Sunday, 30 November 2014

Colour Changes

It's red deer surrounded by red bracken. But they've lost most of their red colouring themselves as they put on extra layers ready for colder nights to come. It's one of the best sights of this time of year, reserved for early walkers who get full advantage of the colours of the rising sun. But a reward for persistence at the end of this grey November.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Farm Free

This was the dangerous request I made at the consultation in 2006;
let's have some land which is free from farming, farm fences, barbed wire, farm livestock, farm management and farm grants. 
(Blacka was ideally placed for this as most of it had already gone many years without farming.)

At the time I didn't know that simple request was quite such dangerous thinking: but what's happened since has demonstrated that this idea was a serious threat to the closed minds who run land management and conservation in this corner of the Peak District. Some who saw themselves as 'on the side of' farmers tried to dismiss this kind of talk as anti-farmer. They still do. It's as if you are seen as anti something if you don't want it everywhere, in all corners of the land. Advocates of pedestrian zones in city centres have been called anti-car, objectors to a new supermarket as anti-business etc.

Another reason for considering farm free here was the poor quality of the farming that had been carried out locally with several instances of neglect of livestock.

I remember another  meeting of SWT's RAG a little earlier at which I warned that the managers were intent on treating Blacka as farmland. This was treated with scorn by representatives of Ramblers whose self- importance is only matched by their naivete. SWT typically stayed silent during that exchange. Several years on from there they and SMP and EMP have, culpably, in my view, incorporated farming and farmers into the heart of their plans. It's summed up in the documentation of the Eastern Moors Management Plan.
The farmers involved on site will adopt the role of land managers and be responsible for delivering a range of public goods and multi-benefit land management through appropriate grazing regimes. They will be key parties in delivering the site’s long term vision. ii. The partnership will share agri-environment income with the farmers in recognition of their role as land managers.
In other words not much different to every other farm.
This is after sixty years of increasingly intensive farming across the country has resulted in a mass decline in wildlife. Here was a chance to do the opposite and they, under the name of wildlife have turned a wilding area into another farm. Ah, they may say, but this is different, it's not intensive farming. But it's still destructive and exploiting with barbed wire, puddling and trampling and wildlife being marginalised.


It could be time to make a late harvest of Cowberry/Lingonberry/Mountain Cranberry. Recipes are available to ensure there's some preserve around for roast dinners. Other seasonal requirements are more decorative. Not many will look for gracefulness here.

Dear Grouping

Hoping to see Roe Deer this beautiful morning having seen three very briefly on a grim, dark morning recently. Their bright white rumps showed up as they dashed away. Not to be seen today though. It was almost disappointing to see only the Red instead, but then they are always a welcome sight.  We are very lucky to have the Reds here because across the country as a whole it's Roe that are far more common despite being somewhat scarce locally.

I do look forward to seeing special groupings of Red at this time, something I've seen every year and which seems confined to the post-rut period. A large stag accompanies a small group with one or two hinds only or a hind and young. They are all delightfully at ease with each other appealing to the sentimental side which many of us find hard to shake off. Dear indeed.

Friday, 21 November 2014


A special part of Blacka. A good place to stand and hope to see some wildlife. It's never short of interest and is about as different to the depressing sheep enclosure described in the previous post as it's possible to be. It's also had no money spent on it. Let it stay that way.

Further down and on the bridleway:

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Question of Value

Could the conservation funding bubble ever burst? Are the practitioners so complacently cocooned, happily unscrutinised and soaking up public money that they're unaware of the risks of just one critical headline setting off a general media exposure? Then some very awkward questions would get asked. I think they believe that their misleading but fluffy reputation promoting animals and birds will sustain them for ever. After all subsidy dependent land management across the board gets treated very gently.

I can only make a guess at the total amount of public money that goes into the management/mis-management of the sheep enclosure area on Blacka. Local managers who might know would strain nerves to make it difficult to find out. If the total sum became generally known I'm pretty sure many would find it shocking. Unfortunately knowing the facts would also provide ammunition for those with quite a different agenda to that of this blog. At least it would enable those who walk through and nearby to decide whether we get value for money. The answer couldn’t be anything else but no. Not much doubt really. Conservation it can't be - by any standards.

