Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Precautions Against Flooding

Sheffield has been  lucky. But will it be lucky next time? The flooding risk for this city is high. 2007 was the most serious incident in the last 20 years but others have happened. Hills to the south and west with fast flowing rivers deposit large quantities of water into the centre and low lying land to the east after heavy rainfall. So far in recent weeks the worst of the rain has come further north. But is Sheffield prepared?

Sir Bob Kerslake was Chief Executive in 2007 and was brought in to BBC Radio4's World at One today to say how well Sheffield had adapted. He said very little on that - not reassuring. And looking at the relevant page on SCC's website it seems progress 8 years later has been very slow even on what's been agreed. Sheffield seems to have a Flood Risk Management Strategy which is a bit like a history and geography lesson - a lot of words and analysis but there is little evidence of urgency about it - it's still in draft form.

If you look very carefully you may find on page 72 of  74 a reference to something called a Sheffield Waterways Strategy in which these words occur:

"Change management of moorlands"
"Management of the upland catchment .... to improve stormwater retention."

But I could find no indication that they form part of any planned action in relation to mitigating flooding. Which is odd seeing as most of the rainwater filling the rivers originates in the hills and moors.

There's an associated document, a Strategic Environmental Assessment  produced by the consultants Halcrow. This goes over a lot of familiar ground including landscape character assessments. The main thrust seems to be the creation of stormwater attenuation areas which can be allowed to flood - these would need to be wasteland or public land such as parks. It appears that Natural England's rigid character assessments in the upland catchments are taken as inviolable. No mention of changing the upland management in terms of more forest.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015


Vital Uplands was a key policy document produced by Natural England in 2009. For the first time the agency took a few modest steps in the direction of considering our hills and moors in the interests of the environment and wildlife before vested interests. It was not a major revolution but it was a start. Among its proposals was a significant shift towards allowing a more natural vegetation in the uplands, i.e. more trees and scrub and less short, cropped, grazed and burned grass and heather. It would have allowed natural processes and natural succession to become default in many higher land areas.

But Vital Uplands was killed off three years after its launch following a concerted campaign by lobbyists for the vested interests in the farming and grouse shooting industries. The laudable aim of reducing intensive exploitation of the land was thrust aside by the single minded pursuit of short term business benefits. This is the problem with basing the whole of our approach to national policy on the economy. Business, entrepreneurship and the wealth creation agenda is most often short term. And that's reflected also in public policy which needs to satisfy the lobbyists for business. It's not always a question of huge profits. Farm income for many on the land may be modest compared with what is earned in the city but to keep up with the rat race there's a gradual tendency to farm more intensively.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Sign Here

In the days between Christmas and New Year an activity that beats shopping (even more shopping?) is less stressful and takes little time would be to sign a petition asking parliament to discuss the banning of driven grouse shooting.

Sign here:

Service Delivery

The fly-tipping removal service has delivered.

Other items left behind include broken glass and various bits of paper and polystyrene that have now blown into the woodland and beyond.


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Waiting for Dawn

Mild it may be but at night up here it drops to 3 degrees and lower. Reason to look forward to some sun on your back.

Fewer Sheep Please

Help reduce flooding; from the  Landscape Institute

Bare Hills and Flooded Towns

Sheffield has escaped lightly so far in this period of serious flooding, the worst of the rain falling just a bit further north. It would be those living and working close to the city that would suffer as in 2007. More rain has fallen this time in West Yorkshire and Lancashire. The proximity of high land means that the fast flowing streams give people little time to prepare. But local conservationists are not open to questioning on their role:

There is not just one cause of flooding events becoming more serious. Some causes are clearly climate related. But land management practices are an essential consideration. Here and elsewhere we have argued recently for allowing more trees to grow in the hills. This country, unlike most others, has exploited the uplands over many years and we might have expected the conservation industry to understand that. Unfortunately they continue to cut down trees for pet projects that get funding. Trees are vital for encouraging rainwater to penetrate further into the ground instead of running off into streams and then on towards the lower land where people live. Dredging policy is also pursued for short term reasons protecting some farm land at the expense of populated areas. Bare hills do nothing to help the fight against floods though they're cherished by the grouse shooting industry. It seems that even some of the politicians who so far have always played the farmers tune have now been forced to accept this.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Face in the Trees

That feeling of being watched.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

If it Moves .......

