Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Pet Project for Tits

Blacka is not short of tits these days. The Willow Tit is a much less common bird than others, say Blue Tits or Great Tits. But it has been seen near the Strawberry Lee Lane car park by a local bird enthusiast and this has led to another pet project by SRWT. Because Willow Tits have a penchant for nesting in holes in dead trees the scheme is to kill off some more birch trees and leave them standing. Those of us who walk over all of Blacka know that there is no shortage of dead standing wood which is quite likely the reason for the birds being here in the first place. But we know SRWT. Naturally occurring dead standing trees cannot be classed as a project because nature did it. Doubtless they can now qualify for some grant funding and filling in those forms is just what they like doing. The fact that these things always finish up looking an eyesore may or may not trouble the Willow Tit.

Another tit we come across more often is the Coal Tit, familiar visitor to garden bird tables.

They used to be the most shy of those who come to meet us in the morning but have now become just as bold, and at times more cheeky, than the Chaffinches and Robins.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Questions, questions.

The report that was presented to Sheffield's Cabinet about the leasing of Burbage, Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors raises numerous questions, not least about the way this decision is being handled and the public being informed. Several of the most important issues are not resolved yet the decision is 'final' and Sheffield is now committed to go through with this. These other matters will be apparently resolved at a later date doubtless by being signed off by a Cabinet member. More evidence of the top-down approach of SCC's administration, never keen to subject decision making to the scrutiny of the public gaze.

In the section of the report (5.3 to 5.5) dealing with public responses to the advertising of the proposal reference is made to the objection that .....
The public has not been provided with the opportunity to examine the full terms of the proposed lease.
 ..... and in response to this Council officers and directors claim that "details contained within this report provide a comprehensive overview of the main lease terms" and they go on to refer to "proposals for a Key Partner's (sic) Forum, a Stakeholder Forum and an Annual Meeting open to all interested parties". 

Passing by the obvious questions about which individual is considered to be a Key Partner, how he manages to be the sole constituent of a Forum and what the difference might be between a Partners Forum and a Key Partners Forum, what does the document actually say about these supposed safeguards for the public? 

Well, looking back to section 4.2 under 'Representation' we learn that  ....

The proposed lessees will be required to make proposals for a Key Partner’s Forum, a Stakeholder Forum and for an Annual Meeting open to all interested parties, for the approval of the Council.  The proposals are to cover: frequency of meetings; terms of reference; representation and protocols
 Sounds OK? - and that is what is intended. But wait a bit. All that is being asked of the lessees is that they make proposals. Nothing about the details; all very general. Plenty of scope for this being interpreted in the loosest possible way by those who wish to evade searching questions. Nothing here says what might or might not be acceptable.

All goes to show that those of us who have been asking for reassurance that we get something much better than our experiences before are being fobbed off with a mere sketchy outline that certainly does not amount to a public examination of the full terms. Once again our officers and our supine councillors have given us short change.

Just take one example for now. Could this proposed Annual Meeting turn out to be a guided walk? That is not a joke. SRWT's new Users Forum for Blacka ( happily sanctioned by Chris Heeley author of the present report ) has now had two meetings since 2012. Both have been guided walks!

The point is a really crucial one, a major issue about the way our society chooses to run local governance and whether we are truly a democratic society with public involvement. Checks and balances are vital and there's no better check on the power of vested interests than genuine transparency. That is why all sorts of sophisticated strategems have been developed over the years by private organisations to evade transparency and gull the public. At the same time they are at pains to tell us they are being truly open. These practices and the culture that promotes them have spread well beyond the obvious suspects in large competing corporations to be now commonplace within  our supposedly open and democratic councils and apparently benign charities. These bureaucracies don't like scrutiny*** either and we have an important job to do to be sceptical about their every statement. Sometimes our suspicions may be unfounded but at times they will prove accurate. If they don't like it they know what to do.

It's called transparency.



*** Anyone inclined to be sceptical about the scepticism being expressed here might investigate this link:

Monday, 28 September 2015

For the Chop

The cries of sheep were different this morning and more numerous. Lambs have gone for the chop - literally.

