Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Blacka Woodland

Moss World

Many other worlds around. Sometimes we need to look more closely to see what is living there.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Quality Control

The big question is which supermarket produces the ideal cheese for the bird table.
Buying cheese ready grated in a packet is expensive and only to be done when desperate. Cheddar is the obvious choice, no other variety being condsidered. There's no doubt that Waitrose offers more options than any other supplier just within its cheddar range.

But what do the birds think?

One of the inspectors:

Family Time

Each year, once the dramatics of the rut are over, it's been a regular thing on Blacka to see a large stag accompanying a group of hinds, themselves accompanied by one or two young just a few months old.

We are so used to thinking of red deer as herd animals with large numbers of hinds or stags wandering across the hillsides until everything livens up during the rut, that this 'family time' can seem rather touching. In fact it's one of my favourite times of year simply for that reason. It's as if testosterone has waned to be replaced by something gentler and more relaxed.

Morning Sun

Monday, 27 November 2017

Expectations in National Tree Week

They raise our expectations, reminding us that it is National Tree Week. And they didn't disappoint.

Sheffield Wildlife Trust knows how to celebrate National Tree Week. In fact they are probably the only ones who do.

 Others who choose this week to plant trees have simply got the wrong idea.

Avian Absence

The sudden appearance of a buzzard flying low above us yesterday as we stood at the woodland edge was briefly reassuring.

It was later that morning that I reflected on this being a rare event.Blacka is a large area of mixed open and wooded land adjoining lots of farmland and treeless moors. I would expect to see birds of prey often. Kestrels maybe on most visits, buzzards fairly often and occasional sightings of less common raptors.

This year has been notable not just for the scarcity of cuckoos in May and June but the failure to see birds of prey in anything like the numbers expected. Previous years have hardly been outstanding in this respect but much better than now. Why this year do we have this avian deficit?

It's well known that raptors are being persecuted on and around grouse moors along with hares, foxes and various mustelids and corvids. We also know that there are gun owners around here who doubtless enjoy using their toys. Among such people are these birds considered to be "fair game"? Without evidence we could not possibly say.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Do As We Do?

Many families, like mine, settle down on winter evenings to watch the latest David Attenborough programme, the present series being the wondrous Blue Planet II. Each episode has its message for our future behaviour and a reminder of the cost of our consumer driven economy for the natural world.  It's usually very controlled so as to be not too depressing - elements of commercialism even here mean the audience must not be allowed to get so downhearted it doesn't want to tune in to next week's episode.

I always get a related worry when I see great wildlife scenes such as herds of elephants on the African planes, big cats stalking among the forests of wild land in Asia. How can we allow the exploitaion of land and habitats that threatens the future of these magnificent creatures and how can we impress upon those who have responsibility for that land the need to prevent ivory poachers and others including foreign hunters (such as some very close to the POTUS)?  It's certainly no good pointing to the example set by this country. Politicians in such countries could be almost forgiven for bringing up our failures here.

How much land in Britain is being set aside to be totally free from human interference? Answer - none. What are we doing to bring back wild species that we had previously exterminated in previous centuries? Answer - very little. And what happens when a rather small and harmless animal such as a lynx gets out from behind its wire cage? Answer - we kill it.

Or even more threatening?? Mountain hares:

And on Blacka, when beautiful native trees try to grow back where they once covered the land?

.................. and call ourselves conservationists?

Friday, 24 November 2017

News! SWT Likes Trees!

Ah, Sheffield Wildlife Trust is tweeting about National Tree Week. Now they are in charge of Blacka, so how will they celebrate here?

So with conservation organisations throughout the land competing to claim how they're planting trees what might we expect from SWT?
Tree planting on the bare barren slopes now used just for sheep? Replacements for those removed over recent years on the 'precious' heathland?
Well, no actually. Most likely judging from observations in recent years would be a general look around for more victims for their chainsaw policy.
If we meet one of them next week we should ask them how many trees they've planted on Blacka over the last 5 years.
You should be quite safe to offer to buy them a pint for each one.

Well isn't that interesting? Having posted the above I now discover that SWT's tweet no longer exists. Have they deleted it?
Sunday: now reappeared along with my reply.

Tweed Under Pressure

It's Great British Game Week: the shooting industry's annual feelgood fest and a chance to garner orders from that section of the consuming public determined to poison itself with lead.

But the tweedies are under threat and not just sartorially from the waxed Barbour faction. The wider public has become more aware than before of the unacceptable impact on wildlife and the environment of so-called country sports. already the BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) has moderated its position. How long will it be before others, including the Countryside Alliance moves away from its traditional extremism?