More evidence that people owning guns, in this case farmers, can't wait to use them against wildlife.

This article in The Ecologist also illustrates the general ignorance about flooding. Trees don't only help to mitigate flooding by encouraging waters to penetrate further into the ground. When cut down by beavers like those in Tayside the dams they build help to slow the flow of water.

Yet Another Twit?

How many people swore they would have nothing to do with Twitter and then changed their minds? I signed up long ago thinking I might be missing something, tried one or two tweets then forgot my password.

Blogging was  supposed to be to start a debate locally but the people who should have responded were nervous. I guessed it was policy from the top not to engage. Not engaging is certainly the way they have played things.

But they do tweet I notice. Sometimes they need to be challenged. How does it work? Some clumsy attempts will follow.

Snared Antlers

At first sight in the early morning gloom before dawn it looked to be quite decorative as if he had festooned himself with bramble.

But as it became lighter that looked doubtful. The green stuff was a vivid colour as if man made. Some kind of twine or rope somebody may have left around.

Together with this it suggests we're in high season for dumping?

Warfare With Drones Comes to Blacka

Do the University of Sheffield people from their Department of Landscape who posted this piece on the university's website understand what they have been doing? I think probably not. They ought to of course, but it can't be taken for granted. Coming from where they do we would hope they might understand some of the issues around management of the uplands, but they could have taken on trust what SRWT told them and seen it as an opportunity to use some of their latest gadgetry – and that must be a temptation.

They claim they are aiding SRWT's work by mapping “areas in which bracken and non-native trees are affecting the moorland.” Non-native trees? Birch and Oak and Holly?

Do they know that SRWT has been removing these native trees in their farm management agenda? And what are their views on wildlife management? Did they put forward any suggestions to SRWT's management plan, referred to? Are they aware of opposition from local users?

The dystopian symbolism is unavoidable: drones, reconnaissance, invaders, war zones, remote operations, ethnic cleansings. Could the next step be the annihilation of native and non-native trees remotely, with buttons pressed at SRWT's headquarters or even the university's Arts Tower? As with warfare in other spheres, why bother with conventional weapons or boots on the ground?

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Heavens and Humanity

Spectacular skies before sunrise are a feature of these short days. Often better than looking down when on the bare moor. Colours changing every few minutes.

Much better than what you see when you reach the car park.  Behold the work of man and despair.

This was Friday. There was more by Saturday.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Telling it Like it Isn't

Picking over the puff piece in the Sheffield Telegraph referred to in the previous post one comes across the same tired old self justifying themes that regularly crop up. These exculpations are rotated mechanically when anyone suggests that nature should take precedence over exploitation and trousering farm subsidies.

The first is the oft repeated dogma that

"Heathlands such as Blacka Moor are recognised as being of international importance,” said Nabil. “There have been considerable losses of heather moorland in recent times, with 27 per cent lost in England and Wales between 1947 and 1980.”

What has really been lost is the upland woodland that was destroyed and the land kept treeless for sheep and more importantly for the entertainment of wealthy aristocrats who used it for shooting birds that favoured open areas. And wooded uplands are  many,many times more valuable for wildlife than heather moorland. Sheffield Moors Partnership's whole approach to managing these hills and moors is based on a complete misconception to which they have made themselves wilfully blind. The promotion of grassy deserts in sheep pastures and the attacks on trees amount to a refusal to accept that these ecologically impoverished areas would be dramatically improved if they would simply allow them to become more wooded. All over Europe there are natural areas categorised as far more valuable for wildlife than anything in Britain and that is largely because there the hills are likely to be wooded rather than the bare deserts we get here. Most of the hilly land in Britain is in National Parks and our National Parks are classed as of the lowest possible wildlife and biodiversity value compared with those you're likely to see in Europe.

Then we have another reference to the fact that livestock was kept in part of the moors by monks in the middle ages.

