Friday, 31 March 2017

'Treasure' and Pillage

As we discovered after the 2nd World War, interesting things grew and thrived on bomb sites. But then there was no call for a policy of conserving bomb sites and making more. Mainly perhaps because nobody had been canny enough to identify an opportunity to make a personal profit.

If you want evidence of just how hard the brainwashers have been working in rural England you could do not much better than study comments below the line (and sometimes above it) in The Times, Guardian etc. The better news is that you may also find evidence that some voices are beginning to resist it. There may be a parallel with antibiotics. You can only use the same arguments so much before they get rumbled.

Our regular narrative about preferring tree planting to tree destruction has over the last year or so been reflected in articles in national media. The latest I've seen is this one from Alice Thomson in the The Times of Wednesday 29th March and it's closely related to things frequently touched on here. It's headed:
For the love of Britain, plant more trees

Commenters below the line in The Times often like to point out what they consider to be fallacies and misconceptions in the main article and in the responses of fellow commenters. One comment I spotted was this:

"I wish the bodies concerned ( the Forestry Commission, the National Trust, the National Park Authority) would start planting trees in the New Forest National Park rather than just cutting them down. However clearing the 'forest' to create more of the euphemistically named Open Forest (heathland) takes priority and enables ever more intensive meat farming (commoning) of the New Forest".

Which predictably resulted in a put-down along the usual lines from a ‘know-all’ who is either part of the interested rural industry or has been propagandised by one, i.e. Countryside Alliance, B.A.S.C., NFU, Natural England or various conservation interests reliant on environmental grant funding. Here it comes:

"Sorry Richard, but no ……  'open forest' is not a silly euphemism, but a very fair description of how this habitat was historically. Heathland has become a rare habitat, and needs to be treasured. Lastly you can hardly call this intensive meat farming, not when the animals are roaming around outside. Again, this is traditional, and an integral part of how our forests were managed historically."
(boldtype from me)

This narrative crops up time and again, so consistent in using the same tediously repeated terms that it’s easily identifiable as a case of brainwashing underpinned by self-interest. Each of these key words deserves to be scrutinised with the utmost rigour. Heathland, far from being a treasure, originates in exploitation sometimes akin to ravaging whereby the severely reduced quality of the land becomes only fit for a limited range of wildlife and even then has to have constant intervention to stay the same. i.e. exploitation in perpetuity. Treasured or pillaged?

The question demands to be asked yet rarely is: how come that a model of artificial landscape that depends on the land being for many years plundered and crushed and all its most majestic wildlife persecuted and expelled, namely 'heathland' gets to be given such status? The inescapable answer is that it has happened and continues to be through the self-interest and profit of powerful groups.

But the basis of their power is often public money that enables these groups to maintain their grip on this undoubtedly most perverse of narratives i.e. that when it comes to nature it is not nature itself that knows best but man, the very agent responsible for the land's original and continuing exploitation. 

Not for the first and surely not the last time, we ask: How the hell did nature cope before man, specifically ‘management man’, with his chain-saw and herd of cattle, came along to show it the ‘right way’?

Tuesday, 28 March 2017


When the Chiff Chaff is heard then spring is confirmed. This spell qualifies as settled when 5 days have dried much of the mud on paths. And in places bilberry has flowered.

Rather different to conditions like this at 6.30 am on Sheephill Road when two Roe Deer dashed across in front of the car.

Monday, 27 March 2017


This morning it was good to meet again the young deer with the hairy coat. He seems susceptible to static electricity. He ran off in the direction of some very indignant hinds.

As Predicted

They can't complain they were not warned, and a little over a week from installing. Vandalism was mentioned more than once by those who had reservations about these panels. And a point was made that SWT does not respond swiftly with maintenance issues, witness the writing on the bench below Piper House which still remains after many weeks. But the attitude may be: why should we bother, we don't see it regularly, if others are offended that's their problem.  In this case they may make an exception as they don't like being shown to be wrong quite so publicly. And after all it's only a step or two outside the car. Whereas it's five minutes walk to the bench so that may have to be left.

