Thursday, 31 December 2009

Looking East

It must have been very close to this well known view that J. G. Graves looked out and decided on the spot that he would dig into his pocket to buy Blacka for the people. Today, looking down over Lenny Hill and beyond much of the view remains as it was. Higher up yesterday's snow still remains having fallen as rain at lower levels.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


Beneath rime covered birch the shards clatter down as the wind gets up. Another of the pleasures of early mornings.
Mist also helps to bring out the part played by trees in the landscape. But then what kind of a landscape is it without them - a grouse moor?
It's impressive that each pine reaches for the light at a slightly different angle to the others. And that some trees, noticeably the alder can't resist challenging the imagination maybe in the hope of frightening off the more timid visitor.

Monday, 28 December 2009


It's good to see signs that many people have been visiting Blacka over the holiday period. There's been more to enjoy than in the preceding weeks of mud and squelch. The hardening of the ground is welcome up to a point but once the cycle of freeze and melt and freeze again gets going walking can be a treacherous process near other people's footprints.
Other visitors were around this morning.

These were not the usual residents but a group of itinerant stags who seemed to have spent some of the night sheltering in the woods. Two of them were clearly young with only partly formed antlers. But two were quite mature showing a full set of points.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

No More Artificial Heather Domination

The snow does not flatter heather. It emphasises its ugly formlessness while adding no compensating character to make it interesting. Even a park or garden lawn is better. At least the smoothness there allows the prints of birds and animals to be displayed. But heather manages to be untidy without character; and usually there's too much of it.

The infatuated people of the Moors for the Future lobby (mostly bird watchers and bird shooters and opaquely motivated bureaucrats) don't usually try to claim any beauty for the moors. They might claim a certain grandeur but in that they would be confusing the vegetation with the underlying structure which is there anyway. Looking over from the high point of Stony Ridge towards the west you may feel that the high hills of Kinder and Bleaklow show this at its best but how much finer would it be with woodland covering much of it.

Would you prefer a skeleton to a living being? Anyway these low hills are no comparison with the bare heights and splendour of true mountains.

Trees give life to a landscape and a variety to a country walk. Each tree is different. In tropical forests there are vast numbers of separate species and we can't hope to see that range here. But we can enjoy the different forms and angles of just the few native trees we have. Those who spent much of their childhood climbing trees will know that no two oaks are the same. And look at the quirky assymmetrical shapes of scots pine and hawthorn. So let the tree culling stop and let's allow the heather to die through natural succession.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Trees Have It

This blog speaks for the trees. They need defenders when under attack from the institutionalised bashers, fellers and poisoners in the wildlife conservation world here represented by Unnatural England and their servants in the wildlife trust industry. The relish with which these warped characters invite the public to join them in an assault on our largest and most noble native plants appalls me more than the hearty "tally ho" of those who hunt foxes and deer. At least those rural sportsmen are motivated by an interest in food production. But Unnatural England in their anti-tree position simply wants to maintain an open, but utterly artificial landscape. For me, large areas of treeless heather are an abomination which should never have been imposed on our landscape. It's with a sense of incredulity that I see people patting themselves on the back every time they introduce a chain saw to a bit of natural regeneration - in the form of a birch or scots pine that refuses to understand it's not allowed to grow just where it wants - it must first submit its wishes to the management planning process.

So its no surprise that I prefer views where trees have a significant part to play. Snow glamourises most views, but it's the trees that are enhanced on Blacka Moor whereas the grouse moor elements are always disappointing. It's the heather that looks 'scrubby' to me, to use a term often used in a derogatory way when wildlife trusts try to justify a war on young trees.

