Wednesday, 31 December 2014


Masochism should be pleasure through pain. It's believed that some people get a thrill from watching Saturday night television on BBC1 and ITV1. So I'm told anyway.

But how would you describe reading SWT's Blacka Management Plan (draft) which brings no pleasure only pain and weariness?

When SWT's Operations Manager, Roy Mosley contacted all those on the Blacka mailing list with a link to the draft plan he wrote as follows:

The draft plan is a substantial document and, in places, is quite technical.  This is because it is aimed at providing Wildlife Trust reserve managers with as much information as possible about Blacka Moor and the background to the proposed management activities.  We understand that not everyone will wish to spend time going through the full document.

Perhaps the hope was that this would put people off from even bothering to read it. Odd anyway that the email is sent by Roy Mosley but is signed by Nabil Abbas who is titled 'Living Landscapes Manager (South) and is the replacement for Annabelle who departed earlier in the year. Nabil confirmed with me when I met him that he had not yet read the draft plan!!

Those who do try to read it might be tempted to believe that the writer knows Blacka well. That temptation should be resisted. Most of what is described in the 97 pages is 2nd or 3rd hand or as described in an earlier post 'bureaucratic hogwash' with no meaningful content. 

I can confirm that the writer does not know Blacka well. Ignorance in this sector does not seem any impediment to being a manager who formulates policy and strategy. Only the briefest of looks has revealed glaring omissions of key wildlife in the description and inclusion of landscape features that no longer exist! But for SWT (now SRWT)* accuracy does not matter. What matters is the number of pages, the ability to fill out a document with headings and sub-headings, tables and charts etc all of which can be done by somebody who doesn't know the site. There's method in this because it's been calculated that what impresses the gullible target audience is the said charts and tables and report format. Partly it's that it must be good because it's boring and pretentious. Sadly there are many who are impressed by such things. 

* SRAWT could be appropriate (Sheffield and Rotherham Anti-Wildlife Trust?)

Punishment must be taken so I will persist in reading this document taking only small doses at a time; medical advice should not be ignored. Further comments expected. Blood pressure monitor ready.

Regular Meals

The habit started one morning a few years ago when a persistent robin began to make demands. The following morning pockets were ready with grated cheddar. From then it seemed hard on him to miss out a morning treat and he got to come on my hand. The development of the Old Wall Caff with regular supplies of seeds and sundry extras seemed a natural extension and the variety of customers has grown, the latest being a crow and a cock pheasant who choose to visit after all the others and as we are making our way home: it's usually a good idea to look back. Three different robins have over the years chosen to feed from the hand, largely in order to beat the others to the food. But our favourite customer was Scruffy the great tit, the boldest of all, who couldn't wait for the cheese box to be opened. He sadly is no longer a visitor and may have taken his last meal. Now two robins are arguing about which should be first onto the hand. But, for me, the handsomest customer at present is our male blackbird. Perhaps in spring he will reward us with the finest bird song of all.

We worry about snow and the birds missing their regular meal just when it would be most welcome, The problem is access: Blacka's car park is never cleared, unlike that at nearby Longshaw (why?). There is a short steep slope coming out that some of us can't risk, unlike the dog walkers with large 4X4s. Perhaps one of those who reads this could volunteer to feed the birds for us on days we can't manage? Laybys on the Hathersage Road may or may not be cleared: this latest snowfall they were not.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


Nothing better sums up the attitude of SWT than an email I've received today. You would think that the role of the managers of a nature reserve would be to do all they can to protect and preserve wildlife on their property. And that being present when many people visit would be a priority.

I met the manager responsible for a discussion here yesterday and he's as pleasant and polite a person one could hope to see. I raised many things with him. One was this: isn't it odd that at bank holidays and holiday periods all the wildlife trust's staff are on leave and unobtainable thus unable to deal with any problems that may arise - not even a contact phone number? I mentioned the seriously injured deer I had found once and been unable to get any of the wildlife people even to speak to. He saw nothing odd: there's always the council (no use as it happens).

