Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Roll Call

Our makeshift bird table has survived the winds and the snow of winter and is even more popular as spring approaches. It's position has proved a good choice, on the sheltered, east side of the rhododendron encircling the 'wild wood'.

Present this morning were:

2 blue tits
2 coal tits
4 great tits
1 chaffinch
1 robin
1 dunnock
1 blackbird

The robin has taken food from the hand since November. One great tit has recently started feeding from the hand and another plus the chaffinch look likely to follow. (The robin is not too pleased about this.)

Interestingly my home bird table's most frequent visitors are quite different - long tailed tits and a pair of blackcaps.

Saturday, 21 February 2009


Two examples, large and small and far and near, of jarrings in the view from the top of Thistle Hill . Back in the 70s I was talking to a senior Sheffield planning officer and he was fuming. He and the city had objected strongly to the design, size and position of the new Hallamshire Hospital. Its impact on views across the city would be unacceptable. But the government overruled and the building went up. And there it is standing out as a reminder of the damage done by centralised top-down decision making. That officer is now chair of PDNPA where let's hope he may have better luck.

The shiny metal stock hurdles in the pastures were to be there for just a short time I was told - back in November. The grazier would remove them when the cattle went. Since then they've decided to keep the cattle in the pastures. So I asked again. No they won't be removed, this time for a different reason, something to do with inspecting the animals. So much for all the assurances given when people complained that cattle grazing would further the farmification of the landscape. Farming is an industry and farmers want to do what other industries are allowed to do. If this means barbed wire fences and muddy gateways and fertiliser and feed bags flying around then so be it. That's what the countryside is about, I can hear them say. So why SWT's Director (sorry, Chief Executive) should claim credit for not putting sheep mesh fencing up is anyone's guess. He said it was less visually intrusive than barbed wire!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Selective Memory

According to SWT we have a 'selective memory'. This is in effect one of their less extreme ways of telling others that those who oppose their policy cannot be relied upon. It should not be inevitable that the messenger gets smeared when the message is so unpalatable. We have a fair amount of evidence that SWT has been at some pains to discredit those who disagreed with them.

We're all prone to misremember facts and events. But when people accuse others of selective memory they are usually hoping that the counter accusations that fly around will spread confusion amongst third parties who will then despair of getting at the truth. The use of this ploy has been just one of the reasons that the Blacka saga has caused bitterness. Another is the retrospective corruption of events.
This quote is from the recent letter from SWT's Chief Executive.
The cattle grazing and fencing issue has been discussed many, many times at great length and currently I do not believe that this is the right time to re-visit the issue.
We heard this being said almost word for word last year, and the year before. In fact the first time it was said was in 2003 three years before the cattle appeared. After trying to get the plan to be scrutinised at RAG meeting eventually an agenda item was programmed between other items deemed of crucial importance. Very soon the call was parroted - "We've already decided this. Move on to the next item." SWT have been prepared to give a presentation (in 2005) about the policy but decidedly reluctant to respond to points raised. In various papers they produced they stated or implied that a kind of agreement had been reached. They seemed incapable of being straightforward about it. It was almost as if there was something they were nervous about or a serious fraud they wanted to hide.
Before the Icarus consultation of 2006 SWT got together all the conservationists from the Council, from PDNPA and English Nature (as it was then) etc., and discussed with them how they could fix the meetings so they would not have to discuss fencing and grazing even though this had been the main idea for the consultation being proposed. They said that the 'independent' facilitator would be instructed only to follow SWT's agenda. Unfortunately for them they were foolish enough to put it in the minutes of their exclusive meeting and this was later revealed to Friends of BM when a Freedom of Information request was put in.
Even when we have managed to raise the issue with SWT staff they have been careful not to respond to questions. The decision had been taken and that was that. So much for consultation.

Stags on both sides of the barbed wire

Mystifications and Justifications

Further to the Bog Standard post last month, a reply to our letter has been received from Mr Nigel Doar, Sheffield Wildlife Trust's Chief Executive, but none yet from the council's Director of Parks and Countryside. As SWT only received our letter on Monday it was disappointing that his reply arrived on Wednesday giving him no time to properly investigate, merely to do a 'desk job'. It's not unexpected of course as SWT staff, like their CE, don't seem overly fond of moving out of their offices. This seems to be the age of conservation via computer and paperwork. Blacka is managed remotely from work stations in a headquarters 5 miles away.

