Sunday, 31 August 2008

Deer Worries

In a variation from normal routine this morning's walk took us to White Edge beside Big Moor. Not far from Blacka, this site also has deer. Those of us who regularly walk on Blacka are fond of the red deer we see from time to time. They are free spirits and bring a wild perspective to the landscape. But it seems that there are those around who see the deer as serving their own purposes. Six deer on Big Moor, so I have been told, have recently been killed by determined men who used vehicles to break through wooden gates. Some hoofprints were visible on the paths this morning but little else in the low cloud.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Cattle Grazing Fiasco

Blacka Blogger has now heard confirmation of what we have always strongly suspected: that the daft cattle grazing plan of SWT and certain National Park and Natural England officials was never going to work. The latest word comes from an authoritative source quite independent of Sheffield Wildlife Trust (whose word has never been reliable in such things). The idea of putting farm cattle on a huge enclosure covering tracts of the wildest scenery on Blacka was absurd. How, for instance, can you monitor beasts when they get into parts of the site that men struggle to access in certain months of the year (July and August)? The whole cattle grazing plan is now in crisis because the farmer providing the cattle is not happy with having his cattle on such a large difficult to monitor site when local people don't want them. Is this not what SWT were being told by regular users for several years?

The story initially put about by SWT was that the cattle had not appeared this year because of the slow delivery of Blue Tongue vaccine. Then a small number of the cows arrived on the sheep pasture. But instead of moving onto the intended destination - the large specially enclosed mixed moorland section- they have stayed in with the sheep. It's clear, having spoken with my authoritative source, that there is a lot of misinformation flying around. It's also a fair guess that SWT will perform, true to their record in producing more misinformation in an effort to play the blame game.

Stories about local people taking gates off their hinges and setting dogs onto cattle do not ring true to me. But it's always hard to prove that something did not happen once the rumours are circulated. All I can say is that I've not seen any evidence of it despite daily walking on Blacka and making it my business to be fairly observant.

But the farmer who provides the animals is evidently aware that his animals are caught up in a dispute about barbed wire, general poor management and public relations from SWT and arguments about nature reserve status and different visions for Blacka. So the word is that he is telling SWT that if they want cattle here they should get their own. They won't like that because it would take them away from their deskbound jobs producing paperwork tonnage. That was another of the farmer's complaints - SWT were rarely to be seen on a site which is anyway difficult to monitor.

Grey and White

Grey has been the colour of the last few days, so there was a close scrutiny of this morning's skies and a bit of hope when two tiny patches of blue were seen.

Meanwhile a new construction has surfaced in the eastern view though only for a short time. It's remarkable how starkly these wedding marquees stand out in a dull hazy landscape.

Friday, 29 August 2008


Last year a sizable area of bracken around Lenny Hill was cleared by a volunteer on behalf of SWT. As bracken clearing of this kind is only effective if done for at least three years in sequence, one wonders why there's been no clearing done here this year. One or two new areas of bracken have been attacked this year but not this one. I remain unconvinced that there is any serious chance of this strategy being successful even when well organised. Experiments have to be done consistently by people who are on the spot regularly. Another argument for the dedicated site worker local people wanted and resolutely opposed by SWT (and the representative of English Nature).

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Dividing Line

This morning's weather sage was unable to predict which areas if any would benefit from brightness and which would remain grey and less appealing. Blacka Moor this morning wavered back and forth, the cloudy west sometimes pushing over and at other times the eastern promise prevailing.

This area to the south side of Blacka Hill is where SWT cut down and burnt a copse of mainly birch about 5 years ago. Since then the bracken has become firmly established, confirming the rightness of the usual advice to let well alone. Some of the birch is fighting back from the base but will have to work hard in record time to push the bracken back to where it was. In the middle of this area of bracken is a hollow often containing a pool of water. This is likely to have been an old quarry where stone was taken for the local walls.

Another misguided bit of management and planning was the decision taken many years ago to route an overhead electricity line across Blacka. Its unsightliness is mostly down to the imposition of straight lines cutting across the moor where everything else was satisfyingly unstraight.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Random Notes

Certain things are only seen in years when the weather is just right at the appropriate time. Rain washes birch seeds away as soon as they fall making the patterns more of a surprise when they settle on a dry path.

The path going up from the stepping stones has ferns to right and left largely untouched by the cool nights that have affected them higher up around Blacka Hill. Bracken, of course, still grows under trees in the woods but is nowhere near as dense and vigorous even if the occasional plant becomes quite tall. But most of these are Buckler Fern:
Buckler Fern is both a more attractive fern plus a less invasive presence. The path winds satisfyingly with patches of heather and bilberry where the light gets through to the floor near the path and even some late flowering Dog's Mercury.
Towards the top the wind delivers a sudden waft of perfume as seductive as honeysuckle, but it's no longer Spring and very few flowers are around. The surprise was that it came from the humble Creeping Thistle, not only fragrant but managing to stand up tall amid the supporting vegetation.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The East Has It

Not much brightness over the high ground on this side of Sheffield in the early morning, but the east end bounces back with pale but steady sunshine to make up for the absence of the cooling towers (and the continued presence of the giant shopping temple).

