Thursday, 28 October 2010

Emperor's Clothes

Telling truth from fiction is impossible once the media get hold of a story, especially one that they think resonates with the public sentiment. Has the Emperor of Exmoor been shot or has he not? Was it in fact another stag, or was there even any shooting at all? There must be numerous larger stags on Exmoor. And when the media start talking to farmers there are two lots of agendas and two groups not unused to colouring any incident. Who provided the information anyway and how many of those who produce copy for the national press have any direct knowledge of the event or even know anything about Exmoor?
One thing is clear: The value in the story is in the questions it raises that seem to be almost independent of the facts of this particular ‘event’. Here are a few:

1 How important are genuinely wild animals to us? Have you noticed how after the initial sentiment and indignation has been voiced during this sort of story, certain people emerge to put across the view that these animals have to be managed anyway as if there is no individual value in one beast even one as magnificent as the one in question. Do these commenters actually believe that all of the value inherent in these animals is in relation to man’s capacity to manage them – not very different to the farmer’s managing his livestock just for the bottom line?

2 Are countryside managers (mainly conservationists) so tied up by the biodiversity agenda that they take their eye off the ball in failing to protect or put great store by our native wild life – anything from red deer to birch and rowan trees? Is it just those elements in nature that have been pronounced as under threat that matter to them? In which case why are they not out in the rain forests rather than tinkering with artificial landscapes from offices at home? And have they no sense of the bigger picture that surely inspires people most; the whole package of landscape and natural beauty and people’s experience of it if it’s to continue to be given priority. Why should anyone care about 75% of the world’s grouse moor being in this country if it’s as dull as a Tesco car park most of the year?

3 Close to home, what do we make of a wildlife trust that installs a barbed wire fence with 4 strands, the bottom one just about on the eye level of many mammals? Does that show any value put on wildlife? It’s been done just to further a farming agenda, indicating they care more for farm animals than wildlife. Even more extraordinary, what should one make of the reaction to the outcry about this fence? A small area of the fence was quietly altered later on near to a popular path –the bottom strand being replaced by plain wire. The longest stretch is still the same, some 90% of it, but presumably that does not matter even though wild animals are just as likely, if not more, to move across the land there. So there we have it – they care not for wildlife but worry a lot that people might see and criticise what they get up to. Deer incidentally when mature and confident and when the ground is favourable jump fences easily. Young deer calves are another matter and can die when trapped in wire. Has anyone at SWT thought about that? Has anyone there ever noticed that deer tracks can be seen running the length of the fence within the woodland indicating a reluctance to jump? Is it any wonder that we constantly ask them to set up an ongoing supervision of this site? They seem to see themselves like the management of any big business, office dwellers who deal with problems remotely if at all. Isn’t it time to expose the institutional phoniness of their claim to care about wildlife. All that paperwork and publicity and propaganda mean nothing without presence and a demonstration of affection. How is it that they didn’t have any photos of the deer? Why does the Chief Exec not come here? It brings to mind the Emperor’s Clothes.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Baron of Blacka

News that the Emperor of Exmoor has been shot during the rutting season reminded me that it's a few days since we've seen the Baron of Blacka Moor. There are lower forms of life around. And there may be those who would like to play at being big game hunters.

The Baron could be seen far off in the dull light and drizzle with the lights of the city in the background. None of the challenging stags was in the vicinity, just the usual five hinds.

Another news item reported in the local Sheffield Star was about a fawn trapped in school railings. There was little information. Was this a roe deer fawn, or a red deer calf? And was it an escaped animal from an enclosure such as at Graves Park?

Monday, 25 October 2010

Expanding SWT

The Chairperson of the Charity Commission is forecasting a poor time ahead for charities with donations reduced and even drying up altogether. Dame Suzi Leather is talking about potential reductions of £5 billion as a result of government spending cuts.