Ewes stood around disorientated. I tried to warn them four weeks ago. But they don't listen.

The railings for separating ewes from lambs are in place, temporarily, we hope, reminding us that this is a meat factory first and any pretence that it's a nature reserve is just that - a pretence.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Secrets and Lies

Sheffield's Cabinet approved the leasing of Burbage, Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors after a report was presented to its meeting of 16th September. There was no discussion of this to speak of apart from answers from the Council Leader to a public question. In fact there has been no public discussion or elected member scrutiny at all. Whether or not you agree with the idea of this handover you might expect at the very least some mildly searching questionings to go on within the council. But then you have to remember this is Sheffield where accountability might crop up in a spelling bee if at all.

In fact if the report of the decision on the website is to be believed, it could have been worse. If there had not been two letters responding to the advertising of this intention, one expressing reservations and one objecting there could not have been the safeguards built in, such as they are. Which in itself is pretty damning of those who did not respond or slavishly wrote in uncritical support!

The letter expressing reservations came from DVS. The single objection, readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn, came from its author, i.e. me. That is what transparency means - declaring your responsibility. Those writing to support will, I'm sure remain anonymous. That is secrecy and I'm sure if I asked for their names even under Freedom of Information, the Council - that is Head of Parks and the Directors concerned*, would somehow contrive to claim FoI did not apply.

That needs some explanation. I don't like the moors in question. They are a travesty of what a supposed natural site should be; I've called them a desert. So why bother that they be passed on to organisations that are, so the RSPB's publicity tells us, committed to making a place for wildlife? Well we need to look behind the hype and the hollow corporate spin.

But first it's worth reminding ourselves that the council's major justification for leasing the land to the conservation charities is that they have resources Sheffield's Council does not have - to do more management. Think of that. SCC has not the money or resources to manage the land. Where have we heard that before? Large areas of Blacka Moor were once as bare and desert-like as Burbage. Many of the beautiful natural trees that grow now on Blacka are there because the owners, SCC, did not have the resources to manage the land, i.e. cut them down; or did not have the courage to go against the public's wishes and saturate the place with that white woolly plague - sheep grazing. It's a fair assumption that more management before the 80s and 90s would have meant for example no red deer and much impaired natural interest - warblers and cuckoos for example; and fewer obvious seasonal changes such as the spring and autumn delights of birch and rowan and the special qualities these bring to the views here.

 But my objection to the policy of land handover here was not primarily about the way the land was going to be managed. Frankly I see little to choose between the council and the charities in as far as what they would be likely to do, except that RSPB/NT might have more money to spend on covering the moor with those fences everybody so loves. My position as someone who dislikes the way the moors look is that only a radical return to nature could rescue this landscape from an inevitable management-dominated dreariness well into the future and I see no sign that there's the ambition or inspiration that is called for anywhere in the local conservation establishment to do anything radical. If there's any inspiration or creativity around it usually gets directed towards producing glossy brochures and their online equivalents; as I've said often enough before the time would be better spent getting their boots dirty.

The reason for my objection was a vain hope that it might stimulate an open public conversation that could bring about change.These were the terms of the objection.

My objection is chiefly for reasons of transparency and accountability.

1 The public has not been provided with the opportunity to examine the full terms of the proposed lease.
2 To my knowledge there has been inadequate public discussion of the background to and reasons for this disposal. A very large area of public land should not be handed over to private interests without much more public awareness. Yet most people in Sheffield know little or nothing about this proposal.
3 Sheffield City Council is an established public body with duties and responsibilities to the public that do not apply to private organisations. There are also procedures within the SCC constitution that give a public right to raise matters, and to have access to information and a complaints procedure. With RSPB/NT the public does not have comparable rights. The lack of accountability and transparency amounts to a democratic deficit.

Contd here.

The report to the Cabinet meeting indicates that while this was the only actual objection there were 22 people and groups writing in support. My understanding is that these people have mostly been encouraged to write in to counter the objection. According to the text many mention the value of the RSPB's stakeholder forum run at the Eastern Moors. My request to be a member of this forum was refused as was my request to know who the members were, as also was my request for access to minutes of their meetings. I was told that the members wanted to be secret and unidentified. I assume that they don't want people to know what they say and what they support. Perhaps they tell lies and feel bad about it which would do them a little credit.

