Monday, 29 September 2014

A Morbid Fear....

"I have a morbid fear of the public gaze.............." ** ( Conan Doyle -see below)

It's about scrutiny. A few 'whys': Why would those managing a public service/asset wish to avoid scrutiny? Why is this a major problem in local governance? Why did the Rotherham scandal happen? Many more 'whys' along the same lines.

Scrutiny is a major safeguard for the public. So why has it been abandoned?

Scrutiny is  not simply a gathering of information and views from a section of the public which are then processed by professionals with total authority in their field. It is about  independent people including those directly concerned and well-informed, putting questions some of which will be searching, and getting answers from those in a position of responsibility. When Blacka's Reserve Advisory Group (RAG) was meeting four times a year it was possible to ask these searching questions, much though the managers disliked it. It was possible in this way to reach a conclusion about what was being done and the judgements of managers. It was possible to hear about plans before they had gone too far to alter. That's almost certainly why the RAG stopped; fear of the 'public gaze' and a desire to avoid being accountable for decisions taken. Well before then managers had tried various means to avoid searching questions from the public, including packing the RAG meetings with agenda items driven from above, taking an inordinate amount of time over items they felt comfortable with, putting a rigid time limit on potentially difficult agenda items, talking fast and quiet in the hope that things would not be noticed and challenged.

Amid general concerns about inadequate scrutiny in Sheffield City Council its Director of Policy Performance and Communications is conducting a review of Scrutiny. An interim report was presented to Sheffield's Scrutiny Overview Board on 24th September

The suspicion is always that democratic scrutiny is an inconvenience to those in post. They simply don't like people asking questions about decisions they're making. And that's sometimes because there's something not quite right about a decision and the way it's been taken.

Another recent quote.
There should be nothing threatening about this; good officers should welcome challenge as an essential part of local democracy.

                                 ........ from the Jay Report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham

According to the Centre for Public Scrutiny too much local decision making is inadequately monitored.
  • How do I know that this council, and those with whom it works, will be aware when significant problems rear their head – and do I have confidence that this information will be acted on?
  • Does scrutiny have access to information which will allow me to confidently challenge, on the basis of independent evidence, the council’s assertions about the quality of a service?
  • Do council officers and officers from other agencies accept that scrutiny has this role to play?
** Quoted from Lord Holderness, a character in The Priory School, by Arthur Conan Doyle 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Rightly Suspicious

No self respecting wildlife has much time for humanity. And I sometimes feel guilty on behalf of my species for all the damage we still cause to wild nature. So those that can move quickly should be congratulated on a fast gettaway. Fortunately most humans don't look around much.

So failure to get a decent photo of the roe deer this morning should be a cause of celebration that the animals are wise enough to shun people. So the pictures are simply a record. A buck and two does, and none seen for months.

Friday, 26 September 2014

New Gods, Old Gods

Looking to the east brings this on. Somebody, I can't recall who, described consumerism as a God of the present age. It might be better to say that it has replaced God in the minds of many. And it needs energy to fuel it. So the power station takes on a role that other structures might have played in the past.

Just a few degrees on the compass to the south take us to a bearing directly east.

Perhaps the finest cathedral in the land. And anyone who doubted that the bump on the horizon really is Lincoln should zoom in a bit more.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Chain-Saw Alert

More crass intervention imminent from conservation vandal madcaps.
The storyline does not change. If it's not chain saw murder it's herbicide poisoning. Cutting down trees is an obsession with sections of today's conservation industry. Forget any assertion that they value wildlife when they swing into manly action bent on cutting down some of the best wildlife.

The only excuse I've heard for destroying trees here in this part of Blacka is that eventually trees would spread across Cowsick and change the habitat in which other plants thrive such as Bog Asphodel. That's the kind of tangled up thinking you get into when you try to justify intervention.What could be more mind-boggling than cutting down beautiful native trees to 'protect' a special wild flower when at the same time you're bringing in non native alien heavy farm beasts who trample all over the very same flowers?

On this part of Blacka the landscape is brought to life by the trees that are there all the time. They are mainly young and have slowly and heroically survived the worst of droughts, bizzards, severe frosts and storms. Their position alongside and across the levels owes nothing to the human intervention we know about from the present management characterised by clumsiness and poor taste and owes everything to the spirit of true wildlife.

