Sunday, 30 August 2015


There's no respect these days.

The selfless work put in to raise a family and then they turn on you. The elegant youngster didn't hesitate to have a go at his near-threadbare parents.

Dad ...............

Mum ..............................

Britain's favourite bird ?

Larkin just got it wrong?

Well Protected?

There've been some cooler nights lately. It came to mind when I watched the sheep in the grazing desert, walking towards me lambs accompanying ewes.

The older ewes will have felt the cold as they were sheared not long ago so coats are pretty thin.

The lambs on the other hand are well protected.

For now.

Not long to wait.

Friday, 28 August 2015


Not all wildlife is as relaxed in front of the camera. But for this vole the bird food is too tempting.

The inhabitants of the old stone wall put in an appearance most mornings. Yesterday a family of young shrews was playing peep-bo. Small snouts kept appearing from different crevices, then immediately vanished.

They might have stayed a brief second longer but all these animals hate the click of a camera. It's odd that they don't seem to feel quite as bothered by a human voice nor even a dog's bark. But that click, which they hear almost before it happens, carries a special fear.

Consequently the shot is usually blurred, or you get a glimpse of a tail disappearing;

often there's nothing at all but the stone itself.

Among the larger mammals, deer are also click-averse but react in another way. They hear the click from some 30 yards away, perhaps when browsing on young birch.

They freeze and stare indignantly in the direction of the sound.

Not long before they too are off to somewhere safer.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Park and Blades

In common with Blacka, the park was also given to the people by Alderman Graves. One of many acts of benificence.

 Thursday afternoon:

Monday morning:

I wonder if the name of a modern public benefactor is affixed to any wind turbines?


And better. But will they return?

The natural stone farm buildings complement the landscape. Previously even in summer the stored caravans have detracted. Only one can be seen today.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Ah! the Purple Heather!!

Time to party?

It's seasonal to devote some space to thoughts about the purple heather. At its best, in the sunshine,  purple heather undeniably adds to the prettiness of a scene and at certain points on Blacka along with native trees, from young to quite mature, and the greens of bilberry, some of whose leaves are by now turning red, the patchwork is as colourful as you’re likely to get in predominantly open landscapes. After 11 months during which the heather itself has been drab and monotonous it would seem churlish not to welcome this burst of colour.

For those of us who cringe at the glorification of heather despite its being a lacklustre nonentity for 92% of the year, its decision to don a party frock for a brief period may tempt us to think again. In combination with other essential pictorial ingredients the effect can be transforming. But these other ingredients must be there. Without them we simply have a colour wash. That on its own never made for an interesting landscape scene nor gained entry to the Royal Academy's summer exhibition. It should be noted that this colour wash is not the same everywhere. In fact the vivid purple is a characteristic of the older near sensescent heather such as found here. Other supposedly better managed heather more typical of moors managed for grouse, may get slightly pink but little more than that.

Then the season passes and flowering ceases and we're back to cheerless colouring for the best part of the year. At least the trees add vertical interest and variety, constantly changing in colour and form, and even bracken, much maligned as it is, brings us summer greens and bronze and even gold in late autumn and winter, contributing to some startling sunrise effects in the shorter days. Heather by comparison carries just the one shot in its scenic repertory available only now, and we are made to wait for it over 11 months while all the rest of nature performs constantly.

Those whose visits are confined to August, and I’ve met some of these, get an unbalanced view, one which does get nourished in certain cultural narratives disseminated by interests with something to gain from maintaining this kind of landscape and also those who promote a sense of an identity linking communities with past usage and present appearance. That narrative, like others that come into the 'cultural landscapes' storyline, bears more resemblance to a fairy tale than the reality of past or present. The particular mythology implies that there has been in the past and could be again a kind of idealised heathland, one where the heather is often purple, where human activity, wildlife and farm animals co-exist in a stable and sustainable ideal state always open to the sun and fresh air. Fiction is a polite word for this and I refer you to the fanciful world of Frances Hodgson Burnett.

But more needs to be said about heather and its role here and the influence it has on the management of the moor. A lot more. Unfortunately that is just what the land managers do not want to happen. They are not prepared to discuss the heather. Because heather here is in crisis.

