Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A Good Place to Sit ?

On a fine spring afternoon few places are as inviting as the steep bank overlooking Blacka on the side of Wimble Holme Hill. The fresh greenery and the birdsong rising from the trees below are enhanced by the sheer variety of views on offer. So sit and enjoy the peace.

It could just be that in the middle of the same view others have settled down to relax taking advantage of the natural litter of dead bracken.

Only a slight feeling of dampness in the seat of the trousers persuades us to move on.

Burning Back

At 7 am the cold fog was penetrating. But at this time of year it just needs a hint of sun to warm you up. It's interesting, the appeal of a limited view. It leaves something to the imagination in the same way as I prefer radio drama to film or television - as somebody once said, the pictures on radio are better; the book is better still of course.

Living in an age that values pristine clarity there are still some of us who are happier with uncertainty and mystery.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Birch Spirit

Some of the birches on Blacka are so resplendent with catkins that the leaves are insignificant in their appearance. There is one to be seen from the terrace walk thankfully spared by the tree surgeons that's worth a special trip to see.

Five years ago SWT appeared with cans of poison and applied it to a large number of mature birches. I remember counting to 70, then started to worry I might count some twice and giving up. The trees were left standing where they had been attacked but since then several have fought back putting out some rather pathetic leaves in an admirable show of spirit. Most, though, have died some still standing and others now lying on the ground.

Let that be a lesson to them. Management must be obeyed. The picture below shows some of each only the alder having been completely spared.

Didn't the Russians create a potent drink from birch sap? - or was it simply a brand name for vodka? Must look it up on google.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Joys to Come

Mouths start watering when we see the bilberries in such profusion. But hold on, these are just the flowers. It's easy to be deceived by the globular pink shapes all over the moor. Try taking one apart and you realise it's hollow with the flower parts clear to see inside. But the signs are good for a crop of berries in July and August.
I can't remember seeing this whitebeam last year.
It's close to another that was reduced in size by SWT's cattle two years ago. Deer too are liable to eat young trees but they somehow lack the crude industrial willpower of cattle.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Water Hole

This is likely to be the lovely muddy patch where the stag had been rolling. It's only a short stroll away from where the animal was when seen wearing an unusually dark coat.

Spring clothing was more in evidence on Blacka's birches today. I've changed my mind (yet again!) - spring is better than autumn, and the wild music helps.

Return of the Flossies

The short period of livestock absence is soon gone. Decisions about grazing are taken purely from the point of view of convenience for the grazier. It will not be for another 12 months that sheep are off the pastures again. This is an issue and should be raised but SWT will resist it. The sheep that have returned with lambs look quite different to those removed a couple of weeks ago. Those were much neater and more compact in appearance whereas these are a scruffy lot.

Mentioning the pasture land and the issue of recreation priorities reminds me that last week there was again some hang glider instruction going on. I had thought SWT had stopped this activity because of the impact on the bird breeding season. About six years ago a fairly elderly gentleman came along to a RAG meeting and politely asked if his small group (all similarly elderly) who operated radio controlled gliders (silent kind) could continue doing what they have been doing for scores of years for one or two days a year. He was told by no means because birds would be affected. I somehow doubt that the hang gliders have even asked - and doubt that SWT are interested in doing anything about it. An SWT car was in the car park while the hang gliders were there.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

More Tranquillity

Another special morning, this time with less breeze so almost no traffic noise . Times like this you feel sorry for those sitting at desks, though these days you wonder whether most of them would be tearing round on motor bikes if they had the choice.

The morning promised well from the start and then the air filled with birdsong including another cuckoo - or possibly the same one as yesterday's. Deer again picked out a sunny spot after setting a guard or two to check they were not being taken by surprise

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

In the Haze

At the right time the views from Blacka surpass anything in the district. Sometimes in the early morning the hazy sunshine creates its own magic. Even the views the east drawing the eye towards the city can have their own magic.

Sadly recent appalling planning decisions have ruined what should be one of the great views on the edge of the national park. Now it's only bearable when mist creates a veil hiding the giant building at Shorts Lane. This is a shameful failure by the city council and one we're reminded of every time we visit Blacka.

"From views at a distance it is considered that the building tucks into the hillside and respects the topography of the area" This is the wording in the planning assessment presented to councillors by the officers of the Sheffield City Council planning department who recommended that this building should go ahead, replacing a two storey building with a steep pitched roof with this four storey monstrosity. It was also suggested that it fits in with the scale, style and architecture of nearby buildings. Are these people in touch with reality at all?

Friends of Blacka Moor

Friends of Blacka Moor are holding their Annual General Meeting on 27th April.

FoBM welcomes new members. Please let us know if you will be attending via the contact email address at the side of the blog.