So welcome to the world of the local conservation industry and its stakeholder supporters whose culture is one of total rejection of transparency and bravely hides behind anonymity. A recipe for corruption if ever there was one.

My information suggests that at a meeting earlier this year a proposal was put to the stakeholders that they should submit independently their welcome of the moors disposal to Sheffield City Council's agents.

Excerpt from minutes:
“Do we all agree? Please have another slice of chocolate cake and collect a free lifetime membership of both RSPB and NT. And be so good as to let us know your preferred delivery address for the saddle of venison to be despatched next month.”

Absolutely true?

Well they could choose to deny it. The RSPB and NT could always publish the secret meeting minutes.

Until they do I'll believe it. So should all of us. Maybe afterwards as well.


* being transparent here, we should name names:  Executive Director 'Place' Simon Green; Director 'Culture and Environment' Paul Billington; 'Head of Parks' Chris Heeley.  There's a legal requirement for their salaries to be published so they can be accessed at the bottom of this page on SCC's website.


...  of all he surveys.

Lease for Burbage, Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors.

An agenda item for  Sheffield’s Cabinet meeting for 16th September was the proposal for disposing under lease Houndkirk, Burbage and Hathersage Moors to RSPB/National Trust. These things are waved through with little if any discussion so the decision has gone ahead without scrutiny.

The link for the Cabinet meeting is here. Look for Item 9.

The report on this can be read at this link.

Some interpretation may follow here in due course. If the council can't be bothered to scrutinise its own major decisions then someone ought to.


Season of .....................

And  .... something, something


Could be a bumper harvest. Would be welcome in some quarters.

 Walk on ...

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Serious Competition

The number of hinds here may be small but competition for them is hotting up. A new entrant has arrived large enough to be a significant force. He was alongside the three hinds and announcing his presence vocally.

On the opposite hillside beyond the stream and the trees another group could just be seen.

He was suspicious and decided to walk over. Two stags were there.

One of them was large but his antlers were no match.

There was a lot of staring from 30 yards before the less well endowed made a judgement and moved off. The senior stag then patrolled the hillside. His now deserted group of hinds remained obediently where they had been. They stared across from a distance but looking slightly peeved.

Elsewhere rivalry can be more bitter.

But this time, after a cold night, unlike the stags, Robins are competing for food.

Friday, 25 September 2015


Couldn't find any more bog flowers to trash. But it's quite satisfying to kick these over.

We're the conservation grazers. We know our job.


You're lucky to see these animals. On the 450 acres of Blacka there may at any time be just a few, say 5 or 6. They tend to keep away from people and spend a lot of time hidden in the most secluded areas, possibly emerging at night or around dawn. The stag above was surprised this morning and quickly ran off into the trees edging the thickest woodland. A few years ago numbers of deer seemed to be growing but there has been something of a decline recently. Roe deer had been increasing until earlier this year but it's now some months since my last sight of them.

To continue the theme of this recent post, deer have no security here because those who make the conservation decisions do not see them as having a role in their plans. To make this clear, for the managers deer are expendable, dispensable, unnecessary, even a nuisance.  Some people might be surprised at this. But we should remember that the major features of their plans were formulated long before they were aware that large wild animals were beginning to move onto Blacka. However delighted the public were that this was happening those from Natural England and the conservation charities saw it differently. While they may have liked to portray themselves as "creating a landscape for wildlife" and even call themselves "wildlife trusts", this has always been a promotional contrivance. Their real intention is to make the land conform to a set of standards enabling Natural England (an agency dominated by farming interests) to say it is in 'good agricultural condition'. Hence the cows and sheep. More than one conservation manager has privately admitted to me that wild animals like deer are actually an inconvenience. Their office-born ideas are put under threat by wild animals whose freedom and unpredictability cannot be factored into work programmes and management plans.