I emailed him to thank him for seeing me. An automatic message came back

I will be out of the office until Tue 6th Jan.
A phone number was given but ,if past experience  is anything to go by, nobody will be manning that over the extended holiday.

Synchronised Daws

The big display of Jackdaw murmurations can sometimes be seen in the mornings from about half an hour before sunrise. This is during the gathering just before they set out for the daily commute into Derbyshire. They have been roosting in and around Ecclesall Woods just below the eastern slopes of Blacka.  I've not so far captured a photograph of them at this point, but the exciting spectacle continues along the line of the A625 as they set off in groups of various sizes. Strong westerly winds add more drama as they near the top of the slope. At this point they can be seen moving as one as they dive down to hug the ground and avoid gusts. Sometimes this movement seems coordinated as if all birds are following the lead of one lead bird. As with swarms of insects and the better known starling murmurations it's impossible to tell just where the decision to move as one originates. But with these much larger birds there's an extra dimension because you sense that individual choice is being made with one or other birds on the edge of the flock pursuing a more solo role without ever leaving the group. It beats synchronised swimming any day.

Best of all is the daring game of chicken you can sometimes see near Stony Ridge when they swoop between commuting cars heading east towards the city.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Bureaucratic Hogwash

How your charitable donations get spent! In office work, of course.

Sheffield Wildlife Trust has now produced its 'draft' of a new Management Plan. This blog refers passim to the process and the shameless manipulation of so-called 'consultations' that they claim have led to the plan. Local conservation bureaucrats have now, they believe, got this to a fine art after years of staff time devoted to dissembling during the years leading up to Sheffield Moors Partnership. There are many scandals associated with the production of these documents. I'm not going through them all now, but to compile a list of them would result in a kind of parochial version of Machiavelli.

But the first reaction is simply anger that public funds and charitable donations have been used to employ staff in this duplicitous scrivening. What they should be doing is getting out onto Blacka and getting to know and understand the place at first hand. Instead, like all their documentation,  it's driven by the self-interest of the organisation, their employees and the wider conservation industry. More on this when I've read the whole depressing document.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dawn Spirit

Each time I see them a tune comes into my head. That springing, rolling song 'Over the Hills and Far Away' seems uniquely matched to the movement of roe deer. I'm quite sure they would not be seen at all on these dark mornings if they didn't have that white rump. That's what you see dancing through the trees. Being crepuscular this is the best time to find them. The snag is it makes getting a picture too difficult - for me at least. Time to enrol on that photography course. But wary of being persuaded to buy expensive equipment!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Bark Host

A good time to look closely at birch bark. Moss and hooves are plentiful.

What Everyone Knows ...

.....But nobody bothers to think about.  Many notables have had to contend with this effect over the centuries . Not just Galileo.   

Unquestioned assumptions are the bread and butter of local functionaries. If they get tempted to challenge those assumptions they're in the wrong job.

One common assumption  is that Rhododendron ponticum is a BAD THING. Even the most ignorant countryside user can't fail to have picked up on the prevailing wisdom that this shrub must be ERADICATED. In this it comes into the same discourse as Himalayan Balsam, Japanese Knotweed, Oxford Ragwort and the Grey Squirrel. Eradicators of the world unite. There may be grants.

So just to reiterate what EVERYONE KNOWS, Rhododendron ponticum is a BAD THING because it is ...

1 INVASIVE: it's not content to stay where it is; so, left to itself, it spreads over a wide area.
2 NOT GOOD FOR OTHER FLORA AND FAUNA: Insects, birds and other species prefer birch and oak, etc.
3 and, thirdly, (warning UKIP alert!!!), it is ALIEN: it is an undesirable immigrant coming here to take advantage of our favourable soils and disadvantaging the native population. Having found life a struggle in its own land it's come to claim for itself the easy benefits of British conditions. 

This is not a prelude to professing total disbelief in the wisdom of this. (Well the last one is a bit over-egged.) The problem, as mentioned earlier, is what it does to the brains of local functionaries. They make a jump from 'undesirable' to advocating persecution whatever the collateral damage. There is no room in their thinking for a situation of such exception that its uniqueness ought to be valued despite the prevailing wisdom. Because we have a unique situation here. The wood off Hathersage Road is a delight. And one of the key reasons it is so fine is the belt of Rhododendron that surrounds.