Venue Totley Library, Baslow Road. Time, 7.30 pm

Cuckoo Arrives

This was my first hearing of the cuckoo this year. He was flying over the woods at 7.30 am. The morning was beautiful but not quite as peaceful as yesterday. A slight breeze allowed some traffic noise to drift across the northern parts but this didn't put off the warblers. This one was even prepared to patronise the barbed wire.
Still no blackcaps to be heard. Buckler fern is well into growth..........and in a few sheltered places you can even see an odd bracken frond. Deer were again searching out the sunniest spots to browse and lie down.

Monday, 20 April 2009


CPRE regularly calls for more tranquillity in the countryside. It can seem like whispering in a room where everyone else is shouting. They should go on calling for it because without it we might just as well be in the middle of a city.

Blacka has many advantages but is not always tranquil. Road noise and aircraft noise on certain days can be too much for some of us. This morning we had tranquillity and more than that. All came together after a series of cold mornings when Blacka was positioned on the north sea coast feeling the bite of a sea wind. Now it was not only sunny but warm. The road traffic was calmed by the single lane imposed for the wall repairs. (Please God let them take another six months on this).
Deer were basking genially in the sun reluctant to move off as we approached. Some were making competitive darts at each other, unable to use antlers so resorting to rising onto two legs.

Velvets are already well advanced on some stags while others have only just shed their previous set. Bird song this morning was excellent. Thrushes and warblers were well represented although no sign yet of the blackcaps and the cuckoos. But the best feature was the peace and tranquillity. It was like being transported to days gone by when this was normal. Now it's unusual and you wonder if a time will come soon when it is just a distant memory.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Now's The Time

Sally reminds us that you can only feel confident that Spring has arrived when the Blackthorn is in flower. In genuine countryside Blackthorn marks the divide. All those blossoms and bulbs that decorate suburbia seem to have been designed to pinch a bit out of winter to get you to think Spring is here before it should be. Anything that persuades you to leave off your woolly hat should be treated with suspicion.

But Blackthorn is honest and, pretty as it is, not to be messed with. It has the straightest thorns in the English hedgerow.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A Question of Colour

Red deer are of course red. Well, the coat is a beautiful reddish brown when in the peak of condition, from midsummer to the end of autumn. It's quite a different story during winter and spring. Obviously the coat thickens to deal with the cold giving a grey appearance which is nowhere near as sleek looking. During the period of antler shedding there's a general moult leaving small piles of fur and fluff visible.

So what was to be made of the sight of a black stag on Bole Hill? The light was dim and misty and the deer looked small on the hillside some distance away but there was no mistaking the fact that one stag was a quite different colour to the others. Binoculars confirmed this.

No solution to this apart from some creative deduction: In one or two places near the stream we have seen signs that deer have been rolling in the mud. It must be a genuine pleasure to them at a time when there's so much irritation caused by the moult. And no antlers to get in the way.

The Mania for Conservation Management

The way that wildlife trusts and other conservation organisations go about their work is a regular concern of this blog.

We are not the only ones. This article pursues the same theme.

Cutting down trees to restore open habitats

Monday, 13 April 2009

Easter Monday

Good information that it was best to get out early this morning. Less pleasant weather was on its way. So quite a few visitors around before 9 am. They may not have been early enough to see the ground frost and the mists swirling around - or the solitary stag on Totley Moor.
But they could have been lucky and seen others through the trees near the main bridleway.
They turned out to be part of a herd of ten grazing stags on the south east side of Blacka Hill.
Two were still antlered and at least one of the others had made a good start developing his new set.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Really Quiet

There's a different atmosphere to land in which no business is being carried on. Farmland is never completely free from the farming industry which is not much different to any other industry these days. The presence of sheep or cattle is always there to remind you that someone's earning a living on this land. Today was a bit different and we guessed correctly when we saw the signs that a heavy vehicle had been along the track. The cattle had been taken off to have their vaccinations. This is for Blue Tongue and they need to have two jabs a week or two apart. It just needs a few midges to fly across the channel from Brittany and this is a distinct possibility. There is also more than one strain.

The sheep of course are still at the maternity ward so the pasture land is empty of farm animals. That's such a refreshing experience that it should be a regular thing several times a year. After all this is charitable land designated not for farming but for the recreation of the public. The midge in the ointment is the conservation industry who don't like having too many of us around and they are the people who made sure they got their hands on it. All is about power.

Friday, 10 April 2009

A Fine Path

The path leading up from the pastures to the saddle between Bole Hill and Wimble Holme Hill is one of the best around Blacka. It hugs the side of the hill satisfyingly and reveals some good views of which my favourite is that overlooking Lenny Hill. This morning's was pleasantly hazy, but none the worse for that.
Some of the other views looking down on Lenny Hill have now been spoiled by the monstrously obtrusive Fairthorn which I'm glad to say cannot be seen from the present walk. ( Letter in today's Sheffield Telegraph on Fairthorn ).
The status of this path needs looking into. On the maps it looks as if it's a bridleway but it's hard to believe anyone would try to ride a horse here. Cyclists have been seen gingerly moving along - hardly riding and there was evidence of motor bike tracks. If it is a bridleway I think it should be regraded as PRoW. Nothing should be encouraged on here which could damage the path.