"Blacka Moor nature reserve, which for 800 years served as grazing land for the monks of Beauchief Abbey until Alderman JG Graves took over the land"

Nonsense historically as Thomas Cromwell's commissioners saw to the closing of Beauchief Abbey before 1540. But this absurd narrative of 800 years etc. is supposed to give a very flaky historical justification for continuing to graze now, while we all know that the real reason for doing so is, as it always is with SRWT, money. Farm animals bring in dollops of farm subsidy as the land then gets to be classed as in agricultural condition. But what does accuracy matter to folks like these. They hope enough people will read it and not check. But even if it were true and grazing had happened for over a thousand years, how can that possibly be an argument against allowing the land to return to nature, at least the best part of it after centuries of exploitation. Time surely for ecological restoration?

What Wildlife Trusts Do

SRWT has now produced a Blacka Moor newsletter. I've wondered why they have only just got round to it. As an outfit that prioritises propaganda over protecting nature it would seem to be an obvious activity. The problem I suppose is that they don't do enough regular observation to gather enough material being an office-based organisation working at a distance from the place and rarely getting further than a few minutes from the car park when they do come. That was one of the problems of their astonishing management plan the inaccuracies in which offered open goals to their critics.

As it is, until now they've left the field open to other observers, which includes this blog. That may be why they are getting round to this newsletter now. Someone's decided they need to do something. If they were a football club they would have sacked their manager and whole coaching staff several times over by now.

The core activity of SRWT is raising funds to keep themselves going and part of this is getting  in the media. They were in the Sheffield Telegraph this month with an article about something they had been doing (though not universally admired), their new flagstones. This was an opportunity to get the newspapers interested and the hope for them was that it would help them recruit new members. As usual the text was not particularly accurate and prone to exaggeration, some of the wildlife mentioned being not around at this time of year though the text implies it is. I liked the bit that suggested 'herds of red deer often visible in early mornings'. Not so much now unfortunately thanks to their crony-conservationist partners at Eastern Moors who have caught the culling habit.

All this is about money of course.
He added that now the council has little budget to manage its countryside, walkers, riders and mountain bikers might think about joining organisations like the Wildlife Trust to give something back. Visit for details

That 'something back' helps to fund more office jobs, more persecution of wildlife, more recreational chain-saw attacks on trees, and again more propaganda for managers.

Any doubts that this is all about money might be dispelled by a look at one of the business cards senior members hand out. On the front:

On the back:

Can't wait

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Free From ...

Time to return to the original plea made at the consultation 10 years ago. Let's have some land that's free from farming, free from top down management, free from wildlife-persecution by humans. It's not just that these things exist; those who are responsible insist that they must do it everywhere. We have a nation of empire builders who can't accept any restriction to their activities: farmers, managers and now frackers, all exploiters of the land.

The interest groups are relentless. And they are incapable of living alongside anything they think might damage their wish to take profit from the land. Too often it's wildlife that they see as a threat. It's sometimes not easy to tell whether they really believe there's a threat or it being a case of simply enjoying shooting and killing wildlife. Some appalling killing of wildlife has been going on recently and among the sufferers have been the Tayside beavers referred to in the latest article from Mark Fisher. The inhumanity of some of the wildlife killing challenges any faith we have left in our fellow men.

Notwithstanding honourable exceptions, some farmers and some land managers seem determined to drive a wedge between their industry and those of us who cherish wildlife and natural beauty. So maybe it is time to reassert the plea and upgrade it to a demand. Lots more 'free from' land, that's entirely free from the exploitation of vested interests. And while we're at it let's scotch once and for all the now tired and utterly cynical self-serving doctrine that all land must be managed and must be farmed with sheep and cattle.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

SRWT's New Playpen

Blacka has been given a new Playpen

SRWT have a novel take on playpens. This one is topped with barbed wire. It could be part of their strategy to get new younger supporters having found that older people who've seen what they do aren't too happy about it. Desperate parents of tearaway kiddies could be glad of the facility.