Some of us have watched them and loved them and photographed them over many years. Those planning to destroy them should be ashamed for even thinking about it.

Last year trees were casually destroyed in the area of this photograph purely, I believe, to satisfy the need to give some employment to surplus workforce. Remember this when somebody tries to get you to contribute funds to wildlife charities and demand that they show how well informed they are about what's going on here.

Please God, give us some land free from meddlesome humans.

Monday, 22 September 2014

More Stirrings

Following on from this post, Time to Stir, another obvious inducement for the stags to move onto Blacka was  just a few yards away this morning.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Ugly Side of Biodiversity

"But you like the Bog Asphodel flowers, don't you"

Is this question sincere or disingenuous - a complete misinterpretation of all I've said?

Apparently they are planning to cut down more birch trees at Cowsick. The stated justification is that Cowsick bog is 'the most biodiverse' part of Blacka and birch is 'threatening' that.

I repeat once more, mixing patience and indignation, that I don't want human intervention. If one part of the natural world gains an advantage over another part that is just what happens. When office workers decide that cowpats shall be deposited all over an otherwise beautiful scene that is vandalism. Hence the comment  "you like bog asphodel" comment, implying that if I don't support the felling of trees then I'm responsible for the flower being put under threat. Do they really not get it or are they so strangling their thinking to deny the obvious?

It is getting to the point where I might have to accept that stupidity and insensitivity has defeated me. Without the trees this place has no value for me. They break up the monotony of the view. They show the passage of the seasons. The birds love them. But some perverse agricultural dogma has it that cows and cowpats are more important than native trees. Where do these people get programmed? Are there indoctrination clinics, disguised as in-service conferences?

It has to be asked. Just how far does the biodiversity agenda go? In the case of something being acknowledged as natural and beautiful is it justifiable to change it industrially for the worse because there would probably be an improvement in its biodiversity? If that question can't be answered then they should be doing a different job. (South Yorkshire has a vacancy at the moment.)

Time to Stir

Weeks of stillness have given way to change. Fresh winds and lower temperatures mean brighter skies, and wildlife responds. Leaves are patterning the paths, and bracken has been knocked back while kindly rewarding us with its best scorched colouring. Birds of many kinds are in restless pre-migration mode. In the mists of the last few days Chiff Chaffs were calling in the birch. They were silent today, if they were still there. Others were twittering and fidgeting instead. Whinchats in the bilberry and young birches that break up the uniformity of the heather stands. Jackdaws in loose formation heading west, a pattern that repeats every morning through the season.

Looking around for stags after many days absence, because these are just the conditions when they think of moving onto Blacka, I could see none. For them the new coolness, the promise of fewer midges in the fresh breeze, and the variety of food and shelter available are an inducement. Finally one was spotted far off in the bracken above the track. Right after all.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Where We Are

"We are where we are

I had nearly given up. My prediction that these words would be prominent in the SWT public engagement on Thursday was only fulfilled an hour into the event, kindly supplied by a SWT trustee with whom I was talking. I had written the phrase in my little notebook previous to the event with a promise of 10 points for each appearance. The reason it took so long explains the wait: I was expecting it to come in the context of an apology from SWT's chief executive for misleading the public and the failures to honour pledges made to consult properly over several years and disillusion and frustration felt by those who use and know Blacka. I had no expectation of a full and itemised apology of course, just a generalised one. But even that did not come. In fact the chief executive did not interract with the audience at all. Her brief presentation was no sooner delivered than the 'minder'/facilitator Pete Spriggs (yes he!), of post-it-note events Clearer Thinking, had moved things on swiftly to shield her from accountability.

Even when you've known this organisation for so many years it still comes as something of a shock to see again just how embedded the lack of principle is. I'm still unclear if this quality is deeply embedded in the national Wildlife Trust setup or is a symptom of local venality among the conservation organisations and public bodies generally. I'm sure anyway it's supported by the national setup - now based in Newark.