These are just some of the reasons why SWT should desist from persecuting this Rhododendron.

1 There has been discussion about this in the past with some measure of agreement (which was then unilaterally ignored)
2 The surrounding evergreen shelter belt at this height above sea level and surrounded by bleak open landscapes creates a superb wildlife-friendly refuge attracting birds and mammals.
3 The experience of entering the enclosed woodland is (or was) akin to entering a secret garden, one that has, entrancingly, gone wild with numerous views reminiscent of fairy tales and the illustrations of Arthur Rackham. (That experience has already been ruined by the destruction of the narrow opening into the wood).
4 The Rhododendron helped to seal the wood from the nearby main road by moderating and partially absorbing the vehicle sound.
5 The process of clearing the evergreens is so disruptive of the character of the wood that the benefits do not outweigh the advantages.
6 Our experience of seeing the way that SWT goes about work like this (or any work) is that they are utterly disorganised and invariably create ugliness anywhere there was once natural beauty. Better to do nothing than the rank insensitivity of their meddling.
7 There is an alternative way of preventing the spread of the shrub belt without destroying the charm and value for wildlife. That is to say “So far and no further”.
8 The present campaign of devastation has already been going on for more than 2 years and shows no gain for either wildlife nor amenity. But a lot of disillusion among those who used to love this wood.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Publicly Funded 'Barb'arity

In an addendum to the recent post Thinking and Risk about barbed wire and the barbarous** mentality of those who sanction its installation on a site ostensibly set aside for wildlife, I mention why I'm against vigilante wire cutting, however well-intentioned.

The possibility of loose strands of the nasty stuff being left trailing on the ground could almost be worse than the coldly efficient strained wires already there. But for those who think that this story can't get worse I have more news. It can: SWT and their contractors have so little care for wildlife  (or their own imported farm livestock) that they themselves are responsible for barbed wire being left trailing on the ground and in similar hazardous situations.

Not far away in the sheep grazed enclosure I've posted about here, barbed wire has been left, carelessly discarded on the ground ,where it can easily harm badgers, foxes, sheep, hares and humans. Nearby another hazard is the coiled up remains of the previous fence. Another similar coil is not far off alongside loose trails of wire and posts to which old barbed wire remains affixed. A ewe is using it to shelter from the west wind! Did we need proof they are stupid animals? Or that SWT are unfit to be responsible for landscape management at any level? You keep on having to remind yourself that this is a 'Nature Reserve'. That is what Sheffield Wildlife Trust call it! 'Wildlife'! does irony get any sharper than the barbs on these fences?

Another projection of loose barbed wire can be found near the main gate. This has been there for several weeks now, at least since I last saw it on 20th November, thinking then that it was about to be tidied up. How foolish to assume anyone in this outfit would do a proper job of anything.

This job was done with public money provided by the Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area and responsibility for the barbarity is shared by Sheffield Wildlife Trust, Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Moors Partnership and Natural England, none of whom have any local credibility. These people spend public money and there is no scrutiny or independent evaluation of the work they do. The failure to make sure a job is done well and left safe is not a one-off. It's been observed time and again and it is indeed built institutionally into the whole approach and work ethic of the local conservation management industry. It's expected. Many are no longer surprised.

It won't do to blame this on contractors. SWT have been told so many times that it's their job to make sure contractors do what they tell them. And they've had plenty of time to check the work's been done to standard that justifies the spending of public funds. But of course they have form on this.