Getting up onto Blacka has not been easy this last few days. First you have to get out of your own street. Then, assuming the way ahead is clear on the main routes you need to find somewhere to leave your vehicle. That's a problem when snow ploughs push the surplus snow into the lay-byes. But when we did get there we were rewarded this morning with a view of Chesterfield's crooked spire in the bright sunlight

Our small birds who daily visit the bird feeding station have been neglected -not a good time to leave them to their own devices. The food left hanging from branches was completely gone by this morning and the robin appeared immediately we arrived. We will have to get one of the 4X4 people to help out with the feeding at such times as this.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Night Workers

Being out early after a fall of snow makes it easier to see evidence of night work. Later other visitors have left prints and confused the picture.

Deer, foxes, moles, badgers, hares and sundry smaller characters have been busy on Blacka in the long hours foraging. Though the mole may not be aware of the time of day nor condition above ground.

Saturday, 19 December 2009


The path across the top of Blacka Hill was a modest 18 inches wide at the most four years ago. Since the introduction of cattle it has grown to the width of the main bridleway. Much of the time it is now a swamp but this morning more of a skating rink.

The young calf looks to have grown too even seen from the opposite side of Blacka Dyke with the adult hind. Meanwhile the stag remains enclosed by the SWT barbed wire. He is confirmed as the regular resident with the branched left antler often with the hind and calf.

Friday, 18 December 2009

When the Wind is from the East.........

With temperatures at -4 the east wind was sharp enough to scrape the bristles from your chin. As if 40 years residence was already too much. At least some bright sunlight warmed a bit from time to time. The stretch of bridleway leading to the pastures can be the place to be in this kind of weather if you have a desire to slip and break a bone or two.
The new sheep on the pasture land don't look to me like the usual hardy hill breed and once or twice have appeared to resent their being compounded here.
They may yet discover a way to escape as one of the corner posts is leaning well over and there's a hole in the stock fence.
Sherlock Holmes would not need his magnifier to find a good clue to the culprit.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Fog does have one advantage. This morning nothing much could be seen, and while it adds one more facet to the visual variety over the year we all wished for it to lift and open out the view. But a bonus was the quietness near to Hathersage Road. Early morning traffic can be irritatingly noisy. The moist density of the air seems to have insulation properties and lack of wind also helps. But mainly it is the unusual cautiousness of the drivers. There's no doubt that hard driven and aggressive driving is more noisy. As I've said many times a National Park should be a place where tranquillity is the norm and whatever the claims of business, the economy and general pushiness, peace should take precedence. One of the few things in favour of nearby Burbage Moor is that the centre of it is quiet and well away from road traffic - but that does not not compensate for the appalling nakedness of its landscape after generations of war on trees.

Friday, 11 December 2009


Mostly the deer on Blacka are timid and have no wish to allow people to get close. They are wild and suspicious unlike their cousins in kept herds on country parks and stately homes. But the occasional stag has a 'couldn't give a damn attitude'. Such was the fellow in the fog this morning. While a hind disappeared into the murk he carried on with his breakfast unconcerned despite our getting closer. I whistled in the hope he would raise his head for a picture but he obstinately refused to oblige preferring to show us his ample backside. His antlers suggest quite a mature animal.

More Mud

Lovers of mud will be flocking to Blacka this weekend. Paths have never had so much of it. Maybe the promised cold snap will dry it up a bit. Mountain bikers are doing their bit to add to the effect. It's become something of a lost cause like graffiti and litter in the urban scene. It's beyond simple ignorance. Those mountain bikers that don't keep to the bridleways know what they're doing and probably like the fact that there's disapproval from old fogeys like me. This path is particularly vulnerable to erosion and at one end a new 'delta' effect is starting to develop. The wildlife trust seem not to want to put up small 'Walkers Only' signs at critical junctions; this could work. Earlier this year hurdles were erected on the east side and a threatening notice about damage to a SSSI and that seemed to be effective at least for a while.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Elemental Forces

