Thursday, 31 March 2016

Words: "Natural? Who Could Possibly Want That?"



Naturalness makes no pretence at being a scientifically definable concept. But it’s a valuable term nonetheless that should not be allowed to fall foul of the conservationists’ desire to highjack any term for self-serving purposes.

When we look at a piece of land, however small, and its appearance suggests no evidence of recent human intervention or exploitation we may conclude that the prime responsibility for what we see has been natural processes. That's an example of a sense of naturalness. And any change to come will be natural change assuming no management comes along. We don't need to be overburdened with specialised education to appreciate that; just to know from observation what are the effects of lawn mowing and its conservation equivalent, sheep grazing;   and to be able to tell that a pile of timber or brushwood means someone has been intervening/meddling/managing.  Natural-looking may not be an accepted scientific term but its subjectivity can still be the basis of a fair working consensus. Keep the special interests at a distance and most of the public would, I’m sure, agree.

This is a pointer to just the kind of land that Blacka should be. For Blacka, ‘natural-looking’  is entirely appropriate because for many years in the last century Blacka went nature's way. It regained a soul and some natural dignity after a lengthy period of unloving exploitation reduced to being the slave of the over-privileged shooter class.  The more conspicuous any human intervention, the closer Blacka gets to losing its soul.

When you raise this as a criteria of naturalness for your enjoyment, the small-minded Gradgrinds never fail to rise with half-understood clich├ęs forged in the self-interest of farmers and managers. "None of this country is natural,” they parrot, with a shadow sneer on the mention of the word, “it's all the result of management. " Farming discourse is full of this sort of thing and it’s never far away from what you hear on Farming Today or see on Countryfile.

It is of course a weaselling use of language that presupposes an agreed understanding that management is unfailingly benign. In fact management of land has always, to a greater or lesser degree, been exploitation. Much past land use has left areas blighted and natural processes harshly suppressed. But that doesn't come close to the ability of present mechanised  practices to impact on the whole landscape with devastating speed. All that seems to hold the managers back is the time it takes to fill in the forms and transfer the grant funding.  

The response to this should be along the lines: "In much of this country we can see the results of exploitation of the land, a better word than management. Few people would argue with land being managed for essential food production, an excusable exploitation as long as it's carried out with minimal damage to wildlife but this still leaves large parts of our countryside where  the suppression of nature is carried on for personal gain and whim of the wealthy. It takes only a few years free from management for a sense of natural dignity to start to return. Longer and the rewards are greater.

The apologists for SRWT, and, amazingly, there are some, resist criticism of SRWT's uglifying management style by saying that the idea of a place looking 'natural' is just subjective. So shoving dead tree and scrub remnants against trees in the fringe woodland is OK by them. Wait a bit longer and we might have all trees removed and a few choice ones replaced by plastic replicas and inconveniently unpredictable wild animals by stone sculptures or interpretation boards with pictures. Don’t like it? You’re just being subjective.

Everything does not need to be defined to the Nth degree with standardised assessment. Most of us can tell with no problem what looks as if it has developed without human interference over many years. And that is what some of us value. Others can keep their artificial cultural heritage nonsense -little better than gardening with bird tables.

Words: "Let's Call it Wild"



It's been pointed out numerous times that the language used by the conservation managers often contrives to be meaningless nonsense. Notoriously so when they use the words 'wild' and 'wilderness'. They get away with it because the people it's aimed at, often in official documents, are mostly low status politicians who haven't got the savvy or gumption to question their use. And it achieves its purpose in giving them control over what they should have no role in.

They have an awareness of their deception which leads them to use phrases like a sense of wilderness or a quality of 'wilderness'.  Often putting the false word in quotes as if  “it wasn't me that said it guv”.

It's acceptable to use terms that are subjective when they have no accepted and approved scientific definition especially when a general consensus has been largely agreed. But wild and wilderness are words with a specific meaning which describes something quite opposite to the landscapes they are applying the terms to. So to continue to use them is to try to deceive those with a limited knowledge and understanding of the subject. To describe as wild the character of landscape that is currently continuing under human control is utterly inexcusable and tantamount to fraud. There are other words and phrases they could have used but they choose not to. So one’s left with the impression that there is clear intent to deceive behind what’s happening. I call it corruption. Corruption of language is ultimately worse than, say, financial corruption because language conveys trust across all human affairs.