It would be very optimistic to believe that the shooting and hunting lobby will easily agree to any restrictions on its activities. Even so it is having to work harder than ever before to justify its claims to represent some kind of benevolent force in the British countryside. The Countryside Alliance has always tried to portray itself as the voice of  the undervalued population of rural Britain while in reality its role from the outset was to defend landed privilege and outdated practices from supposedly ignorant Townies.  The wealthy have always managed to find ways of restoring their fortunes and continuing to enjoy doing what other people find distasteful and plain wrong . Their money, after all, gives them access to influence, lobbying  power, legal and sundry professional skills out of reach of the rest of us. Nevertheless, they will need to hide some of the complacency that's seen them survive  as long as this if they are to fight off the growing challenge from the wildlife campaigners. Let's remember that the majority of the game industry's supporters come not from rural areas but from those who work in the city; they can afford the cost of a day's shooting.

The damage done by game shooting includes the killing of  eagles, peregrines, buzzards, hen harriers, red kites etc. foxes, stoats, mountain hares,..... the list goes on but to that needs to be added serious environmental damage, e.g. flooding.

Evidence has been building up and some groups especially those associated with exposing the killing of raptors have excelled in building an overwhelming case against those mismanaging the landscape and its wildlife in the interests of shooting grouse and red deer.

A fair summary of  the present situation is contained in this article from the Ethical Consumer. Well worth a read.

Monday, 20 November 2017

The Gove Question

My scepticism, in this post,concerning the new green credentials of Michael Gove, Environment Secretary, has not gone away.

Here's a blog post from someone with similar reservations, Miles King.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Criminal Lawmakers?

All seems hopeless too often these days. With Trump deciding to allow trophies from killed elephants to enter USA and now our own politicians redefining what being "educationally subnormal"means - apparently those legislators who attended public schools.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Failures of Imagination

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Late Fruit

As predicted the mountain cranberries have produced another harvest just in time for Christmas. They make super preserves

Ware Gove

Some people can't be trusted, even when they suddenly appear to be on the side of the bees. Gove's news-grabbing rejection of neonicotinoids may be a temporary halo. And a decision to go for a complete re-invention of environmental safeguards may be just a way of putting himself in the driving seat. All is about power.

Saturday, 11 November 2017



In a complete change of character the daws were flying in something close to a disciplined formation. Many hundreds of them all at the same height and on the same course, for once not competing raucously with one another; wave upon wave of them all striking westward. There were some gaps when  the sky was briefly empty then the waves began again with exactly the same behaviour. How do they get to agree?

Like the starling murmurations and many other wonders of the natural world perhaps we should simply treasure the mystery.

In the case of these birds the strangeness is more due to the oddness of their suddenly diverging from their regular practice of ducking, diving and challenging for the lead. Co-operation at this level seems not their style.

A chilling thought is hard to suppress. There is a strong similarity with old newsreel photos of Lancaster bombers in huge numbers heading for German towns - but then in the opposite direction over Lincoln. Perhaps this was the day to remember such things.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Friday, 3 November 2017

Coming Soon

Organisations need to be prepared. Previous experience suggests that SWT along with Amey/SCC will be servicing the chain saws.

Out of Season

It's not unusual to find the odd out-of-season flowering specimen when all others are dead and decayed.

This is an elegant but typical hogweed, still standing tall, a useful home for spiders and trap for falling leaves.

Not far away is this, lying down as if eccentricity of this kind had cost too much effort.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Migration Mysteries

A lot of research has been carried out in recent years on the subject of bird migration. Much more is known about it but it's fair to say not all the mysteries have been solved. I like it that way. Knowing all about everything is another way of feeding humanity's arrogance.

This morning determined flocks of smaller birds were heading westward. Two days ago geese were flying eastwards.

Every morning the regular traffic of jackdaws heads to their western feeding grounds after roosting in the woods on this side of Sheffield. Everyone who ever looks upwards knows about this but most ignore it not giving it a second thought. But to me it's one of the great wildlife phenomena of the region with a particular beauty that never fails to move me; I could watch it for hours. indeed the numbers of birds involved mean it goes on most mornings for over an hour, some groups being as large as several score.  A major part of the appeal is the way each bird obstinately remains an individual refusing to group in a formation as with other birds while clearly wishing to stick together sharing a common goal.

This can be seen clearly in still photos showing each bird's silhouette distinguished from the others and its position in the group casually chosen to signal its independence. These creatures would not do well in Animal Farm or North Korea.


Regular attendance at the Wall Caff means getting to feed on a variety of seeds, sometimes nuts and even occasional helpings of grated cheddar. Those who were there this morning around sunrise were:

Great Tit
Blue Tit
Coal Tit

At least two were present of each one apart from Robin and Nuthatch although other mornings there are two of these as well. No sign this morning of a Blackbird, normally a regular.
There was also a squirrel.