That could happen with any wild animal or wild vegetation. Control from above is what it's about. Hence wild animals are no less vulnerable on a nature reserve than elsewhere. The plans of conservation have already put wildlife itself in danger. One example is the decision to spray with weedkiller a large area of the moors: the killing off of the vegetation allowed tasty new growth to appear which attracted the deer onto that one place when they would otherwise have wandered over a wider area. A drastic solution was then implemented.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Old Whitelow Farm

Conspicuous from Blacka and an eyesore for many years alongside Fairthorne and King Ecgberts School, Old Whitelow Farm has offended the eye because of the white plasticky looking caravans standing out in the view. The caravans have now gone and the site is up for sale by auction in two lots from Eadon Lockwood and Riddle.

The site and buildings as they stand now rest fairly easy on the eye, old style and natural stone, complementing other farmhouses along Whitelow. The question hanging over this is what will be the restrictions upon the buyers. Will the planners have in mind the impact of their renovation or new building work upon the view from Blacka, given their shambolic failures in relation to Fairthorn?

Another Press Release Story

I had always assumed that the British Trust for Ornithology  was a kind of more serious version of the RSPB, therefore less inclined to go in for self publicising. So this morning's item on the BBC's flagship Today programme, obviously arising from a press release was a surprise. The media people are suckers for picking up these press releases uncritically, making something rather commonplace and old hat seeming to be more important than it is, but helpfully filling in a slot in the schedule.

But it was still a shock to hear that the BTO had concluded that warblers (blackcaps) from Europe had decided to winter in Britain instead of migrating to Africa because of bird table goodies in suburban gardens. This has been known for at least 20 years, by thousands of people including me. So why highlight it now? The answer is, of course, competition. We know don't we that the conservation charities are obsessed with this kind of self publicising and will do anything to get their name on the airways. BTO has been somewhat aloof from this rather grubby activity up to now. But it has a new Strategy 2015 to 2020 and it has all the hallmarks of managerialism inspired by consultants, including a glossy brochure and numerous bullet pointed targets. One of these targets is to get themselves talked about: They have STRATEGIC PERFORMANCE INDICATORS, one of which is to "deliver growth in membership and maintain retention". Enough said.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Best Thing

Talking to the regular walkers on Blacka is worthwhile but as we all tend to value the chance to get away from the crowds the opportunity may not come often. So it was worth listening to the words of a regular walker on Blacka on Sunday morning. They should be shouted loud and written large. Nailed, perhaps, to SRWT’s display boards.

“They're the best thing that's happened to this place,” he said and he was referring of course to the coming of red deer we are sometimes privileged to see; and these very deer came, completely unplanned, with no human input at all. And I knew from the way he said it that he was pretty unhappy with most of the management-driven changes here over recent years. And that, for him like me, the chance of seeing really wild animals resident on Blacka was an important stimulus to our visits.

We should say this more often because there is a strand of discussion that goes on mostly beyond our hearing that is quite different. Some of it is simply disapproval but it’s bolstered by the relative indifference of the conservation industry. Our failure to celebrate genuine wildlife only encourages those who exploit or attack it.

The deer are central to the dialogue we should be engaging in about the value of this land and its future. Because these large animals help us to see what is good in the landscape and its vegetation.  The fabulous beauty of Rowan trees hanging with red fruit in September is enhanced further when deer are moving close by. Bracken even is seen to have value when we see an antler or the ear of a hind moving amongst the fronds. And the scrubby growth of young birch and rowan, instead of being undesirable,  becomes vital when you see a young deer with its mother browsing the leaves.

The trouble is that if we don't say this enough, other voices and views prevail. We know the wildlife charities have mixed feelings about the deer. We know they don't go out of their way to protect them. We know their insufferably prescriptive projects are designed to work in some sort of wildlife-free vacuum where pet projects, usually surrounded by fencing, mustn't be disturbed by the unpredictable nature of genuine wildness; it's about being in control even when they make a hash of it in their own terms. Hence their failure to even know about the presence of roe deer as evidenced in their draft management plan at the end of last year, and their unwillingness to take precautions that might discourage deer from straying onto farmland and being shot. This follows on from their earlier failures to even accept the presence of the deer. See this post. “ Beautiful Beasts of Blacka Moor” indeed!!!!

