Wednesday, 31 March 2010


The sightline for the waterfall going down to Blacka Dyke worked well this morning. This follows a suggestion that SWT's chain saw operators take some time off from felling that we don't like and help visitors see one of Blacka's more spectacular views; this involved the removal of a fallen tree and some others. To see it at its best you have to be prepared to brave some poor weather and muddy paths. But there's a chance that heavy spring rain followed by bright sunshine could bring it to life even better.

Snow on the highest parts and a stiff north west wind meant stags kept to the shelter of the north woods for most of the day.

Saturday, 27 March 2010


After weeks of slow progress towards spring there's now some movement. No coltsfoot yet but curlews have been flying over for a week now and yesterday there were chiff chaffs at the edge of the woods. Blackbird, song thrush and mistle thrush were singing away gustily.
On the debit side an increase in litter can almost certainly be put down to mountain bikers. When I mentioned this before the blog was subjected to an orchestrated campaign of abuse from MTBers. They divided into mainly two groups. One comprised those who knew little vocabulary outside 4 letter words. The other was frankly in denial, claiming that all who ride mountain bikes are like themselves who only used special drinks containers so MTBers could not possibly be responsible. These latter people are a menace because they have persuaded themselves that everybody who has chosen their particular form of activity behaves exactly like them. Their indignation became increasingly hysterical after my post was copied onto their message board by one biker. What was fascinating was that this biker has his own website on which he had himself been complaining of other bikers leaving drinks containers on one of his favourite routes!!

But the biggest problem here is SWT who refuse to do anything about the appalling damage done by MTBers to the route from Devil's Elbow to Shorts Lane. Some regular walkers on Blacka are now starting to talk about banning bikes from Blacka altogether. Not fair on the responsible ones of course, but what do they suggest?
Regrettably I've had to restrict comments to those who are willing to identify themselves. Who is to blame for this? Well, MTBers of course.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


With the budget happening today there's been much comment about when cutbacks in public spending will come. Will they be immediately after the election or somewhat later, and what exactly will be cut? So from the point of view of conservationists this may be a sensitive time for me to raise again the question that's puzzled me for several years now.

Why is it that Blacka became the wonderful place that it did at a time when little or no management took place ? The grouse moor section evolved from a dull predictable heather dominated landscape into something vibrant and intriguing with groups of trees and diverse vistas invigorated by an influx of native wildlife such as songbirds and deer.

But since the new century and the interest taken by conservationists in the place there's been little or no improvement. I would argue in some respects it has got distinctly worse. And during these ten years the number of publicly funded agencies that have been involved writing reports and attending meetings and handling grant applications has been truly astonishing.

I have tried to compile a list of the organisations involved but have the feeling I've left several out:

Sheffield City Council,
Sheffield Wildlife Trust,
Peak District National Park Authority,
Natural England,
Charity Commission,
Rural Payments Agency,
Heritage Lottery Fund,
Forestry Commission,

I should add, as always, certain arms of the European Union and also the largest bird charity RSPB.

As I said the mind boggling thing is that you will struggle to point out any improvement in the fabric of the place that reflects this massive involvement. And the most significant , emblematic and positive development during this time happened with no input from any of these agencies quangos and bureaucracies, nor any mention in a management plan.
Yet one thing you can be sure of:
those organisations whose existence depends on justifying their actions will be spinning and exaggerating the results of any projects or initiatives at their work stations. I know that many of the people who work for agencies in the above list are very decent and well-meaning (there are also some stinkers), but they are drawn into the culture very easily and one cannot be sentimental when faced with nonsense on this scale.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Spring Could Be Here

Even so there was ice on the puddles. Residents with weight distribution problems around the head were looking as if something was not quite right, leading to a gingerly manouevre when settling down into the bracken straw.
It must be satisfying after a cold night to allow even the muted sunlight to get to your back while you watch your breath floating before you.