For the record my response to the phrase at the top - as the burglar said when caught in possession of the loot.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Pick N Mix Management

So that was SWT’s public engagement, that was. It could be the last we hear of bringing people together to consider the vision for Blacka.  Because that was not what happened. Accountability it ain't.

There were more conservation professionals than 'members of the public' at last night’s event. I know. I asked for a hand show.

Have Your Say is the call. Public engagement is happening here! Our managers are out on a search for people who might tell them what they wish to hear. I may just possibly have already said what I think about post-it-note consultation fraud and its prevalence as a way of avoiding accountability. But let's stay with it a bit; there’s more to say.

SWT's contribution to the public engagement event was characterised by fear. See the previous post. They have employed a professional fixer/facilitator  with a clear mandate to manage the avoidance of public discourse. He is paid according to his success in preventing challenge to the managers and delivering for them a minimal-stress event.  All is an exercise in ducking and dodging of responsibility. The flimflammery of the post-it-note consultation has now been replaced by the racket of the post-it-note public engagement. Some care has been taken with the choice of words. And with the process itself. All is focused on evading an awkward challenge in public, something dreaded by institutions with a bad conscience. So the meeting is planned to disperse the seated participants around the room. This is welcomed by many because they have been carefully placed in a small hot sweaty room uncomfortably close to one another.  Thus they make dupes of us all. This is well known to those in the infamous trade of devious facilitating. (The more comfortably your audience is sitting the more likely they are to want to stay in their places to ask questions.) Start with a boring or badly presented talk - in this case a screen that can only be seen by the front row - and they soon get restless and welcome a chance to get up and talk among themselves.

So engagement with the public is via the route of divide and control. As they leave their seats you isolate potentially troublesome individuals (guess who?). That avoids the unsavoury effect (for the managers) of the public sharing information and perspectives that could create the kind of challenge that becomes hard to cope with in a larger group. The beauty of the post-it note scam is that most people don't know what the other participants are saying or writing on their post-it notes. The idea that that some sort of dialogue between people reading each others' notes is ridiculous yet I've heard it claimed as a justification. They might as well be in a confessional cubicle.

So it’s have your say. But who says what? I personally wrote nothing on any post it note. What’s the point when the process is so flawed: for example, how do we know if post it note comments were written by ‘the public’ or by professionals who are there to back each other up? That was a commitment made at the earliest Sheffield Moors Partnership meetings. Nor whether SWT themselves have already put in their own comments? That is a serious comment. We know they can’t be trusted. There is already an online form for people to comment on. These comments are anonymous. But what are the safeguards against, say 20 employees commenting or 30 mountain bikers with no indication where they are coming from?

The managers, who've already committed themselves to the decisions that are the only ones worth discussing, will sift through these anonymous comments and Pick N Mix the ones that fit their own agenda. They will then claim they've run a proper consultation. The cost of this will never be disclosed, but a fair guess is that it will be covered by some kind of grant funding part of it from Sheffield City Council who were not represented at the event. Other contributions will come from pensioners who were accosted to join the trust outside their local supermarket or on their own doorstep.

As ever, the only thing that’s transparent is that we are engaging with a scam.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Pusillanimity and the Post-It Note

When we were children playing hide and seek the most popular hiding places were behind trees. It's one sign of the way the world has changed that today's  conservation managers like to hide behind post-it notes.

Sheffield Moors Partnership (SMP) conducted the most cowardly consultation in 2012 on their Master Plan. It was the worst example of chickening out I've come across in the sphere of public meetings, but it needs saying that the strategy has become increasingly used by public bodies around here despite being discredited.
It amounts to fear of public scrutiny.**

Partner Ploys
Being Scrutinised

It was frankly embarrassing. A consultation that was to finish up with an expensive glossy brochure giving the message that this was the outcome of extensive public engagement, yet a refusal to engage in discussion on real issues. Those partners, or their representatives looked uncomfortable when people did manage to question them. Their faint-heartedness was shocking and their guilty looks spoke volumes as they hid behind post-it notes. Instead of dialogue this was a consultation characterised by absence and cheating. Nobody wanted to talk about anything. They had of course already decided the outcome and were bothered that somebody might try to take their programme off course.