 The value for money calculation would have to add together the subsidy for the grazier to the HLS and other sums received by SWT as landowner ( see here and here), plus a proportion of larger landscape scale grants negotiated by SMP. There would also be the maintenance of boundaries including that received for the new stone wall and the barbed wire now installed above it.

That's presumably there to impede the giant leaping animals they intend to bring in at a later date? Or to keep out (or in?) - or possibly injure - wildlife such as foxes or deer. Longstanding experience of SWT suggests you can't expect that hazards and ugly workmanship from the recent contractor works will ever be put right.

I've suggested before that the SSSI designation like so many around here could be fraudulent, an unaccountable method of spending public money just because it’s there to be applied for, only accomplished by a deception on the public about the conservation value of the land as managed. The last I heard on this from an 'official' source was that the present management was undertaken to conserve the fungi. So what about these fungi?

After a very productive autumn across the whole country for fungi another flush of them in the last few days means my lawn has so many of several different species, that it’s tricky to walk on it without treading on them. Not so on this pasture land. For all its subsidies and phony conservation claims I had walked for 3 minutes over the sheep-cropped (and crapped) grass before I saw the first fungi today. After a bit I did find some which hardly justified the distance traveled from my back garden.** These ones are quite pretty, very similar to some at home.

Then on the east-facing side of the hill I came across these: the blueish stems reminded me I had seen similar ones years ago and been told they were Wood blewits.

 But there's not a tree anywhere near and blewits are usually associated with leaf litter and among pine needles. Some similar mushrooms from the Cortinarius species are toxic. I would not put any of these on a plate. And that's irrespective of the sheep droppings that can be seen alongside: they're actually everywhere on this land, much more present than mushrooms and far more even than the number of mushrooms in my lawn.

There were more similar, though less blue, nearby, in fact it amounted to a very large ring. Interesting; but this is a good time for fungi and on a SSSI which picks out fungi we should expect more: this hardly amounts to a fungi spectacular. The real nonsense is the story put out  that grazing is vital for fungi implying that the nutrients from sheep excrement benefit waxcaps. So how do they get in churchyards and back gardens where no sheep graze? But wildlife trusts are so fond of farming and crop&crap they are forever dreaming up new fairy stories to justify the practice and, as they hope, to mystify the public and their elected representatives. The lure of those subsidy ££s again.

**  Here is a link to some photos taken of fungi in my back garden at about the same time as this visit. My garden is not a SSI, nor a Special Protection Area nor a Special Area of Conservation. I'm sure many people's gardens have similar shows of fungi. Also, and crucially, there's been no conservation money been spent on my lawn. The condition of this land at Blacka makes me very angry.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Restricted View

How many consecutive days with fog at 8 am before records are broken? Judging by the wreckage on Blacka's boundary wall on the Hathersage Road this week visibility may have been much worse in earlier hours.

This stretch of road must be a favourite for those who yearn to test the resilience of dry stone walls or love to drive fast round bends with closed eyes. Just a few feet away the bus stop at Piper House has needed to be replaced at least three times in recent years. That may be one reason why I've never seen anyone waiting there.  Strange creatures, those humans.

Monday, 17 November 2014


Apparently God only created November to allow him to separate out those humans who are true-born optimists from those who’ve simply read a book about positive thinking as a management theory. 

That holds pretty well for recent gloomy November mornings. But to stray into positive territory a little, at least we were not in a tailback on the motorway nor even wandering across the treeless areas that dominate this part of the eastern Peak District. That would have tested all but the truest believers. One did not need to be so self-delusional to find some pleasures this morning.

There are trees after all and they bring a sort of shelter and even some sense of companionship that cropped grass and low heather can’t give. Just a few of them retain leaves and others are decorated with lichens. 

Trees are also an attraction for deer especially where they grow in hollows such as this where the raging water races through to crash down over boulders into the gorge of Blacka Dyke. 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Low Lights

The woods are illuminated from below. While most trees have lost their leaves and autumn colours have been underwhelming, there is still fine colouring to see in the woods.