The flow of the water after heavy rain reaches the top of the plunge down to Blacka Dyke with a noise even greater than that coming from the mobile ring tones heard on the 83 bus. The ground is so saturated that every drop just runs off the surface. The spell of dry weather in September now seems only a distant memory.
Another elemental force best kept at a distance is that coming from a red deer stag when he chooses to use his antlers. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology antlers can withstand 6 times more pressure than similar bones within the body (e.g. wet femur). This should be carefully considered alongside the muscular strength of the stag's neck before deciding whether to engage him in combat. Antlers are remarkable things.They are not at all comparable to cows' horns which are hollow. The weight of one antler I found last year is more than 3 pounds and solid. The neck of the stag needs to have immense strength to carry and wield this weapon.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Winter Coats

The gloom of December afternoons does not encourage walkers to look carefully to either side. So the five stags off to the side of the bridleway were missed by several who passed by.
Their colours blended well with the surrounding bracken and birch branches. In previous years wandering groups of stags have appeared following the rut but these are the first I've seen this year, looking for the more sheltered parts away from the strength of the west winds and the bite of the northern. The thicker mane is now clear to see and a general build up of the coat has prepared them for the cold in the longest nights of the year.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


Not more than a couple of feet from the spring discovered recently is another presently disgorging a cascade down the slope into the dyke.

There's something reassuringly mysterious about the way that water bursts out from the ground like this leaving you trying to imagine the cavities below where it gathers before saturation leads it to pour out.

This year the fieldfares seem to have made Blacka their home to an extent not seen before. There's a constant series of restless short flights usually circling above the woodland followed by watchful periods in the tops of birch trees.

All in a Year

Please note that if you can spare time next Wednesday the meeting advertised below is open to the public.


Friends of Blacka Moor

The Year on Blacka Moor

Wednesday 9th December 2009

Totley Library 7.30 p.m.

The meeting will be in two parts.

A presentation showing scenes of Blacka Moor, its landscape and its wildlife, including red deer, through the course of a year month by month.

The main purpose of the meeting will be to review and discuss aspects of the current management of the site this year including the impact of cattle grazing.

All welcome. You may wish to attend for the first part only.

Regular users of Blacka Moor are particularly welcome.

Monday, 30 November 2009

May I Consult You?

In recent posts I've drawn attention to the strange ways of bureaucracies and the power they wield over our landscape, our wildlife and indeed all areas of our lives. Some talk about this and get into a rant about the public sector and usually bring in pensions and tax as well. I don't tend to get drawn into this sort of thing because I have even more reservations about much of the private sector and the power of giant corporations; but that's by the by. My worry about Local Councils and quangos like Natural England is their warped accountability. Blacka Moor is simply a bit of countryside which can happily get on with life largely on its own but there are an amazing six different bureaucratic institutions that have been involved (and some are still involved) over recent years. This goes some way towards explaining my jaded attitude.

The thing that really annoys me is the attitude to consultation. To understand this you have to know that any council officer or similar jobsbody has to show these days that projects put forward have been subjected to consultation. Bureaucrats have the gift of perpetual renewal. It's some time since the previous practice of ignoring the public and just getting on with what they've decided amongst themselves, so they have to claim that the public has been consulted. So when the plan or policy is published you will read in it somewhere that the policy or strategy has been widely even extensively consulted on. They will even give the names of groups who have been part of the exercise. All looks pretty watertight until you start to ask questions. Such as : who exactly are the people in this focus group they talk about? and how many of them turned up to the meeting? and who controlled the questions they were asked and made sure that certain questions didn't get asked? and how come I never found out about this supposed consultation even though it affects an area or facility I use more often than anyone else I know? All these and others are relevant to decisions taken that I've found out about in recent times. So what's left to you is to raise a stink afterwards leading the powers that be to publicly imply you are unrepresentative because a bona fide process determined that the council's initial idea is overwhelmingly supported.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Gods of the Countryside

One of the perks enjoyed by those working for Natural England is they get to play God. They decide what kind of landscape we have in England. In my wildest imaginings I never thought of God as a being sitting at a desk creating masses of self justifying paperwork and going to meetings but maybe that’s what we’ve come to in this secular world. So if you ever wondered who decided we’ve got to have mile upon mile of bleak treeless moorland while other countries have woods and forests the answer is the unaccountable NE.