**It's been suggested that there should be a phobia term for this condition. None of the phobia lists consulted have helped so a new word elegophobia has been coined using the first letters for the greek word for scrutiny. I'm awaiting the authority of a greek scholar for this to be confirmed.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Not Open to Amendment

My questions to the new SWT manager, Nabil, were:

Dear Nabil

Could you please explain what will be covered in this one evening’s public engagement event on 18th September. Some have been heard to say that it’s a waste of time, that the significant decisions have all been taken and that it’s not honest to give people the impression that they have any real influence.
In 2006 there was a consultation that went over 7 months with three hour plus meetings. At the end of that we understood that a thorough review of management would happen after 5 years. A paper entitled ‘Management Planning 2011’ was distributed in 2011 giving a timetable for that review which would deal with the “vision, aims, objectives” plus other management elements. A series of consultation events was outlined which would span 5 months. That review was to ‘inform the Higher Level Scheme application’. None of that happened and the key Higher Level Scheme was agreed between SWT and NE with no input from the management plan review because that review did not happen.

Before committing to engage with this very much reduced process we need to know:

a) are certain things outside the scope of this public engagement because they have already been decided and are now fixed for ten years?
b) will Natural England representative(s) be present?
c) who will be present?
d) are all of the elements described in the Management Planning 2011 document to be discussed?
e) will this process continue over coming months?
f) what explanation is given for there being no RAG meetings since December 2012, a period during which the HLS agreement was concluded but not discussed by the RAG,  when the Chief Executive told Sheffield City Council Scrutiny Board that they were held every two months?

Best regards,

The full exchange can be read on this link:

The significant paragraph from the reply is below:

Not all of the management aims are open to amendment  because we are working towards a long-term vision carried forward from the previous Management Plan and which falls under the Sheffield Moors Masterplan, a framework that has been adopted by all partners working across the Sheffield Moors area following extensive public engagement.  

That needs some interpretation:
In current bureaucrat-speak "Not all" should be understood to say "Almost none".
Exactly what we have been saying in fact.  The few things that can be influenced are like crumbs thrown from the table.

This means that local people have no  power to influence the most important decisions which affect the character of the land and our experience when using it. The only way of doing this is by our setting our own stamp on the vision for Blacka. And that we will not be allowed to do.

As for the Sheffield Moors Partnership's (SMP) Masterplan no intelligent observer of the process by which that was devised could credit it with any meaningful public scrutiny. In fact the supposed  consultation was fraudulent. That word is used advisedly. Beyond being 'poor' or 'inadequate' or 'not good enough'. The word 'fraudulent' describes it exactly, because the process as designed by professionals in the industry, set out from the start to deceive the decision makers in the Town Hall. The managers knew what could be got past the largely ignorant cabinet members who would then approve their plans. They simply had to produce a glossy brochure complete with accounts and reports and photographs that inflated the validity of the p**spoor public meetings and the character of the consultation. Key decsions had been taken and huge grants secured long before the public were invited to express a view and even then were not encouraged dto ask serious questions. The master plan's main elements were well entrenched in advance of the meetings with the public -apparently a consultation but in fact a shameful process depending on no interchange of ideas and visions, simply an invitation to write things on post-it notes which could then be picked over by managers to choose those that supported plans they had already made.

And that same format is being followed again: the utterly disreputable post-it note consultation.

New Bridleway Plan Shock

Pictures on this post show walkers paths on one of the few remaining tranquil areas on Blacka, a haven for wildlife and a place to escape from the through traffic of packs of MTBers, horses and others for whom means of propulsion is more important than the place being accessed.

The context is another potential debacle; a direct consequence of Sheffield Wildlife Trust's failure to hold RAG (Reserve Advisory Group) meetings for two years, to their shame. And the failures of our local politicians to take their scrutiny role seriously. It's also a comment on the 'Stakeholder Culture' whereby weak management capitulates to pushy single interest groups instead of considering the public as a whole.

It seems management in the Public Rights of Way (PRoW) department of Sheffield City Council (SCC) is well ahead with plans to create a new bridleway on Blacka. This is the first I've heard about it but should not be surprised that SCC departments, who hate the very idea of transparency and public scrutiny, could be keeping us in the dark until plans are advanced.