But it's not. SRWT claim it is an exclusion area designed to be inaccessible to deer. For those who don't already know: the playpens are supposed to 'prove' that deer damage the land by their grazing. Vegetation inside the pens, where deer can't get to it, they hope will thrive; while outside all will supposedly be devastated by the wildlife baddies. All part of an SRWT agenda we’ve now got used to, one that’s determined to show that wildlife here are really rather a nuisance and to be kept down, while their often disgusting farm livestock, if you’re to believe the twisted narrative, are busy heroically transforming the land into a future Eden - and are, apparently, beautiful too compared to wild animals!

If you rarely or never go out into the countryside you can get some funny ideas about what goes on there by just reading articles in the media - and some of those ideas can be quite inaccurate. Broadcasting is no better. BBC’s Countryfile is especially prone to mislead. Put that alongside the spin and hype from the vested interests, from the shooters and hunters of the Countryside Alliance and the hard-bitten farming lobbyists to the empire builders of the conservation industry and you would be well advised to be thoroughly sceptical of anything you’re told and go out and observe for yourself. Be very wary indeed of someone who knows something’s true because it was on the telly or (the more literate ones) they’ve read (or ‘seen’) an article about it.

Take the question of the numbers of deer in the country. I'm occasionally seeing articles that can lead the reader to think there are too many deer in the country. These articles may be given added credibility by being written by those who know something about ecology and landscape etc. But the impression they can give is very misleading. Numbers of deer are put alongside numbers of sheep and cattle as being bad for the diversity of our landscape and ecosystems. especially in the hills. Well there are thousands of sheep and many cattle occupying our hills in the Peak District and England generally and their impact on the ground and the look of the landscape is enormous and has been for centuries. By comparison it's only comparatively recently that deer numbers have started to recover since most large wildlife was more or less wiped out long ago. It's just 12 years ago this week that red deer were first seen on Blacka for instance. And the impact of deer as compared to that of farm livestock is minimal. It's only in the Scottish Highlands that deer can be said to cause serious problems. And that's because they are kept in high numbers on shooting estates, encouraged in many ways including winter feeding to give wealthy people obsessed with guns something to shoot at. Outside those specific areas deer are not often seen and certainly nowhere near as much as sheep which demolish all nature within reach.

The problem is always one of management. It's intervention by man that causes the problems. Out here on the edge of Sheffield I believe there are not enough deer. If there were 'enough' deer why would they need sheep and cattle? But you can hear people saying that deer must be controlled (i.e. more opportunities for shooters) because they've seen an article or misinterpreted the message coming from those who should know better. In fact the deer numbers on Blacka have been in decline for a couple of years and that's largely due to the shooting carried out by RSPB on behalf of SMP which in turn is due to misguided attempts to manage the landscape according to questionable ideology that puts farmed heather moorland (paradise for shooters) as more important than wildness and trees on the high ground. Consequently it's not deer that are holding back the development of a more wild and natural landscape, it's the ubiquitous and boring farm livestock. Yet it's the noble and beautiful and independent wildlife that is made to suffer. And all of the time the organisations responsible are raking in charitable donations from the public under false pretences that they are helping wildlife. In truth they are persecuting it.

The narrative about too many deer has led to numerous interventions we could do without. One of the latest is SRWT's Playpen. If there's ever a chance of misinterpreting evidence to suit your own agenda and self-interest, SRWT will grasp it. But it's also a near-perfect symbol of their infantile approach; childish and manipulative and separated from the real world.

They will then use any 'evidence' they get from this project to show that deer are unwelcome and therefore something will have to be done. And what might that be?

Anyway the playpen is empty. I've been trying to think of suitable occupants. It shouldn’t be hard. And the top wire is barbed.

Alternative model:

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Puzzle Time

The Sheffield Moors are notably short in the tree department, SMP managing the land with livestock to keep trees from growing, and making a fetish of so-called 'open landscapes'.

So my reaction to seeing these tweets coming from EMP during National Tree Week  is bewilderment.

This tweet tells us how grand Birch is and how abundant it is in the uplands. Would it were so on the Eastern Moors. The trouble is that most of the uplands managed by EMP, particularly Big Moor, is notoriously free from trees and will remain so if the present grazing policy continues. Birch is also being systematically persecuted along with other trees on large areas of Blacka Moor.

This tweet tells us how fine a tree is the Beech. That also is on SRWT’s Blacka Moor target list for ethnic-cleansing style removal.