The petulance of the Chief Executive's response is thinly disguised, itself an admission of the validity of the original post; why else would he bother?  Because underneath his managerial posturing lies a prosaic, literal, philistine vision that lacks any kind of educated view of what’s worthwhile in our approach to the natural world.

With all the conservation industry and their stakeholders you get the sense they have little difference with the established landowners including the farmers: they would actually prefer it if the deer would go away and let them get on with what they like to think of as nature, i.e. managed farmland.
Now they are factoring into their plans ways of keeping deer off the land. In limited areas admittedly, but still entailing intrusive fencing in the woods; the reason, allegedly, is to measure the impact of deer on these parts and compare with parts which the deer do access. But why would you want to do that? Unless that is you might foresee some possible 'unwelcome impact' i.e. damage to your deskbound planning exercises. If you do find some difference what follows from that? Because if some action would follow we need to know now what it would be. Culling perhaps? If not why bother with this intrusion into the land, spoiling its appearance for those who prefer land that shows freedom from human interference? So this is upheld as an exercise or experiment, 4 metre by 4 metre squares in woodland bounded by posts and wire.  Another absurd and unnecessary waste of public money and another project that’s just there to justify a manager’s job and show they’re in control.

They will use any argument however weak that helps them to be blind to the positives about the wild deer and conversely helps them to feel comfortable about them being culled. Farmers have done this for centuries about their stock being sent off to slaughter.

I picked this up the other day when an experienced stakeholder, veteran of many hours listening to the gospels of the local conservation mafia, referred to the deer as “Chatsworth escapes”  - as if that somehow disqualifies them from being fully accepted into the realm of wildlife. Are we saying “Only”? Wild or feral? So what? Would you dismiss divisions of humanity on the same grounds? Legitimate or bastard? Why would they need to mention that? Can't they see the beauty, the nobility the vulnerability of native wild animals living wild day and night?

I sometimes lose my patience with the failures of imagination and the self-serving mind-closings that characterise those who claim to speak for the countryside. 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Wild Land

A very interesting piece by Mark Day, a local resident who was concerned when he heard of the deer cull on Bigmoor earlier this year.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

In Business

Competition is good for us, so we are told. There's not much cooperation between stags when rutting time beckons. The prize to be won is the chance to pass on your genes. So when he scents the presence of another male in the air the nose goes up and whole demeanour changes.

It didn't come to anything this time but the willingness of the intruder to move away suggests there may have been a clash earlier.

All done with no bellows and quite civilised. And four hinds may be a modest lineup but it means he's in business.

The two are of similar age, ten to twelve pointers. No sign of the really big 16 point stag nor of another larger animal seen earlier this year.

We needed to be reminded how good it is to see wild animals in a nearly wild setting. The few hinds have been seen a number of times over the summer but the sight of stags in good condition on the woodland edge with trees splendid with bright red rowan berries is spectacular. Why it is not valued more by the local managers and their unimaginative stakeholders beats me. Every mention of them is at best a qualification of the value of deer. And that value should be proclaimed both for the animals themselves and for the benefit brought to humans who see wildlife. Surely the first thing to be said about them is how beautiful they are yet I know those who jump in quickly to tell you that they do damage and that they are 'escapes' from Chatsworth, as if that diminishes their value. Of course it doesn't. And talk like that leads to an attitude that grows into seeing them as superfluous to the landscape, rather than an essential part of it; in fact we should be seeing this exactly the other way round, nourishing a landscape that serves the deer along with badgers, foxes, birds of prey and other inspiring wildlife.

Another younger stag was also around on the fringes of this morning's activity. If they have come over from Big Moor they would be best advised to stick around, lest they return and get 'managed'.

Stakeholders and the Donkeys

Who could be more qualified to be a stakeholder than those employed in the business? According to the papers presented to Sheffield's Cabinet this week there are 'safeguards' now built into the leasing of the huge area of Sheffield's land to be given to RSPB/NT on a 25 year lease.