The bog issue is only one of a number of things all connected to access and footpaths that were raised, but Cowsick Bog was probably the most important. His response is interesting for what it reveals about SWT, conservation people generally and how important it is to pin down people in office who are addicted to mystification via convoluted self justification. This is the default position of all bureaucrats and officials whether in the local council, the civil service or even top-heavy charities. Hence we get the usual fictions about having 'widely consulted' and the plan having 'considerable support at the time'. We know this is nonsense, just tired off-the-shelf stuff from the bureaucrat's phrasebook.

There's some hilarious stuff in there as well. It's said that the channel (grip) that drained the bog was 'artificial' and blocking it up was going to make it much more 'natural' - and much bigger. Well I'm fairly persuaded that someone a hundred or two years ago did do some digging there to help maintain the grouse and sheep grazing moor. But how can anyone advocate the bog being returned to some highly debatable 'natural' state when at the same time they are poisoning and felling trees to recreate a wholly artificial adjoining grouse moor style heathland? If Blacka is to be 'natural' what are we doing with barbed wire and imported cattle ?

He claims the water level is not excessive and explains that the dams were inserted so that "the water levels in the bog will rise up to the level of the top of the dam and no further..". The picture below shows that even now with the path flooded and the bridge nearly engulfed there is a foot and a half more for the water to rise!
Are notices to be put up warning walkers to bring their own bathing costumes? Amazing! So why did they waste money on having the flagstones put in if they expected them to be swallowed up?

Even SWT's own flawed surveys from 2000/2001 have shown that local people wanted Blacka to be left alone and not changed. They used this to justify tree cutting on the spurious grounds that trees spread and after so many years there will be more of them! But nobody I have spoken to wants more boggy ground on land which is set aside as a public pleasure ground.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

"Close contriver of all harms."

This is how Hecate describes herself in Macbeth. But before she became a goddess of sorcery in the Greek world she was a goddess of childbirth and wilderness. So it's fitting she's here in the wild wood.

Photos in these woods are not always successful, the light being awkward (see this post). But maybe some places should be reserved for the naked eye.

The other Shakespearean witches are Paddock, Graymalkin and Anon, not far away in from the heath (and the bog).


A new group has been formed to combat threats to the rural character of the area visible from Blacka. Views to the east from the slopes of Blacka have always been an important part of its appeal but planning decsions taken recently reveal that the council's planning committee cannot be trusted to protect this landscape from unwelcome, unattractive and out of scale development. The letter in last week's Sheffield Telegraph announces the formation of the new group.

One of the new developments highlighted (literally) is the installation of unnecessary street lighting on Baslow Road. Another is the one we have regularly drawn attention to here - the new Fairthorn block of appartments. Below are two pictures, one taken before the demolition of the old building and the other taken yesterday. Note the roof of the old building and that of the new. The steep pitch of the old Fairthorn was in character and somehow managed to temper the size of the building.

Monday, 16 February 2009


There must be a case for going barefoot and in shorts when the ground is this wet, but on second thoughts not. At least galoshes mean both pairs of walking boots get a chance to dry out.

The area below Cowsick is in one of its spates. Much of this water would previously have sped through to the stream, through the grip channel which was dammed some years back by SWT.

The Wild Wood

This wood may be small but it's one of the most atmospheric parts of Blacka. It has disadvantages, proximity to the road and being surrounded by rhododendron, but it easily rises above them. In fact the circlet of the alien evergreen seems to protect it from the road not just by distance but by years. It may not be ancient but there's a great sense of mystery here. The tree above is an Arthur Rackham one, best not met on a dark night.

Progress here should be slow or wildlife may be disturbed.


Parts of Blacka now resemble a field amputation clinic after one of the great Napoleonic battles, with raw stumps and severed limbs where once all was just peaceful countryside.