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Still Time

As predicted at the end of October, the late flowers of Cowberry/Lingonberry/Mountain Cranberry (different names for the same thing) have given rise to some even later fruit. If you didn't make your preserve weeks ago, didn't put any away in the freezer and haven't put in an order from IKEA, there may still be time to get out on the moor and pick some fruit ready for boxing day.

It's more symbolic than satisfying as the amount of dead material around makes the business of sorting the red berries from everything else a labour of love.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Floods in the News

More floods in the north. It's my recollection that there are a lot of hills in the districts most affected and very few trees on them. Lots of sheep make sure of that. Like here.

Pave It All Over

It's happening everywhere else so why not on a nature reserve or SSSI? I've lost count of the pleasant front gardens in my neighbourhood that have disappeared by courtesy of block paving companies and the residents' obsessive desire to own at least three private cars.

So it's hardly a surprise that SRWT is intent on paving over Blacka Moor. This is the Blacka section of the proposed trans-continental Superhighway.

It is well known that road improvements create more traffic and therefore more demand for road improvements. A bit of common sense explains it: a fine stretch of road has to lead somewhere. And once you get to the end of the improved section where do you go?  Here's the end of Cowsick Freeway.

Only one thing to do here - more of the stuff. Anyway it's good business for road builders.

Before our beloved wildlife trust came on the scene this was a narrow and attractive route which got somewhat damp after heavy rainfall but its appearance and condition underfoot had stayed the same for many many years.  SRWT's ideological commitment to 'conservation grazing' changed that. Everywhere has to be grazed. Cows were brought in and spent a large proportion of their time wandering heavily along the path and after a year it had widened considerably. The process continued, enhanced further with the help of the quite splendiferous idea of  destroying any trees that grew close to the path which by now had become as wide as many a minor road. Those naughty trees were draining the water thus obstructing the plans for treeless hillsides and desirable sogginess.

The PRoW continues up the slope.

It comes to the top of the hill, a junction of paths, now earmarked I believe for a modern interchange.

Continuing east the opportunities for more work are clear enough for the heart of any road builder to skip a beat.

But then why hold back? They could surely do the lot. There's plenty of public money just sitting around with nothing to do.

Isn't there?

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Know Your Place

Our customer base at the Wall Caff has expanded to include four blackbirds only one of which is a male. Handsome as he is, he's no match for the females.

As with males of numerous species he's good at display and bluster but when it comes to serious matters, such as who is first served at mealtimes, it's obvious that the management has priority. After one feeble attempt he skulks down at the wall bottom picking up the scraps that fall from the high table.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Charitable Land: Who Cares?

It’s getting harder to remember, but there was a time when we expected people holding public office to deal plainly and honestly with those of us who pay their salaries. Some of us still do have such expectations, but it feels as if we’re just a small rump of naive citizens, slowly dying out – but not quickly enough for the spiv element in so-called public service.

Great public benefactors of the past like Alderman Graves would feel confident enough in the public servants he was dealing with to decide to give to the people of Sheffield large tracts of land for recreational use. This was designated charitable land. Nowadays nobody but the most guileless would dream of handing over important assets to Sheffield City Council.

Blacka is Charitable Land, an important legal status and one that should not be taken lightly. Sheffield City Council has already fallen foul of the Charity Commission when it decided to lease Blacka to SWT, a situation that took several years to resolve.

There is a published guide from the Government and the Charity Commission explaining to councillors the Council’s role and responsibility as charity trustee. It is made clear that it is the council as a whole, i.e. the body of councillors which is “the trustee”. As it says: “While ongoing management may be delegated to officers, responsibility for decision-making and oversight rests with the councillors.”

That is definitely not the way things have been happening here. In fact no proper oversight at all. They were not even doing the minimum of what they claimed they were doing.

My Freedom of Information request to SCC last year asked how the Council was performing its function as charitable trustee. After considerable delay (6 weeks and the statutory period for replies is 20 days) I got a reply from a senior officer copied to a Director, along with a few other documents. The full response can be read here.