Sunday, 26 March 2017


There is no bus shelter at this stop along Hathersage Road at Piper House. This is what it looks like from the bridleway on Blacka Moor below the road. Despite the often poor weather here installing a shelter would probably not be wise and could be costly. Regularly over many years vehicles have collided at speed with the bus stop, sometimes shooting the car and stop over the wall.

The wall itself benefits the trees below giving protection from the north and west winds. Elsewhere at a similar altitude Elder is showing no sign of spring growth.

Just Asking

Shouldn't we be asking why basic services are so difficult to get right when vanity projects just sail through unchallenged.

This is typical of the condition of one part of Blacka and the state it's been in for as long as we can remember, with apparently no management interest in putting it right. Nobody as far as I am aware has protested against any work being done to put it right.

Meanwhile despite four people making representations against this has gone ahead at, we estimate, a sizeable cost.

Isn't it good practice to clear away the mess before you start tarting up?


Some of these may be mothers already, others may soon be.

Saturday, 25 March 2017


No, we don't want masses of intrusive footpath management that goes as far  as using helicopters to drop in scores of flagstones. But it's clear that the Wildlife Trust employees have time on their hands and not much idea what to do with it, witness the unnecessary chain-saw activity and the installation of interpretation boards. So why not use the natural material that's readily available to improve things here?

There is a lot of dry bracken in parts of Blacka.

There is also lots of felled rhododendron that could be utilised. Though I hesitate to suggest anything that brings in more machinery, e.g. shredders. And I guess of the two options anything that involves noisy machines will always be preferred.

Looking On


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Early Start


The first flower to show here. Coltsfoot each year braves the unpredictable conditions of March leaving its leaves behind somewhat better protected. They later become some of the largest leaves of any wayside wild flower.

Elvish Cuisine

Not many edible fungi around in March. One that does appear around now is the Scarlet Elf Cap.

Recipes available online. Look out for it on dead wood.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


Fastest off the mark in Birch buds are those on the scrub low down and thus more sheltered.

Doubtless Wood Sorrel is more advanced down near Shorts Lane. Up here the leaves are just showing alongside some purposeful grass blades.

At the Wall Caff we now are seeing a pair of Long-Tailed Tits joining the BlueTits, Coal Tits and Great Tits present throughout the winter. The newcomers are particularly fond of the nut feeder.
But their tails can cause a bit of a tangle when both are feeding.

That's not a problem here:

Buzzing Away

If we ever wondered who is responsible for setting the rules allowing conservation organisations to be bribed to work against nature via farm subsidies....... UnNatural England looks pretty pleased with itself. Perhaps they are congratulating themselves on, for example, the number of native trees felled, the grants for more fences and walls, the failures to monitor compliance with environmental regulations on farms, etc.

Labels and Descriptions


Roe Deer are sometimes seen in these trees in the early hours and they were there this morning their presence given away by their white patches bobbing and dancing. Later on we find  footprints.

Small prints usually mean Roe rather than Red but you have to consider that there's not much difference between a full sized doe and a small hind. Catkins are nearby fallen to the ground as a seasonal reminder ....

.. and in the Alders alongside the stream.

The land in the top picture is all part of Blacka and called persistently by SWT its 'nature reserve'; a symptom of their nervousness is the regularity with which the word 'reserve' gets used in relation to Blacka. This is stretching the truth to the point that the Trades Description regulations might be invoked. The strip where the trees are and where the Roe Deer were seen is closest to being 'natural' and nature is even there under threat with trees gradually being felled to provide employment to SWT's chain saws. Obviously the treeless field at the top is rigidly under management control being kept simply as farmland where recreational activity and nature itself get precious little look-in. In the foreground leggy heather is protected from natural succession by managerial 'scrub bashing' laughably organised as a recreational leisure activity for a small posse of volunteers; and of course paths are trashed by cows outside the winter months. Nature Reserve? Current vogue phrases might be invoked, but no word or phrase these days is proof against redefinition.