Older taller trees are now bare but young birch, beech and oak 3 or 4 feet tall hold on to their leaves.

The colours bring a new look to wooded parts where we expect to see dark shadows. They are almost lit from within. These wooded  places bring hope and expectation of magical encounters.

What contrast with the depressing open areas that the supposed 'wildlife' trust is busy wrecking as in the previous post. But we can never relax with these people about. To say they have no love for genuinely natural places is only the beginning of it. All that counts is what is in their interest. They may even now be applying for grants to fund some woodland management scheme; we may then hear that these woods need thinning as they start to cut down the young trees and leaving torsos in piles as reminder of their power over nature. God, there's a lot to hate in conservationists. Time for open warfare methinks if that happens.

How to Waste Public Money

My search for interesting waxcaps on the treeless grassland proved a failure. I may have been too late or then again the livestock may have dealt with the fungi as they dealt with the bog flowers. Regrettably the afternoon visit brought further evidence of brainless management from SWT. A piece of heavy machinery was making its way across the land and another vehicle and trailer was parked near the new wall.

Fencing it seems. Now I don't want fencing at all. Fencing is not necessary if you don't farm and farming should not be carried out on a nature reserve. Nevertheless when they started to replace the old ugly wire fence with a well crafted stone wall it looked better. The downside was that the cost for the wall was more than £12,000, again from the public purse. Some thought the wall was better than the fence even if we didn't want either. But now, incredible as it might seem we're actually getting both. 

There will be a fence inside, or over the top of the wall! Of course at further extra cost. The contractors out there today have been rolling up the old fence. And putting up new barbed wire to stand over the top of the new wall which is already more than tall enough to keep cattle in. Just who is holding these profligate people to account? And what are the ecological pros and cons? This afternoon's vehicle scarred and compacted the ground appallingly doing no service to flood protection plans for the area. And why are conservation people so obsessed with barbed wire?

As for holding them to account these are the very people who give public spending a shocking bad name. With cuts and shortages and austerity and no pay rises for the lowest paid workers, money can somehow be found for this totally unnecessary project, one which actually damages the natural environment. And it's all done after the managers have contrived to put themselves beyond public scrutiny and accountability. Are they so mindless that they don't know what they are doing?  

Waxcaps and Sheep

The lawn in my garden has been a fine place for fungi in recent weeks. My neighbour's too. Some of the fungi have been waxcaps. Waxcaps on grassland tend to come later than the woodland fungi associated with trees.

I mention this because of the treeless pasture area blighted by sheep grazing on Blacka. If you ask SWT's managers or Natural England's local rep why this sheep-blighted zone is a SSSI they will be likely to say it's because of waxcap mushrooms. This is fairly new. They didn't say this in the past when the SSSI designation was first introduced. But now they do. This is interesting. They've discovered the waxcaps after the designation, not before.  Hmm. The other thing about the waxcaps is that they claim it's necessary to graze with livestock otherwise the waxcaps will not be conserved. Why? My lawn is not a SSSI. Waxcaps are on my lawn and no livestock graze. Another good place to find waxcaps is in churchyards where livestock do not graze.

As it costs a considerable amount of public money to graze livestock on this land and the sheep destroy what would otherwise be a wonderful display of wild flowers, how can they justify this management? I challenged the SWT manager on this. He said that Sheffield's ecology officer had said the droppings from sheep and cows are essential for the fungi. Now this can't be true. Not only have I seen research showing that waxcaps are mycorrhyzal - depending on a relationship with the roots of grasses - but the evidence of my lawn and churchyards disproves this.

So again we get to the real reason for sheep and cattle here - it brings in farm grants. Nothing to do with nature reserve priorities. As for wanting short grass for the spores to disperse, a couple of people with scythes on carefully selected parts of the grassland in September would be thousands of times cheaper for the public purse and would safeguard a fine display of wild flowers; and no sheep and no livestock pens and no fences.

Sunday, 9 November 2014


They've been away extending their summer visit to relatives on the higher moors during the unseasonal autumn. This is their home and where they're usually to be found in the cooler months. Some appear to be familiar faces.