The conservation industry claims of cultural landscape and anthropogenic influence are there to distract from any attempt to look at the landscape afresh and from multiple viewpoints. For if there’s one thing we’ve learned it is that the local managers are powerless before the wealthy pressure groups dominating Natural England. And they have no wish to allow us to decide for ourselves what our publicly owned natural spaces should look like.

As an all-over crop, heather here is unsustainable and failing. It might be compared to 1960s anaglypta wallpaper in a listed building that's peeling off in places beyond any prospect of repair or renovation and anyway all possible measures are ruled out because of regulations and/or lack of resources.

The heather has grown beyond its normal low height like a garden shrub needing serious attention. As it gets leggy other plants that are ‘undesirable’ (yet totally natural and native) push through destroying the mythological hegemony of heathland. When drastic action is taken to ‘restore’ the heath the process is so excessive as to be equivalent to curing the common cold by killing the patient. One prominent section of this heath has now become a nursery for resurgent birch, much of it the same age. Nothing has been done to prevent this – although gullible members of the under-informed public had previously been persuaded that cows would stop this happening!

Now the plan would seem to be to hand-cut this young birch growth (‘scrub’) and deal with a perceived fire hazard from the dry stalks of leggy heather by cutting new fire breaks. Not likely to go down well with those valuing a natural look to the moor. The decision to allow leggy heather to remain is good news for the heather beetle which favours the older stuff but may stroll over to the younger. No certain way of dealing with this has yet been found but if one comes along it will likely be another chemical strategy. That will not endear itself to those who believe a nature reserve should be … well, silly I know, but what about natural?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


The best glades are not so open as to be devoid of interest. This is one of the better spaces around the woods.

It seems significant that the group of deer observed this morning included stags, not the oldest which were last seen here back in March, but a couple of 8 pointers and a young one or two year old.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Vapours

A touch of the vapours over the rugby?

In a Flap

Ears flapping on a morning like this. 

When the midges are at their most maddening a pair of long ears becomes a vital accessory. Alternatively, you keep moving before the pests bring their friends along to make a party.

Construction Site

Developers were busy in some parts in the night. Mostly poor grade stuff with no chance of conforming to building regulations.

One stood out as worthy of approval. Old fashioned virtues on display - tried and tested design, an eye for symmetry and good craftsmanship.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Leafy Suburbs

Veiled but not short of trees, the village of Dore.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Look East


Another of those gloomy mornings with promise of salvation in the East.

Thursday, 20 August 2015


This and similar patches, all more or less rectangular, are positioned  irregularly across the open section of Blacka. They are the conservation industry's equivalent of one of the uglier features of a grouse moor. Heather is managed on grouse moors by fire; i.e. burning patches of the older growth  to stimulate the production of young shoots which are part of the diet of the game birds. In winter plumes of smoke arise  from these hills. As far as landscape goes that always looks unnatural and sometimes grotesque. We might hope for something better from conservation organisations but never underestimate their capacity to justify the unattractiveness of over-management, even trying to persuade us how nice it looks. With them fire is not the means but the excuse: the actual work is done using tractor and cutting machinery. Hence the way the heather suddenly stops and is replaced with grass etc. They keep the senescent leggy heather but say they need the cut rectangles as firebreaks - just as unnatural and almost as ugly as what happens where grouse get shot.

The area in the picture stands out from the rest of the hill and can be seen as far off as Ringinglow and places beyond where a viewpoint can be reached.

But they still justify with claims that young heather returns to the cut places. In one or two spots within the grassy area there is heather - and it's infested with the heather beetle.

I wonder how they persuade themselves this is sustainable.


Later August is when to see the small birds gathering, job completed. Likely members of the busy groups are warblers, whitethroats, pipits and stonechats. 

A leafless dead tree may get them thinking of  bleak days to come, and time to be preparing for somewhere else.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Too Dear

Well, actually four altogether this morning and who gives a damn for speling these days? Two here anyway.  But why so few? There should be more.