Friday, 17 March 2017


This is a crumby photograph. But in a way it gives an impression of wildlife on Blacka that's fairly accurate. No sooner do you see some creatures than they are gone at great speed. This is true of birds and mammals. But mammals can be particularly elusive.

The white patch is a giveaway and sometimes that's all you see. Luckier pictures of roe deer are here and here.

Thursday, 16 March 2017


Those trees that develop multiple trunks can be some of the most interesting visually. While a single strong leader is everyone's idea of a typical tree form, in natural and unmanaged woods we're more likely to come across diverse and 'non-standard' forms. Some of us think this has more character and interest.

It's intriguing in each case to speculate how this 'natural coppicing' has occurred. It may be that the very young tree has been nibbled by some species of wildlife or even damaged in a fire. Clever detective work may reveal some clues.

This multiple trunking is particularly common in Rowan and far less so in Pine or Oak.

Head Start

On the younger stag whose old antlers are simple spikes the new improved developing versions are already making an impact in the form of prominent bumps, sometimes referred to as a burr. This feature tends to become noticeable on mature animals only after old ones have dropped.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Still Intact

Antlers are on borrowed time but maybe the Ides of March will make a difference. He's one of the bigger ones so we might expect his to fall early on.

My own sightings of stags have been fewer than usual mainly down to lack of mobility and limited opportunities for exploring, so good to see this fine animal. He also had ways of his own for remaining unseen.

I had been standing still for several minutes before I spotted him. Once he knew the game was up he moved ahead keeping as much dignity as he could, aided by the vapourising breath.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Our Representatives Working for Us

The planning application for the interpretation boards mentioned in this post was duly presented to the Peak District Planning Committee on Friday and approved by officers and elected members with barely a murmur. Neither the applicant nor the officer was asked a single question.

There are some conscientious public servants in national and local government and there are some elected members from various political parties who take their duties seriously when they serve on committees. Observation suggests they are a small minority and that many committees within local government either struggle with tasks beyond them or see their roles as simply filling a place because someone's got to do it. You get some idea of the way things are if you listen to the audio file of the meeting available online. It's  on this page; Click on Planning Committee for 2017-03-10. then scroll down and click the blue arrow against number 15 to listen. The printed minutes available do not even mention the item in question. This link has been changed from the original posted on Tuesday.

In theory all decisions taken by supposedly democratic institutions such as The Peak National Park Authority or Sheffield City Council should be put to a process of scrutiny and committees such as this one are part of that system. Unfortunately the quality of members is often unsatisfactory and scrutiny is rarely adequate nevermind rigorous. In this case there had been four carefully written objections which were probably not even read by members. The SWT applicant's statement that these were from a minority who opposed everything they did was not challenged or even queried. No other discussion happened.

There is a context for this sad state of affairs. The Westminster Communities and Local Government Select Committee is concerned at the state of scrutiny across local government and has called for evidence in order to produce a report and make recommendations. Locally Sheffield for Democracy has produced its own submission relating to Sheffield City Council and it can be read here.

Monday, 13 March 2017

What is 100%?

How should we interpret this message and the importance of the picture accompanying it?

Are these plantings the 30%? And is the whole of the pictured landscape the full 100%? If so is it planned that the whole area in the scene will become woodland? In which case are farm animals to be in future excluded from here?

It would be nice to know.


This spectral vision is without doubt the spirit of one of the birches ruthlessly murdered by the chain-saw gang earlier this year.

Who said trees have no souls? I looked again and it wasn't there.

Down Below

March has usually been a month when those living underground become very active closer to the surface.

These casts are a bit smaller and not so conspicuous.

