Friday, 31 July 2015

Paths and Resources

This part of Blacka has a lot going for it:

At the woodland edge, it has some of the best birdsong during the season. Views to the south are extensive and include some wooded hillsides - a great bonus in a district where upland slopes are so often blighted by tree clearing and grazing. Here winter colouring is provided by bronzed bracken enhanced by spectacular sunrises. And from the public footpath there have often been excellent sightings of wildlife including mammals.

So the question might be asked why does this path get so little attention? Always at this time of year it becomes a 'no-go' area. Some judicious  scything of the bracken would be more than a friendly gesture to walkers and in my view, if done sensitively, would do little harm to the sense of naturalness.  It would actually make it accessible. Many of the public footpaths on Blacka now look somewhat like this.

After only the lightest drizzle or dew many visitors are understandably reluctant to venture through wet overhanging fronds that can reach as high as 7 feet. But these paths get no help. I wonder where the access organisations are when they're needed. One's not asking for a lot. Just some minor clearance of less than a metre - with a scythe. Money is found for poisoning and tractor driven clearance of large areas where people do not walk. Bridleways get aggressive strimming, endangering some of the more attractive plant life also costing public money.

I see no reason why, at this time of year, there should not be a programme of careful scything along the rights of way. This would be a far better use of resources than the expensive mechanised attack on stands of bracken. Machine driven management is usually a disaster anyway. All tasks with supposed labour saving devices such as chain saws, powerful strimmers and chemical applicators go too far, as if the machinery itself develops a life of its own.

If you raise this you are likely be told that there are not the 'resources'. Yet some £20,000 can be found this year for barbed wire and walling for the benefit of sheep grazing that is undeniably damaging to the environment in many ways.

Thursday, 30 July 2015


Easily missed.

Recovery Time

It's hard on the breeding birds that there should be such cold nights just when they need an easy life after the toils of spring and summer. They look where they can for a little comfort. Fruit is fortunately plentiful. And when the sun does appear it's good to find a well-sheltered corner for some sunbathing. Blackbirds are often seen in poses of extravagant indulgence. Beak open, one wing outstretched, then a change of position to give the other side a chance.

At the wall a robin looks ready for a new coat.

So does a coal tit.

The robin is even prepared to share a table - something he would never do in spring.

They're lucky there's any left after early risers have taken the best portions.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015


Bunches of fruit on the Rowan trees are now showing up as a dull orange or bronze. They will continue to ripen in coming weeks into a bright red.

But looking carefully reveals that many of these patches on Rowan are not berries but dead leaves at the tips of branches.

Some of this dieback occurs in most years but there's much more of it this year with bronzed patches visible on most trees. This is not the same as Ash Dieback even though an alternative name for Rowan is Mountain Ash.

The cause is likely to be weather conditions rather than a disease, but we would like to know even so.

The bronzing to be seen at the end of  branches of Red Oak is simply emerging new leaves before they become green.

Certain sycamores on Blacka suffer a kind of dieback on leaf margins, spoiling the appearance of the trees from late June on.

These sycamores, strangely enough, are not the ones targeted for removal by the managers who prefer to take a chain saw to perfectly healthy specimens.

From certain angles it is not unlike an effect of variegation.

Worth doing well ....

As we were told as youngsters, if a job's worth doing .....

The cattle understand this. They've been sent to do a job and those who sent them will be well satisfied. As referred to in this post, the prime bog flower area 'must' be managed and the prime management tools now onsite are the two herds of livestock, one currently performing decorative tasks inside the grassy enclosure, the other, here ensuring that unwelcome plants (aka bog asphodel) do not get out of hand. A good trample every now and again never did anyone any harm did it?

Who would have guessed it?

Monday, 27 July 2015

In Fine Ordure

At one point in my childhood I fancied there might exist a world in which everything was upside down, where dark was light and, even better, wrong was right. It must have been at a time when the teacher returned much of my school arithmetic decorated with red crosses; it may also have coincided with a first introduction to a children's edition of Gulliver's Travels

Jonathan Swift would have found much to relish on Blacka. A 'Nature Reserve' where nature is discouraged and even attacked and a 'public pleasure ground' where managers contrive to cover an otherwise ideal picnic site with a disconcerting amount of freshly applied defecation. A place where the counter-intuitive goes well overboard into the simply perverse.

Only a sense of duty could persuade anyone to walk over Blacka's bare grassy sheep enclosure, but every once in a while it's necessary to remind oneself just how barmy the world can get in its pursuit of conformity - and ugliness.

The distribution of the sheep waste is generous across all parts with no favour: gateways, bridleways, tracks and paths, on the slopes, on the levels, higher parts and lower. These woolly chaps know their business, they really do. There's an excellent opportunity here for student statisticians to calculate, for example, the average number of direct hits likely on the boots of a blindfolded walker traversing the bridleway linking the two gates.

This year the managers have exceeded all expectations based on previous performance. Normally they are content to ensure there are enough of the woollies to forestall  any wild flowers that might wish to see the light of day.

