Thursday, 30 December 2010

Hard to Get

Confirming what we said a month ago the plans to dispose of nature reserves to wildlife charities have now exposed the true nature of these organisations. They are demanding more money from government. This is what we always knew. Wildlife Trusts do not exist solely for altrusitic purposes. In fact their main raison d'etre is furthering the interests of the people who work in them and by extension in the conservation industry. Everything that these people do is about getting grants from public bodies. Try asking them to do something that is indisputably the right thing to do and the answer that comes back is - no we can't do that because we can't get grants for that kind of thing. Yet they manage to meet all sorts of administrative and salary costs with little difficulty. They know in fine detail just what grants can be applied for and they focus their whole business approach on getting them. Principle and conviction is not part of the equation. Yet people are encouraged to support these charities believing that there is something more unselfish in them than in other institutions. In fact they are hardly different to a typical local authority bureaucracy. And the latter is at least more directly accountable.

The article in the Independent today tells us as much. The flawed 'localism' strategy favoured by the government, instead of giving more power to local people, seems designed to hive off assets to single issue charities whose motivation is their own and their members' interests plus institutional empire building, something local authorities have long ago abandoned because of centralised Westminster control. Now the charities have got together and presented government with an agreed ultimatum demanding more money. we're not taking anything over, they say without more taxpayers' money. But who is betting on more local accountability?

Quiet Thaw

Thaws are often not enjoyable. They replace a bright new coat with the old drab one. And it’s common for the rise in temperature to be accompanied by grey skies and fresh raw winds from the west, feeling worse than the cold clearness of the days before. This thaw has not been like that.
Calm air has brought an immediate sense of relief. How long the glacier along the bridleway will be with us is anyone’s guess. Fog is only fun when you can see other places enveloped in it as today. Still we have oaks covered with brown leaves. The young beech are always reluctant to drop their leaves.
Stags stand around hardly feeding ................ as if it’s enough just to stand still allowing the mildness to penetrate the thick coats.

Monday, 27 December 2010


One of the attractions of fresh snow is the way it covers up. All the footprints of the previous weeks are no more and we can make a fresh start. If only we could do that in our lives. Every false move, every mistake gone as if it never happened. Such are the musings of midwinter.

But practical thoughts should not be abandoned. Up on the moor when the flurries turn into faster and regular snowfall it's time to think about how to get back.

Sunday, 26 December 2010


Eyes don't usually get drawn towards the treeless pasture land, home to sheep and cows and their waste and the dismally chewed-over grass. But this morning from a distance the woolly mowers appeared to have grown tall and slim.
The stags, not so often found there, may have decided this morning's specially clear sunrise deserved an effort to climb for a good viewpoint. Ten minutes before, at 8.15, the very few who were up on Boxing Day morning were able to watch as the sun appeared - in our case just to the left of Chesterfield's crooked spire.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Wedding cake falls on Blacka Dyke.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winnings and Losings

For those who look hard enough natural beauty can be found. And it can bring great satisfaction. But beware thetemptation to buy a camera, especially after many years of being content with just looking and enjoying the moment. Frustrations can detract from peace of mind. If only this or that. It gets harder just to let things happen and accept fate. There have been some losings over the last week. Anticipating a good sunrise when the night sky was clear only to find cloud welling up to the east; hoping to see the eclipse over Blacka but being disappointed; seeing red deer in the woods, a favourite sight, but it being too early and dark to even attempt a picture through the trees.
Yet yesterday afternoon brought a superb moonrise and this morning balanced things with a beautiful sunrise and rime on the trees.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Early Days

It's worth remembering that most of winter still lies ahead. The harshness of the extended period of bitter temperatures must affect wildlife badly. Prints of deer, fox and hare can be seen in the snow. Some of the birds that come to meet us, hoping for seeds and cheddar, are still around, though robin and chaffinch have not been seen for more than a week.

The jackdaws and rooks were returning back from Derbyshire across the full moon as the land darkened at 3.30.