There will be a Stakeholder Forum and a Partner Forum. Well we know that Partners are the cronies in the various organisations that are already hand in glove so we don't expect the public's interest to come first there. Sheffield Moors Partnership operates first in the interests of those employed in the local constituent conservation groups. And as for stakeholders, this is a word that is used shamelessly to suggest that things must be all above board and accountability is in good hands. Yet when you look behind the word you find out that it means a group appointed by the managers who ensure there's nobody there who might frighten the horses. 'Yes men/women' all, or encouraged to show some gentle and mild dissent for form's sake that offers up no real challenge.  Devise some over diluted process  that can be presented on paper to look like a form of accountability and the local politicians will relax and go back to reading something less demanding. Their job to scrutinise? No, let the officers do it.

But a bit of close reading might raise some queries. The local Sheffield paper has front page headlines about this land disposal in its September 10th edition. This arose from a press release of course. It was sent to the paper by the usual suspects who are named towards the end of the article with quotes from them. Both have claimed in the past to be interested members of the public. Fair enough up to a point. But are they therefore also stakeholders with a stake in the enterprise? One of them has certainly appeared as a 'member of the public' in a public forum among 'genuine' consultees. The question is to what extent should somebody have a say in policy making that benefits their own job? It's a question of transparency again. We can all make a case of course for our own interest but our interest should be declared. Without this would this be allowable if the disposal was, shall we say, connected to financial services?

Knowing where the comment is coming from is vital. We learn whether its is truly independent. Such is the local press's use of press releases these days, often printed near verbatim which in the case of the conservation industry delights them. It's not even subtle, but probably doesn't need to be to persuade local councillors and those of similar critical faculties. Remember how much money is sunk into the publicity, spin and public relations departments of these groups nowadays; in fact it's been suggested that many are overweight in PR with a sideline in practical projects.

A famous quote comes to mind:
'The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society'*
Remember also that the EMP has a stakeholder group who have decided their names should not be divulged nor the minutes of their meetings. Thus the RSPB/NT makes its claim to take over more of Sheffield people's land and those in positions are supine enough to wave it through. Remember, too, that those responding to recent consultations who were quoted as in support of plans were anonymous! As were the 20 people who wrote to the council saying what a spiffing idea it was to give Houndkirk and Burbage to the fox-and-deer-shooting RSPB/NT consortium. None of those might possibly have been connected to the industry could they? Did anyone ask?

Are we led by donkeys?


*Edward Bernays (pioneer of Public Relations), writing in 1928.

Reading Primer

Sitting beside a two year old with a picture book and hearing "Wossat say?" repeatedly, affects the way your mind works.

Lesson One   Rowanberry

Lesson Two  Cowberry

Monday, 14 September 2015

Won't Move, Can't Move

Certain policies become so entrenched that organisations cannot change them without losing face. 'Conservation grazing' is a shibboleth of the charities that claim to speak for wildlife around here. The management of the sheep enclosure on Blacka is particularly indefensible. It can't be called a nature reserve and certainly not a public recreation area. It is managed so purely to get farming subsidies yet there is a covenant on the land saying it is for recreation and it has been designated SSSI for nature. In both respects it is a ghastly failure. Yet they are immovable; justifications keep being attempted however feeble and strained. The current argument is that the sheep are there to promote waxcap mushrooms. Well there are waxcap mushrooms on my lawn and no sheep graze there to my knowledge. There are 80 acres and more of this land and the waxcap mushroom interest occupies less than a couple of acres. Meanwhile sheep eat all the wild flowers and leave a disgusting surface of cropped grass and faeces making it unsuitable for any pleasant human activity, such as picnicking for example.

They only started claiming the conservation interest of the waxcaps in the last few years, much later than its original SSSI designation which didn't mention them. But they will always invent a new reason for what they do because they have spent such quantities of public money here, more lately on a long boundary wall to keep the sheep in. You just know that even if sheep grazing was shown conclusively to be detrimental to waxcaps they would invent another spurious reason for their 'conservation grazing'. A species of dung beetle perhaps?