Monday, 22 March 2010

A Mega Rip-Off

The pasture land on Blacka referred to in a recent post is as artificial as the grouse moors yet government money is paid to keep it free of trees by grazing it with sheep and cattle. So how does this square with Natural England's position of wanting 25% upland tree cover - currently only about 10% ? Various grants are paid through Single Farm Payment by the Rural Payments Agency and also stewardship schemes. Anyone trying to get to the bottom of the way money is passed around by public bodies to get desired results that are suddenly found to be not quite so desirable is likely pretty quickly to become seriously and giddily confused. The muddle and botching of the administration of this scheme grow worse as more is revealed. Why do they try to stop trees growing? Apparently because the SSSI designation mentions its importance for 'upland breeding birds'. Yet it's never been 'important' for these birds. But, they say, if it's managed properly it would be. Isn't that true of many places ? So why not let nature decide ? All comes from a decision taken ten years ago to tack Blacka onto a list of numerous other sites which were becoming SSSIs. Some of them may have have been deemed important for these reasons with rather more justification so Blacka gets the label by association. This allows various groups and individuals to claim grants and subsidies that the public can hardly afford in order to manage the land according to criteria of dubious relevance.

One Down One To Go

They were a bit touchy and quick to be disturbed in the woods, six of them. Once over the wall they made their way towards the Hollow, some faster than others.
One looked distinctly odd as if an antler was just about due to drop, all difficult to see through branches. When seen less than a minute later he was three pounds or so lighter making his way up the hill. I searched for ten minutes, certain I would find the antler. But no luck.
When last seen they were spread out lying down on a north facing slope. The wind at that time was brisk and from the south.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


Sheep and cattle have been removed from the pasture area for more than a week now, temporarily bringing to a halt their role in prohibiting the growth of trees in this part of Blacka. I wonder what's happening about NE's recent conversion to 25% tree cover? I'm sure the intention here in taking the stock off was not to give the land chance to recover from the impact of large quantities of livestock dung, amazing amounts for an area like this, perhaps the beasts had been working overtime. I guess the farmer's own priorities determine what happens whatever is said about conservation. Which makes it odd that SWT have chosen this time to stop the paragliders and hang gliders from using the land after many years when their activities were tolerated.

This is interesting in a number of ways. First the notices put up claim that it's an important site for certain protected bird species. You have to be careful with these conservation industry workers. They do not exactly say that these species have been nesting here previously and from my observation that would be untrue anyway in the part of the site that the hang gliders use, a tiny part of the pasture area.
I've previously challenged the claim that Blacka is 'an important site for upland breeding birds' - stated several times as justification for its SSSI status. The problem here is that these wildlife and conservation characters are empire builders and use designations like SSSI and others to gather territory unto themselves in a ruthless land grabbing exercise. They use their comparatively modest specialised knowledge to bamboozle relatively ignorant bureaucrats and politicians into granting a status like SSSI with precious little if any consultation. All the time the land in question is utterly artificial, top down managed and with hardly a tree to be seen, in fact a typical bit of farmland where nature definitely comes a poor second.
The other interesting thing here is that the Charity Commission has recently ruled that recreation should take precedence over conservation, where there is a conflict . That could not mean that absolutely any recreational activity should be allowed, it just means that you can't stop something that's an established practice purely for conservation reasons.
The hang glider people are annoyed. This one could be very interesting!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Wrens are among the commonest birds on the moor enjoying the cover provided by the dwarf shrubs. They are now busy building and courting.
The mildness has also brought out flying insects in mini swarms around the trees anxious to make up for lost time and produce many more eggs and make life less tolerable in the summer bilberry picking season.
Now's a good time for the sun to penetrate to the floor of the woods before more shade grows at the highest levels.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Wild and Secret

The wild woods have a special atmosphere, cut off from the surrounding parts of Blacka by a ring of rhododendron. This keeps the worst of the wind away and damps down traffic noise from the nearby road. The two access points are corridor-like with evergreen to each side enhancing the feeling of entering a different world.

Fallen trees and general decay are side by side with vigorous growth. Small open areas are random and there's no sense of intrusive management.

Here you might see small flocks of less common birds and other larger animals.

