Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Seasonal Terms

On this last day of August it's been hard to escape hearing the word Autumn. And seeing fallen leaves on footpaths and brightly coloured berries hanging from trees usually prompts such thoughts. There's also the end of summer holidays and the depressing thoughts of returns to work.

But autumn spring and summer are human constructs not understood or recognised by nature. Winter is a closing down that is clear enough. But once life starts in spring no two weeks are similar enough to deserve the same limiting word. Different plants and animals thrive and draw back according to rhythms and sequences that are not universally shared. Each week has its own character from the Coltsfoot in March  and then Wood Sorrel in April to the deer rut in October. But there are many other landmarks on the way and they are not the same at all levels. I always think of the Cow Parsley season as just one example. Maybe we should have a Burdock fruit season or a Hogweed Seedtime.

Admittedly they don't always roll off the tongue as easily as Summer and Autumn but that's the tyranny of language, over-generalising when it can get away with it.


When the previous day was wet and gloomy it's the most rewarding experience to be out early on a fresh sunny morning. It's the light of course and the intense way it reveals colours.

Down below in the wettest woodland plumes of water vapour rise like bonfire smoke.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Signs and Times

Walkers groups have done sterling work over the years. Footpaths need to be kept open and any indication that landowners might be making things difficult should be resisted. Public access is now legally protected but some who wish to keep us off the land find ways to get round the regulations and that's where experienced old hands are useful. Among these are the members of the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society.

The names on the small notice attached here go back a very long way and much has changed since G H B Ward was a major figure in access campaigns. The question might be asked : what is its role today? Many campaigns and battles from the old days have been won. There are still public access issues especially on private land. But here and for many miles around the land is public. On some of the new issues that have arisen the PNFS and other groups such as the Ramblers seem to have little to say, or if they do it gets said where others can't easily hear it. I'm thinking here of the stakeholder groups of the conservation charities and of the Local Access Forums where members are pre selected by officers and where minutes are either not available or are only sketchy.

The PNFS does not take a position, for example, on the campaign by cyclists to get access to footpaths in addition to bridleways. I have often suspected that they lend their support to conservation people who go in for very intrusive management such as the farm management of public land on the moors which would go further than commenting on access implications.

On the question of cycling I can't see why they should hold back. Surely if they mean anything in this century they should be taking a firm stand, one way or another. Of course they may be more reluctant to take on young bikers than tweedy landowners.

Some walkers on Blacka Moor see the new signs that have been going up as more than the minimum requirement and feel that there is a danger that they go beyond simply useful and become another way of managers publicising their role. There have certainly been a lot of new posts gone up lately. It would be helpful to know what they thought of the flagstones on Blacka.

And what about footpath blocking by these characters?

Friday, 26 August 2016

Them or Us?

Not to make good use of these lingonberries when there's a record harvest should make us feel guilty.

And it's one of the easiest preserves to make.

Not sentiments shared by a letter writer in this week's Sheffield Telegraph. She thinks we should leave the wild fruit for the birdies, and tells us she has railed at people taking all the blackcurrants (?) on a bush near Fox House, leaving nothing left for the wild birds. I think it may be blackberries or even bilberries she's referring to - could even be a sub editing error.

I have no sympathy with this point of view and will continue taking bilberries, lingonberries and blackberries from Blacka. It's not just that my heart has been hardened by years of experience of birds stripping my garden fruit ruthlessly while obstinately ignoring the slugs and snails that are everywhere and easy to find.

The fruit on Blacka - close to Fox House - is always more than enough for bird and man. And this year has been truly exceptional. I watch the birds, often assembled in family parties, taking the fruit until eventually they decide they've had enough. Towards Christmas the fruit disappears and the birds have moved on, not because of a shortage but because that is their regular seasonal habit. Some migrate others drop down into the lower land where bird tables offer temptation. One exception to this is the flocks of migrating thrushes passing over during winter months though they prefer the tree fruit on Rowan, never much targetted by foraging humans; even then the berries around suburban gardens tends to be more attractive to them.

Great crops of bilberry and lingonberry like those we have are a feature of managed landscapes that have been benignly or accidentally neglected. Blacka's character is one part way along the road of natural succession. In between the over exploitation of intense livestock grazing and, once that's removed, the succession to woodland some fascinating and delightful examples of nature doing its own thing make life interesting. SRWT as we know want to carry on imposing their human will on a land that resents and resists. Two years ago a strip was cut to near ground level as a firebreak, a pretty ineffective one, Lots of berries started to grow after a while but so did scores of birch trees which they now plan to cut back. It was predictable. Further back, not part of that management, is the most productive area of fruit with just a few birch growing. Lesson: the more you manage the more you have to manage. All gardeners know this. Why garden what you choose to call wild land?