But now there’s to be a planned campaign to plant trees all over the country to help deal with excess carbon emissions. So where does that leave the programme of tree felling and poisonings that SWT and their Natural England allies continue to defend on Blacka Moor? This is to return to a theme I’ve raised before. My point has little to do with carbon and climate change which I am not qualified to talk about. I prefer to trust the judgement of the majority of scientists partly because it chimes with my lifetime suspicion of the value of burning energy to create more and more disposable consumer goods, leading to more and more waste. Even in the nineteenth century John Ruskin was warning that the planet could not survive the impact of industrialisation the ugliness and violence of which denied all that a lover of beauty valued.

Our country, compared to others, has such a small area covered with woodland. So why do the conservation mafia insist we must retain vast tracts of artificial treeless waste in our uplands for supposedly ‘cultural’ reasons? This is the theme of Mark Fisher’s latest article. It is to Mark’s site that we must look for an intelligent discussion of these issues and once again he does not disappoint. And there is confirmation in his article of what I have always suspected: that it’s the vested interests of the Moorland Owners and Tenants with their grouse shooting businesses that determines policy which is then visited upon even areas in public hands by NE enforcers who consider that local councils are an easy touch.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Secret Places

There still remain parts of Blacka where the modern and philistine world seems far away although this section was tragically cut through with barbed wire four years ago by conservation forces.

The mix of beech and scots pine, bracken and larch is part of the appeal, and surprises even on the ground bringing delight as with this new spring shooting out from the the roots of a beech.

The group of three deer were here too this morning, stag, hind and young always mostly hidden by the trees.

Stalking to get a better picture is tricky, the ground being covered with hazards like fallen branches and cracking twigs while the steep slippery slope means you spend more time on your knees than your feet. And your clumsiness is constantly being inspected by critical eyes above.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Bureaucrats Retrench

According to the BBC, Sheffield City Council is beginning to shed jobs. It is a fair bet that the jobs to go will be the wrong ones. It is said that four senior management posts are in the firing line. I wonder if this means the job of Director of Parks and Countryside will be amalgamated with another post. I guess that would not be a complete surprise to the current incumbent. But the problem is that nobody, beyond their spouses and other desk workers, loves a bureaucrat so it's hard to get a body of people motivated to lobby for retaining council jobs especially management ones.

After all are we not all perpetually infuriated with the time and money spent on papers and procedures and meetings and policy documents as opaque as a stone wall. Examples of these are the recent Green Spaces Strategy and the Public Rights of Way Improvement Plan and now the Pedestrian Strategy. All of these are fine, even splendid, in their way but who can have any faith that they really take us forward to where we want to be with any degree of urgency?

Saturday, 14 November 2009


Best place to be this morning was the quiet spot above the stream, sheltered from the strong winds but getting some sunlight from a quickly changing sky. A stag was briefly to be seen through the trees and the flock of thrushes was taking a rest from their aerial excitements.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Keep in Step!

The new sheep had been in occupation for less than a day. They were dropped off with no ceremony in a matter of a minute or two. The grazier's trailer was rattling along the track one minute, reversing to the gate the next and then back on its way as if a vital appointment awaited.

They are amusing when getting used to a new place, reluctant to explore on their own. This morning this resulted in a single file winding its way round Thistle Hill. So no more Herdwicks, but this lot are also white faced and fairly stocky. One wonders how hardy they are for a hilly site well away from the farm. The other new occupant is a ram. This may be a first and I wonder if SWT know about it.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Family Group

The three deer browsing this morning is a reminder of the family group seen two years ago. They were on Blacka Hill in some of the dreariest morning light seen so far. It must be a strong likelihood that the small one is the young one born here in the summer.