Friday, 29 July 2016

Toby Jugs*

Having large ears helps when you want early notification of the need for a quick getaway. The size of the ears relative to the rest of the body reflects the young animals' vulnerability to predators.

Scientists tell us that ear size is not as important as what goes on inside the ear. But big ears do help. As someone with mild hearing loss I sometimes remove my hearing aid and cup hands behind my ears. The result is often better, and a more natural sound. So that's a thought for those who dream of redesigning the human body: should we evolve ears that get bigger as we get older?

* Rhyming slang

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Biodiversity Perversion

In the case of SRWT and the Eastern Moors people "biodiversity" defined in their terms is the stock response when they're called on to justify irrational management decisions. Usually these perversions take the form of attacking nature supposedly in the interests of this said biodiversity. In other words nature itself cannot be trusted. This leads to a certain scepticism whenever the word gets used by the conservation industry.

So I was drawn to the article in today's Guardian with the hardly surprising headline "Biodiversity greater in Earth's protected areas, study finds"

But other questions immediately rise up. For example, what kind of 'protected areas' and how are they managed? How much human intervention and is the land being protected from intrusive conservation projects? Do they mean SSSI and SACs? And how many were being improved/trashed by the dreaded conservation grazing?

But then I noticed that below the article comments were enabled and questions were being asked by others much more qualified than myself.

Young Calf

Out browsing on the hillside with mum.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Letter to M&S

Chris Packham continues his campaign to get driven grouse shooting banned.

Crumble or Pastry?

How do you like your bilberries? I'm now on my second bilberry pie of the season, though the latest one was more properly a crumble. Usually, however they're cooked, mine are combined with Bramley Apples. There's lots to debate about how you deal with a glut of the fruit and 2016 is the best of recent years.

One question that comes up regularly is "Where do you get the best specimens, in the woods or in the open?" This photo is taken in a very small clearing amid birch trees.

There's definitely a difference. They are darker and there is less foliage, making the picker's job easier. Those who insist that eating raw straight off the bush is the only way may also decide that the flavour is richer and rounder.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Ear to Stay

Bracken has residential appeal for the local hinds in summer. They like seclusion and not many of us choose to go far into the jungle. It's often possible to spot a pair of ears betraying their presence.

This one was solitary and large. There is still time for young to be born.

Be Seated

The Dryad's Saddle is an edible fungus. This specimen is best avoided. It's beside the first gatepost from the car park and canine friends pass this way.


Many of the favourite flowers have gone, leaving ripening fruit behind. But it's good that newcomers arrive in mid season and are easy to find. Where would we be without the enormous daisy family to entertain us and tease our abilities to identify. I did wish that Wall Lettuce could have a better name. It manages to be both delicate and statuesque.

The Umbellifers are essential to the wayside too.  By now we're into the phase of Hogweed and Ground Elder, before Angelica makes its appearance.

No Celebrity

The more there are the less notice we take of them. Bramble flowers are everywhere. Members of the great rose family they know how to attract insects. But humans care little, are impatient for them to be gone and replaced by the scrumptious fruit.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Pollinators need Pollen

We've drawn attention to it often enough. The local wildlife trust put so much of their time into office-based self-promotion that knowing or understanding what's happening on the land they've been trusted to manage takes a very low priority. In fact their publicity department, charged with giving SWT a high profile in the media seems in a different world to their nature reserves.

For instance  -  bees. Social media output from SRWT/SWT lately has been telling people like me  how important it is that there are plenty of flowers around to encourage bees and other pollinators. I have now received their advice several times, via Twitter.  So I ought to respond.


Well it's good of you, SRWT. I'm grateful,  but I already knew, and most of us did, that flowers are good for bees. I'm glad that you have discovered that too. Perhaps somebody told you and now you can't resist telling everyone else. I might mention that there is something you can do yourselves now that you're up to speed on this. Flowers, you see, are easily destroyed and they are then useless to bees and other insects. Cows and sheep are worth watching because they are especially efficient destructive agents. All their effort is dedicated to making life challenging for those who like flowers and the nectar and pollen in them. They do this by eating the plants and trampling on them. It is within your own power SRWT to make a difference here which might not have occured to you.
Come along with me almost any time and I will show you what the cows and sheep do on your 'nature reserve'.  They've about 80 acres to practice their flower destruction and what a fine job they've made of it. Now the cows have come onto the part you proudly call the heathland, and my word they've started well. Much still to do of course and being late there's need for a lot of catching up, but those great heavy feet are a real advantage when it comes to savaging the local vegetation.
Having dealt with the dear old melancholy thistle they're now homing in on one of the colonies of bog asphodel. The jaws have already been busy. We may have to wait for the trampling.

