SWT had many opportunities to make this case in the years before they introduced cattle to Blacka. We asked them on a regular basis to explain just what we would see, after the cattle had been grazing, that was better than before so we could make our own judgements whether to support the proposal but they failed to do that. Instinctively we thought that farm animals would reduce the appeal. Who wants more fencing (especially four stranded barbed wire) and the change of atmosphere that farming brings and the constant reminder of their presence on the paths with generous piles of cow pats? And the poor standard of livestock welfare that we've often seen in this area and the sad looking sheep. If we can have landscapes without farming then it has to be preferable. Only if the advantages are so beneficial to our experience of the place should we welcome it. So we wanted to be told. Those who were proposing would not or perhaps could not tell us how we would benefit. This got to be such a theme that one became puzzled and eventually suspicious. Why suggest this if you can't say or don't know its impact unless something is being held back?
Well the situation can be observed to an extent now. We have had conservation grazing imposed on us. In the pasture land it has been going on for much longer because sheep were already there. Still the sheep grazing is a part of the management plan and supposedly carefully planned and subsidised to deliver results that Unnatural England require. The cattle grazing has been less consistent but has certainly been noticed and has been hard to ignore.
This year gives us an excellent opportunity to compare because a hitch in SWT's plans (or a typical cockup if you prefer) has meant their plans for grazing have gone awry leaving the whole site free from farm livestock for most of the year. What would you expect to see? This is very close to the question that I had been asking of SWT regularly several years ago and getting no answer.
So how's the situation with no cattle on the moor and no sheep on the pasture land? Considering the amount of money and deskbound management time that have gone into the original setting up of the conservation grazing you would expect to see a change for the worse when the livestock are not there. But that's far from the case.
The moorland section has benefited from the absence of cattle in numerous ways. The flowers around the bog have looked especially appealing this year after being trampled by cattle who scuffed up the whole bog area last year. There has been a welcome absence of cow pats on the paths. The main path along the top of Blacka Hill has had a chance to recover from the widening caused by cattle over three years; and grasses have been allowed to flourish in a natural and unfettered way.
The pasture land has experienced its longest period without sheep for many a year and the effect has been a revelation.
Instead of wall to wall sheep droppings and a dreary monotony of characterless grassland the place has responded to a period of freedom by expressing itself as a delightful wild flower meadow. At any time in the previous years you would look in vain for somewhere to have an informal picnic free from the excrement of miserable looking sheep unappealingly daubed with untidy splashes of dye. (Farming, the farmers have become fond of telling us in recent years is an industry. But people do not willingly choose to take their recreation and their holidays in industrial areas and amid industrial priorities.)
The top section of this hillside at the moment is a mass of harebell flowers with yarrow and clover complementing alongside numerous other flowers and grasses. There is nothing worth looking at when sheep are grazing.