Thursday, 30 April 2015

A Dream?

Early spring on Blacka is a time when we might have believed we were in a place reserved for nature. Logging operations including destruction of mature trees mean those experiences are rarer in recent years. There should be a way of making an easy distinction between a 'nature reserve' as defined by the industry and a place reserved for nature as most of us would understand it.

Now we are about to have the return of serious farming which knocks all ideas of being in a natural place for six. Cows to be on Blacka by the end of April? Sheep to return to their wildflower eating duties after the lambing?

So much for nature. It does not have to be just a dream.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Friday, 24 April 2015

New Leaves and Warblers

Together with the singing it says April.

Thursday, 23 April 2015


          "I'll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer"

On 23rd April, Shakespeare's birthday, these deer obliged.

'Fondling,' she saith, 'since I have hemm'd thee here
Within the circuit of this ivory pale,
I'll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale:
Graze on my lips; and if those hills be dry,
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.
Within this limit is relief enough,
Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,
Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,
To shelter thee from tempest and from rain
Then be my deer, since I am such a park;
No dog shall rouse thee, though a thousand bark.'
From Venus and Adonis*, Shakespeare, born 23rd April 1564

More pictures of roe deer taken 23rd April.

*Hot stuff from Will!! You hardly need to read between the lines.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Consultation and the RAG

The Blacka Moor RAG (Reserve Advisory Group) was set up at the time Sheffield City Council decided to hand over Blacka to SWT who had lobbied hard with some mendacious arguments to get hold of this large area of land. It was always something of a fudge, responding to concerns that land belonging essentially to the public was being taken into control of a private organisation; there was never any clear definition of its role, membership etc. But it struggled on for some 10 years being increasingly sidelined by SWT with the council keeping a distance.

And that is the nub. The council keeps its distance. Let's not get into any tangled argument about what the council is or who they are. Let's just accept it's the officers and directors supposedly working in our interests but often, well ......

The real value for them is that this devolving of land to outside organisations is a way of evading accountability. Sadly naive people such as yours truly, believe for so long that the council independently and responsibly checks and monitors what the private outfits are doing; but they are doing nothing of the sort. These private businesses are actually designated as partners. And the officers interpret this as a cosy relationship in which ranks are closed and mouths are sealed. Scrutiny is a joke, operated on a back scratching basis. So when members of the public raise concerns about what SRWT does, council officers' first instinct is to back up the partner. The outsider in all this is the citizen who both feel the need to defend against.

The one place where some sort of holding to account happened in the form of minor questioning was at the public events known as the RAG. Some time  ago those meetings just stopped.

Now guess what? You could hardly make it up, but SRWT can because that's their particular trade - making things up:
A new forum to replace the RAG will be unveiled. But it will only be open to those who agree with SRWT's plans!!!

The Day

Each year spring brings one day when you decide that winter is truly behind us and the change is unstoppable.


It was such a good morning on the hillside it seemed worth adding some of the other pictures taken:

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

First Hearing ..

.. and sighting - a misty 6 am. Spring is here. Not in my humble view the most musical song, simply a call, but inspiring some of the most beautiful music.

Singing in the woods was a blackcap. And many, many willow warblers.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Well A-head

Not all heads are the same and some locals make an earlier pitch for the latest trends. Two fellows here are still garbed in last year's fashions and must be judged démodé.

While the senior citizen below has made a good start, showing that in some cases it's the oldest who are the more go-a-head.

A Quiet Prayer .....

The gods who stayed the hand of chain-saw-man and preserved most of the blackthorn deserve praise and even sacrifice.

All fired up after demolishing horse chestnut and hawthorn on the feeblest of pretexts, this pre-neanderthal throwback then wandered downhill past the blackthorn. "What? natural beauty? We can't have that!"

But only a few cuts were made before the gods stepped in. Enough! (thunder offstage)

Weeks Later ....

"Just leave them. Nobody will notice."

Thursday, 16 April 2015

However ....

How confusing.

First they tell us they are removing all non native species. Then they put up notices telling us they are bringing in cows!

It goes on.

First they tell people to keep their dogs on leads then tell them to drop the leads.

But also irritating is the grammar. Have we now, with the present generation, seen the last of the proper use of the word 'however'?

We're told that 'volunteers' from Ride Sheffield will be helping with bridleway maintenance. Would that be community service?

They may know something about these.


I have been corrected

"You have misunderstood  ........... it is not our policy to remove all non-native species and we intend to continue livestock grazing on the nature reserve."

An understandable misunderstanding surely. Previously, from the same source...