Pretty - Intrusive

I must have picked up 5 of these gas filled foil balloons over the last 12 months. I can't believe it's still legal to launch them.

Maybe a job for the new Environment Secretary. That's the one that favours fox hunting and doesn't accept climate change. I'm sure she'll sign the petition in the previous post, below.

I note this in today's paper:

 "Conservation and health groups have also lobbied the government this week, ahead of Leadsom’s appointment, to ensure that any future subsidies from the taxpayer are given only on condition of farmers fulfilling strict requirements to protect the environment"

They will be inisting then that those 'conservation grazing' cattle are not trashing the environment by trampling all over featured plantlife and defecating around gates and public benches. Just a thought.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Sign Here

No Merriness for the Melancholic

As posted recently, the Melancholy Thistle is reputed to make one as 'merry as a cricket' when in a decoction with wine.

Until yesterday there was just one specimen remaining here, the maximum I've ever seen on Blacka. Great efforts had been made during the winter to prepare the ground, e.g. by cutting back bramble to promote these plants normally not found in Sheffield and even cutting down hawthorn.

All to no avail.

This morning the smell told the story. The grass and flowers were all trampled.

The thistle in question was eventually found chopped off half way up the stem.

The cows had done their job, which, we all know, is to trash the natural vegetation. They call it 'conservation grazing'. I call it 'crop and crap'. Perhaps we should try 'conservation trashing'.

Last seen the heroes were gathered around the new access gate and the new bench.

I've not yet checked if some of this has been left on the bench.*

* Checked now and wiped off most of it.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

In Twos

The Twayblade Orchid is fairly common over much of the country but few people know it or could identify it. That's partly because it is hard to see and hard to find. I tried to go back to one I had seen the previous day and spent a long and frustrating time searching. That's explained by its disguised appearance- green flowers and erect stem blending with grasses etc.

It likes calcareous soil which means the only place you're likely to see it on Blacka is near the north boundary wall. I've found no more than two. And two is the number, for Twayblade is named because of the two opposite leaves at the base. I once thought it was because of the green flower being forked but apparently not.

Culpeper gives it an alternative name of Byfoil and recommends it for wounds "both green and old" and to "consolidate or knit ruptures".

Value Judgements

We human beings find it so difficult not to make value judgements laying ourselves open to charges of prejudice. Just one, of many, reasons I prefer to let nature go its own way.

A neighbour of mine grows orchids as a hobby. I have at times been entrusted with looking after his greenhouse when he was away on holiday, an unnerving responsibility. Some of the blooms are astonishingly beautiful and many are rare items. To compare them with our native flora would be invidious. But it happens.

To choose between those hothouse plants and our commonest native orchid the decision would still be difficult. But in this temperate country it's a matter of resisting the spectacular, the in-your-face and the artificial in nature, as with the brashness of Disney against the restrained artistry of E H Sheppard.

There's no commoner orchid in Britain than the Common Spotted Orchid but on Blacka I've only ever found it in two places which makes it special enough to earn a kind of local scarcity. Care needs to be taken identifying this because a Heath Spotted Orchid can look very similar.

One of these places is in the enclosure set aside for sheep where I've found it only once a year when sheep grazing did not happen.

The other place is interesting. It's where SWT has tried to cut a firebreak. The vegetation which included fast-regenerating birch was cut to within an inch or two of the ground. As things recoverd over several years from this brutality there was a resurgence in bilberry, mountain cranberry and lots of birch, rowan and oak scrub.  After a few years this orchid appeared last year, and now this.

The spots you might look for in a spotted orchid are not the marks on the petals here  ....

........... but those on the leaves.

Colours are variable and interpretations of 'pink' and 'purple' are according to choice.

My value judgement if charged to choose between the survival of this and the spectacular varieties imported and hybridised in greenhouses is not hard to make. Feeling right in this area is not just a whim; it's informed by knowing what nature is likely to produce in a certain country, climate, conditions; all these I know contribute to it feeling 'right'. Where Daisy and Buttercup and Cow Parsley are everywhere and yet still special, the Common Spotted is extra.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Joy in the Morning

Joy cometh in the morning these days when I reach this Rowan. Rain has kept the leaves green and fresh while the twigs and branches are encrusted with grey lichen. This tree could hardly become more alive but just as I get here that's what happens, as numerous small birds arrive to welcome me and the prospect of seed and cheese. Everywhere I look from the ground up to the tree's centre there is evidence of nature's ability to bring enchantment.