Friday, 12 March 2010

A House in a Landscape

In his elegantly written book on England's Greatest Houses Simon Jenkins describes Chatsworth as "above all a house in a landscape", capable of looking good in whatever season or weather. The key to its success is, he says, that "it defers to the landscape" unlike Blenheim or Castle Howard which respectively 'shout' or 'roar' at theirs.

These sensibilities will be way over the heads of the architects and developers who designed Fairthorn and the Sheffield Council planners who decided it was acceptable. The comparison may be odious but it's worth making because Fairthorn occupies a position in the views from Blacka and around similar to that of the great Derbyshire house. But that's where the comparison ends. Chatsworth has immense architectural distinction and while it takes a lot from the setting in the form of magnificent views from the windows of each room, it adds much back through its artistry, classical proportions and local materials. Fairthorn forces itself on your attention because of its raised position, its appalling white PVC window frames. The views from the appartments out towards Blacka must be magnificent especially in the mornings. But it is all take and no give. It detracts from its setting, something the residents are probably unaware of. Blenheim may shout but Fairthorn thumbs its nose and puts out its tongue. What an opportunity was missed here. In a setting like this architects around the world would have given money to have had the chance to design something.

These thoughts come from seeing the planting scheme for trees around Fairthorn. When we went to the planning board to protest last year the councillors reluctantly made a tiny concession to our view insisting that trees be planted to help screen the building from the national park. It's typical that the trees chosen to be in front of the building where most impact would be felt are small deciduous trees like rowan and field maple. Given that the ground slopes away dramatically immediately in front they will make no impression and crucially for the developer will not obscure the outward view from any appartments. I'm trying to think of quick growing evergreens that should be there instead. Perhaps some eucalyptus and a couple of thuja occidentalis?

First Down

March is usually the month when antlers start to fall. Mostly it's the largest antlers that drop first. This gives the older stags more time to grow their next set during the summer months. You often see a younger animal still sporting his last year's headgear alongside a much more mature stag conspicuously without his means of defence.

This animal has a good full set still in tact, while another looks to have lost his very recently.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Criminal Vandalism ?

Sheffield Wildlife Trust have been gradually cutting down more and more mature trees. The situation now is that the place will soon be unrecognisable from what it was several years ago. I try to be moderate in expressing my views but I have to say that this is a total disaster for a place I care for deeply . The character of Blacka is intrinsically related to the way that nature has gone its own way. What SWT are doing is imposing their will on the place. It's actually much worse than that because much of the destruction of natural growth appears to be utterly random, as if the office bound managers are stuck for something to occupy their central sites staff so they send them off to cut down a few more trees on Blacka.
I find this all acutely depressing. God knows there's precious little in our landscape that's free from the interference of vandals and philistines and those who are just empty headedly following their own inclinations. Here we had something special, very special. Not much of it is left. Walking in the fringe woodland recently after heavy snowfalls was a wonderful experience with very little influence from man. Everything around one was the result of natural forces. A few minutes with a chain saw means that will not be there to be experienced next winter. What goes through the minds of those wielding a chain saw? One of the worst aspects of the machine age is that it can destroy in minutes what nature has taken scores of years to create.

Monday, 8 March 2010


The deer that we see on Blacka Moor are wild. So why are they here in a landscape that has for many generations been hostile to wild mammals, not just predators like foxes that can inconvenience farmers and others who keep livestock?

Before the deer appeared in increasing numbers on Blacka Moor they were well established on Big Moor some four miles to the south west. I've always assumed that the originals of those deer had escaped from a park herd years ago and set up a wild colony which had now come through several generations. It's normally difficult to get close to them on Big Moor although you can be lucky if they are in the trees below White Edge. There's some evidence that they are joined by animals that have escaped more recently from farmed sites possibly many miles away. Deer can travel 20 miles in a day and there's a lot of open landscape for them to cover in the Peak District.

One of this morning's stags could well be a recent refugee from such a farm. He has a tag on his right ear. Whatever his origin he is wild now and any animal that manages to live outdoors using his own resources in a winter like the one that still hasn't finished is worthy of respect.