So who will SWT blame for this? Not themselves that's certain. Most likely the contractor. Presumably the failure to get anything done about it for several weeks will be down to their key partner, the farmer who according to EMP (and probably SMP) is

"responsible for delivering a range of public goods and multi-benefit land management through appropriate grazing regimes" and  shares  "agri-environment income ....... in recognition of (his) role as land manager"

**'Barb'arity in this context is the practice of using barbed wire on a nature reserve.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Thinking and Risk

When they install a barbed wire fence like this one on a nature reserve, I wonder what sort of thinking goes with the process. Do they acknowledge that it puts wild animals at risk? Do they try to quantify that risk on behalf of the wild animals? Do they tell themselves that it's for a greater good that the wild animals are being expected to accept that level of risk? Do they make some calculation to the effect that being wild animals in a setting where other risks such as from predators are largely absent  it's not unreasonable for the animals to be subjected to this added risk created by humans?
Are they not thinking about the risks at all, simply saying that's the way things have to be so we'll think of other things?

Do they perhaps adopt the mental attitude of, say, a farmer who complains emotionally when a dog harasses his sheep but closes his mind to the experience of lambs in the slaughterhouse?

Do they even know that deer do not always leap cheerfully over this fence, but sometimes climb through it?  Or would they deny that? Typically the widest space between the strands is about 35 cm. Red deer are very large animals. I have watched as some of them have dithered for a time and then decided to go through between the strands. I've then walked closer and been unable to understand how they managed to do that without harming themselves in some way. The hairs on the barbs are on the third strand down and they are just where the deer track arrives at the fence. This can be seen at more than one place on Blacka. Other wild animals use the same routes and some pretty basic observation reveals evidence of them having to negotiate the barbed wire. This picture shows badger hair on the lowest strand. A tight space for a low animal either above or below.

And we should also mention the owl that was caught trapped on the barbed wire some weeks ago.
But perhaps SWT has decided it's best not to think at all.

ADDED 13th December:

What can wildlife-loving locals do to counter the activities of the barbarous installers? One hesitates to mention wire-cutters and this blog certainly does not support their use. What, anyway, would be the result? Probably even more hazardous loose coils of the stuff lying  around semi-hidden before the heathens appear to build a worse structure. There can be some value in 'name and shame' but then we're dealing with the local conservation industry who have a well established reputation for shamelessness. A suggestion coming from students of the Great War is, I fear, more entertaining than practical.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Surprising Murmurations

It's not only starlings that do it. The place to go around here has been Stoney Middleton.

But spectacular murmurations can be seen between Blacka and Ecclesall Woods. Here, it's a morning spectacle best seen in the hour before sunrise when the sky is clear, though that's not essential. I've drawn attention on this blog before to the daily migrations of jackdaws  along the route of Hathersage Road and the daring behaviour of the birds as they  duck and weave recklessly among the headlights of commuting traffic making its way towards Sheffield and the M1.

Before they set out on their westward journey there's a gathering together and skydance that is well known with starlings. I've not seen this often but it happens at least on some mornings. While jackdaws are generally more clumsy than starlings, the same display characteristics can be seen with sudden dramatic changes of direction, the flock moving as one and the pattern smooth like rehearsed choreography. In some ways it's more remarkable that it should happen with larger birds.

I hope to provide a picture soon.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


It's well known that  Roe Deer are territorial with resident bucks at no time tolerating others, meaning a typical group consists of a buck with two or three does. That's the maximum number you're likely to see at any time.  By contrast Red Deer are herd animals and larger numbers may be seen.  But what is a herd? I'm pretty sure the majority of people would understand that a herd stays together all of the time as can be seen in the enclosed parkland of some stately homes.

Out here where Red Deer roam at will they can make their own choices and that can be rather more interesting. It's true that outside the rutting period stags and hinds are often seen in single sex groups. And those groups can be quite large. But observation on Blacka shows that some animals don't conform to the trend. Recently mentioned has been the stag who keeps with a small group of hinds at this time of year. Then there are the immature stags who stay with hinds for several years. Blacka is also home to a frequently met couple, a hind and her single young offspring who have stayed together devotedly for well over a year and seem to have no wish to join other groups.

They were lying up in the bracken today sheltered from the keen north east wind, heads only visible. What wonderful stuff bracken is for these animals. It's also great to look at now, infinitely more appealing than heather or well grazed grass.

The main mixed group were elsewhere in the woods, another secure hiding place.

There were hinds plus a varied group of young including one yearling stag.