An excellent piece on the meaning of 'wild' is in the middle of the home page of Mark Fisher's brilliant website, Self-Willed Land.

Calmed down .....

Roe deer are even more timid than the red so all we usually see of them is the white rump bouncing off. Today I was lucky and watched them for half an hour. Perhaps I'm getting quieter. Or they were just calmer. Calmed down deer, of course.

Three of them, as always.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016


An addition to the underfoot pleasures.

Bluebell shoots and fallen lichen.
Flowers probably already out in more temperate areas.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Imitation and Insincerity

It’s appropriate that officers in the Peak District see weaselling as part of their job. The word is the present participle of a verb, to weasel and has more than one meaning. Scrambling and wriggling among boulders usually in Derbyshire, and being ‘deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead or withhold information’ (WordWebOnline)

Weasels could learn a lot from PDNPA weasellers.

Institutional hypocrisy has rarely been more evident than in the weaselling of the conservation establishment in the Peak District. I’ve suspected for years that in many ways they take their cue from the NFU and other countryside lobby groups. On the face of it the charities are in the opposite corner to the Countryside Alliance. But there are similarities. Both groups  seem to have resources and time to spare to put into crafty propaganda campaigns to control public perceptions; I sometimes wonder whether anything that might be called ‘real work’ actually goes on.  Their latest campaign against dog walking in the Eastern Moors leans heavily on dishonest marketing techniques. It also shows that it takes a long time for the penny to drop with some officials. Eventually they discovered that bossy notices alienate dog walkers. Last year they tried another tack, using jokey cartoons which were rightly rejected as childish and patronising, hence  counter-productive. So now they have chosen a strategy they consider more subtle, relying on a calculation that the dog walkers are not clever enough to see through them.

Now, if you read their publicity, after years of being anti-dog walkers, they are claiming they love dog walkers and that dog walking is a vital part of the landscape, an essential service to conservation. I don’t want to assume anything and certainly want to avoid vanity but these ideas were put forward by me several years ago in defence of dog walking against the determined threat from the grouse moor owners and the conservation industry. So do people change so quickly? No of course not. They are still the same. They still want to control dogs and their owners because they are obsessed with ground nesting birds and the totally artificial landscapes which they favour. They do after all kill foxes and deer and I’m sure control corvines as do gamekeepers.

They are still the same people with the same flawed attitudes and the same top-down agenda. Will they ever learn?

Under Foot

Another highly valued feature of this place is the chance we get to walk on informal paths. These are not registered as rights of way or bridleways and are often simply deertracks used occasionally by walkers. What distinguishes them is their beauty underfoot, the rightness of the route they take and the sensible gradients. After a fairly long period of dry weather at this time of year such as the one we've recently enjoyed the brittle leaves and dry twigs have been broken into small pieces by the hooves of deer, an absolute joy to walk on.

This morning after hours of heavy rain followed by snow there was quite a difference.

Elsewhere, in places more regularly frequented by walkers, and even bikers, paths had become fast-flowing streams.

More level parts had become lakes.............

 ..... some of which were covered by wet snow. Not recommended for normal boots.


It comes as no surprise to some of us that Sheffield Wildlife Trust supports mountain biking on public footpaths (PRoWs) as well as on bridleways, despite the fact that they do not tell their User Group. This is counter to the law but they are in need of friends so will do anything to gain popularity even with those who don't care for regulations.

The rider in the photo is not on a bridleway. The post in question is promoting singletrack biking on Blacka. The attempted deception in singletrack is the hope that people see it as being acceptable. It is not. Anything on Blacka that is the width that they like to call singletrack is actually a footpath not a bridleway. SWT is encouraging illegitimate mountain biking while at the same time telling walkers that they don't support it. Two-faced as usual.

Valued Characteristics

There's nothing like rampant bureaucracy for muddying the waters and promoting confusion. To look at the Peak National Park's Local Plan and Core Strategy is to invite frustration. So many statements point in so many different, even opposite, directions that its serves only to empower the professional desk dwellers whose job is akin to lawyers and accountants in the city.

There's much talk of valued characteristics which are occasionally defined but always to leave room for a considerable range of interpretation. That's handy for those with a particular interest usually representing already powerful groups who have well practised arts for gaining favourable advantages.