After their welcome return in the last 12 years the notion of a Blacka Moor without deer or the prospect of seeing them doesn't bear thinking about. My observation has always been that it doesn't bother many conservation people and farmers much at all. Fortunately some do care but how much influence do they have? The overwhelming majority of the public want to see deer and many of those would also extend that to other genuine wildlife while having no interest in seeing cows and sheep except on proper farmland and in dedicated fields.

But numbers is an issue. While seeing sheep and cattle regularly where I don't think they should be - on a nature site - I have seen very few deer. And when I have it's always been the same small group. The decline in sightings started in 2014 - before the RSPB set about their cull of 60-70 deer a few months ago. So what's going on?

Visiting Blacka ten days consecutively I estimate you might see deer once. That compares with regular daily sightings at many times in the previous ten years. There is some hearsay evidence that farmers and people employed by them have been active in shooting them. Not all farmers would approve but it doesn't need the agreement of all. And many people like using their weapons of destruction egged on by campaigns waged by the Countryside Alliance and associates.

That is one reason I opposed the RSPB's cull. It created a climate of opinion in which deer were seen as undesirable and fair targets; many gun owners don't need that but some would be encouraged.

We await the comprehensive report which must surely be forthcoming from the Sheffield Moors Partnership on the recent cull and its impact on deer numbers and distribution.

To think that all we might have to look forward to in coming here is a view of what we might see on  farmland anywhere:

...... enough to bring on clinical depression.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Frack Belt?

Whither the Green Belt now?

It looks as if we could see some battles over the possible end of Sheffield's Green Belt now the government has published plans to open up all of Sheffield and Chesterfield for companies to explore for shale gas.

Much of the land we look out on from this viewpoint is in the licence area.

Sheffield seems to have been 'favoured' compared to many other areas as can be seen in the map at this link:

So far, it looks as if the Peak Park has been spared. But for how long?

I've always thought that the National Park could have put itself in a much stronger position  to argue against further industrialisation. But instead it has soft pedalled and compromised. Now the philistines will be at the door.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Art and the Bilberry Pie

It is a truism that great art demands not only great imagination but also preparation and attention to detail.

Michaelangelo, so it is said, devoted much time to appraising the blocks of marble in the quarries of Carrara in Tuscany before his masterpieces took shape in his imagination.

So it’s appropriate that those who contemplate baking a pie in August should first stake out the moors in April. The hours spent observing and simultaneously nourishing the imagination are vital for the creative process to flourish. An experienced piesmith will already have some idea where to find the myriads of small red flowers typical of early spring on Blacka.

Even so, this is no guarantee of a crop in the exact location after midsummer. The flowers are essential but just as important are the bees, hoverflies and other small winged pollinators. And they only work at their best in ideal conditions, which are an absence of wind, rain and cold. If any of these prevail for a length of time they will do what we all do, stick to sheltered parts. The result may be that all the more exposed flowers go for naught. This year that did not happen and a good harvest materialised.

The conscientious practitioner of the pie-making art will make regular inspections during the growing and maturing season noting the appearance of good numbers of near-hidden green berries. These berries should be clearly visible come late June when closer to final colour. A taster will tell you that they are not yet at their best and sweetest. That will come in most years at the end of July.

Should there be any difficulty finding berries in an indifferent year, look down near the ground and try taking some of the bracken out; bracken only comes through after the bilberries have flowered and the fruit has set so it might be covering the best fruit.

Picking bilberries was always a labour of love. The smallness of the berries and the nuisance of the midges and flies if you stayed in one place for more than a couple of minutes meant that only the most determined bilberry lovers ever managed to gather enough for a medium sized pie even in a good year. But that was before this device became generally available.

It’s simplicity itself but worth more to some of us than many an item of fashionable technology. The berries are scooped up and remain in the well prevented from spilling out by a ridge which means you can go on collecting. Once the trick is mastered you can gather a good supply and be off the moor before the local midges have sent for reinforcements.

While this accelerates the harvesting quite a bit of work needs to be done in the kitchen. Amongst the berries there will be various dead leaves, bits of fern, a sample or two of the flies and other biodiversity and some unripe fruit. The fruit may also be wet if you’ve harvested early. Some find this stage rather boring and onerous. All I can do is describe my own procedure: I tip the fruit etc onto a tray covered with kitchen towels and allow to dry out.