This year they've gone further and brought in mechanised assistance to ravage the remnants of nature that the livestock can't or won't demolish. Hundreds of thistles and others are now lying prone and lifeless across much of the lower parts. That'll learn 'em.

And by good luck or something else even the small areas of gorse have chosen to go into decline.

Those ungrateful souls who weary early of the stimulating showcase of excremental material are likely to exit via the gate leading down via the bridleway to Totley and Dore. A happy change awaits them: no more sheep waste:

Instead -

 .... courtesy of:

Friday, 24 July 2015

Picnic Time

Nobody walking on the higher grassy parts of this 'public walks and pleasure ground'  would think of  bringing children here for a picnic. This area has for long been given over by the management to the production of sheep defecation - defining the land as neither nature reserve nor for recreation, whatever the signs and notice boards may say.  And one quickly tires of games of avoid-the-turd hopscotch.

It's a pleasure though to report that a recent article in the Guardian from a farmer and apologist for sheep farming repeats the delightful idea that sheep droppings are so good for insect life (suggesting that there could be serious biodiversity problems if sheep were withdrawn from the uplands??!!).**

I've always wondered whether similar cases might one day be made for the tsetse fly and various problematic microbes.

When vested interests are challenged they can resort to serious dishonesty and dissimulation to defend their position and denigrate their opponents. One time this happened was in 2007 and the subject, amazingly, was picnics!! A letter was published in the Sheffield Telegraph from an anonymous writer who wished to defend the policies of SWT/SRWT. I've always believed that this anonymous writer was either Nigel Doar, SWT's Director at the time, or a very close ally of his in the field of landscape managerialism trying to pass him/herself off as a "member of the public". I published it on this blog here:

And I published my responses here:

and here:

Around Blacka the most determined picnickers this year are the birds anxious to take advantage of the bumper harvest of bilberries.

Some study the prospect intelligently beforehand but at other times wave after wave of blackbirds sortie out from the shelter of trees to delve into the shrubs.

We occasionally come across large parties of mistle thrushes in excitable mood determined not to miss out on the fruity harvest.

Others are also to be seen including linnets and stonechats.

** The link to this article:

A link to one of the better comments responding to the article.


The background is King Ecgbert's School and houses in Dore and Bradway.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Knowing Best and Getting it Wrong

When it comes to local parks who's in the best position to judge how funds should be spent? The local people who use the site regularly and go to the trouble of setting up a friends group to promote it? Or a Sheffield City Council director who may, by a generous estimate, have visited the park once or twice?

The thought comes from hearing the words of Sheffield's Director of Culture and Environment responsible for parks and green spaces one of the city's 'Place Management Team'. He was speaking at a meeting of "Friends of" groups last week. He made the comment that local people are "not always right". Interpreting this suggests an implication that council officers, while not claiming infallibility, usually are. His words were in response to a comment to the effect that local people's priorities can get ignored. It has been raised before that local park users may have their own list of priorities raised with the department over several years which somehow manage to get bypassed when funds eventually become available only to be spent on a 'pet project', the latest fad, or some scheme that will look good in a glossy brochure or on an officer's CV.

I actually agree with him that local people can get things wrong in their demands and that a good parks department should be able to make balanced decisions on behalf of the whole city. Being totally focused on their own neighbourhood runs the risk of lack of perspective.

But equally working in a managerial cocoon and talking mainly to similar officers and managers at the town hall runs risks of losing the plot and lacking empathy with and understanding of those who are the consumers of management decisions. For us to accept the judgement of those who are often not prepared to open themselves to challenge and fully explain their actions is a big ask. It may lead us to believe they either don't know what they're talking about or have got something to hide.


For the moment the Melancholy Thistle looks to be just as contented as the other thistles. Admittedly there are not many of them. So far this summer I've only seen this one. The surroundings are dominated by bramble, leading those who see management as a kind of gardening to call for strong action in the interests of this and other species. Maybe when it looks a bit more miserable others will join the call.

The young stag is in a similar position. He's chosen to be in an area of dense bracken, doubtless feeling more secure there than out in the open. The cover he prefers is also subject to regular attacks from all sides, some just words, but at other times with serious weaponry.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Rewilding Britain

A website has been launched for Rewilding Britain, a new charity.

It aims to campaign for "the mass restoration of ecosystems" in areas where nature can be allowed to look after itself.

It's worthwhile comparing this to the different aims of the conservation industry which often makes similar noises.  The addiction to management and the needs of managers takes it in a different direction.

Saturday, 18 July 2015


It's uncommon to get this level of tranquility. And worth listening hard when it comes. Usually there are aircraft overhead at this time of day - about 7.15 am. They may be very loud. They may just be audible as a steady drone but nevertheless an intrusion. What's remarkable is that today is the first day of the school summer holidays when aircraft noise can be expected to reach a peak. Not this year.

So a small contribution to peace and naturalness.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Why Not Frack Blacka?

News that fracking is to be considered and allowed on SSSIs and in national parks has prompted articles in the press likely to bring on public outrage. Typically they are illustrated with picturesque scenes calculated to induce a horrified reaction. The government's U-turn on this seems cynical even by the standards of present day politics. They couldn't get away with despoiling such cherished sites could they?