"there was a risk of them spreading to other parts of the nature reserve to the detriment of native species – it is standard practice to remove non-native species from SSSIs."

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Ethnic Cleansing Strikes on Blacka

I understand that SRWT has been informing people that it is standard practice to remove non-native species from Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

This has been the reason given for removing certain trees. It's not stopped them from also removing scores of native trees. As we are unable to challenge or scrutinise this policy via a RAG meeting then we should expect it to be applied fairly across the board. The cows that are expected to graze here from the end of the month are non native and should be banned.

So are the sheep that pollute and damage native species of plants. It's long beyond the time that these alien scoffers of our local wild flowers were given the push. Instead of which they are treated as privileged creatures, highly subsidised, almost certainly non dom status and with fortunes stashed away in offshore bank accounts.

This absurd and shambolic situation surely can't go on for much longer. SRWT's credibility was never high but the current incident surpasses most we've yet seen. Time for them to go. A young horse chestnut tree was obliterated with a chain saw recently by an SRWT hooligan at a loose end .

Complaints were eventually met with the response that it is standard practice on SSSI land to  remove non native species. Now almost immediately opposite where this tree stood is a clump of daffodils growing alongside a bench. They remain, yet they are not the native wild daffodil but a cultivated one the result of a visitor planting some spare bulbs.

Blacka has numerous non-native trees and plants beside its non-native sheep and cattle that SRWT will not remove because of the agri-environment subsidy they bring in. Then there are those that have been planted in the past. For example some memorial trees including several non native oaks. Are they for the chop - or rather the chain saw? According to SRWTs latest management plan they will not tolerate invasive alien species such as Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam. They say they will be removed immediately and with haste if they ever dare appear onsite, so they say. But a colony of Himalayan Balsam remains on Blacka just where it was a few years back when I alerted SWT to its presence. Was it removed immediately? This question should only be answered by those with first hand experience of SRWT's appproach.

Woodland Floor

Time to explore the wonders of the woodland floor in April. At its best early when sun and shade are in balance.

Newly up, the fern croziers

Honeysuckle gathering its energy before launching upwards.

Some has already made it.

Tiny rowan trees with tinier perfect leaves.

New birch regenerating and complementing nearby dead birch.

And the fantasy miniature gardens of moss and Oxalis growing on decaying birch logs.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

In Memoriam

As this part of Blacka was two years ago. Returning warblers had begun singing in the trees.

Now we have piles of logs; and silence.

And let's not assume those still standing are safe from the mad fellers. The utterly clueless management will again next year face the prospect of having to find employment for their staff. No respect for natural life means they will be told again to reach for the chain saws.


Tennyson wrote a poem with the title In Memoriam. But it was another of his poems, Tithonus, which began "The woods decay, the woods decay and fall"

That's not the same as the sort of murder we see here.


Willow warblers are now back and singing, only a few days behind the chiffchaff. The picture is not a perfect one but is actually a fair representation of what we're likely to see of them before the trees green up.

He has paler legs than his close, almost identical cousin but it's actually his song that differentiates him best. I think of chiffchaffs as warblers who never learned to sing properly.

Warbling has got something of a bad name, unfairly I think, being a word often used to describe wobbly high singing in humans. The avian warblers are some of the very best singers of all.

Later in the day swallows are flying over the moor and wheatears have returned.

Monday, 13 April 2015

After 15 Years

If you had been responsible for this area of land for 15 years would you have been prepared to add photographs of it before and after to your CV to show what a fine job you had done?

There are about 85 acres here and it's part of Blacka Moor, which means it's public land held in perpetuity for the recreation of the public as a public open space and public walks and pleasure ground. So impoverished is it that the features that stand out are the vehicle tracks, the sheep droppings especially around their chosen latrine site beside the stone wall and other examples of erosion caused by human management.

To get to this exalted state it's been in receipt of many thousands of public money all sanctioned by jobsworths from Unnatural England who are happy to be profligate with our wealth.

SRWT has chosen to see it as a nature reserve rather than as a public recreation and access area. They are trying to discourage people from visiting it or parts of it, in direct opposition to the terms of the legal governing document from Alderman Graves. Even by the warped standards of the contemporary  nature conservation businesses this is a depressing place, devoid of trees and appealing, so they desperately hope, to a passing curlew that's shown precious little interest to date.

As a starving man values a stale crust we used to welcome the tiny area of gorse here. Now even that seems to have gone into terminal decline. Knowing the people involved I can imagine them blaming nature: not enough management!