Even then there's too much contradiction. This section describes Natural Zones some of which encompass the Eastern Moors:

*a quality of ‘wilderness’;
*relatively natural vegetation which is largely self sown;
*few obvious signs of human influence such as field boundaries;
*’open country’ which has particular importance for certain types of recreation associated with adventure and contact with nature;

If open country means the sort of treeless grouse moor that prevails in much of the landscape then it certainly can't be 'wilderness' with or without quote marks and it can't be self sown vegetation if the trees that want to grow are ruthlessly suppressed.

Here are some of the characteristics many of the visitors to Blacka value, though our wishes get little recognition.

The contribution of beech trees to the woodland here, especially the young self sown trees that illuminate the understory in winter.

The dead trees left standing, always looking natural.

The special character of woodland where natural and introduced species create their own habitat and atmosphere, e.g. the alder woods surrounded bya shelter belt of  rhododendron.

Mosses and lichens in late winter.

Dearly valued as these features are and despite the documents mentioning the word valued so many times, several of these attractions are under threat. Not from outside forces such as developers and economic exploitation as normally understood. But from the activities of the conservation economy itself which cannot leave anything alone lest an opportunity go begging to pull in grant funding. Beech trees have been identified by the local managers as non-native because they are considered to be features of southern England. One day we will find all the valued small trees have gone. Rhododendron which has contributed to the unique features of the alder woodland is already mostly cleared. Had there been no rhododendron those trees and the woodland would not look the same. Instead of relying on the entirely natural deadwood SRWT is creating its own via chainsaw and it looks as out-of-place as human intervention usually does. So far mosses and lichens have escaped attention from the meddlers but we don't hold our breath.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Scrub Bashers

When you're walking  in the woodland fringe and you come across this stuff barring your progress it's fair enough to wonder who put it there and speculate on their mentality. They would most likely be SRWT's volunteers, people who want to go out and do something they believe to be important for 'conservation' as they might understand it, and at the same time get some healthy exercise. It's an opportunity for SRWT's officers to do a bit of propagandizing, inculcating the dogma that nature can't be allowed to go its own way or what would the world come to?

Time to look back at some words from an article in the press two years ago on the subject of scrub.
"Choked by scrub" is a meme that crops up repeatredly. What you're talking about is a far richer wildlife habitat, full of fascinating niches and a great beauty of its own, than we currently have on the hilltops. But scrub has become a boo-word, used by the NFU and now by many others to try to justify continued universal grazing. Scrub means small trees and bushes. Is that such a terrifying prospect?

My botany tutor who also wrote the flora of Cumbria used to say what does "scrub" mean? He complained that ecologically the term is almost meaningless. His point was that scrub, seems to refer to "shrub", but the term shrub includes everything from small low growing plants, to tall multi-stemmed trees. Unfortunately much conservation is little more than painting by numbers. There are these habitat management manuals, and the management techiques they describe are often used unthinkingly and often inappropiately.
Take this obessession with "scrub" clearance. I've often asked those doing it, what are their management objectives. They will give the standard spiel about letting more light in, encouraging the ground flora. So I ask them which particularly species they are trying to encourage. This is because where they do a lot of this management, there isn't any rare ground flora to benefit. Just the normal wayside vegetation. They are unable to offer any coherent account of what they are actually trying to achieve with their conservation work. As fas as they are concerned, that is what conservationists do.
Nothing worthwhile ever grows after their "management" and it's just management for management's sake. In fact this is the primarily failing of British conservation, it's obsession with management. A lot of conservation work is little more than gardening and tidying up, it has no useful conservation objective.

(words of "Steb1" and George Monbiot, from "Why are Britain's conservation groups so lacking in ambition?" October 2013)

In Disguise

Yesterday there were two mature stags here. Today five younger ones were in the same spot. One of the youngest was the yearling with two tiny antlers who I've been watching on and off for almost a year. He's something special. Despite the diminutive headgear he has a bigger build than some older beasts and a confident demeanour that suggests one day he will easily rule over an empire during the rut.

Each time we see him he draws attention, often with his imperious stare. But today it was his huge mane which for a minute had me wondering if we had a lion in the woods.

When he turned round his antlers dispelled the illusion.

A few minutes later he seemed determined to make up for his antler deficiency in a novel way.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Graveyard Gallery

Wildlife trust activity. No shame about it. Part of a culture of contempt for wild nature.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Threes and Twos

It could be profitable to wager on the number of roe deer in the woods. Seeing one, you may be fairly confident of seeing two others. Why it should so often be three does is a bit of a puzzle. The numbers may go up to four when a buck is with them but unlikely to be more.