Will those great Tree Surgeon heroes, modern day equivalents of the Imperial Guard, return to the site of their exploits or is dealing with the dead and wounded not part of their duties? In which case the carcasses will be left as carrion ?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Surgery Update

The result of the Invasion of the Tree Surgeons can now be seen and it's pretty awful. One of Blacka's best places to be is the terraced walk over the plunging Blacka Dyke with the little edge called Eagle Cliff. This is unfortunate enough to be under the power line. Most of the trees, large or small anywhere near the cable have been summarily destroyed and timber left on the ground drawing attention to the intrusion. This is all very depressing in a place we have grown to value for nature being left alone. And now the area around the cable has been cleared you realise the extent to which you relied on the trees to soften the impact of the power line. When there were trees around you could focus on them rather than the urban materials, the straight lines and the brightly coloured 'danger' signs on the poles.

The Returning.....

First, warmer air albeit carried by a pretty stark west wind. Always after snow the thaw seems inhospitable. The most unforgiving place is near the woods at the Stony Ridge end of Blacka where wind penetrates as if there's something to prove. Cyclists on the Hathersage Road out for their Sunday pleasure (?) jaunt grimaced and birds bound for Derbyshire ducked and wheeled.

The next return was the deer prints in the snow, quite large ones found all over the moor.

I've seen no prints at all while the snow was around so assumed they had moved to lower ground. But the deer this morning were found in the woods sheltered from the wind.

They were eating bramble leaves, and there are plenty of them growing clear of the lying snow.

Next returner is our robin.

He actually turned up yesterday but is now properly back in the routine. Where he's been getting his meals is a mystery. Now the blackbird and chaffinch who had moved in during his absence will have to be made to understand who is the real proprietor

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Winter Feeding

Our robin returned this morning and soon settled down to cheddar and suet. We can only assume that his resourcefulness sent him far and wide in search of food in times of scarcity. It's a kind of initiative, like his confidence and curiosity, that serves the robin well. The deer and other wild animals will also have been going well beyond their usual haunts. Not a choice open to the hardy creatures fenced in to the pastures who just have to cope as well as they can.

Perhaps the grazier will have been down to leave some supplementary food although no sign of vehicle tracks. Still even farmers have been known to walk occasionally. And there are various nutritional licks scattered around in containers.

Witches Broom is birch's Christmas Tree bauble. It is caused by a fungus usually introduced by a tiny mite. The effect is similar to the oak apple, but instead of the woody ball the birch sends out a cluster of small twiggy branches.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Access Issues

At the recent Blacka Moor RAG meeting friends of Blacka Moor expressed their serious disappointment in the deterioration of much of Blacka's paths and bridleways. Some of this is down to direct intervention by SWT. We said that we would be writing to Nigel Doar, SWT's Director and to Mary Bagley Director of Sheffield City Council's Parks and Woodland Department.
SWT have already made a response to our concerns: they have put a notice up at entrance points.

Power, Surgery and Trees

The invasion of the tree surgeons sounds like a film title. The weird events of Monday are now over, we hope, and when winter recedes and normal access returns we will find out what damage was caused by the military style operation. Part of the shock was the numbers involved. Here we were making a special effort in challenging but beautiful weather to reach a quiet secluded area and we found ourselves in the middle of an industrial event. And when people in hard hats and helmets suddenly start using words like surgery and surgical to describe what they do you're pretty sure it's going to be something indiscriminate.
Nigel's second comment seems plausible. Most of us have known examples of utility conpanies riding roughshod over property owners. Or we may have agreed to certain things then found that something altogether different is understood by the gang who come along to do the job. All I've found to date is a pile of birch twigs under the line at one point.

I'm more than ever convinced that the chain saw is an evil in itself. Back in the days when trees had to be cut by hand you thought twice and more before removing a tree. Present day working practice means the job's not done by anyone with a sense of responsibility to the site. They arrive, do the job, go away and probably never return again - because they're likely to be not actually interested in countryside, nature or landscape. It's a recipe for mindless action. And worst of all is the sense that there's a certain excitement in operating a powerful tool.

For Blacka the future should be to get the removal of the power line on the agenda. It may take a long time but you have to start somewhere. Scenery like that on Blacka needs protecting and it needs nurturing

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Le Crunch

The usual silence of snow is not here this morning. It's been confounded, and encrusted, by a bitterly cold night. Boots crunching onto frozen snow make a penetrating racket, enough to betray your presence and encourage any remaining wildlife to run for cover. This came on a morning which brought a golden delicious sunrise*. Mention of wildlife reminds me of deer. All are doubtless further down looking out for any food scraps they can get. Sally says she's seen prints near Totley Hall.