Wildlife Trusts like SWT are of course charities as are public schools and many other organisations that are run like increasingly successful businesses. Still it may not be the best of times for SWT to appeal to the public for £1million to help them buy Greno Woods in North Sheffield. In launching their appeal they have sent round a professionally produced leaflet attractively fronted by a picture of two cherubic children in a green space. One wonders if the Sheffield City Council will once again be adding to SWT’s funds despite the cash crisis. Friends of Blacka Moor have received one of these leaflets inviting to contribute. Individuals may of course wish to do so but as a group with more limited access to funds than SWT inevitably FoBM is unable to help. In fact I calculate that FoBM’s total balance at the bank amounts to at most 0.04% of what SWT’s Chief Executive’s earns in a year from his job. Perhaps the appeal should be the other way round. And the accounts for SWT (needs PDF) for the year ending 2009 indicate that their turnover is some £2 million plus.

Lack of the ready may not be the only reason for declining to contribute to this project even though some of the published aims appear laudable. Experience at Blacka Moor furnishes a number of reservations about the way the Wildlife Trust approaches their work and the balance between office work and presence on the ground, giving a quite different picture to the polished presentation in their annual reports and accounts. When SWT took on Blacka we did expect them to actually know what was going on here, but now almost ten years on there are parts of the 450 acre site that they seem to know little about. We thought that if you were taking on the management of this large area the minimum expected would be to have an on-site worker (preferably with senior status) whose role would be first and foremost to actually know the place and be around at key times. Instead they see themselves as a drop-in service, little different to a typical council service such as Streetforce or the police. At weekends and holiday periods they are just not here unless they’ve organised an occasional ‘volunteer’ event such as bashing birch with three or four people. As they grow outwards taking on more and more territory is it likely that they will take their role here more seriously? Not as long as they organise themselves as a 9 to 5 council department.


Lovers of sunrises relish this time of year. The prime advantage for many will be they can stay in bed longer than in summer, but there are others. Not only do we have autumn colours on the ground to be further enhanced by the rising sun, but at times of full moon there is interest at the other side of the view.

It's good news that scientists have at last got round to admitting what many of us have always known, i.e. that the moon is made of silver (apart from the bit that's cheese).

Among those who have never doubted this was the composer Dvorak and his librettist.

'O Silver Moon' from Rusalka by Dvorak

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Migration and Commuting

It's not just the southwards migration of birds that captures the attention at this time. The daily corvine commute to the west is another feature that can become spectacular on certain mornings but is always interesting. It's common to count over a hundred at a time in a long uneven trail, groupings ever changing, shortly to be followed by another large contingent until it's hard to decide where one commuter train ends and the next one begins.

After a while the traffic tails off into threes and fours and the odd individual. Not everyone remembered to set their alarm clock. It has always seemed that the dominant bird here is the jackdaw with occasional rooks. Unlike geese there's no commonly agreed formation, so on no two days and with no two groups do you see the same pattern in the sky.

At the same time we are still seeing numbers of smaller birds heading south, and the northern thrushes are now here but not yet in the numbers seen last year.

Friday, 22 October 2010


The huge oak leaves on the ground here are from the group of trees planted as a memorial more than 30 years ago.

In some ways it seems a pity that foreign imported oaks were used when the English oak has always been considered the most important native tree. And of course there are numerous native examples nearby that look more natural in this setting. Funny that we English celebrate the oak as our tree having destroyed so many of them over the centuries, using their timber for anything from naval ships to chests of drawers; other nations have adopted it for the arguably more civilised use of wine storage. You feel some other nations might have regarded their national tree as being sacred and untouchable. Adventurous childern who love climbing may always see the act of cutting down an oak as sacriligious. But instead of calling the oak a 'sacred' tree we are more likely to see it referred to as 'iconic' - a fashionable and overused word that should be banned for the next ten years?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Get in Line!

Blacka's trees are notoriously wayward obstinately insisting on growing where they want to, leading to attempts at discipline and regulation.
At least some of the trees seen in the view to the east know how to behave themselves.

Let There Be Light!