Plenty of deer all around here this morning.

Now then.....I'm telling.........

SWT always defers to Unnatural England. This can be frustrating for those of us who try to get them to do something (or stop doing something) that just seems basic common sense. Small fry bureaucrats commonly look up to big-time, big-budget bureaucrats, and that's what we've got here. A polite request has to go in followed by a lengthy trawl through several hundred tons of paperwork, policies, procedures, guidance and recommended approaches to see whether the proposed action clashes with the terms of some directive or other or some management plan that's been gathering dust on the shelves for the last seventeen years. If you're lucky within 12 months you'll get the go ahead and be told that yes you can remove that bit of barbed wire or that stone on the bed of a stream or be given a hand written docket that can be exchanged for an entrance permit for a visiting songbird from abroad to stay in the country for the summer.

I may be exaggerating a little.

Today's example concerns our recent good cause, making it possible to use the footpath across Cowsick the way we did before the more loony of the conservationists decided to make it more boggy by installing toy plywood dams across it, (courtesy of Blue Peter?). When we suggested removing one or more of the dams the answer came back from Unnatural England that "work would not be permitted that could interfere with the hydrology of the bog".

Well the amazing news is that something has been done that definitely interferes with the hydrology of the bog. At the north end somebody has effected a sudden and dramatic reduction in the level of the water.
A short inspection of the area did not reveal what had been done but the suspicion is that one or more of the panels has been punctured below the water line.

The question is ... do the puppet masters of NE know about this ? If so why have they changed their tune ?

Thursday, 9 April 2009


Blacka is fairly high up so some things get here a bit later. At the moment we're looking out for wood sorrel, just beginning to show, the leaves of rowan (above) and listening for the songs of warblers; yesterday brought the first chiff chaff and this morning the first willow warbler, not bothered by the dim light and damp air.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Distant Feature

The best time to see Lincoln Cathedral from here can be when everything is gloomy apart from the eastern sky. An appropriate sunbeam adds atmosphere.


SWT are not satisfied with Blacka Moor. The conservationists generally are on record as considering it unsatisfactory. It makes you wonder at times why they don't go away and leave it to the rest of us who like it very much, or at least we liked it before they came along and started altering it. "Unfavourable condition recovering" is Unnatural England's official verdict and the 'recovering' bit is only added on at the end because someone's produced a stack of boring paperwork after many hours sitting at a desk miles away from the site and called it a Management Plan. This is actually true - you don't have to do anything on the ground to get the accolade 'recovering'. You just have to get yourself a management plan. Once that's in place NE can rest assured that the real aim of conservation has been achieved i.e. a net increase in bureaucracy.

But every so often SWT do get out of their offices in a distant part of Sheffield and do something. They usually choose a fine day and they usually bring along some heavy plant or machinery - they would feel naked without it. Hence the 'scrapes' that have appeared in the pasture land. The intention is to allow them to fill with water to create small muddy pools that could just persuade curlews to stay around here instead of going somewhere else. Or perhaps lapwings.

The point here is that nature itself is not good enough to provide for itself. This is the consequence of making biodiversity the prime criterion for countryside management. The project is to show that you have more species on the land than there were before which is why so many of them are to be seen with clipboards ticking boxes. You sometimes feel with wildlife trusts and conservationists generally that they would quite welcome a small block of flats being plonked in the middle of a beauty spot if the developer agreed to having a butterfly garden on the roof. After all that is what they are doing already - wildlife trusts reach an accommodation with the quarrying, landfill and aggregates industries who make considerable contributions to their funds and their projects. The whole thing is more about opportunism and meddling than old style nature conservation. Welcome to the 21st century.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Moss Road Surface

Apparently it was horse riders or a horse rider who asked the council to have work done to Moss Road. This seems to have been not the first time lately that dubious surfacing has been attributed to demands from horse riders. I wonder if they are just being used as a convenience for justifying work that is otherwise inexplicable.

Why on earth would a council want to use such awful materials - crushed bricks and chopped up tarmac - to repair a humble track that at least looked natural even if it was eroded ? The result is a track that's a gift for racing bikes and motor bikes.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sunday Jaunt

Not many remaining antlers now and the general moult is visible on the coat of this stag. Another,smaller, antler has been found by Treacle, now firmly established as the leading retriever on the moor.

Sadly but predictably a mindless character has attacked the bench at Lenny Hill in search of immortality. But then the idea of scratching a poem around the edged of the bench was always likely to lead to some idiot trying to do the same. The bird song around here is always worth stopping for. At the moment it's mainly thrushes and robins with the calling of great tits in accompaniment and loud shouts from a green woodpecker. So far my hearing has not picked up any warblers.

This egg is the size of a standard hen's egg so I'm assuming it's from a bird at least as big as a curlew