Those seen this morning were a mix of hinds and young stags;

this was the most senior of the stags, yawning as he raised himself from bed. He's still much younger than the venerable character seen on Thursday.

They are all very welcome. The place needed them as it definitely did not need farm livestock.

All management here revolves around farm practices and that's the scandal of it. If the managers don't see that then they are unfit to be called conservationists. In these pictures deer are near the disgusting barbed wire fence. Nobody who had or has any involvement in erecting or defending the existence of this barbarity should be allowed within 100 miles of any public money. That anyone could try to defend such constructions for biodiversity reasons would be proof of their moral turpitude. It is also proof that farm animals are more important than wild animals making the designation of this place a 'Nature Reserve' an offence - taking us as fools.

A long time ago the question was asked: how many wild animals have been injured on this fence? Answer came there none. Doubtless the wildlife trust workers and trustees shrugged as if to say how could we possibly know that? It is of course a perfectly valid question. If those entrusted to run a nature reserve don't know what harm to nature their actions have caused then they should not be performing those actions.

I wonder how many from the trust and its supporters have watched carefully to see the behaviour of these wonderfully free and dignified animals when they approach the fence? Of course they think the deer jump over easily. And so mostly they do. But sometimes they go through the fence, ducking between the strands of wire, risking damage to eyes and limbs especially if alarmed and surprised. Other mammals such as badgers and foxes also go through. The evidence is not hard to find in the form of hairs on the barbs. Some of us have also watched them going through. So what is the fence there for? It's for farming, not for wildlife. So much for calling yourself a wildlife trust. It's clear throughout. Time to say what needs to be said. The management of choice for SWT is pollution and destruction.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Fall and Decline

Autumn has been less than in some recent years. Unusually mild weather has contributed to this: colours have been less compelling. Fewer deer have been seen. They prefer Blacka in the colder times when midges and flies don't trouble them and the greater shelter is more inviting than on the higher treeless slopes. Cattle have been hard to avoid, diminishing the appeal and destroying any illusion of a natural landscape. This feels like part of a general decline. Wildlife Trust meddling is also difficult to ignore; that's the way they want it: draw attention to what you do and it doesn't matter that the standard is poor. This has built up year on year and there are fewer views to turn to where you don't see something of their crass interventions.

Now a sight to enjoy: a few really cold nights have come along, the bracken has died off, and red morning sunlight transforms the view.

 Bracken at this time is as welcome to the eye as a new fall of snow.

Don't tell the managers. Natural beauty is anathema to them.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Tribulations of a Country Gentleman

The previous post on Botham and the RSPB touched on the antics of certain pseudo gentlemen who see themselves as inheritors by right of a Victorian country sports tradition only sustainable for a minority of the privileged classes. I've now found the quote I was looking for from Trollope's Last Chronicle of Barset. The words are spoken by one of the author's favourites, the mischievous Lily Dale who is never happier than when mocking the pretensions of menfolk.

"Now, with women, it is supposed that they can amuse themselves or live without amusement. Once or twice in a year, perhaps something is done for them. There is an arrow-shooting party, or a ball, or a picnic. But the catering for men's sport is never ending, and is always paramount to everything else. And yet the pet game of the day never goes off properly. In partridge time, the partridges are wild, and won't come to be killed. In hunting time the foxes won't run straight --the wretches. They show no spirit, and will take to ground to save their brushes. Then comes a nipping frost, and skating is proclaimed; but the ice is always rough, and the woodcocks have deserted the country. And as for salmon--when the summer comes round I do really believe that they suffer a great deal about the salmon. I'm sure they never catch any. So they go back to their clubs and their cards, and their billiards, and abuse their cooks and blackball their friends. …................."

The current impediment to Ian Botham's full indulgence in these arduous pursuits along with his fellow shooting estate owners seems to be the activities of the RSPB. Once it was butterfingered slip fielders, incompetent umpires and badly prepared pitches. Now, the more Hen Harriers the fewer grouse for the shoot.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Beefing about the RSPB

Ian 'Beefy' Botham has gone public with strong criticism of the RSPB. 