Lincoln Cathedral could just be identified though rather hazy while we were being drenched by a heavy shower. The lighter sky 40 miles away emphasised the darkness of the sky above.
Then things improved, quite suddenly.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Spelling It Out

So far no sign of extra cattle on Blacka. The six cows remain in the grassy pastures but the word passed round recently that nine more were to come has not been confirmed. That message claimed the fifteen would then be released onto the moor, obviously a daft idea but when has that prevented a decision being made? Local people are almost certainly unaware that there is a strong possibility of more cattle than that in future. Nigel has indicated as much in a recent report to the council. The farmification and consequent compromising the essential atmosphere of the site will not trouble him as he rarely, if ever, visits Blacka. He did not respond to my recent request even though I graciously allowed him to post his comment in reply to my post last week - without editing, tempting though it was.

As I was saying, there is no evidence that SWT as an institution has any reservation at all about farmification. In fact all the signs point the other way. The significance of my pointing out their failures to mention deer in their published guide and various other articles and paperwork relates to the way they see the site. To them it is primarily a managed site. The emphasis is important - not even so much a wildlife site that needs some management, but a site for which management is the essential characteristic. The distinction is vital. Managed sites like this are places, in SWT's view, where the natural features and the wildlife must be controlled and kept in their place. And farming is the industry which does this alongside their only slightly modified conservation aims. Wilding is tantamount to a threat. All of those naturalising tendencies that this blog has tried to celebrate in recent years run counter to SWT's objectives which are not far removed from a kind of gardening in which the forks and spades are replaced by cows and sheep*. Nigel's words claiming the emphasis on cattle are 'only this' or the lack of mention of deer are 'only that' are just not believable. The production of literature that is meant to inspire people about the place, failing to mention even just one word in passing about deer or other mammals and underlining over and again the importance of grazing and farm livestock - well that 's either utterly incompetent or cynically disingenuous. Because what really inspires the locals who visit is wildness in the form of the wild mammals and the unmanaged sections of landscape that they seem most at home in, not the cow-pat factories on legs that need barbed wire and plastic feed and lick buckets and which wreck the paths.
The truth is that there is a vision of the place that they have wished to implant in the minds of the reader which goes like this - that the English countryside is as nothing without management. Always emphasising farming and the uses in the past of woodland for coppicing and various other ways in which parts of the countryside were exploited while never talking about those other places and times when and where such intervention was minimal or absent, has been an underlying theme, and its promotion has been calculated. They almost certainly call it 'education'. Unsurprisingly I call it propaganda.

Some years ago an article in the Sheffield Telegraph drew attention to my personal sadness that this land was to be turned into farmland and my wish for it to be left alone. A letter came in the paper's next edition from an ecologist who supported the wildlife trust pointing out my ignorance and commenting on the inevitability that the land would become dense woodland if I had my way. Did I not realise that in the distant past the land was 'managed' by deer who maintained a balance between trees and open areas? He had not even bothered to find out that deer were an important factor on Blacka having returned some years before! A Natural England officer commented that Blacka is nothing without conservation - presumably meaning farm management. Our minds tried to grasp the vision of a kind of vacuum, or the universe before the Big Bang - nothing!?

Nigel's missive bewails my failure to 'recognise the common ground between us'. Well frankly on these subjects I'm afraid there is very little. Is it necessary to say we are both repelled by cruelty and barbarity? But on his area of professional interest I have less common ground with him than with my postman (he agrees with me on Blacka Moor). Sheffield Wildlife Trust's foot soldiers may be another matter, but I guess they are expected to stick to the party line.

To summarise, institutionally Sheffield Wildlife Trust sees its job and its future as managing. It's entirely consistent with this that they highlight all evidence they can find to justify that choice, and ignore or dismiss or are indifferent to anything that tells an alternative story. There is little room in that for the complexity and untidiness of real situations. Our view is that what matters is what is not managed. SWT have considerable resources to put across their story and serve their own interests. I wonder why he should worry so much about us and this blog? I suppose it could be that he fears we are right?
* plus of course the chain saw and not forgetting the weedkiller!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Successful Defence

Early Sunday morning before sunrise with no sounds from the road. The bellows were loud and continuous. Several stags were at the top of the hill looking down.

