage and other moors plus a sharing of the Eastern Moors with RSPB, the Trust has built itself  a huge empire to the west of Sheffield. Longshaw has changed somewhat in recent years but it's essentially the same – a network of walks in a very controlled site following the tradition of NT sites in grounds of more lavish stately homes. In the past I always felt something was lacking at Longshaw for a worthwhile visitor experience. Now they seem to have tried to address this in ways the managers probably claim to be innovative but turn out to be standard workaday NT marketing. It still disappoints though adding Padley to your walk brings new perspectives. A pity you have to cross a fairly busy road to get there. 

At Longshaw itself you can't forget farming. The livestock control what’s on the ground replacing interesting things with generous dollops of animal manure. It's typical that there is lots of colourful interest in the verges alongside the road as you approach the entrance with tall elegant yellow hawkweed in flower.

But once you get inside the site you leave them behind and are more likely to find sheep and thistles, well past their best.

This is the essence of management control keeping the land in what they call 'good agricultural condition'. As there are some fine old trees around Longshaw (typical of its aristocratic past) parts of the site are favoured with good fungi in autumn. It’s fortuitous that the crop-and-crap ‘conservation grazing’ management still hasn’t found a way to get the sheep and cows to devour all mushrooms though they do tread and at times defecate on them. 

In more recent years there’s been some investment in Longshaw giving it a different character, at least on the surface, to what we knew 30 years ago. That grant funding plus membership growth and parking fees has enabled them to spend on some extravagant marketing. Online you can see photos and watch a video complete with syrupy music and a talk-over from a ranger

All fits the pattern of contemporary hype. You half expect a commercial for DFS sofas to pop up.
There’s a cafĂ©, volunteers and lots of opportunities taken on the walk down from the car park to promote an image of a lively and diverse experience with banners and coloured chalks on blackboards. 

Much is made of ‘secret’ and ‘wild’ places for children to explore, all carefully labelled.

Not only is the nature here very controlled so is the public perception.

Opportunities for us to make up our own minds are limited to further afield, such as in Padley Gorge and Yarncliff Woods. But you’re never far from a carefully crafted notice, a fence, a gate with message telling you to keep your dog on a lead or a well formed cowpat. 

Children and adults may feel that Primary Schools are on holiday but the classroom experience never goes away.  In fact the site incorporates a classroom. Within the grounds is now a Moorland Centre devoted to indoctrinating children and other persuadable groups about the 'uniqueness' of heather moorland  thus ensuring a management role is preserved for generations to come.


***  Burbage Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors consists of 905 hectares yielding farm subsidy of £928,000 plus various capital sums.
Longshaw Estate consists of 592 ha and yields £648,000.
Eastern Moors consists of 2401 ha and yields £1.93million.
For each there are extra sums available for capital works and a share of substantial Nature Improvement Area grants.These in total £770,000 and a further £2.5million as detailed on Natural England's website here.

Saturday, 23 August 2014


Thoughts flippant and serious:

My early thoughts on predators were about needing more Peregrine Falcons to stop the Wood Pigeons from scoffing all the bilberries. I next wondered if an introduction of Lynx would help to move a larger deer population around. A really good addition to this area would be a pack of Wolves to reduce the damage done by sheep. Lambs killed this way or by a Golden Eagle passing through might have a better end than the prolonged and terrifying journey to the abattoir.

Wolves would also  be a helpful in controlling Wild Boar should the feral pigs eventually move up here from the Forest of Dean. That of course would be a much better solution to the spread of bracken on the moors. Boar and Deer are much more likely to move into large bracken beds and stir up the ground there. And Wolves and Lynx would move them around. The makings of a proper ecosystem?

But how do you deal with the surplus population of managers? This could be where Bears might find a role. Though to be sure of doing a valuable job they would need to be directed to the HQ at Stafford Road. They might starve looking for them here. Unless they waited in the rhodendron for one of the staff to arrive at the car park. They would need to be quick to jump out before SWT dived back into the car after stapling up another A4 sheet. Now this is beginning to really interest me.

A really serious and stimulating article on predators can be found here:


Just as we thought nothing could beat the propaganda barrage at the car park this is waiting for us this morning.