The top of Blacka Hill had the hardest frost and is where the deepest drifts are found. Bertie was happy to find he could walk on top without sinking in. Even my 12 stone and size tens managed this for several minutes before finally sinking up to the knees.

*The reference may be lost on anyone who didn't see the advertising campaigns for French apples in the eighties.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Winter Continued...

It's not every year we get a winter so it's worth feasting our eyes on it even if we do need to wear extra layers. This morning it was harder to find someone else's footprints to walk in and the extra depth from the overnight fall was cruelly challenging to Bert's eleven year old legs; far from complaining his tail remained vertical.
We know of one local golden retriever who has been staying indoors because the salt on the road irritates his paws. It would be interesting to hear what Bert would say to that.

Beech and Oak are the wise old trees of English woods....
..but it's the young ones that have the sense to retain leaves as clothing during the hard times.

However cold the nights the old leaves cling on as if they think Spring can regenerate them.

..... a triumph of hope.

No sign of yesterday's invaders who seem to be like last night's bad dream, and the fresh snow makes Blacka a different place with a strength to hold off any assault.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Worst Nightmare

Could I be dreaming? Double and treble takes much in evidence as we drove up to the Stony Ridge car park. Having spent a lot of time railing against the senseless destruction of perfectly good trees, we arrived to find a battalion of tree surgeons armed to the teeth filling and overflowing what is now the only car park for this side of Blacka. Something on the scale of an arboricultural genocide seemed to be in prospect. Could this be a punishment for Blacka daring to be too wild and too beautiful for the world of the modern manager?

The man in charge told me that they were there to clear trees that were causing problems with the overhead electricity cable that (unfortunately) straddles Blacka. Responding to my concern he insisted that they were only going to clear small birch. When have I heard that before?

The scale of the overkill sends one staggering. There were eight, (EIGHT!) trucks all ready for action like tanks in a war zone, each with several men inside and the engines running. As the camera clicked another one arrived this time a huge 4X4.
What is it about our dear beloved Blacka Moor that attracts such disproportionate contracted operations? And why this industrial scale? And is this the reason our fuel bills are so high?
Postscript (Tuesday)
A fresh fall of snow, and therefore heavy going underfoot, prevented any investigation this morning of what the invaders got up to. The snow anyway will have covered their tracks. Perhaps they went home and decided to return in more suitable weather. Perhaps the reason for there being so many of them was the problem of finding work for a large body of men on a certain day. We'll look again when walking is easier.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Changed ..........

............. rather than the more pretentious 'transformed' and therefore in keeping with the new American vocabulary. Something milder suggests that things are still the same underneath but I won't extend the political analogy.

The landscape under snow both hides and reveals. A well cropped field or swathe of parkland can show unrelieved white, almost painfully. Blacka's heather has not been burned, perhaps for a century or more, and is therefore an expanse of shrubbery or leggy heather. The snow draws attention to this as the surface becomes lumpy with twigs and branches pushing through.
But the woodland this week has been the place to be.
My favourite woodland is the area near Stony Ridge dominated by splendid Alders and Scots Pines.
This is an intriguing place, surrounded by the undesirable rhododendron like a besieging army, but once penetrated is a magical haven. More than one person has been reminded of C S Lewis's "The Lion The Witch and Wardrobe".

Friday, 6 February 2009


One of those deskbound officials at Unnatural England really should find some way of taming this wildness in Blacka's woodland. Surely it can't be that difficult. Just a few more pages in a management plan. After all what use is all this untidiness?

Badger's Eye View

Blacka's barbed wire roughly from the viewpoint of a dog or a badger. (Badgers are known to have poor eyesight and go out at night so presumably would not be expected to put in a complaint if their vision was reduced by 50%.) SWT are responsible for the management of Blacka, which they choose to call a Nature Reserve. They have been asked how many badgers and other animals have been injured on the barbed wire. So far they have not provided that information and it is unclear whether they keep records. It could be that this is not a high priority for them as it's not one of those activities, like demolishing trees, which can be undertaken with a satisfyingly powerful chain saw.