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Why Do Farmers Shoot Deer?

Tempting to use the Mallory response. But it's a serious question.

It's necessary to say that there are farmers who would never shoot deer, or any wildlife come to that. It's also worth stating that many farmers see themselves as frustrated with the way their market works and that can lead to an embattled mindset. The convoluted systems of payments and subsidies and supermarket contracts and the bureaucracy and paperwork associated, don't help. Yet other groups of workers also have frustrations and insecurities without some of the compensations a life on the farm can bring. There are farmers who choose to forget this. In their narrative sometimes the public (overwhelmingly 'townies') is seen as hostile and those cuddly animals misguidedly liked by townies get on the wrong end of this. But there are many reasons for what happens. These are just a few:

The short answer to the headline question is: because they see them as vermin. Vermin to farmers and gardeners is the animal equivalent of weeds, organisms living, however temporarily, where the person responsible doesn't want them. Don't give an inch.

This view of deer has been bolstered by irresponsible news headlines in recent years, even in the non-tabloid press, giving suggestible readers the impression we are being swamped by deer. And some less scupulous academics have sold their long term credibility for media coverage in the short term Even people who've rarely or never seen deer may be forgiven for believing the scenario. It's as if deer are swarming over the Med, storming the fences at Calais then coming  up country and eating up all our woodland. The truth is quite different. There are very few places in the whole UK where deer are at unsustainable levels, the most significant of course being in the Scottish Highlands where deer are encouraged in various ways by landowners and their gamekeepers who want people to come and shoot them; deer populations there are too high. In fact many parts of the country, and this is one of them, have not enough deer. It's sheep and cattle that are over abundant. Where deer  make a nuisance of themselves, in specific localised areas, it's usually a response to misguided land management and the failure to implement sensible preventive strategies.

Another answer to the question why farmers shoot deer is that they do it because they are allowed to; farmers have been given the right after extensive lobbying over the years to shoot many wildlife species which are not protected, deer being one. Another answer is that most farmers have guns and like to use them if they can find an excuse, a certain satisfaction coming from the exercise of power over life and death. There may also be an economic value in the dead animal, assuming there's an arrangement with a local butcher or supplier.

Another reason I've heard mentioned (by someone in the conservation industry!) is that shooting them sends a message that they are not welcome: a lesson to be learned apparently. Come here and this is what happens!  How you learn any lesson at all after you're lying on the ground expired I don't pretend to understand, but it's been said.

But after all this we shouldn't underestimate the power that property exerts on human psychology. This is my property. Gerroff my land ......... or else. I felt something similar when I saw what somebody's family pet had left on my drive yesterday morning. It never occurred to me, however, to react further than a silent curse. 

You can only shoot deer if they get onto your land and for deer it can be tempting. They like grass and when they see a large area of it especially when it's unoccupied and easy to access you can see their point. But how much 'damage' do they do? That is the big question. For example many of the fields on the edge of Blacka are just there to support a couple of horses. Are those horses starving?
Whenever I walk this way I see mostly empty green fields.

There is one field, not easy to find, a cornfield, probably food for horses, where damage could have been the result of deer getting over the wall.

But it's the wildlife trust who are responsible for maintaining this boundary and the delapidated stone wall.

One feels for SRWT; they are too busy filling in forms and sending off grant applications to be bothered with this. Protection of the largest and most impressive wildlife on their land is hardly a priority. So the result is that magnificent animals of the kind we would never have thought to be living inside the city boundaries are casually killed.

What more can you say? Apart from "Run, Jump, get away quick! There are nutters around with guns!"

The Fencing Explosion

How many senior people in the conservation charities and departments of Sheffield Council and the PDNPA have close relations with contractors who install walls and fences? Do they get kickbacks? I think we ought to know. But who's asking?

It's just one of the questions that springs to mind when I see the number of new fencing and walling projects going on across Blacka and surrounding moors.

Public money is being spent on a grand scale with no scrutiny. 

Oddly enough, there's only one fence I think might be justified. And nobody's planning that. Perhaps because it would be there to protect wildlife?