In the early morning sheep on the hill were moving about in single file, something that seems to happen more when they are under stress.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

No Noise?

It's hard to find somewhere without noise these days so this morning's silence was welcome. The mist kept people in their beds who might otherwise be enjoying the winter views. But it has its own fascination different to the strong contrasts in the sun yesterday.

Thinking of the painting vs photographs subject raised yesterday, artists drawing from life out in the open would have had no problems in warmer times but severe cold and deep snow have never been easy for life drawingin wilder parts. One click on a camera is simple even if my cold fingers sometimes fail to locate the right button to press.

When the peace is punctured by loud voices you know well before the figures arrive that they are Mountain Bikers. Even just pushing their machines side-by-side they feel the need to shout at each other. It just seems to be what they do. It goes with the activity. I'm sure not every single MTBer but too many. A pity about the peace.

Friday, 17 December 2010

That favourite tree again.

Snow Variety

Given the choice I would always go for a sketch or painting of landscape rather than a photograph. Even a moderately talented artist brings something extra to a view making a camera's efforts impersonal to my mind. Just half an hour of observing closely brings humanity into the picture.
The one possible exception is in snow scenes though I may be influenced by seeing too many kitch and cliched pictures only fit for cheap Christmas cards. Actual snow creates a greater variety of effects than I've ever seen in paintings. Each time it falls it clings to vegetation in a slightly different way to the last. But it's always most interesting around trees. This morning's snow left its greatest impression around the underlayers of bilberry and other low scrubby growth.
Today's deer were a couple of younger stags I've not seen recently. One was already large and likely to make a formidable adversary in autumns to come.

Monday, 13 December 2010


Localised snow falling on Blacka at midday.

Much talk on the news today of localism and goverment intentions to devolve power to the community. If I believed this to be true I would be celebrating but we should all have learned to be sceptical. In practice who will be the people running things? Will Veolia no longer be dealing with waste disposal? Will local people be in charge of bus routes and public transport policy rather than huge businesses like First and Stagecoach? And of course who will be running our countryside? The answer is that managers will still be in charge, managing in the interests of businesses which may or may not be mega-charities. Strangling would be the only way to get them to loosen their grip. Businesses like SWT spend much time constructing a narrative that portrays themselves as community organisations. However much we know this is fiction the decision will be taken by politicians and bureaucrats who are themselves part of the same cosy and exclusive 'community of interest', while local people will still be on the outside.
The best we can hope for is active participation in the scrutiny and the holding to account. Let's face it. Our local councillors do a pretty poor job at this. Anyone who's attended council meetings can attest to the shocking failures of our elected representatives to carry out this basic democratic function. The centralisation of most decision making, taking all freedom of movement away from Town Halls has given little or no responsibility and even less job satisfaction to local public figures. If this localism is really going to mean something then we must ensure the grass roots is where decisions are made.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Soon Gone

Apart from on some east facing slopes sheltered from the wind the snow went quickly, filling the streams.
The residents were pleased.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hard Walk

Much of the time it comes over the top of gaiters or Wellington boots so it's hard work moving forward. The 272 bus driver kindly put me down at the car park where there are tracks. Piper House bus stop the other day had been so deep that I thought it best avoided. Some big strong vehicles had been in the car park (4x4 - the man's solution!), and tracks also went down to the composters, so walking is not bad that far. Presumably the farmer has been down to his sheep and highland cattle. But then the double tracks become single, evidence of just a walker or two and the mad MTBers who are driven by an obsession to take their bikes everywhere (reliable informants have told me they sleep with them). A snow barricade is probably also theirs.

If the grazier got down this far there's no evidence for it. The gates won't open and there's no sign that livestock have gathered around the gate which is what would happen if they saw fodder coming. I had to climb the gate - a lot easier than walking in 2 feet of snow. How they manage for water I don't know; highland cattle will probably eat snow but I'm less sure about sheep. There are small patches of bare ground where they've pushed their snouts through the snow to get to some pretty rough dead-looking grass. A bale ot two of hay would go down well, I'm sure. Of course no sign of deer. Not imprisoned without rations in the enclosure like these others they will be foraging down near the farms to the east. Good luck to them and let's hope they meet one of the kinder farmers.
Beyond the far gate and up over Blacka Hill is slow progress.