But what about SSSIs on land where the management has done nothing for natural beauty? In fact it's perpetuated the industrial exploitation and uglification of the landscape. Places where only a few lone voices have spoken up for a better, more natural, more beautiful, more wildlife friendly approach over many years and where the powers-that-be have spurned these calls, spent more resources on attacking nature with chain-saw and poison spray, have colluded in the killing of more wildlife than they have encouraged? Places where ugliness seems celebrated through the daubing of many acres with farm animal excrement. Places of severe and unrelenting dreariness where natural succession is discouraged in favour of drab treeless wastes? Places like Blacka's sheep enclosure - 85 acres of it? Places like much of the Sheffield Moors?

Who's going to speak up for places like this when those who manage show scant respect themselves? There will be voices surely telling us that this place takes up far too much public money and gives very little back. All those handouts have gone on barbed wire fences and stone walls that no local people asked for. And of course all that farm subsidy, such a drain on the public purse.

Just imagine the case being made by a clever PR firm on behalf of the fracking industry:

I can hear them arguing that this is not a specially lovely place by most picturesque standards and wouldn't it be better if it were making a contribution to the economy rather than the opposite?

But here's a thought: I don't believe the wildlife trust would make much of a fight against this, nor the city council. There would be some kind of compensation scheme for the wildlife trust, I'm sure, whereby they get funds to further develop their empire and their business. And the council would be on their side.  And what about the PDNPA? They have their officers whose job it is to develop the economy. I remember one of the questions asked of us at a consultation a few years ago asked us to make suggestions about how the moors might contribute to the economy. I facetiously suggested they discover oil under the hills to some laughter; that wasn't what was expected at all. Now that feeble joke could be  prophetic.

But isn't it time for people to get their act together now?

How are we to claim this is a beautiful place worth defending if I can see scenes today like these today?

(The sheep was limping along in a field covered with sheep defecation )

This post has more evidence.

Unfavourable Recovering??

Explanation of the term "unfavourable recoveringhere, next to the bottom. They describe it so when managers move in to improve the state of the land(!)

After several years of management, today it looks like this. Plenty of recovering to be done.

July 2015

Yet five years ago, pre-management and pre-recovery, it looked like this. Since then much has changed

 July 2010

There's no term for favourable declining. Why? They didn't think one would be needed. Well Blacka is unique - it is needed now.

July 2010

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Family and Friends (and those less friendly)

There's not much around that's as pretty as a Wild Rose branch in July It's the elegant simplicity that may be its secret.

Having to avoid its thorns as it hangs down over the path is a price worth paying.

But this is pretty good too. Not surprising as Bramble belongs to the rose family.

Fragrance ensures both are blessed with plenty of friends.

In other wild flowers close relatives can be found. As Cow Parsley fades away it's the turn of the less delicate Umbellifer, Hogweed to flower. It too has friends:

But Ground Elder, much more elegant and delicate than Hogweed, is in need of friends more powerful than the local hoverflies.

Ground Elder has attracted enemies in the shape of SRWT. That's something, as a simple plant,  you don't want to do. SRWT has weapons enough to wage serious warfare: poisons, strimmers, and obdurate managers bent on applying to the letter the doctrinal mandate enshrined in its management plan.

 The removal of a patch of ground elder adjacent to Strawberry Lee Plantation is also a priority.      Section 4.2.4 page 37

Well they have to find ways of spending their time - and our money.


This was a cold night for July. The thrushes and blackbirds were up early to feed. Fortunately it's the week that schools break up - always coincides with peak bilberry availability.


You see a bird of prey about the size of a kestrel, flying low, swiftly and twisting, not hovering, and the thought crosses your mind it could be a hobby. When it's no sooner seen than it's gone you have no way of verifying. You tell yourself it was probably a kestrel in a hurry. Many bird watchers will know the feeling of "is it or not?". But the distribution range of hobbies does extend as far north as Yorkshire according to the RSPB. And when the bird you just glimpsed had pointed curved wings then it's tempting to think it was a hobby; in which case I may have seen several on Blacka but wouldn't wish to claim so with any confidence. Anyway there's always the chance it's a merlin!

Bird watching has become a popular hobby in recent years and the RSPB is one of the largest charities in membership terms. It's an interesting theory that there's a correlation between hobby popularity and the availability of gear and gadgets and the consequent shopping opportunities; everything these days has to tune in to the national obsession with shopping. Visiting the RSPB's Bempton site last month we dropped in at the shop for a coffee and browsed among the binoculars, guidebooks and other accessories: one could start modestly and look forward to a lifetime of upgradings.

And there are the birds too of course.


Economists will insist it's a two-way process: the popular hobby leads to innovation and marketing coming up with lots of new products to satisfy a demand, but it's also true that a fascination with gadgets may lead to looking around for something to do with them once you've decided you've got to have them. Still, however good the binoculars they're unlikely to help with birds that are gone as soon as they appear; which is one reason I have none - and a fairly basic camera too.

Mountain bikers too are very keen on their gear - another story.