Joy in the Morning is the title of a miraculous book by Wodehouse guaranteed to lift the spirits of the depressed even more than Culpepper's decoction from Melancholy Thistle. It took its place in Robert McCrum's 100 best novels in the Guardian's series, and can bring tears of pleasure to those who had never before believed sentences composed only of words could be so perfect.

It may seem odd to compare the pleasures of observing unencumbered nature with the joyful artificiality of Wodehouse's parallel universe. But the world needs both and especially the best of both. Promotion of the second rate and meretricious can drain the optimism as when we move from Mozart and Beethoven to muzac in a department store.

We need to guide our young people towards the best that humanity has achieved and the best that nature can do. Second rate shouldn't be considered.


King James Bible Psalm 30:5

For his anger endures but for a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

What A Turn-Off

The publicity unit of the local conservation industry is doing its best but their message is utterly uninspiring. They are doomed to failure. Directing their propaganda for impoverished and exploited unnatural landscapes at the young is all very well. But you can't fool all the people all the time. Spectacular is a word that should be reserved for a landscape that's more than just a bit better than Tesco's car park. No wonder they look bored. Who's persuaded by this?

Embedded tweet from Eastern Moors:

Just imagine a landscape here that's truly spectacular, that's allowed to determine its own future unmanaged and unsuppressed, with native trees and native predators, wildlife such as lynx and wild boar. All is possible. Just held down by the jobsworth approach of farm subsidy and low expectations. We need to really inspire the young.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Rain Forest

It's understandable that July walks along paths overhung with tall bracken are not outstandingly popular. And when it's raining or has recently rained such walkers who are not watching sport on the box may be preferring the open and artificial parts of which there's plenty of choice,

For many the best time of year on Blacka is from January through to May and early June.

But there's much to value in July even around the bracken. Britain is rain forest territory and this is the time when it most feels like it. You just need the imagination and the eyes to see.


Responsibility and stress often go together. Today numerous bird families are freshly out of the nest and parents are trying to keep track. With large families a near impossible task. It was arguably easier when they were all contained in the nest.

Small warblers are dodging about partly hidden among birch leaves and catkins. Alarm calls are frequent.

Pipits and Larks are also struggling to maintain control of their semi independent broods, tempting them with treats in a way familiar to dog walkers.

Easy Vistas

People at SRWT like this view. To help them see it better they have installed a new gate and can get to a bench they recently placed on the inside of the western boundary wall. One big advantage of this view is that they do not have to walk very far to get to it. In fact if they unlock the padlocked post on the track by the car park they can actually drive right up to it along the track, as the grazier does when he comes to look at his stock. That could mean they can keep their office shoes on.

It's an attractive view  in a number of ways. In the foreground the bog in summer is occupied by white cotton grass in flower. Behind the open space is a wooded area dominated by birch, young oak, alder and beech. In the distance are farmed fields. I can remember from my childhood being taken to the top of the highest viewpoints and being thrilled to see picked out in sunlight miniature villages and model farmland with tiny patches of tree fringed green fields each one a different shape and none of them a lot bigger than the others. On a good day there are fine cloud formations above the distant horizons. All is easy on the eye.
Yet it's ironic that SRWT favours this view so much and uses it on its publicity. More than ten years ago they tried to ruin it by applying strong poison to many of the nearby trees; I counted  getting on for a hundred of them. These were left for dead while still standing, an utterly depressing sight in spring and summer when they were conspicuous as skeletons while all around the greenery was flourishing. By now there has been substantial visual recovery though chain saw man still practices his insensitive trade in winter. The trust's managers were also indifferent to the need to remove the power line that defaced the central part of the view.They considered it was not their job to concern themselves with aesthetic matters. Only after FoBM and I pushed for it was this removed. SRWT of course never thanked us but one should be grateful that they at least by their actions acknowledge the improvement. One should also point out that if SWT had been here many years before they came this view would have looked very different, much bleaker and with far fewer trees. That may yet be its fate if they pursue their fundamentalist approach any further.

The new gate they have installed is an aluminium one which means that it reflects the sunlight clashing with the naturalness of the surroundings. This is how it looks, glinting in the sun, as seen from Blacka Hill.

This is not the first time that this spot has had inappropriate treatment. Early on in their tenure SWT erected an astonishingly ugly wooden structure here, meant to be for making compost. It never worked - in fact little effort was made, but the walls and uprights were conspicuous from a fair distance, leading to requests for battlements to complete the fortress effect. Eventually after several years the facility was decommissioned, the structure fell into ruin and was finally removed. The legacy of this is now with us in the form of a large colony of very tall stinging nettles which even come over the wall to be companiable with anyone sitting on the new bench.