Surely now nobody could dispute this the most well appointed approach to any nature reserve in the country. Well done all those responsible, by virtue of their unstinting commitment to maintaining the attractions of their land. Those I assume include Sheffield City Council, Peak District National Park, Eastern Moors Partnership, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, Sheffield Moors Partnership.

Did somebody once say that when many people are expected to keep their eyes on the ball it usually means nobody does?

Friday, 22 August 2014

Must be a Joke, Innit?

The A4 laminated sheet phenomenon whereby SWT seeks to indoctrinate the locals has entered a new phase.

Ignore, if you will, the messages on the sheets themselves. There is a message behind all these messages: it is that SWT's role is not to get out onto the site themselves, observe, maintain and protect what's good. But instead, to spare a minute or two from their arduous duties at HQ to staple more and more fatuous notices wherever they can find a suitable surface. The comedy is of a high order. Tomorrow will we find more of them sellotaped to the dry stone walls, nailed to trees and plastered over the ground itself? Who could bet against it?

And this one?

Blind leading the blind.

But the best joke of all is this.

Better Heather

Artificial and recovering. Unlike the synthetic heather moorland mentioned in this post, here's a scene on Blacka that, to my eyes, vindicates the view that we should let things go the way they want.

When heather is part of the mix of low shrubs and scrub at a point in time who could argue that industrial resources should be harnessed to fight against it lest control be lost and something else grows out of it. If nature has produced this who are the arrogant ones who believe it should be brought to heel. Could they be the same as those who also worried whether to rid the moors of deer?

Thursday, 21 August 2014


As I've said before I make no claims for the photos here apart from their being an attempt to show simply what people would see if they were walking beside me.

And every so often I see something that seems to come from  dreams. It's usually down to the light: a dull morning suddenly punctured by a burst of sun just as this character arrived on the scene.

The following day did not have the same light but the view was pleasant enough.

A piece of velvet is hanging from one antler.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Stakeholding Stench

Put yourself in the shoes of the hard-pressed (?) conservation and landscape managers for once. Running a public consultation is fraught with potential problems. Those problems can be acute if you've already decided what to do (usually the case) and you fear unpredictable outcomes from the consultation process. That was what the conservation brigade found themselves facing in the Icarus meetings in 2006 about the future of Blacka Moor. They failed to carry the day and faced ill-feeling because they were exposed for spending public money on a process that was designed from the start to mislead the participants.

The easy way out of this is to have a stakeholder consultation. This way you get to choose who is consulted and on what aspects. The trick here is to get the views of a single interest group on something outside their field or comfort zone. A real-life example is one  currently being employed by managers in the Sheffield Moors Partnership. Those consulted on among other things the future use of grazing farm livestock on the moors, the long-term look of the landscape, the wildlife priorities, and decisions on whether or not to cull red deer are single interest groups of mountain bikers, rock climbers and access groups such as ramblers. This makes it easy to get across your view because  you're persuading people who've never given these matters serious thought.

In the SMP and EMP examples this stakeholder process goes further even than that. Those outside the process, the broad mass of the public, are denied knowledge of what is being discussed, of the opportunity to make submissions and even to know who the identity of those stakeholders supposedly representing the public interest.

There are lessons here for all sorts of processes. Your aim is to be able to say that the public is behind what you want to do. Your skill as a manager lies in your judgement in selecting just those elements within the public who are predisposed to follow your lead. It's a fairly modern twist to something that's as old as the hills themselves. And it stinks now as it always did.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Heather, Change and 'Species Cleansing'

It can't be assumed that what one person finds beautiful will appeal to others. But some attractions are near universal. If you were looking for a scene that was irresistible to nearly everyone it might be wise to choose a view involving baby animals.

But what about the natural world more broadly and elements of landscape? When a farmer tells you he finds a field of beef cattle beautiful you might sceptically believe he's seeing what the rest of us might not see - including market value and a few pound in his pocket. Similar things could have been said of the Barley Barons and prairie-sized fields stretching uninterrupted to the horizon.

Tastes in natural and semi natural landscapes get more interesting. Many are awestruck by high mountain scenery enhanced by changing weather conditions and there are few of us who don't respond to the transformation of familiar scenes after a fall of snow.