Thursday, 25 August 2016


As cows go she's got everything in the right place and will do a job. As large herbivorous animals go she's stupid and has to be told to get out of the way, lacking the awareness of her surroundings and the keen intelligence of a wild beast, all  that comes from a constant need to put survival first.

Beauty comes into it too.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016


The heather fetishists on Twitter are slavering seasonally over the purple monoculture as treeless hills are briefly daubed with low-cut glad rags to celebrate the bank holiday weekend.

Tweet one

We know why they do this. In a few weeks of over indulgence they see a justification for 11 months of persecution and exploitation. Jobs for managers. Driven grouse shooting may be worse but it's a matter of degree.

Tweet two

Common heather = boring heather. Worse when it's responsible for anti-tree management.

Thursday, 18 August 2016



Poor visibility but still things we only see just like this in later August.

Above outside the fenced in livestock enclosures. Below inside.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Shortened Walks

It's getting hard to make much progress these days. Too much distraction.

Monday, 15 August 2016


A promising morning, sunny and still. A bit of mist was hanging over parts of the moor. The bilberries, many covered with condensation, were large and inviting alongside flowering heather.

But aerial combat soon began. Some days it's just midges. Others it's just flies. This morning it was both and they meant business. Some of us have the marks to show.

The cows then appeared on our path, doubtless in search of clear water. There's not much of that.

But there's plenty of this.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Natural Beauty Doesn't Count

'Nature Counts' is one of SRWT's 'initiatives' to get themselves noticed. It is reductive.

Being essentially a bubble organisation inflated by publicity and office based public relations, they like to keep in the public eye. A vital part of their operations is the need to come up with new projects. In this they resemble commercial businesses driven  to create new lines and improved packaging; except in the case of SRWT everything looks strained and amateurish, all duff marketing and no content, relying heavily on vacuous facebook likes.

You get a good picture of this from their use of social media where mini project ideas surface and then fade away. This one may carry on a bit longer because it's central to their whole approach, and explains what's wrong with it. To emphasise what is countable is to reduce the beauty and complexity of nature and natural sites to a clipboard and tick list.

Counting, as with statistics, gives a false sense of security to those who struggle to make a judgement, who have no education in evaluating beyond the bare fact of a figure or a percentage.  And it's already part of what they do. e.g.  ...the target is to destroy ten trees, say, so the one that stands out as of stunning elegance goes along with others less distinctive. Eighty deer need to be slaughtered and the process is about numbers again. What about what things look like?

Volunteers and supporters are encouraged to count nature too. So some simple arithmetical suggestions.
1 Try adding up the cowpats and then see how the numbers compare with what the wildlife leaves behind, if you can find any of the latter at all.
2 Do the same with sheep defecation in the enclosure.
3 Get hold of the figures relating to farm subsidies and Higher Level Stewardship and add it all up.
4 Find out how much public money has been spent on walling and barbed wire  - and who's benefited from it.

A bit of the hype from their website:

"Through collaborative citizen science involving volunteers, the general public and expert biological recorders, our exciting two-year project will collect and collate data on Sheffield’s key species and habitats to produce an innovative State Of Nature report for Sheffield"

A View or a Good View?

People say they like walking on hills because they like to see a view. But is that enough? If you've walked for more than an hour mostly uphill surely you deserve not just a view or even an extensive view but a good view, not one that's blighted by the result of poor planning decisions. Conspicuous mass-produced artefacts hardly help and not architecturally gross and ugly structures placed where you can't ignore them.

Green fields can be attractive from a distance if there are enough trees around whatever they look like close to (these days farmland usually lacks variety). This is the point of the green belt. Once you allow development you have to accept that most of it will be low grade and designed with profit in mind.

The problem is that we simply cannot trust the decision makers. It was officers of Sheffield City Council's Planning Department who reported to the Planning Committee on this ugly building as a replacement for another building that made hardly any impression on the view. Their failure to flag up any concerns indicates that they have no sense of guardianship of landscape values. The politicians on the committee were similarly insensitive. The judgement of council officers and elected members simply cannot be trusted. There's no alternative to getting involved ourselves. But it's always a battle because the decision makers have a fair inkling that their judgement will eventually be shown up as poor. They even defend themselves by claiming authority based on their position or by virtue of having been elected. What does some pressure group know, they say, nobody's elected them.