They  have been lobbied by local horse riding groups.

There are 5 kilometres of bridleway on Blacka itself and much more on the adjoining public land. But that is not enough it seems. They must have more.

The pictures here are all taken along the route which would be 3 metres wide at least and constructed with heavy machinery. Wild plants and fungi will be scraped over and covered by imported stone in the usual insensitive way leaving the job unfinished in the hope that time will cover over the clumsy construction.

As for the PRoW team they also like to make out their jobs are necessary. To them the best way of doing that is inventing new projects like this.

An article in this week's Sheffield Telegraph is on a similar subject. I would not use the word 'upgrade' to describe turning an attractive informal path created by the gentle tread of people over many years into something 3 metres wide for machines to use. If it's worse it's a downgrade.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Flying Predator

At long last a picture of a dragonfly in flight. This time only nine photos with nothing in them before the lucky one. They are of course spectacular fliers, each of the four wings moving independently. Now you see it ....

Meanwhile another expert predator in flight has taken to the trees:

Gossamer Wonders

Natural spectacles can seem more compelling when they are further away. The more effort you have to make (travel, expense etc.) to see something the more attention it gets. Who would not want to see a Bengal Tiger, yet the answer may be those who live in Bengal, though that could be down to an understandable sense of caution. But a similar case could be made for less fearsome beasts in other exotic parts.

What might we have to do to persuade local people in large numbers to make just a bit of an effort to see the wonders of very accessible spectacles such as the many hundreds of spider webs decorating Blacka, each one unique in its beauty?

Numbers and statistic are such an obsession today in being used as a measure of value. Somebody could frame a question along the lines of:

"If it were possible to combine all the spider silk threads we can see into one single thread how far could it stretch between Earth and the moon?" It seems a fatuous question to me but would it be just the one to capture the attention of some who have not the instinctive feel for what is beautiful? This may take us back again to Hard Times.

There are many kinds of spider silk and the finest is said to be that used by baby spiders launching themselves onto the air. That used for constructing webs was all over the site this week. Still conditions are good for small insects that don't like restless winds. Hence the predators out to net them. But what an artistic way to do it.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014




It's necessary to contact regular readers.

I have a message that should be shared with those who are, or have been, supporters of Friends of Blacka Moor and also others who believe the questions raised here are important. Contact details on record may no longer be accurate so please would you confirm.

Please email me using the contact email address at the side.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Retiring Dispositions

Most wildlife is shy. Attention seeking is restricted to certain pushy species such as the Robin who has learned long ago that humanity has its uses.

While Robins are regulars at bird tables, Wrens show no interest at all. They move about like mice, quickly and close to the ground. Consequently it's not as easy to find out much about them. Books have been written about Robins including some detailed behaviour studies. Theories about Wren behaviour can persist for years before somebody manages to prove them wrong. It is simply so good at avoiding attention. Another bird that I had always thought shy and nervous is the Dunnock. I'm sure I remember from many years ago that Dunnocks would keep away from bird tables just like the Wren.

But not so. These days at least it attends the bird table along with the others. Maybe I was mistaken or maybe it has learned it pays to show more spirit.

The deer are an odd case: depending on where you are or their mood of  the moment (or simply which way the wind is blowing), you may or may not get close. 

Today they were wary and suspicious. All the better. That is totally natural behaviour for beasts whose survival over many thousands of years has depended on not trusting anything or anyone.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Planning Ahead

It's good to report a late flowering of Mountain Cranberry again. That could lead to fruit just a couple of weeks before Christmas as it did last year. Get recipes and jars ready for a better accompaniment to festive dinners than expensive imports from America.

Blackberries are now in season. It takes some searching to find good sized berries but for the determined picker they are around.

Bilberries don't seem to have survived in quite the numbers expected and I'm at a loss who to blame. Maybe complain to the RSPB for not providing enough falcons to scare off the pigeons?

I've been told that some spraying has been going on lately. If that's so what's happened to the policy of plastering notices up everywhere beforehand warning bilberry pickers that their harvest could be coated with Asulox?


He seemed too pale for a mature kestrel so most likely an immature bird. His non-standard behaviour suggested that too.