In that letter from the officer I was told:

One method of monitoring and ensuring accountability that has not happened in the last three years has been the annual report to the relevant Scrutiny Board. This has not happened for a variety of reasons but I am very clear that it needs to be reintroduced this year. Clearly this report to Scrutiny is much broader than just Blacka Moor but it is an important tool in ensuring transparency and accountability for Sheffield City Council’s open space sites that are managed through a long term lease to a third party.
Clear enough, really clear. So it's going to happen.

But wait! No it's not. We can't have accountability. Whatever next? The above words meant nothing. They had a complete about-face when  Mr Paul Billington, the SCC Director responsible, stopped to think.

Note the words:

I am very clear..”,  and “an important tool in ensuring transparency and accountability”.
In fact almost the same words I have used myself when raising this. The reports to the Scrutiny Board were a condition of the funding agreement by which SRWT received an amount from the Council each year. They were also an opportunity for the Council to publicly carry out its duties as charitable trustees, take responsibility for decisions and perform an oversight function. Three years had passed at least when those duties were not carried out – three years during which significant decisions were taken by SRWT without the oversight of the charitable trustees. Those decisions were highly contentious, and worse than that, because they were decisions which tied in the management to ten year legal agreements with other organisations - all without the oversight of those who were the legally responsible trustees. That is bad enough, seriously bad. But the thing is made many times worse because the one group that was scrutinising SRWT, the RAGhad been killed off, enabling the organisation to function with no public oversight at all - and that with the connivance of officers of SCC. All to enable the organisation to make self serving and contraversial decisions that needed proper scrutiny.

In any properly run organisation this would be seen as serious dereliction of duty – a managerial car crash. But in Sheffield? Just the way stuff happens, presumably? But no, it's not that at all. It's actually a carefully thought out strategy disguised as an accidental blunder, a slip up on the part of the officers.

“Oh dearie me how could we have forgotten to do this? Who would have thought it? Terribly sorry and all that. But, you know, as the saying goes, 'we are where we are'.”

Local officials are not experts in much, but disguising bad practice and cheap skulduggery to look like culpable but forgivable incompetence is what they're very good at. They hope they'll get away with nothing worse than the citizens shaking head in disbelief. That's manageable in their view.

It could even have been planned ahead from 2006. They have to do something in their offices and meetings.

Having connived and colluded so far, officers were then  emboldened to go a step further. A little stroll down the corridor to a mate in the legal department was all it took. Having said (above) that the report to Scrutiny clearly “needs to be reintroduced this year” he persuaded the legal department to overrule his own commitment and declare that SRWT does not need report to Scrutiny.

Proof once more if it’s needed that SCC officers liaising with partner organisations get into cosy relationships in which they routinely side with the private interests of the service providers to the detriment of the public interest – the interests of the public which employs them.

So no oversight of the charitable land whatever the Charity Commission expects and no scrutiny of the self-serving management of SRWT. To the two ‘c’ words used above, connived and colluded let’s add a third – contemptible. But I can think of a couple of others.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

You Gotta Have Friends

SRWT worked out long ago that they wouldn't find many friends in the local community on account of their unpopular and interventionist policies. So they went out and found some. This went beyond the moral blackmail of pensioners on the doorstep to reach membership targets; and very few indeed of these had any direct experience of SWT's work on the ground.

The other aspect of their getting friends was with younger folk. This part is all about volunteering. It has to be emphasised that these volunteers were brought in - just as migrant labour is brought into the country to harvest vegetables and pick fruit. Local people play no part, in fact are dissociated from the process completely. The importance of this is that it can be spun to show that this is 'community' based and the implication is that it reflects wide community support for what they do. Don't bother to condemn this as dishonest or fraudulent. Nobody, as far as I can see, bothers at all about that these days, certainly not our council or its elected members. The constant push on volunteering is part of a marketing and branding exercise with stress on the jolly friendly atmosphere all cooperating on splendid environmental work (such as destruction of trees). Putting notices up onsite helps this. Here's a picture on the latest propaganda sheet.

These look like freshers at uni, probably anxious to join something so will sign up in response to publicity because it might help them make new friends at a fairly vulnerable time. For SRWT easy material to work with. They will almost certainly not have been here before so it won't have 'twigged' (!) with them that regular Blacka users might disapprove of tree felling. This is the notice pinned to the gate.