If you're a heather-lover recent weeks on the local moors will have pleased you; more so than many years. Some hillsides that for most of the year are as dull as a corporation car park (lacking the interest of vehicle changeover) have put on their glad rags for this brief duration before returning to dreariness for another eleven months. It's possible some of the most ardent heather-lovers rarely visit outside August.

In saying this I don't want it to be thought that I dislike heather. On the contrary, the flowering is delightful.  But what I do resent is an ignorant discourse that elevates heather into a cultish and exclusivist worship of its monopoly on the moors. It's just that the 'classic' heather moor is an artificial and purist concept which brooks no incursions from natural invaders. The similarity with political discourse is unavoidable. I'm reminded of the discussions on multiculturalism and political correctness that I normally find so yawn-inducing. We've all heard commentators with an agenda calling for more diversity and sniffing at those parts of our public life dominated by traditional male white anglo saxons. Well have these progressives ever considered the moors? These are more exclusive than public schools and only survive because of the artificial protectionism of 'Unnatural' England's rigid landscape character assessments that are designed to privilege the rich.  Incomers, even those that used to occupy the land, are ruthlessly excluded. And where they try to destroy native birch woodland in order to reinstate artificial heather moors there are clear parallels with ethnic cleansing. Will anything less than a revolution change things?

But a revolution is what has been happening on Blacka, a slow benign one admittedly, and one that has worried the landowners who've tried to reverse it in the manner of most revolutions - just replacing one kind of tyranny for another.

And the landscape that has been emerging is, gloriously, not set in stone; one that's never still but gradually evolving. The heather on Blacka, when it's joined by bilberry, long grasses, groups of trees and areas of scrub and bracken can look delightful at this time of year and when wildlife come into the mix it's a vindication of letting nature go its own way. Why should one always be expecting to manage in a way that keeps a certain character in a stable state. Humanity is the villain: the idea that any human institution could anyway keep things sustainably stagnant is a joke; our restless interventionism must change things to our own ends or hold things back to our own profit. Celebrate those parts of Blacka where still, maybe for not much longer, the predominant determinants are what's in the ground, the air and the character and diversity of the wildlife. Those parts that clash are those where managers have tried to intervene, supposedly to stop the process in its tracks - because too much nature is getting in!

All that's a prelude to saying that there are some heavenly scenes to be enjoyed on the naturally restoring parts of Blacka at the moment. Deer at their most beautiful are wandering through some of this lush and colourful spread of delights while enchanting parties of  small birds gossip to each other in the birches feeding themselves up in preparation for the second migration of the year for some and the first for others.

Magic and beauty are by definition not sustainable and quite definitely not stagnant. They are fleeting qualities, certain moments that may never repeat. They are what you get when you escape from office priorities and allow humanity to stand back from crass intervention.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Fracking and the Zombies

We've had to wait for it. It shouldn't be shirked now that fracking has erupted onto the scene. The real debate though should not be simply about fracking but about what national parks are really for and whether exploitation of the land should have any part in it at all. But people get used to bad things and accustom themselves to what should all the time have been unacceptable. Instead too many of us mutter in our beards and say it's nothing to do with me. The recently started debate about fracking in the Peak District should really take us back to re-examine mistakes made in the past, mainly by people who are committee jobsworths.