Much of what he's said I've said myself, sometimes here on this blog. But I'm suspicious of his motives. Is he sincere in regretting that the RSPB has shot foxes on its reserves? Choosing between Ian Botham and the RSPB on conservation matters is not a choice I'd like to make. I would have thought some experience of ducks was about the limit of his understanding of conservation.

But the RSPB, like the Wildlife Trusts, has not helped its cause. It's opened itself up to the criticism by adopting practices more suitable to a multinational outfit bent on empire building and self promotion than to a charity promoting simple aims. Its bureaucracy has become too detached from its membership. It is a behemoth and like all such is prone to want to control all in sight, in their case not just the birds, their habitats and their predators but the whole debate about wildlife and landscape. Its size is its main problem. Size leads to centralised decision making, a reliance on self promotion through a regular diet of press releases and domination of the media.

Nevertheless you can usually see where the RSPB is coming from most of the time which can't be said for the devious media manipulators on the other side. And there is another side, one which now seems to have enrolled Botham. And that other side is at least as well resourced and partisan comprising the Countryside Alliance, Field magazine and the numerous 'country-sports' semi-aristocratic and poseur hangers on of the shooting lobby. These people like to think of themselves as the inheritors of a tradition whose heyday was 19th century England when it was the expected thing for well-to-do and leisured gentlemen to spend their time either gambling or shooting while the lower classes made them wealthy by working long hours in the mills and mines of northern England.

What seems to have sparked off the present fight back by those for whom wildlife is there to shoot  is the campaign the RSPB has finally got round to waging against the killing of birds of prey by gamekeepers employed by wealthy shooting estates. I sensed a reluctance to do this among the RSPB establishment, aware that the 'R' in their charter comes with terms and conditions. They are supposed to take no position on the shooting of game birds. But that's not seen by many grass roots members as excluding them from campaigning against the shooting and poisoning of predators; the same predators which sometimes feed their families on these game birds under the mistaken impression that humans don't have a monopoly.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


Time to restore engagement with the blog, a restoration coming after a month. The restorative powers of nature benefit us all. Our contact with wildlife should be a daily requirement for those who query the arrogance of total human hegemony. Wildlife should never be seen to be there for our benefit alone; but it does serve us well if it helps us to greater humility and an understanding that we share the natural world as just one part of creation.

There are some advantages to being laid up post-operative. Unable to indulge compulsive restlessness means that you can catch up on some reading. Over the month mine has been mostly fiction, indulgent returns to old favourites and huge Victorian narratives. Then I was at a loose end waiting for delivery of an online order so explored the children's bookcase. I came upon The Secret Garden which  I had never read, surprisingly considering it's a classic and I had once thought myself very well informed on children's literature. I suppose that at the age when I should have read it I had dismissed it as that untouchable thing, a girl's book.

Coming fresh to this 103 year old classic when myself beyond the three score and ten mark I got through it while cringing at the sentimentality.The Yorkshire accents are excruciating as are the gradely Yorkshire folk with hearts more burnished than gold. Worst is the 12 year old 'child of the moors' Dickon, whose ability to make friends with foxes blackbirds and every other kind of wildlife nearly had me throwing the book away when only half way through. None of this was quite as laughable as the description of 'the moor' as teeming with flowers etc. Hodgson Burnett spent her early years in Manchester before emigrating to America so perhaps had forgotten or romanticised her memories of these devastated places.

Despite these very serious reservations we shouldn't miss the qualities of The Secret Garden. They are are all about the restorative powers of nature. Two very different children recover from serious problems and illness through daily contact with plants and animals. They love the mystery and magic of secret places. I hardly dare to ask what would be done with them today: give them an iPad and leave them to it?

Deer have now restored themselves to Blacka after a lengthy mild late summer and autumn higher up spent on the breezier heights. They also seem to appreciate the removal of cattle. Is it possible anyone could prefer farm animals to a primeval giant like this?

Deer could play their part in ecological restoration as could other wild animals persecuted in previous years. Cows and sheep achieve nothing in this being there only to bring in funds in the form of agricultural grants. In fact they do worse because of their habit of eating wild flowers before they even become commonly recognisable.