This architectural monstrosity would have been inappropriate anywhere but it is placed in a setting  which would have been relished by the architects who built Chatsworth House and Keddleston Hall. Instead we've got something that combines the tasteless with the conspicuous. Walk along Shorts Lane and you will see the white UPVC window frames. The developers changed their mind half way through construction and stuck on an extra floor at the top to squeeze in more residents (and more profit). When the sun strikes the roof people walking on Blacka can't ignore the reflection. Why DVS didn't object strongly is a mystery.

This view is now at its best for a few minutes in the morning just before the sun gets round and the building itself is in shade while nearby spaces are highlighted.

How the Land Lies and Why?

I often find myself noting the local conservation industry's peculiar relationship with the truth. But fallible as they are they are minor offenders compared to the wealthy countryside  lobby represented by the shooting industry. Is it something to do with owning land? Can it be the possession of large tracts of countryside affects the brain to the extent it makes the landowners think that the wider public will believe anything they say? The claims made by the shooters that managing moors for grouse benefits conservation are more barmy than the average party political manifesto. But then the calculation must be that most people never visit them so will believe any case that's plausibly presented. And that's why they cultivate the media as they do, from the humble press release to sophisticated wining and dining of newspaper proprietors.

Some letters on the subject.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Forty Mile View

Walking  the track along Blacka's western boundary below Totley Moor we usually look to the East. When the morning is cloudless that means looking into the sun. Heavy cloud overhead hides the sun but should it be bright over the level landscape into Lincolnshire certain features become conspicuous.

Near the A1 the first power station is in operation.

The next one is resting perhaps because demand in August is limited.

The third feature is further away by another ten miles and is almost directly East. It is of course Lincoln Cathedral.

Foolhardy Beefing

The annual farce played out in the media around 12th August was this year made more entertaining by the sporting analogies of no balls and own goals on the part of Ian Botham, once cricketing hero, now dressed up as anti-wildlife villain. His decision to make a personal attack on Chris Packham backfired spectacularly. The petition to parliament started by Mark Avery and supported by Packham had initially done quite well but was quite a long way short of the necessary 100k signatures to get MPs to debate it. All yesterday after Botham's attack on Packham the numbers signing shot up until it was inevitable that the target would be reached.

People sometimes forget that the successful all rounder was not a good captain. And grouse shooting's wealthy PR savvy backers must be wishing he had kept his mouth shut.

Packham's on a bit of a roll at the moment as M&S has decided to stop selling grouse after his intervention. And the BTO has denied that Botham's statistics on bird numbers came from them. Not Beefy's day. He may be the victim of reading too many articles in the Times and Spectator by the appalling Lord Ridley, a many-times discredited columnist whose picture over columns in the Times always makes me think of Dr Strangelove.

Perhaps it's mean to remember that the RSPB has not denied that it also shoots animals on its reserves when they don't fit with its own agenda. Still a long way to go to get real wildlife sanctuaries.

Friday, 12 August 2016


This follows from the previous post about verge cutting.

A few weeks ago motorists driving towards Sheffield during the peak commuter time were approaching the notorious blind bend at Piper House, scene of a number of serious accidents including fatalities, had to apply their brakes suddenly because tractors wielding verge cutting attachments were busy at a critical spot. Anyone considering overtaking would have been taking a serious risk for themselves and anyone coming from the opposite direction.

At the same time another tractor was cutting the verge on the other side of the road.

Did the verge need cutting at all? And why does this stretch of road remain a 60 mph limit when much of the network in Derbyshire is now 50?

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Verge Maintenance

Roadside verges, train embankments and cuttings, sundry bits of land someone's just forgotten, all these are valued by those who know as places mostly free from human interference. Wildlife in the form of flowers and insects, sometimes small mammals, learn to thrive outside the blight of management.

Last year the Streets Ahead programme came along numerous roads on the outskirts of Sheffield, inside the land referred to as a national park, and sprayed weedkiller at the base of walls leaving the ugly brown stains of dead plants conspicuous to all who travelled this way. Other parts of the verges were mown early in the year. Previous years the more relaxed management had allowed many wild flowers to bloom.  Eventually some officers with relevant jobs in conservation and the city council, responding to complaints from the public, let it be known that they had struck some kind of agreement with the highways people. Cutting would be done in a new way and weedkiller avoided.

We can now see the difference. No brown stains and a wide swathe of short mown grass alongside the road; a narrow area further back has been allowed to go its own way, for now.  Some may find this pretty, or perhaps tidy.

Compare with this from August 15th  4 years ago.

This was at the lay-by on the other side of the road.