This is certainly where you need tennis rackets strapped to your boots. Occasionally there are human footprints to walk in until they annoyingly, and mysteriously, stop just when you've begun to rely on them.

Then at the Hollow a decent path emerges of the kind made by a group taking it in turns to lead
- but then that too loses its identity just as I'm beginning to wonder if I'll make it to the bus stop in time. Here on the notorious bend of the A625 the stop is on the south side for both directions. The time-honoured tradition of drivers every few months knocking chunks of wall, the stop itself and sometimes themselves over the precipice seems to be dying out.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Pedants' Corner

If most cabbage's and sprout's (sic) remain under snow for much longer the greengrocer's apostophe could be absent for a while too. So where should we look for similar joys? Well communications from SWT promise to be a rich field for those investigating distortions of our language. We've already had the affected word 'lookering', an example of adding an extra syllable to a word just to draw attention to yourself. That word is a phony archaism invented by devotees of conservation grazing maybe intended to give the practice its own specialised jargon. Now there's a new word on the block: 'Patrolees'. My first guess was that a 'patrolee' could be a recruit to some jingoistic or patriotic youth group, possibly wearing a uniform with nationalistic emblems. But no, it appears that the word 'patrolee' might be intended to mean "one who patrols". The online edition of the Complete Oxford Dictionary (the world authority) does not know of this word and I, for one, hope it doesn't find out about it. What is wrong with 'patroller'? That at least maintains the normal grammatical tradition that the suffix .. 'er' is used for one who actively does something, while the suffix .. 'ee' is used for one who has something done to them. Also, 'patroller' is an actual word having been used in the language for 282 years as the OED mentions. The blurring of these two suffixes is regrettable because they mean opposite things. A previous example - one I've seen also used by SWT and other local petty bureaucrats is 'attendee'. This unfortunately is becoming more common having originated in America and being used in computerised dictionaries and programmes like MS Word which rejects the better and more grammatical 'attender'. Attendant could also be used. But I suspect that in the case of 'patrolee' what is being aimed at is a kind of 'in' language something that's part jargon and part fey. It fits well with a communication strategy that rejects the frank and clear-cut.

Finding Gold

Only distant views are allowed for those encumbered with a motor car. There's still nowhere to put it on the higher parts. Cleared roads have this peculiarity: they are there for getting from A to B but there's not any freedom to roam because it's as if you're on a train, only allowed to get out when a station is reached. Leaving the car at the side of the road is not an option because of the impact on moving traffic.

Late afternoon brought a rare gold light only possible when white dominates on the ground.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Wild and Hard

Can we any longer fully identify with the hardness of the life wild animals lead?. We are now so far removed from extended contact with the elements that we've largely lost an ability to understand and empathise with the day to day hour by hour struggle for existence experienced by wildlife. We might feel intensely the pathos of suffering when seeing it on a screen in our living rooms but within minutes we can be onto another channel and totally absorbed in a different world. But it's still worth trying to understand the sheer grinding hardness that is life in the wild. A tiny bit of that communicates itself walking solitary through deep snow in bitter cold. Badgers, according to a local farmer, have been coming into one of his barns. Last winter many Scottish red deer perished and I was looking at young deer calves two weeks ago and wondering if they would survive if we have another bad winter. The same farmer was very disapproving of other farmers he knew locally who shot deer on their land and we know this happens. Easy to dismiss concerns at this by reminding ourselves that these animals, in a more natural world, would be constantly under fear of attack by wolves. It's just less easy to accept it when we think of someone coming out of their centrally heated cosy farmhouse with gun ready loaded. Or is that just another show of sentimentality? I like to think most of us have more respect for creatures that live in tough conditions 24 hours a day.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Strangeness of Woodland