 The interesting thing is that this notice went up yesterday but by today had been replaced by a similar one with a quite different picture? One could speculate that the people in the picture were identifiable and maybe their permission to be used in this sort of propaganda had not been obtained. The new picture shows people at work on the Wimble Holme Hill bridleway (not on Blacka). They were almost certainly mountain bikers from Ride Sheffield of whom more later. Try this link.

Meanwhile it's been discovered that the trees, branches etc. recently cut near the Strawberry Lee Plantation have been, as is now expected, shoved in any  odd corner the workers or volunteers could find.

Their answer to any raised eyebrow in relation to this is that piles of timber are scrub are excellent shelter for various wildlife. In reality it's because they can't be bothered to do a half-decent job.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Streets Ahead

Streets Ahead is the name of Sheffield City Council's £2 billion road maintenance contract with Amey.

White lining and double yellow are eagerly anticipated here along with conspicuous signage indicating lane priorities. The new route will already have been registered on Amey's winter gritting schedule. To go by last year's experience on the nearby Cowsick Bog Bypass, gritting will be essential if health and safety guidelines are not breached.

Even so, I understand that some who've spent large amounts on quality walking boots are a bit piqued finding they could have stuck with that pair of 15 year old carpet slippers.

As it happens, SRWT have specially arranged the several days of torrential rain to illustrate the need for these flagstones.

It's deemed not relevant that for much of the year this section is dry.

So much for those who believe that getting one's boots muddy is a human right enshrined in articles and  protocols of the European Convention.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Eye Nourishment

These semi-secret places should not be tidied up beyond only what's necessary to allow one person to get along the path unscratched. A bit of mud does nobody any harm.

Another good reason for getting out before sunrise when scenes like these can bring enchantment.

A bit later the sun is just pushing over the hills and few places have such a combination of mystery and enticement.

Saturday, 28 November 2015


Unique to clear frosty mornings in winter are the mirror views facing each other across the landscape. On one side is the moon, clear and cold. Turn round and there is the sun just appearing warm and diffuse.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Dark Thoughts

Can't they leave us alone? They're supposed to spend all their time shopping. Black shopping too.

Instead they come here bringing their chain saws and barbed wire ......................

Monday, 23 November 2015


Bracken adds just as much aesthetic value as heather. No amount of purple flowering in August beats the spectacle of the frosted bracken tops or the winter sunrise illuminating the dead ferns.

So why no Bracken Trust or determined spin campaign to promote its fascinating beauty from the Countryside Alliance? Could it be that it has no use for the shooting lobby?


The stag was on his own and soon ran off.

The vole is always shy but this cold morning a bit less so. The bird food was tempting. Voles don't hibernate so we may see them at any season.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Trusties and Trustees


A trustee is a member of a board elected or appointed to oversee the policy and management of an institution.

A trusty is  a prisoner who is given special privileges or responsibilities in return for good behaviour, i.e. one who won't give any trouble or rock the boat.

Two quite different things as we see, though in some cases elements of the second may be considered by managers as desirable qualities in the first.

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust has a board of trustees, a fact which came into focus when we realised that some of the trustees were instrumental in calling for a halt to tree felling in Sheffield streets while remaining silent on tree felling carried out by SRWT itself on Blacka.

Trustees of charities like SRWT have much in common with school governors a group singled out for comment by the Chief Inspector of Schools the other day. Too many of them he said are 'unfit for purpose' and signing up to 'boost their CVs'.

The way trustees go about their work is often veiled in secrecy. The Chair may take a prominent role in some cases but other trustees may know little of what's going on. A small sub-group may be taking on a sort of scrutiny role which is then rubber stamped by the other less-involved members. Really we just don't know because transparency is not a word used in private charities.

Even members of a charity may have no right to know what is going on. A friend who was a member of SRWT tried to get to know more by asking to see Board of Trustee minutes. He was told that he could ask a question at the AGM (which he couldn't do because he looked after a chronically sick parent). This is probably what the management and chair of trustees judges to be OK for the vast majority of their members whose general ignorance of what's going on is a welcome counterweight to those annoying people like some we know who misguidedly believe that the right thing should not only be done but seen to be done. Really, some people.