 Put simply, we should not even be here at all. National Parks in this country have been allowed to prioritise business and the economy when they should have been predominantly a refuge from exploitation. But many conservation postholders and academic commentators are deeply compromised and the link provided is not free from them. National Parks in this country are now officially no different to suburban green belt and green belt is little different to every other piece of land. All must drive the economy - that great excuse for all abuse of the environment and the natural and semi-natural landscape. As with most things to do with nature conservation the question should be about defaults. We've got the defaults entirely the wrong way round. In most of the countryside outside national parks there's an expectation that business – the rural economy – is a priority and only in exceptional circumstances should it be reigned in. Now the national parks are hardly different. Instead of a default situation that nature should come first the decisions are taken by those who are quick to decry anything that's 'anti-business'. The vision does not vary even to define certain areas within the parks as outside the 'business is all' consensus. What is amazing is the main proponents of exploitation are themselves likely to spend their holidays in far distant parts of the world well removed from HGVs and extractive industries. The idea that a new kind of mineral exploitation could be contemplated when quarrying has not been dealt with is astonishing. No self-respecting National Park Board would have allowed the quarrying situation to continue without far more of a fight nor any attempt to impose conditions that prevented roads becoming a horrific mix of HGVs and boy racers. The A625 alongside Blacka now attracts at least twice the number of HGVs as ten years back and the trend continues. Attempts to control speeds are not considered because of timidity, the result being a generation grows up not knowing what tranquility can be. Now the government decrees that when I try to drive calmly on winding country roads at no more than 40 mph (quite fast enough alongside Blacka) I can be harrassed by HGVs whose bored drivers want to do 50 while they're under the wilfully blind idea that they will get where they're going a lot earlier. The PDNPA's management plan holds much of the blame. Two of its four vision statements, however much they try to disguise the intention refer to the importance of economic development, i.e. exploitation. The word you should take note of is 'and'. It combines two elements that can be tough to reconcile.

"An Enterprising and Sustainable Economy"
" A Diverse, Cherished and Working Landscape."

This allows for no places to be free from work and the economy. Even in our national park everywhere must play its part in the national battle for economic growth which comes before natural growth unless its be growth of crops or livestock that can be counted towards the GDP or growth of jobs and profits. When the ash dieback disaster was first revealed to the public the PDNPA's Head of Environment and Economy, Jane Chapman, said to the Chesterfield Post: "The Peak District National Park is open for business and people should continue to enjoy the area as normal.” This lady has been variously titled Assistant Director for Land Management and Head of Environment, Cultural Heritage and Recreation Strategy in different contexts. She it was who chaired (very badly) a feeble apology for a consultation group session for the Sheffield Moors Partnership and asked us to volunteer ways in which the moors could benefit the economy. I said the best thing for those who worked in the economy, i.e. nearly everyone, was for there to be places like the Sheffield Moors that were kept out of the economy where people could come to rediscover a different side of life. When that insignificant morning was written up in a glossy format later on, vastly distorting and inflating the indifferent and downright poor exchanges as if they had been a debate at the Oxford Union or a major event in parliament my contribution was left out, presumably because it didn't fit her agenda. So were my important points raised in questions at the brief plenary session.

The 'working landscape' as the 'cultural landscape' is one of the themes of Ian Rotherham the writer of the first link above. One of many problems is that those industries may at times have been moderately benign in terms of their impact on the landscape. Now with modern machinery and HGVs the whole character of an area can be changed in a very short time. If you say they can't use these methods you're told that this is anti business and that you don't understand the economy. The zombies are out there and they are employed to quash anything that challenges their view.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Roll Call

Dining at the Old Wall Caff today ....

Robins 2 young, 2 adult

Blackbird 1
Chaffinch 2

Blue Tit 3
Coal Tit 2
Great Tit 5
Nuthatch 1
Dunnock 1
Chiff Chaff 1 just passing by

and don't forget me ...

Vole 1

Machines and People

Last week a group of SWT workers arrived with powerful strimmers. Their job was to cut back some growth along the edges of a bridleway. It hardly looks like essential maintenance.

The route was clear enough beforehand for the mountain bikers who race through along here. Some people find the speed, the machines and even the riders' gear intimidating especially when there is a group of the bikers urging each other on. It's possible at one point to diverge from the bridleway and take a route which runs parallel, a Public Right of Way where cyclists are not allowed to go.

They do anyway of course, but not now because those using the walkers-only route in August have to cope with bracken growth leaning over the path, not so pleasant when it's wet, and strands of bramble snaking across.

Walkers paths have no priority with those in management jobs. Walkers tend not to be as noisy and pushy as bikers so can be ignored more easily.

Not that power strimmers would be my choice for this job. A couple of people with sharp scythes could make enough of a difference with a lot less impact on wildlife and tranquility. But we know the problem with machines and gadgets: once you have them you have to use them however intrusive it is.

It's the same with chain saws; and some will be rejoicing that an opportunity has arisen for those to be used.

On the bridleway there are signs that mountain bikers have suddenly braked and taken a wide detour to the side.  The reason's not hard to see.