Fences and Fence Sitting

The lack of guts and ambition on the part of the conservation industry has now been criticised by TV presenter Chris Packham. Those of us who've criticised organisations like Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and National Trust for failing to stray outside a cosy comfort zone  may be getting a high profile ally. It's the concentration on empire building and consequent attempts to be all things to all people that is beginning to be exposed as shallow and even cynical. Who needs friends like the Countryside Alliance, the Game and Conservation Trust, the BASC, and their supporters?

According to Packham
We want more action from Britain’s conservation leaders, not the fence-sitting and ineffectual risk-avoidance that have contributed to the mess we’re in now.

Quoted from this article in The Guardian referring to Chris Packham's column in BBC Wildlife Magazine:
He accused the charities of selectivity over which species they chose to protect and said they were “hamstrung by outdated liaisons with the ‘nasty brigade’ and can’t risk upsetting old friends” in the rural and shooting communities.
One now wonders how long he will continue as a vice -president of the RSPB. Their once head of conservation Mark Avery resigned some time ago and now comments independently.
It is the ambivalence of our local branches of RSPB and Wildlife Trusts that has constantly surprised me.
They seem intent on fence sitting on the key issues and don't know whether real wildness with the inconvenience that goes alongside its potential for  magnificent and inspiring wildlife experience will be quite 'nice' enough for their more docile supporters.

Does Packham I wonder support the RSPB's plans to shoot foxes on the Eastern Moors and their caving in to a very small group of locals who want more deer shot? It's time the public were made aware. Much of this comes from the compulsion to manage the landscape. An example is close at hand: You decide to impose a hay meadow in a field, not a decision from the ground up. It means treating the ground harrowing etc, then sowing wild flowers. You then just go away and leave it. Astonishingly a group of stags come along and enjoy themselves. Solution: shoot them.

Now SRWT plans to fence in* certain parts of Blacka's woods to keep deer out, despite numbers being small. No plans however to put deer fences around the border with farmland where these beautiful wild animals sometimes stray only to get shot by trigger happy neighbours.


 * It seems these are to be 4m by 4m control areas. This, they say, aims to identify whether, and to what extent, deer browsing affects regeneration in the woods. I can't but think this is another project that could equally be done by careful observation. There must be money in it somewhere. Nothing however must be allowed to proceed at its own natural pace. People might get the idea that these office workers are unnecessary.

Sunday, 6 September 2015


This new bench has been installed just off the bridleway from Piper House to Shorts Lane. The bench is a memorial to Pat Pryor who spent many hours walking on Blacka. It’s a much finer bench than those erected in other parts of Blacka and sets a standard. It will, of course darken as it weathers. People sitting here will see much the same view as seen by J G Graves in 1933 when he concluded the land here had to be saved from developers.

 Obviously there have been changes since then. King Ecgberts School is very noticeable and looking over beyond the city to the left the view extends to Meadowhall and the motorway. Closer by more trees occupy the land and you may be lucky enough to see a small group of deer as I did this morning.

When Alderman Graves first came here the scene would have been far more peaceful than today and I guess it would not have been much different in the early days of Pat Pryor's walks. Those sitting here at 7am on this beautiful Sunday morning will not have experienced tranquility. A rave was taking place at Ringinglow in Lady Canning's Plantation and amplified noise was being brought down here on the northerly breeze. How the inhabitants of the village there tolerate this I don't know. But maybe people tolerate all sorts of things if they've never known different. Do we set a benchmark by what we experienced in our earlier days? Another example of the shifting baseline? If I hate other people's amplified music and obsessive use of power tools, do others hate the peace and tranquility I crave? There's an article in today's Observer newspaper which had me scratching my head. It's about the closure of night clubs in Sheffield because of noise pollution near where people live. Reading that and reading the comments below the line I get the idea that the word music has been redefined to mean any kind of noise that's been channelled through multi thousand pound sound amplification systems. Just for the record, I've listened and sometimes played music all my life and never felt the need to have it so loud that people beyond the four walls of my house could hear it. That indeed would have been standard in my young days. The jazz clubs I frequented were never excessively noisy. But perhaps that is not called music any more.