There have been recent changes to SRWT's trustees. The members of the board a year ago were as referred to in this post. The present members can be found on this webpage.

The outgoing chair, Anne Ashe is quoted as saying  “I’ve been so glad to be involved with the Wildlife Trust on a daily basis." That being so it's an insight into where responsibility lies in everyday matters. The new chair has apparently spent a lot of his time sitting on boards and committees from the profile displayed on the website almost all connected to the conservation establishment so we're unlikely to get much original perspective from that quarter. The mot juste may well be "this is the way we do it". But then we don't know anything much because transparency is conspicuous by its absence. But it's a pretty fair assumption that most decisions will be taken by the Chief Executive and the Chair between them with the other trustees only coming in later on, more like the trusties mentioned above, and the members hardly even figuring as also rans. Unless of course it's all total chaos which can't be ruled out by anyone who's watched what goes on at Blacka over the years.

New Flooring

Friday, 20 November 2015

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Fungal Distribution

Now the cold is about to arrive from the north this could be a time to appraise features of the mildness of autumn so far, in particular, fungi which are partial to milder and damp conditions. Among the weirder justifications for a generally eccentric management approach has been the claim that you have to have sheep and their waste in plenty to induce waxcap mushrooms to flourish on grassland. This has always puzzled me but I have to admit that there are numerous voices in the conservation industry who seem to believe it; but then some people believe the full moon induces madness.

Now we all know that the reason SRWT manages the inby land by crowding it with sheep is because of farm subsidies and the friends it makes them among farming interests which dominate the national park. But when you ask them why a nature reserve should have all these sheep they will tell you it's because of waxcap mushrooms.

I know this is nonsense from personal experience: the grass in my garden has far more mushrooms, including more waxcaps per square metre than there are in the inby land. So it's clearly nothing at all to do with sheep.

No sheep have grazed in my garden for 31 years unless they jump a 6 foot high fence and come in at night then disappear before sunrise after cleaning up their defecation. And I would like to bet that previous owners of the property did not keep livestock as a hobby either. Churchyards are also livestock free zones but quite likely to have waxcap mushrooms.

There used to be even more waxcaps on my lawn before mosskiller was put down on a section of it - not my decision and much to my regret.

There is one waxcap on Blacka's inby land that has not so far appeared on my lawn, an attractive red one that I would make efforts to conserve if I had a say in management.

But seeing as it occurs in an area no bigger than 15 metres by 5, the idea that you have to keep the whole 85 acres dominated by sheep and cows and their defecatory habits and devoid of wild flowers  just for the sake of this one species is obviously absurd.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Swamp at Sunrise

It's good that the rainwater here is not flowing downhill into the lowlands. But that has to be expected given that the land at this point is fairly flat. At other parts of Blacka trees have been felled on slopes creating open areas and allowing more  run-off after heavy rain, not by any means good practice.

The part illustrated was a narrow path which never got like this. All changed when cows came along; they would walk along here in the morning as regular as clockwork eating the grass to each side and in the course of their activity widening the narrow path to take on the look of a wide track. There were one or two small trees that helped to soak up the excess moisture that gathered but they were cut down by conscientious SRWT people. Hence the swamp.

We really love 'em.

Rain Forest Threatened

Rain forests are particularly important for the health of the planet. Few of us are aware that Britain is rain forest country. So it's somewhat inconsistent to protest and campaign against the loggers destroying forest in some parts of the world and ignoring what's going on in our own back yard.

This tree may or may not be on the list of the tree destruction managers on Blacka but we should be worried for all the reasons mentioned in recent posts. It is an oak tree and it is inside the compartment that SRWT has artificially designated for heathland. A careful look will reveal that some 12 feet up the tree another plant is growing on the tree - an epiphyte in fact. As revealed in the talk on this post, epiphytes are characteristic of rain forests. How can we expect other countries in the world to respect our view on their ecosystems when even our own conservation industry is destroying trees in our uplands simply to support the conservation economy?