 It's now just short grass.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Flagging Up Hazards

Several people have slipped on the new flagstones across Cowsick bog. These were installed at great expense using helicopters and a dedicated team from the National Trust.

The winter hazards in freezing conditions are well known. Now, during a dry summer spell, most of the flagstones are wet and greasy.

What seems to have happened is that rushes growing right up to the path are shading over the route giving little chance for drying out. Previously the route taken by people was less narrow leading to a broadening out which kept vegetation down and allowing a slightly wider pathway to dry out.

Even More

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


Now the freezer is at capacity level there's no motive for keeping quiet about it any longer. There is more than enough for everyone from the casual browser to the determined producer of bespoke preserves. There has never to my knowledge been a better year for bilberries. Not just bilberries either. Almost ready are the lingonberries or mountain cranberries. All due to the calm conditions in early spring.

Rowanberries and blackberries still to come. A veritable cornucopia.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Political Scrapping

Conservation and land management are seriously political activities. Being so a lot of money goes into the warfare between contending parties not to mention in-fighting and backstabbing among those who are supposed to be on the same side. Diplomacy occasionally makes an appearance but soon gets derailed by the scuffles, the misinformation and the fog of war.

Already mentioned has been the petition from Mark Avery against driven grouse shooting and the letter to Marks and Spencer from Chris Packham.

No single interest group is better resourced than the grouse shooting industry, well linked as it is to the old money of landed gentry and the new money of the London business and financial sectors. Its expertise and its energies are well known, an education to anyone wishing to understand the British establishment. They lobby like nobody else, are impeccably 'well-connected' and know just how to wield influence. While they prefer to remain in the background, when a major issue surfaces in relation to game shooting they move swiftly to discredit their critics and flood the media with press releases littered with phony statistics and dodgy claims; truth is of no importance beside the power to get your message across to the right people.  When we listen to them we may soon find ourselves believing the UK is the envy of the world and incredibly lucky to have such enlightened and saintly landowners. They also are proof that their propaganda scores well with many of the sub-species who troll in social media as seen below Chris Packhams's Youtube video.

Tactics used by the grouse shooting lobby are sophisticated and include making themselves look bigger than they really are and disguising themselves in identical clothing to their opponents. One way they do this is by setting up multiple pressure groups. So the GWCT (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust) has, I'm convinced, a membership composed of largely the same people as the BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) and the Heather Trust and the Moorland Association; and all share membership with the Countryside Alliance. But the aim is to speak as separate entities in lobbying governments and government agencies thus appearing to represent an overwhelming rural voice. It's easy to see: "We, the So and So Association represent x thousand members and we think thus ....." and at the same time "We the Such and Such Trust" have y thousand members and ... etc." Yet how many members are common to both and others lobbying for the same thing?

The RSPB with an enormous membership has recently been engaging with these other interests, mostly shooters, in an effort to get some kind of compromise agreement. The RSPB has now withdrawn, realising there's no progress to be made with these groups.

It would perhaps be easier for the RSPB to put across a consistent case against  the excesses of the shooting interests if it did not itself shoot foxes and other entirely natural predators.

Introductions and Removals

While consideration is being given to reintroducing lynx in the north east and border country the recent accidental reintroduction of a lynx to the uplands of Dartmoor has been brought to an end by its recapture. I wonder how much this operation cost? Yet very few people suggested it should be left or even joined by a few more. The usual cries of agony from sections of the farming industry meant that no expense would be too great. Despite very few sheep being targetted by lynx, who like to stay in the woods, these privileged lobbyists are quick to speak out while few dare to bring up the question of sheep dying through bad practice and poor husbandry.

There's always been a tendency for humans to want to kill off wild animals either directly or by destroying their natural habitats.

Lynx were native in these islands until about 400 AD.
The wolf existed until the 16th century in England and Wales and the 18th century in Scotland.
The brown bear was here until about 1000 AD
Beavers could be found in Britain until the 16th century.

The beaver of course is now being reintroduced as a trial in Scotland and Devon. I can imagine there are shooters around anxious to have the chance to intervene if the trial is halted.

The common thread with any reintroduction of animals that once had every right to be here is the opposition from farmers. In my experience most farmers like to use their guns. The victims are often crows and rabbits, not to forget the pheasant a bird that has no native right to be here, thousands being imported (don't say 'reintroduced') each year to satisfy the shooters.

I've noticed that SRWT tweets about beavers on the River Otter where Devon Wildlife Trust are in on the project. But nothing as yet about lynx although the Scottish Wildlife Trust is supporting reintroduction. They (the Scottish WT) are, of course, a separate organisation and not part of the RSWT.