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.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Partly Hidden

The village of Dore nestles cosily below Blacka Moor. When the mist helpfully veils the depressing bulk of King Ecgbert's School, Dore can look an inviting place. But if planning decisions are not challenged more effectively than to date it could easily become just another slice of urban sprawl. Recently the chief area of concern is the ease with which permission is granted for disproportionately large buildings on the site of much smaller ones that have been demolished.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Quiet Spot

The slopes above the high parts of Blacka Dyke on the north side are an excellent place to be in autumn. No paths go there and yet it's fairly easy to find your way through once the bracken has died back. From the terraced walk on the opposite side there are good views of the trees and the fiery colours of the dead bracken in early morning sun. Occasionally you get a sighting of a stag as this morning.

You also get to see where the water drops suddenly to the lower parts of the dyke.
Some large beeches are here setting the ground ablaze with their cast off leaves.

No path for man but deer have made their way through for some years to get to the more secluded woodland - a journey that means a leap over the barbed wire installed in 2005. There are signs too that cattle have followed their lead this year. Let's hope they found nothing to persuade them it's worth returning.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Looking Up

The paths are getting worse by the day as the long dry spell of early autumn becomes just a memory. Where the peat has been exposed by the cattle and the broadening continues all we can look forward to in the winter is more mud punctuated by welcome periods of drying frost. The group of renegade mountain bikers who've taken to riding over the hill probably enjoy the mud. Mountain bikers seem to divide into several groups, the two main ones being those who avoid the wetter areas by riding out to the side and causing further erosion and those who love the splash and spray sticking to the centre. The second lot, of course, cause more damage to the original route making it more likely that all other users will divert to the edges.

Better far to keep one's eyes on the sky and enjoy the sunrises which can be excellent value at this time of year.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sky Dancing

The air remains full of large flocks of Fieldfares. Their constant movement is like the phases of an elaborate country dance. They add interest to a season deprived of the birdsong that appeals so much in Spring, but you wonder what is the purpose of all this energy sapping activity. Occasionally several birds sit out a session perhaps unable to find suitable partners or unhappy with those who have offered.

The wall at the Stony Ridge car park has been repaired surprisingly efficiently within a day by SWT - minus a length of coping stones that had been filched.
It's a pity it took so long to get round to it but this is well done so let's hope it shows a commitment to doing these bread and butter tasks well. There remain several sad looking examples of poor work during the last few years which should be put out of their misery, one of which is the bench below Lenny Hill. The lack of symmetry between the two supporting columns makes me feel uncomfortable each time I see it.