The dominant stag with hinds was in the shadows down below making his feelings known.
Hesitation whether or not to leave his hinds but eventually he gave chase and the competion scattered.

The hinds looked on before he returned with more bellows.

The sun rose higher.

The deer went off in single file towards the woods as a few people came for the morning walk.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

On The Case

Fear not all wildlife lovers, the law is on the job and the crime has been logged. Notebooks have come out of pockets and the incident is being taken seriously. There is a dedicated wildlife crime officer with South Yorks Police and his appearance on my doorstep yesterday morning will have had net curtains twitching all along the street. ("And they looked so respectable! Who would have thought it?)

But I wish to make it clear that should I be found at some time with a pitchfork in my back I want the officer responsible for investigating my murder to be he who is currently to be seen not far away each night at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre thinly disguised as Hamlet's step father , Claudius (and also the ghost of Hamlet's father). I'm sure he'll get his man.
He is after all more experienced in this kind of crime than most.

Friday, 15 October 2010


It wasn’t the pleasantest start to the week, so we need to make the best of any opportunity provided for light amusement. Not surprisingly it comes from the welcome contribution of SWT’s Chief Executive. Who would have thought that simply walking on the moor each day could provide such a range of experiences from spiritual nourishment to being confronted with evidence of the worst aspects of humanity. But now we should add high comedy.

Just imagine Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco (now stepping down) lecturing a one-man corner shopkeeper, saying that he (the small shopkeeper) didn’t have a monopoly on the retail trade. Think about it. Then read Nigel’s comment, saying to this blog: “ You don’t have the monopoly on recognising the splendour of our native wildlife....” First, have I ever said I did? But wait a bit. Sheffield Wildlife Trust’s turnover is, I think, several million pounds. It is itself only part of a conglomerate of similar organisations with considerable resources that seems intent on swallowing up as much of our countryside as it can and managing it according to very top down practices. SWT itself is busy building an empire by expanding its operations. Yet 10 years after pleading to be given a lease on Blacka Moor they still know only a fraction of what goes on here and refuse to allocate resources to provide an on site warden. They work 9 to 5 on weekdays remotely based at their headquarters with occasional trips out to monitor or survey something. SWT is run as a business and I’m sure there are organisational benefits for them but when they took over the site people did not expect that it would be just another organisation like Streetforce, or as my original analogy Tesco - though their hours are somewhat longer. Incidentally it’s Sir Terry Leahy – any ideas?
Meanwhile this blog does not run at a profit. We don’t even advertise. In fact it costs us to blog. Yet the message that comes from Nigel is that SWT has to promote their way of working presumably through their publicity department in order to put the ‘alternative’ view from what we say here. For goodness sake!

Thursday, 14 October 2010


This is a copy of the text of SWT's leaflet which you can find in various green boxes around Blacka. By clicking on it you can get a bigger picture. You will be able to see that there is not even a passing reference to deer or even any wild mammal. Yet very common birds like pipits and chiff chaffs are mentioned and some of the common vegetation. If I'm the only one who thinks this is odd or that it says something about SWT then I'll stand in the bog for 5 minutes with water and mud over my boots. See comment from Nigel under previous post.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

How Dear are Deer to SWT, and Nigel?

Further to the deer killing atrocity and the comment from Nigel who is of course Chief Executive of SWT, I’m grateful for his expression of outrage The police comments, apparently reported to Nigel twice removed, may or may not result from experience from a number of incidents, or may be a desire not to see anything sinister at another level. That’s hard for me to say, but as yet I’m not convinced. To see a severed animal head facing me just where I get out of my car in the morning - as is known to numerous people - shortly after I’ve made some of the comments I have, may not be proof of anything. But anyone dismissing the association out of hand would need to explain why the other two notices (from the wildlife trust) were left undisturbed.