The woods take on many guises over the course of a year. Just during the last week changes have been dramatic and beautiful and at times weird. Today the overladen branches had shed their loads from the top branches making spiky effects on the broader panoramic views. But deeper within the shelter of the thicker woodland the scene remained eccentric and sometimes unsettling. Oak leaves on the top of snow remind you that they lose their leaves later than many but rarely later than this kind of snow happens.
Having given up on both walking and driving all the way to Blacka, the bus was now an option. Getting off at Piper House left me in snow over the top of my Muck Boots (a superior wellington). It didn't get much easier so not recommended for anyone who has not got two tennis rackets to strap to the feet.

Access and Roads

It may be that there are those who have been walking around Blacka in the last few days. They would have to be provided with much more advanced transport than we have. Walking up from Dore or Totley would mean striding through more than 15 inches of snow. Information available online suggests main roads are open but that no buses are running. One of the problems for those whose cars can get them up the roads is where to park. Lay bys are usually inaccessible in these conditions being used as depositories by snow ploughs.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Perpetrations at Pirbright

The news about deer being released at the MoD site at Pirbright, Surrey, had a number of odd things about it. It has taken another perceptive article from Mark Fisher on Self Willed Land, to unravel the issues. As Mark says, the decision to use red deer was nothing to do with any conviction that wild animals like these are an essential part of a wilder landscape. More in fact that none of the other options would do. Mark also exposes the phony invocation of wilderness in some of the absurd staements coming from conservationists about this project. Having succeeded in confining the deer inside a barbed-wire-topped fence the army can now happily go back to spraying the range with high tech weapons safe in the knowledge that they won't be killing farm animals. The deer are certainly not free spirits as are those we love to see on Blacka.

Maybe conservationists have a liking for explosives? There was an item on the Today programme recently in which an academic striving to get his name known claimed that Breckland was comparable for biodiversity to Brazil. He went on to say that it wouldn't make any difference if you bombed it! Does something happen to people who work in this area that makes them feel they can say anything because the public are stupid and will believe whatever they say? Maybe they have a point. Talk to a number of people walking in the Peak District and quite a few will tell you they like the heather moors 'cos it's a wilderness!!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


I pass on an appeal from visitors to the little bird table. Anyone with a bit of seed and a bit of cheese who has a vehicle that can cope with the present conditions would cause great satisfaction by dropping by and dispensing some charity.

Sunday, 28 November 2010



In Surrey They Do It With Deer!

Trying to understand Sheffield Wildlife Trust's approach to managing Blacka Moor is comparable with trying to get your head round what the banks have been doing to get the economy into the mess it's in. Their grazing policy is about as comprehensible as financial derivatives. They have said they must graze cattle on the heathland but have not actually done so. If they did, it would make even more mess than it did when they tried it before in summer. They have told people that cattle are coming on in winter yet their management plan says that it will be in summer. They have given three quite different explanations of why cattle were not on the heathland in summer this year. When people contradict themselves as often and as obviously as this you have to conclude they don't want you to know the truth and/or they don't know it themselves. And all the time they have no real strategy for marrying the wilder landcsape of Blacka Moor with their farm style management with domestic cattle, for which also they have no viewpoint that they could defend because there is no philosophy behind their planning. It's all about as thought-through as a hole in the road. Meanwhile deer are quietly doing what deer do - puzzlingly just what SWT and their supporters told us that the cattle were going to do. Yet the deer have never been part of the wildlife trust's calculations. Can we take these people seriously?
Readers may like to know that there is more than one SWT. Surrey Wildlife Trust are also involved in managing heathland in collaboration with NE and the military at Pirbright. So are they using cattle and sheep? No they are using red deer, specially imported. Their website tells it all here. Yet on Blacka the Sheffield Wildlife Trust is persisting with cattle when they already have deer on site naturally!! One wonders if there is any hope that this organisation can ever develop a coherent approach to anything.