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Breaking Through

A canopy of cloud covered Blacka early on though clearer weather was promised for later. Holes in the cloud usually add interest and romance to even an ordinary view. Over towards the distant motorway a white plume was showing not far from where Tinsley's towers had been demolished (in two stages) hours before. They will no longer form part of the view and those with binoculars will have to be content with the green roofs and domes of the temple of shopping. Hmmn.

We are usually looking elsewhere.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

On Thistle Hill

To escape the midges and likeminded flying pests the best plan is to gain height and find some breeze. So through the gate and up to the top of Thistle Hill in the pastures. It's the one place on Blacka where you can glimpse landscapes to the west.

No signs yet of any of the more interesting fungi, though six determined seekers were up here a few days ago in driving rain hoping to find the Liberty Cap (before embarking on their trip). Only the young have that kind of obsessive ability to ignore the weather in pursuit of minor pleasures.

The highland cattle are unable to ignore people. Sitting on a stone for a few minutes and then looking round, we find they've gathered to find out what we have to offer.

Looking down we see a man walking through the fields with two dogs.

The dogs are off the lead but behaving well. Still it's not recommended to have dogs off lead among livestock and there are signs to that effect. Also the man appears to have brought his vehicle past the Stony Ridge car park all along the track to the pasture gate.

Returning through the gate we find out that the unknown dog walker is in fact a Peak Park warden.

It's unusual to see one of the conservation police out here so early in the morning but interesting to know that they also walk their dogs here. Dog walking has figured in some of the exchanges and controversies with the wildlife trust in recent years. At one time about five years ago they were about to impose (or try to impose) restrictions on people walking their dogs here. They later denied this when they discovered the depth of feeling among local users of Blacka. But it has been an ongoing theme in relations between locals and SWT that we have never been able to trust their word concerning their intentions, only finding out later that the story we had initially been told was somewhat wide of the mark. The recent release of papers including minutes of meetings following a freedom of information request, makes clear that they had fully intended to restrict the previous freedoms of local dog walkers. It was only after a determined campaign in 2005 against the changes to the Graves Covenant and opposing an extension of grazing that they changed their mind. We can feel sure that the original intention will resurface if we are not vigilant in years to come.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Morning Light

Less than ideal summer weather can produce superior views. It's usually a question of light. This morning's skies alternated between the threatening and the enchanting.

The path we were on had been cleared of bracken by a party from SWT. It's good to be grateful for a change, though it would have been welcome earlier in the summer: the bracken will soon be dying back of its own accord.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

For How Long ?

There are at least seven young oak trees in this area ideally placed to grow into fine adult trees. Each is approximately 6 feet tall and they are spaced out across the area that some define as once heathland. Will they survive the chain-saw happy sites team of SWT and the meddling plans of their management who like nothing better than to find a reason for changing the vegetation that nature has chosen to put here? Let's hope so, but I'm not crossing my fingers.

A few yards away there are still some birch trees left that have survived the mass poisoning from 5 years ago. Most of the others have fallen or remain as stick skeletons. The survivors have some foliage but have been permanently distorted by the experience.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Water Garden

Studley Royal Water Garden near Ripon is more elegant than Blacka was this morning after a night of heavy rain. And Studley is well worth visiting along with Fountains Abbey next door. Once when I was there the lakes had expanded after several days of downpours, slightly detracting from the perfect design and introducing an element of wildness that was inappropriate.

But Blacka is more at home with wild nature having many faces and going through many changes of character. Heavy sleepers may have been hardly aware of the quantity of rain that fell last night so might have been surprised to see the transformations to the tracks and pathways.

Only those with suitable footwear will be venturing out today. Galoshes preferably unless you're able to dry out the walking boots or have a spare pair for tomorrow.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

On Its Way Out

By the middle of August the bracken invasion is close to a spent force. The odd cool night curls and browns the ends of fronds which despite their rampant progress earlier in summer are feeble cowards at heart. We should be more relaxed about bracken, but it inspires in some a feeling of panic akin to that of Georgian troops fleeing the Russian army. Will it never stop? But it always does and when it dies off you see it as the temporary, if irritating, phenomenon it is.

Rowan also sends out an early warning of autumn with orange and red berries already several weeks old and many trees also showing leaf drop.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Easy To Miss

Another example of the need to be alert if you wish to see any of Blacka's red deer. This afternoon we came across this stag quite suddenly, but patience was rewarded with a much better view:

He was a fine animal with a quite beautiful coat and good antlers enjoying the afternoon sun, the first deer I've seen since the antlers in the bracken on 1st August. The barking hind on 21st July was the last time I'd had a full view. Hoofprints, however, are usually to be found somewhere nearby on soft ground.

Leaning Influence

Every time we walk past this spot my own personal sense of the vertical is disturbed. Am I actually leaning backwards? Should I try to align myself with the trees? My back garden has an old Scots Pine that similarly leans to the east and more surprisingly at the end of the front drive is a lamp post with the same idea. So what's so great about being perpendicular?

Beauty Contest ?