After an hour or so separate the berries from the unwanted matter.

The sorting takes a while but is better sitting comfortably at the kitchen table than bending over in wet vegetation on the moor being attacked by midges. And it can be a pleasantly satisfying activity, if you remember to put on a CD: experience suggests it takes just 13 minutes 42 seconds which is exactly the time taken on a recording of Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin. Art comes into every stage of the process. Alternatively try Burl Ives singing “I don’t know why she swallowed a fly …” which will have to be played through two and a half times – not quite so appropriate unless you've, well … 

If freezing the fruit don’t wash it first.
As for the recipe, most people use a mix of apple and fruit and most also have their own way with a fruit pie, though, like all artists it pays to experiment before settling on what works.

Pastry making is for those who take the art very seriously. It’s worth it but it’s extra work. Some will remind us that Michaelangelo didn’t make his own marble and many of us today use pastry from the chilled cabinet in the supermarket.

That leaves more time for  pastry decoration, and that's where we move back from the Renaissance to the Gothic. There are tremendous artistic opportunities here, from bosses and corbels, even fan vaulting and grimacing gargoyles.

It's disappointing I can't illustrate with an example of the Decorated style of the Gothic. That shown here here lacks the necessary flare to make an impact on posterity.

But I swear it tasted good. Which is more than can be said for David from Florence.

Saturday, 15 August 2015


At one time there were no trees here. That was when Blacka was part of a shooting estate. But once grouse moor management ceased that was the opportunity for natural vegetation to return. By the beginning of this century a thriving copse was here. Then the wildlife trust came along and cut down the trees.

Now they have begun to return. For how long?

Friday, 14 August 2015

Spraying and Shooting

It's not just the shooters who arrive by helicopter on the moors, a pity they have to tread on the ground at all really, their shoes might get dirty. The local conservation managers also use them to spray those growing things they don't like. The last time I saw this was on Houndkirk Moor over the road from Blacka.

SRWT are not taking the aerial route. Instead they have chosen to get contractors to use tractors (must be a ditty in there) with the usual Asulox. Notices have been posted to this effect. This is as predicted, a habit they've formed in August over the years. They usually leave a mess. What else when heavy tractor wheels make their way across the ground covered by bilberry, heather and bracken itself.

No opportunity to scrutinize this procedure in advance at any user-group meeting, so some questions will need to be emailed to the managers.

1 How much will this cost?
2 Where will the money come from?
3 What is the name of the contractor?
4 What is being done to ensure that there is no compaction of the ground and unsightly collateral damage?
5 Will the contractor return later to remove the dead bracken or will this be removed by SRWT?
6 Who will be supervising the contactor on site?
7 What measures are being taken to prevent damage to other species in the area, e.g. other ferns, and ..
8 Has a survey of plant species in these parts been undertaken and if so may we see the resulting list?
9 What is being done to remove logs and remains of trees felled in a previous operation here?

Some other questions will not go away.

For example: how come resources can be found for doing this to bracken on a part of the site where people generally do not walk - indeed it's made difficult by being behind barbed wire! yet at the same time resources cannot be found for the much less resource intensive task of keeping bracken from encroaching on public rights of way - and this on a site designated as a public pleasure ground??

There is indeed a legal obligation for the landowner/ land manager to keep paths clear.

Another question that must challenge the conservation management:

Is it not very odd that bracken, a wholly natural and native plant, is receiving this treatment while at the same time Himalayan Balsam, an acknowledged invasive and alien species is flowering nearby unhindered? The government itself says landowners have a responsibility to "prevent invasive, non-native plants on your land spreading into the wild"

Picture taken yesterday.

Non native invasive plants are still here despite the claims made in SRWT's Blacka Moor Management Plan and my repeatedly drawing attention to them. But these never-explained anomalies are what we have come to expect. Soon the balsam will be shooting and spraying small seeds in all directions to continue its spread. More jobs for the industry I suppose.