Come and Join Me Over Here

This part of Blacka is a sun trap in the early morning. It's also where Sheffield Wildlife Trust's loathed (loved by them) barbed wire runs across the hillside. It was no surprise after another bitterly cold night to see stags there warming their backs. The one this side of the fence seemed to be encouraging another one to join him, while a third was in more retiring mood.

They made their way to the nearby woodland above Blacka Dyke.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Spring Growth

Although the clear nights are still cold the bright days suggest Spring. Little sign of fresh greenery in the trees up on Blacka. The first signs up here come later than in more sheltered spots on lower land. The large number of trees fed with weedkiller some seven years ago are mostly gone now having been left standing for all to see. But some of them remain, having dug in their heels and refused to die. It's hard to know whether to be more impressed by their stubborn heroism or angry at the callous industrial brutality of the operation.

A few of these trees can be identified by a few dead twigs usually near the top while the rest has mostly recovered. Others have suffered major structural failure while whole limbs remain unaffected.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Not So Dull

The pasture land on Blacka can be the most uninteresting part of the site, lacking trees and features, though compensating somewhat by virtue of elevation and good views and having some historical association. Still there are possibilities for improving its recreational appeal. For this reason FoBM are suggesting that some thought goes into ways of improving it. some trees would certinly improve it a bit as would a carefully worked out perimeter walk.

Walking around the perimeter this lovely afternoon provided more than expected interest. From the highest point we could see not just Higger Tor but Kinder still showing plenty of snow.

A badger ran down towards the stream as we dropped down from the eastern edge.

But the most entertaining sight was viewed from the top as a solitary walker tried to make his way across towards the gate.

The walker eventually ran smartly to the gate, closed it behind him and visibly relaxed on the other side. The cattle, reaching the fence, looked after him, showing disappointment.


Another beautiful morning brought us a view of two stags. Yesterday's meeting with a group of six mostly hinds had been followed by a distant view of stags in another sunny and sheltered spot. These two were probably the same animals and this morning they were browsing early with frost covering the heather and still there later after the sun had climbed higher.
Differences between hinds and stags are obvious to the simplest mind. They're male and female and the stags have antlers. But it's interesting to observe other things: the shape of the head for instance; and the ears of hinds being more prominent is not just down to the fact that they have more room to show when there are no antlers in the way. But the most striking difference to me is in the eyes.
The stags' eyes tend to look much harder when compared to the deep pools of brown of the hind.

No two stags have identical antlers though the pattern is usually fairly consistent. One of today's beasts has an strange left antler with an unusually angled brow point and a branching where the trey point comes out making a more divided effect.
It would be interesting to discover if this distortion is repeated or left behind when new antlers appear in the coming months. The other stag this morning was notable for antlers that spread wider than usual making almost a bow shape.

One wonders if this is an advantage or disadvantage during the annual rut. If the opponent's antlers are closer together that might prevent them from locking and allow the brow points to get through. Or not?

Monday, 1 March 2010

Early Warmth

You get to know what deer like. I've not bothered looking seriously for them over a successsion of dim damp mornings. But they like the warmth of the early morning sun and favour certain sheltered spots. So sure enough six of them were browsing glad to have the sun on their backs. One was a stag, probably fairly young, with unimpressive antlers a bit the worse for wear. This reminds us that we are now in March, the month when antlers start to fall. Two of the hinds could have been mother and child each showing that amazingly attractive combination of long soft ears and deep brown eyes.
A fellow walker this morning reported talking with a man on Blacka with imposing binoculars and some wildlife interest. He had told her that deer are dangerous!!! But he had not said in what way. Dangerous perhaps to the ideas of conservationists who believe farm animals are the only way of managing the countryside


Not unexpected. The second ram is now dead. I raised the question of whether these animals were receiving the best animal welfare care four weeks ago when the first ram was found dead, and also at the more recent RAG meeting. I can't believe that it is right to put larger and more vulnerable beasts on this exposed site. To say that we have had a harder winter than usual begs the question of why were they not removed when there were opportunities as the weather eased?