Once more they were no sooner seen than gone leaving only a poor photo. But there were three of them as usual.

Stags this morning were nearby, but just two of them. They were more obliging to the camera, not far from their favourite drop-zone.

Ten minutes walk away the rule of three was restored, a group of hinds playing three maids.

Could they be about to audition?

Native Woods

Native trees, native animals, what can they find to manage?

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Going to the Wall

BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme on weekdays at 5.45 is a mouthpiece for the farming industry. The other day a group of aspiring sheep farmers were discussing the obstacles to their prospects of making a good living. Chief of these was the fact that the public no longer seems to relish  lamb chops as it used to. Without enough demand what chance do they have?

So many of the old industries have gone to the wall with merely a shrug from government;but sheep farming in the uplands staggers on subsidised to an alarming degree.

On Blacka sheep are going to a wall constructed to remarkable proportions. You would think it capable of imprisoning sheep of prodigious size and athleticism.

As if the wall itself is not tall enough (it surely is) it's been decided to top it with two strands of barbed wire.  Sentry towers and armed guards are eagerly awaited. All is paid for with eye-watering amounts of public money. In addition to this there is Single Farm Payment with various supplements for supporting those in 'difficult' areas, and Higher Level Stewardship.

The wall to date has cost about £35,000. Of course we can afford it. Can't we?? After all there's lots of money around.

They call the enclosure a nature reserve. All the wild flowers get eaten by the sheep; what right do they have to thrive in a nature reserve?

SRWT is now talking of building a smaller enclosure inside the outer enclosure with another surrounding wall. Why? To keep the sheep out!

The walls may not be visible from space. But that may be true of the pile of public money that has gone into this land. And the enclosure still looks unbelievably dreary.

What's going on here has many things in common with corruption. And there is no scrutiny by the relevant public bodies, no accountability.

The Lee Side

For a time this group has been sensibly keeping to the other side of Bole Hill where there would be more shelter from the persistent north east wind of recent days.

The wind has dropped today but remains from the same quarter. Nevertheless they were back near the Lee Stream. Sheltered from the prevailing south west wind by Bole Hill and Wimble Holme Hill this would normally be the lee side. A drop in the wind is welcome on the second first day of spring in the month.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Compulsive Disorder

It took us too long to work out that the charities that make up the conservation industry are simply incapable of reform. Expecting land managers to manage less is like telling a herd of cows they can stay in a field but must not eat any grass. We got it wrong. Stupid of us. But the new diagnosis is more credible.

The obsessive chain-saw activity is just one example. Eastern Moors next door are also looking for opportunities to intervene. They will always find them. Shooting deer, persecuting foxes, installing fences, building walls to keep sheep in, building more walls to keep sheep out, applying for grants and farm subsidies, running events for kiddies and their parents as opportunities for indoctrination and self-promotion, and more. Now they are burning to create scorched earth. They are ready each time to say why they claim it's necessary but neglect to mention the most important reason: they've got to find something to do!

 This has not gone down very well.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Ancient and Modern

A very simple question.

How the hell do you manage to get to be ancient if you're not allowed to be young?

To clarify even further: if you kill off the new woodland how on earth can it become ancient woodland for the future?

People employed by SRWT and other SMP organisations are constantly tweeting filling the tweetwaves with self publicising comments designed to reflect well on their green credentials yet what they do on the ground does not reflect the spin. Just look at this:

This is the organisation that kills off mature trees that never get the chance to become part of future ancient woodlands. Why? Because it brings them money to fell trees. Do they ever respond to this criticism? What do you think?


A year ago I asked the 'Reserve Manager' for Blacka when this pile of debris would be removed from the site. I was told that it would have to wait until autumn after the end of the bird breeding season.

It's still here. I'm fed up of being told porkies by officers. Why should I trust anything they say?

Now this year they've been cutting even more and are again leaving piles of tree parts everywhere.

This is typical of what can be seen all over the site. There's no intention to remove it and no answer to requests to do so. The best they can do is to tell us that some animals might build their homes in the piles. The fact is if they were not cutting down trees they would have to find something else to use their chain saws for and something else for their tree destroyers to do.