The world of moles and molecatchers is the subject of this fascinating long article in The Guardian. Well worth reading.


Camelias may be blooming down below and roses being pruned while the dunnocks have been behaving shamelessly for a couple of weeks. And this morning sleeping with a window wide open I could hear a distant blackbird across the rooftops at 5 am; the large full moon may have been a stimulus.

Up here signs of spring are less easy to find but do exist. Many of our native trees take a cautious approach.

Oak may still carry some of last year's leaves but small robust buds can be found.

Bilberry is looking more perky now.

Other trees such as rowan may be so covered in lichens and mosses that buds are all but invisible.

In fact for parts of Blacka the lichens and mosses remain the star performers, making the best of the last weeks before foliage and the blossoms take over. There are fantasy worlds ....

.... and jewellery displays.

The upright trunks have more restrained decorative effects.

Meanwhile more bird song is heard each day. The curlew, that summer time lover of exploited farmland occasionally calls overhead gifting some phrases to the song thrush in the woods.

Saturday, 11 March 2017


Thoughts arising from Eastern Moors tree plantings and impacts on the view. The awkward question is about how things harmonise with the landscape and the view.

It's common to hear people to tell you that any sensitivities about what looks good or 'right' in a view is all a matter of  personal  preference and there's no absolute criteria.

The trouble with the charge of subjectivity is that it's so often used to close down any discussion. Things are rarely as simple as "You like that, but I like this". Opinions change and attitudes develop.

So the farmer who said "I like open landscapes" after I brought up the lack of trees expected that to be a final word. It was never going to be a long discussion so I concluded with "You want this, I want that, we'll never agree so why not let nature decide?"

Of course someone whose livelihood and that of his family was built on hundreds of years of sheep farming won't have the same perspective on landscape. In another context the 19th century owners of dark satanic mills and steel works might have seen beauty in the factories and smoke of old Manchester and Sheffield. I' m sure some of them did. And those who love drystone walls especially those whose job if is to build them wont necessarily agree with my comments here. Some of us will accept all sorts of intrusions in the environment if it pays us well enough.

But back to the Eastern Moors and their tree planting. The plastic tube protectors can be seen from a far distance and it would be inconsistent not to have reservations when I've complained about gates, walls, barbed wire fences and many other things that have arisen from the decision to go in for farm management instead of running a proper nature reserve.  And even when I've argued that there should be far more trees planted to return the moors to a more wild and natural state, the question has to be posed how you go about it. Obviously it would have been better if management in the last, say thirty years had removed grazing and allowed trees to come back naturally. What's happening now in this small area is trying to short cut what would happen anyway.

The problem now is that wild animals in the shape of deer will be tempted to browse the tops of young trees. Sheep are excluded with fencing though it's possible that escapers will get into this section. The tubes may protect the youngest growth but what happens when the top of the tube is reached? This must have been thought of. Meanwhile has any thought gone into lessening the visual impact of plastic tubes? Can you get green or brown ones? Presumably no light would penetrate.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017


Alder, above, and birch.

Monday, 6 March 2017

At Work

Evidence of man's activities on a site allegedly reserved for nature can be a mixed blessing. Here it is usually unwelcome.

Bridleways inevitably suffer after typical winter conditions and especially if mountain bikers are allowed, or  encouraged, to use them. Not much fun for other users.

Close by is a sign commemorating the centenary of the Cyclists Touring Club 1878-1978.

The pioneers of the CTC would have been astonished, probably shocked, by the activities of some on two wheels today. They themselves, of course, would not have been cycling on this bridleway but on the hard surface of Hathersage Road itself, just a few yards away.

On Saturday SWT with the help of those they choose to call their volunteers set to work to make a difference having seen the problem.

This is impressive.

As is the attempt made to hide away the evidence of tree destruction by dragging debris into the attractive woodland nearby. All goes under the heading of habitat restoration, no doubt.