Over 15 years nobody has made a convincing job of explaining why this 85 acres where nature has been repressed should continue in its present impoverished state. 

Fresh and New

Chiff chaffs have been around for the last three days. One this morning had set out to rival local chaffinches for volume. Not bad after a long journey.

We now have the first flowers of wood sorrel. They are at their best pushing through leaf litter and twigs. The beautifully folding leaves are among the miracles of the woodland floor.

Wood anemones on Blacka are confined to lower levels.

Other signs of seasonal movement are everywhere. Prominent is the new vigour in bramble.

In one or two places its relative the wild rose can be found.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Three's Too Many

It's not beyond the wit of man but it may be beyond that of local managers (or directors, to name no names).

Finding a middle ground between two points of view is a challenge but when dogma throws a third into the ring the task is beyond the mental capacity available to local HR departments in the conservation industry; it's made even more tricky when venality becomes a factor. The steel spanner in these works is the ideological commitment to farming every bit of the landscape, a spanner buffed up by a tempting prospect of large agri-environment grants.

The subject needing compromise is well-known on this site, similarly described as what is the land at Blacka to be held for, what is its role or purpose? And the two rival perspectives are recreation and conservation. Each one of these needs and deserves the closest and most rigorous scrutiny.

To J G Graves, when he gave Blacka to the public eighty years ago he defined that purpose in his legally binding covenant as a public walks and pleasure ground, to be held in perpetuity. Nobody reading the covenant could come away believing that he saw the future of the place as open to exploitation either direct or indirect. Reference to 'its natural state' seem to point unquestionably to nature and natural forces being in control. The idea that the interposition of the word 'present' changes anything has little relevance and those interventionists desperately looking for justification for their venal purposes from this one word are, as usual, being disingenuous. Nothing at all suggests that a violent campaign of natural repression should be applied to the land Graves was giving to us.

SRWT came along seventy years later as incomers and with no longstanding association or prior knowledge of Blacka. For them it is a nature reserve, a term they've defined in their own peculiarly self serving way. That's enough of a potential for conflict already. Just possibly some sort of compromise might be worked out given goodwill, superior judgement, an intention to put aside assumptions based on dogma, and industry obsessions and a preparedness to engage in intelligent discussions leading to a consensus.  But they are not content.

Because they bring a third element into the arena. Farming.

Those who thought conservation was about holding out against exploitation were in for a rude shock. They want to make a living out of it. And that means cows and sheep. When they bring in animals selectively bred for their voracious compulsion to turn anything growing into meat, what chance does nature have?

A Boat to Blacka Moor

Dry as it is for now you can access Blacka by Boat, or rather B.O.A.T. This is a Byway Open to All Traffic and it's a public road not either a Private Road nor a Bridleway. It's the unsurfaced extension to Shorts Lane from the stables to the entrance proper to Blacka.

The signs around the stables can give a misleading impression. The green one saying Public Bridleway to Blacka Moor is accurate in so far as it points in the direction you take to get to where the bridleway starts, some way further on, inside Blacka itself. But the track itself is still a public road though it's not recommended to drive any vehicle along it because you can't actually get anywhere, there's nowhere to park and it's not easy to turn round. Some visitors may interpret the signs stuck on the tree as referring to the public road. That would be a mistake. Otherwise they must refer to the stables car park which is private.

Once you get into Blacka you can look for spring flowers such as wood anemone and later, bluebell. Neither were out when I walked there recently. These daffodils were, obviously planted. Pity they're not wild.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Any Parallels?

SRWT are cutting trees and bringing cattle onto Blacka again from the end of this month.

"I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.’ Ed Begley, Jr."


Reluctantly you have to assume that there are some who enjoy executions. Public beheadings a few centuries ago attracted crowds. It's said that many people search for images online of recent horrific executions.

It's scarcely believable but even here on Blacka we have had to confront the severed head of a young deer. Coming here to get away from the worst of calculated humanity we find that it follows us.

Like blood the sap continues to rise, coming across the poison placed over the cut. Did Tudor queens suffer like this?

I've heard no reports of crowds gathering for this spectacle.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Loud and Busy

Impossible to miss in the woods in April, the chaffinch makes sure he can be heard, with many a trill.

The tree creeper has one of the most piercing calls, followed also by a trill.

Not so loud as the others, she leaves the singing to her mate, but she's very busy now.

Unlike the residents who stick it out through all seasons, the pipit waits until spring before appearing. Like other seasonal and occasional visitors, including the curlew, he immediately assumes the place belongs to him, treating us year-round regulars as unwelcome intruders.