More Futile Ways of Spending Our Money

When the grant funded local conservation officers are scratching around for something to do with their time in the office they often return to a favourite activity: designing posters that patronise the visiting public.  Often these are directed at dog-walkers telling them to control their pets which at times challenge their key management targets and practices.  One of the most cringingly patronising of all appeared last year causing a serious outbreak of nausea and revulsion in many who saw it:

A previous incarnation of this type of notice was used for many years and exhorted dog walkers to Get A Grip!! It too featured a crass cartoon.

A new version has arrived on gateposts etc this year. It takes a different line, more restrained less bossy and less dumbed down, obviously a response to the feedback from last year's and this time without any low-grade childish cartoon.

It would be interesting to know how much public money goes into designing, redesigning and printing these posters. I can imagine officers sitting at desks or even in meetings saying "if only we could get the presentation right all would be fine". Unfortunately for them it's not just the presentation. The message itself is flawed. People have seen through it and like many other aspects of their management it's unsustainable.

Their problem with dog walkers arises from their decisions to create an artificial farmed landscape instead of a more natural and unexploited landscape. While I have reservations about the behaviour of some dog walkers, I have even more about the conservation officers in Sheffield Moors Partnership. They create and continue a largely treeless landscape by crushing the will of all the natural inclinations; in short, it's gardening. In order to do this they bring in a contingent of livestock enforcers. The debased and limited vegetation that results appeals mainly to a narrow range of wildlife that doesn't like dogs. Just as they shoot foxes and deer and persecute other predators, they would like to shoot visitors' pets. Perhaps one day their farmer allies will do just that. What a legal action could start then!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Still Wider

After several days of cold drying North East winds the surface of the public right of way across Blacka Hill has changed. It was a quagmire. It's now just soggy. It's nine years since SWT, led by Nigel Doar, brought cows onto Blacka. In 2006 this route was about 18 inches wide.

The first year cows were introduced they walked slowly along here and back each day eating the grass that grew at the path sides and of course widening the path. That continued year on year although last year that activity had declined due to the cattle finding grass elsewhere. Cows are heavy and they helped to compact the ground resulting in slow drainage. By now it's possible that people are causing more widening as they desperately move to the drier fringes to avoid the muddy areas. It's wide enough now to accommodate a fairly large truck, though it would probably need caterpillar wheels to make any progress.

It's fair to assume that SRWT will find funds from somewhere to install more large flagstones here. Few people will bother to ask why money should be provided for them to put right what they helped to cause in the first place. ........   certainly not those who loudly criticised FoBM when we argued against bringing on heavy farm animals. And this would hardly be putting things right. Such damage to the land does not get put right so easily.

"Well what would you do, apart from just making negative comments?" comes a voice from ignorant and propagandised benches.

a) stop exploiting the land with livestock grazing
b) plant some native trees along the route to replace those that were (astonishingly) removed
c) possibly start an alternative footpath nearby on drier ground avoiding this to allow some sort of recovery.
...... and many other things they will never consider.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

It's Got Bells On

Bullshit Alert.

Have you heard of a violent pacifist, or a carnivorous vegetarian? Or possibly a despotic democrat? An honest fraud?

Well stand by. The spinners and manipulators of language in the conservation industry can match Humpty Dumpty any day. They are, after all, Big Con, the conservation industry's equivalent to Big Pharma.

Some don't do irony. So  watch out for their po-faced bullshit.

Because the Director of Strategy at the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts calls himself, without irony, a Pragmatic Idealist! He should be told to pull the other one. The Orwellian association is unavoidable.  We remember Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength. Bullshit like this is making language meaningless in order to appear clever-clever. That's what makes doublethink dangerous.

Who let these awful people in? Conservation was once a fine aspiration, Now, it's become institutionalised, tawdry and self-serving.  Their own-goals give delight to the anti-conservation Countryside Alliance.

Like Humpty he should be sitting on this wall. One of the cows will surely push him off.

As for the wall itself what better way of spending £35,000 of public money with no accountability at the same time that essential public services are being ruthlessly squeezed? Increasingly I'm thinking that in many ways these charities are no better than the big landowners who own shooting estates.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

We're Off!

Does were intent on showing a clean set of heels.

.... and a clean rear view.

Monday, 7 March 2016


The crunching of boots on the snow's crust gives away your presence. Still, with some care it's possible to get close. The woods seem to be their natural home.

We've often seen them eating bramble. But holly is more of a challenge; yet that's what the stag seemed to be doing. Some leaves are smoother and more tender than others.