The picture above is taken from this page on Natural England's website. What an abomination to eartag these animals! Somehow to do so with multi-coloured tags shows just how philistine the conservation industry has become. I'm now wondering if the Eastern Moors Partnership will do something similar with the wild red deer we have around here. It illustrates the culture that has grown up in this whole area of the economy. As long as we meet our targets the way we do it and what it looks like does not matter.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Scenic Saturday

For once we had fresh snow and sun on a Saturday. Together with fairly clear major roads this meant many people were able to get out and enjoy the scene who are usually unable to - being couped up in workplaces much of the week. The clear main roads did not help us because we could not get to them from snowed up side roads. Until midday, that is.

Top effects are bracken's burnished appearance, welcome against the snow, and the deep green of pine.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Power Lines

There may be good news on the subject of the power lines crossing the centre of Blacka. We have always wondered if the cables could be undergrounded via another route and first raised it 'officially' via CPRE and the wildlife trust in February of last year after maintenance workers had arrived to destroy many trees judged likely to interfere with their lines. That left an eyesore that we would prefer not to see again.

Now there is some talk about re-routing being planned along Whitelow Lane which will eventually enable the Blacka lines to be removed. We will not be celebrating just yet but are casually checking the champagne prices.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


The kestrel was looking down in disapproval. It could have been at the state of the path below. One mountain biker is regularly using the footpath here instead of riding where he's allowed to - on the bridleway. Unfortunately this use of footpaths by MTB'ers is getting all too common and is almost certain to get worse as others follow the lead of the renegade.

The result is that numerous pleasant little paths get spoiled and some of them get to the stage of being almost unusable for those on foot. The problem is that almost all organisations speaking for mountain bikers have a stated position that all footpaths should be available for bikers to ride on. Many claim to be responsible and keep to bridleways themselves but inevitably others are persuaded by the argument and don't see why they should wait for official sanction. The bikers' argument for riding on footpaths is just plain wrong. They themselves would not want other vehicles like motor bikes competing with them for the tracks they already ride on. The path coming from the top of Bole Hill and down around the side of Wimble Holme Hill has been ruined by biking - though blaming the bikers themselves for that may not be fair: some years ago it was designated a bridleway, presumably by a bureaucrat who had never seen it.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Still Climbing

What a delight to see that Climbing Corydalis is still thriving at the back end of November when the bracken, its host and support, has browned and lain down. This is heroism and persistence beyond the call of duty.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Big Society and Little People?

I suppose the reason Mr Cameron calls it the Big Society is that he is implying he wants less "Big Government". But along the way the arguments for it have picked up a lot of the rhetoric for more localisation and more citizen power. Sheffield is probably typical of many places in that it now has a policy on Community Involvement, also known as Community Empowerment. We should be clear that there are many groups from various parts of the political and non-party political spectrum that have long been asking for these things. Many agree that neighbourhoods where people feel close to the decision making process are healthier and that the reverse of this leads to disengagement a lack of social responsibility, a belief that we are just little people with no clout and no influence; and that this in turn leads to a decline in our public spaces and public assets because people cease caring.

So "let's hand the assets over to the people" - is that what it is? Well, no it isn't. Somebody up there within Big Government will be making the decision who qualifies as able to run the Big Society projects. And who will they choose? Guess who? National Nature Reserves will be likely to be run not by local people or small scale groups well represented by local users who know the Nature Reserves well - a true community empowerment project, but instead by mega-charities like RSPB and National Trust and Wildlife Trusts - all huge organisations with impenetrable bureaucracies that are no better than Natural England and in certain cases much worse. For example how accountable will they be? How will we be able to challenge and scrutinise their decision making? They will control very carefully their release of information which will be vetted to demonstrate those things that are favourable to them. Lack of transparency will be consolidated by a lack of a Freedom of Information policy and a complaints procedure that is less rigorous even than that in local government.

Blacka Moor is now managed by Sheffield Wildlife Trust. Some will say that this is already an example of the Big Society at work. Are local people and those who use and know the site any more empowered, are we all better off and is the place in good hands? Do I need to say who benefits?