It's always been a puzzle that people of a certain taste find these animals 'cute'. I suppose it's the fringe. But that's one thing that's always troubled me - why should animals be bred with such an obvious flaw that impedes their vision?

Nearby is a sad picture that surely few people could call cute - the sheered and dye splashed sheep.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Petitions and Local Councils

Petitioning leaders for redress was an ancient right of subjects in imperial China: commonly the complaint would be of a breach of village regulations or of corruption.

This is from the Times article of December 27th last year foretelling a new Government policy.

Now there's been a new White Paper published about something they choose to call "Community Empowerment" and comments have been in the press here and here and in many other places. There is a suggestion here that local councils will have to respond to petitions from communities. What kind of response is considered adequate is not clear.

I have only once been involved in helping to organise a petition. It was on the subject of Blacka Moor and was conducted in summer 2005. The process of presenting the petition was something of an education. Despite the large number of signatures and the excellent case made it was brushed aside by the senior council member responsible (a certain Harry Harpham). When we challenged him afterwards in some astonishment he remarked that he had organised petitions himself and they meant nothing. He seemed to be saying that councillors like him persuaded others to sign a petition on the basis of him signing theirs later on. Our petition by the way could not have been more different: nobody was canvassed - the forms were left at key points on Blacka. 761 people signed. In the light of Harry Harpham's remarks it's worthwhile reading the comment at the very bottom of the Times article from a Sheffield resident.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008


Not many people can be heard praising the summer this year. This morning's rain seemed almost harder to bear than a wet morning's in winter. The only consolation was the thought, on this 12th August, that there would be some other people getting thoroughly wet while carrying guns across the moors.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Sheffield Wildlife Trust

West Burton Power Station, 30 miles away, as seen from Blacka this morning.
Sheffield Wildlife Trust have written a report for the City Council's Scrutiny Board. I would have liked to be able to comment and forward my view to members of the board before they considered it, as I feel sure they will not have been able to interpret it anywhere near adequately. Unfortunately I wasn't aware of it until the weekend, several days after the board's meeting.
The report is signed not just by Nigel Doar SWT's Director but also by the Director of the council's Parks and Woodland Department Mary Bagley. There's a strong whiff of closing ranks and internal politics in this report and its authors are playing games of their own. Presentation, PR and spin are evident all the way through, building up and adding gloss to minor achievements and ignoring problems and mistakes. How far you can expect local councillors to see through this kind of marketing exercise and reach a balanced conclusion I don't know. I suspect not at all.

All I can say is this: my sole knowledge of SWT has been their activities in connection with Blacka Moor which is their grandest asset (irresponsibly handed over to them by the council 6 years ago). They may do fine work in their other activities. But I would be very sceptical about concluding so from what is written in this report without enquiring of independent minded people with good local knowledge.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Graves View

It's surprising how often this section of Graves Park is picked out by the sun in the morning, helping those of us with a sense of history to thank again the man who gave us both that park and Blacka. The building to the right is of course the Norton Water Tower.

Front Door

Many of us like to make our front door and its surrounds attractive often with overhanging climbing plants and a prominent "Welcome" mat. To one side of my front door grows a honeysuckle, now in flower, with a yellow feature rose in front. To the other side is a creeping cottoneaster much loved by blackbirds.

The character who lives here has chosen a fine site which looks after itself pretty well, heather, bilberry, cowberry and fern.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

A Charity, Little Hope and Blind Faith

But what about Truth? A charity manages Blacka Moor but its reputation among those who know them is by no means benign. It is now just over a year since Sheffield Wildlife Trust in a spirit not of charity nor of honesty decided quite cynically to discredit and defame a group of regular users of Blacka Moor. This group had refused to accept highly misleading statements already put about by SWT and had stuck with their consultation process over several years. In order to get rid of them SWT sent out email messages to councillors and MPs containing lies. It was stated that these people had been aggressive and insulting and had disrupted a meeting leading SWT to invoke the police. There was not the merest shadow of truth in this. Blacka Blogger's name was at the top of the list of those defamed in this way. Since July last year I tried repeatedly to get SWT to apologise for this and finally it's Director (now called Chief Executive) apologised to me at a council meeting in April. But there has still been no indication forthcoming about how this can be referred to a complaints procedure nor any apology or retraction for the others who were defamed. These people have joined the long list of those who have tried to engage in SWT's "consultation" and given up hope in disgust leaving a rump of "consultees" who are members of SWT and unlikely to express an opinion of their own. This rump is the only element with any faith that Blacka is benefitting under SWT's management.

Friday, 1 August 2008


The thundery outbursts in the night left puddles and fresher clearer air in the morning. It also brought the well known perfume of flowering heather earlier on Blacka than elsewhere. It's less exposed than some moors and the heather has been allowed to become leggy giving us more flowers. August is heather's month when at last it breaks free from the boring dullness of its appearance for most of the year and treats us to a sometimes overpowering scent and display.

Meanwhile something can be seen hiding (unsuccesfully) in the bracken. But I doubt that many walkers will have seen this.

The modern wonders of digital imagery allow us to zoom in: