Sunday, 29 April 2007

Could Blacka Have Looked Like This?

I walked across nearby Burbage Moor today, at times suppressing a yawn.

This is a landscape of unrelieved brownness with heather gardened for grouse as determinedly as any field of cabbages in Lincolnshire. Your eye scours the distant views vainly searching for a tree to relieve the monotony. Nevertheless this sight is designed to gladden the hearts of those who rule from their desks at the Ministry of Nature and Landscape. On the strength of this view alone they can tick all boxes on their forms relating to European Special Protection Area Status and the Bird Directive (no joke!).
In the days of the Duke of Rutland and his shooting lodge at Longshaw, when much of Sheffield was hidden under an appalling atmosphere and its citizens in life threatening working conditions, maybe this scenery seemed like an unattainable paradise. Some fun was to be had dodging the gamekeepers anyway.

But today is a different matter. Socially and economically things have changed. So there’s no imperative to preserve a landscape of the past as a museum unless it satisfies other needs. And who is to decide what those other needs are? And when was there ever a public debate about this- because much of this land is held by public bodies. It always seems to me in these matters that certain groups with a particular interest get in first and ensure they get their way before the rest of us find out in time to get our act together.

Blacka in the foreground and Houndkirk Moor on the horizon.

But I’ve been told numerous times that I’m wrong. Artificial it may be but bare bleak upland moors are a threatened landscape and most of what remains in the world of this unique habitat is in our country. It is our duty…etc. Why does the same question keep coming into my mind – is this because other countries have more sense?

Friday, 27 April 2007

Bluebell Season

Scattered groups on Blacka.

But aficionados of bluebells should visit Limb Valley, especially the top path where the blue haze under dappled sun through trees is as intoxicating as the scent.

Limb Valley woods.

"A Wild Landscape With Minimal Interference"*

Some good birdsong this morning despite the pall of cloud but not much to see until.....................

and then........

* Key statement from Draft Vision for Blacka Moor as discussed at Icarus facilitation meetings 2005

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Who Voted For Improvement?

Is this progressive or regressive compared with two days ago?

Two Sides of a Coin?

Reading some of the literature produced in the 1930s by the dedicated members of the Sheffield Ramblers and putting it alongside George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier, it's easy to come to the conclusion that the sombre moorland landscapes so beloved of those stalwarts was somehow linked in their minds with the stark industrial landscapes where they spent their working days.

Now, the city is a different place and so is Blacka. Few would want to return to the industrial past described by Orwell -

Once I halted in the street and counted the factory chimneys I could see; there were thirty-three of them, but there would have been far more in the air had they not been obscured by smoke. One scene especially lingers in my mind. A frightful patch of waste ground trampled bare of grass and littered with newspapers and old saucepans. To the right an isolated row of gaunt four-roomed houses, dark red, blackened by smoke. To the left an interminable vista of factory chimneys, chimney beyond chimney, fading away into a dim blackish haze. Behind me a railway embankment made of slag from furnaces. In front, across the patch of waste ground, a cubical building of red and yellow brick, with the sign 'Thomas Grocock, Haulage Contractor'.

Neither would I want to see Blacka Moor, which is now a much softened and greener landscape than then, being returned to some museum of a sheep and grouse moor with only browns and greys to welcome us apart from a couple of weeks of purple in August.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Moving In For The .........

...............Yesterday's view looks as if it was the last chance to see the place as it has been for so long.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

A Heartfelt and Sincere Thanks

……………….to Sheffield Wildlife Trust!!!

They thought it would never happen but I genuinely mean it. Thank you, thank you SWT for keeping the sheep, the woolly mowers, off the pasture land for the last few weeks. It has been a pleasure to walk where there have been no livestock indignantly staring at you as if to question your right to enter their compound. It has felt as if the place was genuinely for me and others in the way that Alderman Graves intended it when he designated it a public open space. Of course some might argue that sheep are part of the public too, after all they vote in elections for unsuitable candidates the way they always have and they ring premium rate numbers when TV presenters tell them to. Their independence of thought can rival that of many species. And anyway are there no such things as animal rights?

Walkers on the path through the pasture land this afternoon

But this is churlish. Profuse thanks to SWT for this. Just one thing. Could you please also keep the aforesaid woollies off the land later on in September and October. The mushroom harvest will be at its height then and sheep droppings are most unappetising alongside the edible fungi.

Now You See It ..................... Open As It Has Been For A Lifetime

Shortly this top area of Blacka Moor will be "improved" (!!!) with a new fence. None of those who walk regularly along here has asked for a fence or a wall. We have always been more than happy that the sense of openness has been one of its qualities.

But our conservationist 'experts' say it needs to be improved because it is not in good condition. This is a decision taken using the infallible authority of a management plan and an impenetrable dictat from a government agency. Remember, these people know best.

Anyway, our taxes pay for this so it must be OK.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

How to Consult the Public

Rowan soon to be in blossom

A comment on the blog yesterday from a participant in the recent facilitation process illustrates the annoyance felt by those of us who were involved. We all wondered whether it was worthwhile taking part, when invited. After all, the conservation/wildlife people had shown no interest in listening to our views before. They had displayed the kind of consciously aloof we-know-best attitude of a newly qualified professional brashly ventiring out into the real world. But they had been so effusive in imploring us to come along to these new meetings - and there would be cakes and tea as well!

So maybe, some of us thought, we could use the sessions to get across how we valued the site and demonstrate that farmification was just not right for Blacka and that the sooner they rolled up their dreadful barbed wire and took it home the better. So we asked questions about the process. What did it entail? How long? How many meetings? Would there be minutes? What would be covered? Answers that came back were vague and impenetrable. We were referred to the facilitator-in-chief who would "love to talk to us" but when approached he wasn't that keen. All of us were suspicious. Some said no way, we're only contributing to their publicity agenda enabling them to say to potential backers that they have "engaged in meaningful discussions with all people and done all they can to reach agreement" and similar flannel. Others said what have we got to lose? We have a good case, go for it. So some of us went ahead and participated.
After the first meeting, three hours with tea and cakes and the opposition trying to be very nice and reasonable, we felt none the wiser. Then a Freedom of Information request to the council revealed that a meeting had been held of the officers and public servants responsible for pushing through the unpopular policy. They had got together prior to these sessions, ostensibly unknown to us poor deluded members of the public who are daft enough to pay their salaries. And they had discussed in their enclave how best to handle the difficulties posed by a petition opposing their plans. In the course of their meeting they had determined that the petition had been 'canvassed' by only 6 people and that this meant they could relax happy in the knowlege that the 700 plus people who had signed were mere dupes who had gone along with the wishes of a group of hotheads. They should feel no conscience therefore in dismissing the petition. It was obviously of no consequence to them that the 6 people organising the petition were actually regular walkers on Blacka Moor while to some of them it was simply a placename on a form. Nor that the signatures were amassed on Blacka at unmanned petitioning points where people were trusted to respect the process. People who are well versed in manipulating suspect everyone else of doing the same! (If I've learned one thing from this it is that I'm an innocent abroad who should not be let out alone.)

The conclusion of this officers' meeting was that they should go ahead with this new facilitation but not negotiate the contentious issue, ie the farmification policy of fencing and grazing. They would tell the facilitator what to do and what to cover in the meetings beforehand but let it be believed that he was totally independent.

I feel the need to repeat at this point that these people are paid as public servants to represent the best interests of those paying their salaries. At the first meeting we had all been feeling our way and we had wanted to know that there was proper openness about the process and that things were not being steered or manipulated by a hidden agenda. We had been made to feel unduly and even unhealthily suspicious and told that we had to go forward on the basis of mutual trust.

So when the 2nd session opened and one member raised the matter of the minutes of the officers' meeting the result was a very difficult meeting.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Pleasure of Paths (2)

When dead bracken gets compacted and ground down in an extended period of dry weather the result is a surface for walking on which beats any fitted carpet.

But there may not be many who stop to examine what's under their boots when there are views like this to admire over a delightful foreground of (unmanaged) tree-speckled landscape.

By Lenny Hill

Having struggled up the hill from Totley we reach the bench below Lenny Hill and the junction of two bridleways and two paths. For many years this has been a favourite place to sit and stare.

It's appearace has declined over the last two years sadly. In fact its once intimate and peaceful character has changed into something akin to a motorway junction. Two years ago SWT decided to repair a path section and felt the need to bring unsuitable motor vehicles along. Rubble was left at various points and some piles are still visible. Then their fencing contractors brought more vehicles up to enhance the site with the delectable barbed wire further down the bridleway. The trucks scored over the newly surfaced track and what is left now looks as if it has been an unfinished training exercise for road constructors.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

How Not To Silence Criticism

The notice board at the Stony Ridge entrance near the composting slum has been taken down and removed. It does not take much guesswork to conclude this is the work of Sheffield Wildlife Trust. The board went up before Easter and has been undisturbed until now. SWT have been on holiday over Easter and would have been back in the office on Monday. And of course some of the notices comment on aspects of SWT’s work.

Pity! Worrying too that such a fine and peaceful place is in the hands of those who behave in this way.

I would also like to invite SWT to use the comments facility on this site if they wish to discuss relevant matters in a balanced way. This is not something that can be done on their own website which is disappointingly dull.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Secret Places (2)

This sylvan view is easily found but when the eye follows through to the bottom of the slope where the Lea Stream, or Lee Syke, winds along, a path appears which is often overgrown.

It needs to be emphasised that this scene with ideal attractions for summer visiting songbirds, warblers and cuckoos would look nothing like this if the present recommended management from Natural England had been followed over the last 70 years. What makes Blacka Moor unique is that it has not been managed for farming or grouse-shooting. Nature has gone its own way and is still doing so. And of course it will not remain as it is now if nature is allowed to stay in control.

Should that panic us into severe intervention? Or are we grown-up enough to accept that things change and that natural evolution in some places should be allowed?

Saturday, 14 April 2007

The Pleasure of Paths (1)

I don't know exactly why I like this path so much. I'm not thinking about the views to either side fine though they are. It's the actual path, the place where feet have, over time, depressed the ground and left a mark. It's all done sympathetically and with a minimum of force by humans and wild animals and the occasional dog.

(I'll leave to another posting my views on bikes and livestock.)

Friday, 13 April 2007

Wood Sorrel

The delicate wood sorrel with its folding leaves takes advantage of the early spring when there is less shading from trees above. Its leaves can be eaten as salad.

My Culpeper's Complete Herbal and English Physician Enlarged (1814) claims among its qualities, the ability to .....

".... quench thirst, to strengthen a weak stomach, to procure an appetite, to stay vomiting, and very excellent in any contagious sickness or pestilential fevers."

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Refined and Sensitive People Look Away Now

The difference is there to see. Both pictures taken today. One of these shows something left behind by our largest wild animal, a delightful inhabitant of Blacka Moor. The other is left behind by a highland cow shortly to be imported onto Blacka Moor, courtesy of an interfering directive from Sheffield Wildlife Trust.

Enjoy the paths for the next week or two as you have been able to do for the last 60 years. And remember that the latest consultation process (costing £8,000) decided that the area was to be maintained as wild with minimal interference. And that SWT have decided to ignore this - presumably because somebody else was paying the bill.

Who, I wonder?

Better than Cattle

And more natural. There will be some apologists for the management plan who will say that highland cattle look good. And certainly they can appear cute. That is likely to be the reason they have been chosen. But they are to my mind nowhere near as splendid as Britain's largest wild animal. The small herd of red deer on Blacka came here of its own accord attracted by the very thing which the landscape managers want to control. They browse on the young birch and thrive in areas where nature, oh so untidily, does its own thing. Once we have fenced-in domestic livestock farmed on the land, a lot of the informal unplanned magic of Blacka will go.

Spotting wildlife especially the more retiring kind is something of an acquired skill.
If deer remain on the site when the cattle are brought in they may not be so obviously spotted by an eye becoming accustomed to the movement of other large beasts.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Coming Soon on Blacka

On North Lees this afternoon. This is the point that they decided to come and investigate our presence.

These are actually the animals about to be imported to Blacka Moor. We discreetly backed away as they were coming closer. There were 10 on this hillside and another 5 or 6 in an enclosure further away. I have no fear of cattle having worked on a farm and being then responsible for the herd, although I do have some slight concern about the size of the horns, seeing as all the cattle I worked with had their horns removed chemically when very young. However there are people who will not be prepared to enter an enclosure among these beasts. I personally find it to be annoying that a companion will say that nothing will persuade them to continue walking through the cattle. But they are right to point out the numerous incidents there have been including the one last year on Baslow Edge when a woman was trampled and had to be helicoptered off to hospital.

The real point is that Blacka has not had grazing for over 60 years and there is an alternative to this ill-considered scheme.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Blacka Moor Given to the People of Sheffield

In 1933 the area was under threat from building developers. The founder of CPRE Ethel Haythornthwaite (nee Gallimore) persuaded J.G. Graves to buy the land to protect it for the future. This picture is of the ceremony on Blacka at which the site was officially handed over.

Graves said that his purpose was -

'to preserve the moor in its natural state and to prevent any alteration to its current character by building operations or any other form of interference... It is proposed to allow public access to the moor, subject to such regulations for the good order and protection of the estate as may be considered reasonable and necessary... with the condition that the moor will be allowed to remain in its current natural state, with such pathways provided in accord with the character of the estate, as will make the moor accessible to all who desire to visit it for health-giving exercise and pleasure...'.

Being the largest site of its kind the history of Blacka is central to the concept of the green belt, now once again under threat from the Barker report.

It is my contention that the green belt is also endangered by centralised decision making even from conservationists who think they are promoting the countryside. To survive well into the 21st century it is crucial that local people who use these areas should have a special role involved in helping to protect the green belt concept.

When the accusation of "nimbyism" is heard remember which group of people gain most from rubbishing the preferences of local people - the developers themselves. And these are the people who stand to make financial rewards from exploiting the landscape.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Cowsick - another disaster

Cowsick is the name of the swamp near the north western edge of Blacka.
The area to the right of the newly installed stone flags has been for years the site where you could enjoy the sight of bog asphodel flowering in July (lower photo). The present condition is due to trampling caused by walkers trying to avoid the intentional flooding of a right of way by the wildlife trust!