This whole area with just a few scattered trees is looking as well as it could this summer. The failure to get the cows onto the moor for whatever reason, means that some more natural effects have been allowed to establish.

Flowering grasses waving in the breeze are better looking than what remains after the crop and crap management has had its way.

Friday, 8 July 2016

No Cheer Here

They've certainly not been eating the Melancholy Thistle and might benefit from a few decoctions from the vet. They look thoroughly miserable. As one who's said "How now?" to many a brown cow I bear them no malice as individuals but there is no doubt they set a depressing blight upon any area of land they occupy. It hardly needs spelling out. Just look at any patch of ground where they've spent an hour or two, look at the barbed wire and badly maintained gates, the smell, the way they huddle together in collective despondency.

There's a near palpable sense of strain in the words of any apologists for the dreaded 'Conservation Grazing'. Yes it's still happening, impervious to being comprehensively discredited.

Heres a recent 'tweet' found on Natural England's site desperate as ever. The brainwashed out to trickle down the brainwashing.
All this nonsense is part of a coordinated effort on the part of those who have a vested interest in cows and conservation grazing to combat a growing scepticism. Just as the manufacturers of Coca Cola want every man, woman and child to be drinking their product throughout the day, the cow industry is not content with just providing us with milk and butter but must invade every corner of the nation. Thus we now have Cow Appreciation day for gods sake.  That they can afford to promote this indicates they're already making lots of money out of their business.

While we're on the subject of nonsense what about the story of the escaped lynx from the zoo? Panic fomented yet lynx were once common here and are quite harmless, while the introduced and largely non-native cattle we see in farms are responsible for deaths and injuries each year.

Three Crows

Not sitting on a wall and certainly not a cold and frosty morning.

Monday, 4 July 2016

"What Shall We Do Today?"

This piece in today's paper is probably about someone working in finance, but it just seemed like what goes on in the conservation industry. There must be many of them wandering around not quite sure what to do with their time.

It's something that crops up regularly when people meet on the moor and cast eyes over the work of 'conservation man'. How do they spend their day? And why is there such a skewed idea of priorities?

For example, why were these sheep straying across the moor when £35-40,0000 of public money has been spent on  imprisoning them behind an impregnable wall topped with barbed wire? Bewildered punters questioning this expense were told it was vital to prevent the sheep, er, escaping. The success of this can be measured by the number of weeks (now months?) the woollies have been migrating.

Answer: because a hole has been left in the wall and the wire fence is in a sorry state, - the case for more than a month. Worry not the 'Rangers are on the case and they work like greased lightning. Expect action before the next referendum.

Being a Ranger means using social media because the Virtual is so much more real and more important than the 'real' Real. Those who walk here and use our eyes are of no consequence. It's those whose heads are down and eyes glued to the smartphone who are the prime target. Reality of the other kind is so yesterday. The key task is to create an impression and whether it's accurate or not doesn't matter.

Other useful activities for the conservation industry? Well forget the mess created by livestock and the incomplete boundaries, the failure to provide a proper car park, the urgent need to get rid of barbed wire.......

Start up a group of Ranger Tots

Conservation has found its own level.


      What would the world be, once bereft
      Of wet and wildness? Let them be left.
      O let them be left, wildness and wet:
      Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

                                           Gerard Manley Hopkins

Missing Presumed Infused

The Melancholy Thistle was there two days ago. It was not today. Look out for someone 'merry as a cricket'.

Last year at this time a Spotted Orchid vanished overnight. Is there a serial and seasonal criminal about?


7th July 

Another Thistle has now appeared. This is now the only one.

Mon Repos

These are the bracken lovers. If trees were here instead or as well they would still love it.  They've made this bracken patch  their summer home in other years. It must have special significance; probably because it doubles as a lookout post. The fronds waving about may also help to deter midges.

Meanwhile our lovely conservation people are scratching their heads for something to do. Bracken clearance is one of the ideas that's come up.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Midge Protection

This is high season for the little bu***rs. Living in a consumer society means we think we should be able to go into a shop and buy a simple solution to the problem. Myself I’ve found the sprays etc don’t work. Putting over your face a kind of net curtain is just too inconvenient. You can’t see properly and if you try to take a photograph you might lift it and trap several of them inside; and I prefer not to upset them. My current choice is to drape various fern leaves from my hat. I’m told this could become fashionable but the jury's still out on its effectiveness.

The very best solution is to whistle up a wind. Fresh breezes work well; otherwise just keep moving. The higher and more exposed your position the better.

Stags understand this. These have abandoned the sheltered and midge dominated spots for higher reaches which have another advantage – they can see easily what’s going on below.

There's plenty of food around too. But it must be bliss to get some peaceful sleep free from attack.