I’m interested in Nigel’s dismissal of Mark’s comment above his. Yes, what Mark says is strong and the reaction from Nigel is not unexpected. But I think we should all look more deeply into what’s behind it. I think I’m in a good position to evaluate SWT’s attitude to the deer and to wild animals generally. There’s no substitute for observation year on year and day by day which is what this blog tries to do. Anyway, I’ve watched a gradual change in the attitude of people at SWT to the deer since 2006. At that time they were at best ambivalent, reflecting division of opinion among wildlife conservationists. Some conservationists thought deer very much a bad thing. One of these was the Natural England officer then responsible for this area. He made his feelings very clear at the Icarus consultation in 2005. No, he certainly did not want deer. These wild animals were too much their own masters with their own agenda that didn’t fit in with the conservationist blueprint. And in obedience to this authority the SWT people took their cue from him. Consequently we were impressed and taken aback over and again by the absence of any reference to deer in their publicity and their paperwork of which, believe me, there was no shortage, and in the tentative way they responded to any mention of the deer.
It would not have surprised me, if I had followed Nigel round the country at wildlife trust junkets and awaydays, to hear him telling his fellow wildlife trust directors (they only elevated themselves to Chief Execs. later on) how marvellous was SWT’s ‘very own’ moorland at Blacka with its bird assemblage but never mentioning the red deer.
All of this time I was seeing and recording on this blog some stunning wildlife sights involving Britains largest native wild animal. Yet little or no mention from SWT. Why? Was it due to the deep seated orthodoxy in the local conservationists that could not reconcile itself to the free-spirited independence of these beautiful animals – creatures that refused to be controlled? It was at this time I read the article by SWT’s Reserve Manager in the local Totley Independent with frank disbelief. Coming down from a gorgeous morning in some wild and romantic scenery and having watched a group of stags, I settled down to read the article titled “Beautiful Beasts of Blacka Moor”. By the time I had read to the end I was wondering whether we were living on the same planet. The beasts mentioned in the title were not deer but a herd of cattle which at that time had never been anywhere near Blacka! This article crystallised everything that was cockeyed about SWT and its policy makers. About that time they produced a very smart looking leaflet with text and map about ‘their nature reserve’ at Blacka Moor indicating the great wildlife that could be enjoyed here. But the pictures were of bird watchers and cattle, none of deer and not even any mention of them. The truth is they didn’t know what to think of deer because they were waiting for some official top down permission to approve them or not.
I started to comment on this blog on this strange divergence of view and it may be that I scored the odd point or two. But more than that, over a period of time SWT seemed to find it increasingly difficult to sustain this position that the deer were somehow quite separate to the real value and appeal of Blacka. This was hard for them because The deer were uniquely associated with the wilder aspects of Blacka. Their problem was that they could hardly disapprove of the deer when the public so obviously loved them far more than the tatty looking sheep or the extravagantly defecating cattle. Also, SWT were going round from door to door soliciting subscriptions from local people some of whom had seen the deer and loved them or seen pictures from this blog. It also happened that some newer and younger people were recruited to SWT who had a different attitude to the deer. Quite simply, they liked them. How they could do otherwise I don’t know. But I remain in doubt about whether they were running counter to the institutional view. Just lately SWT have started to use pictures of the deer in presentations. Well, it's a welcome change, but we should not delude ourselves that this is from conviction. It is born of calculation and opportunism. It would not do for them to be so against the grain of popular opinion. Not for an organisation reliant on membership fees.

The point I’m making here is that there has been an anti-deer undercurrent, not always expressed in the open and that it is a phenomenon that runs alongside strong opinions amongst some farmers. At a recent consultation farmer after farmer called for a cull of the deer. At that point I dared to respond with a not totally serious call for a cull of farm animals, which were a danger on the roads quite as much as deer. I said at that time that I might finish up with a pitchfork in my back. So far that has not happened. But we have now seen a deer’s head in the car park.
Conservationists may feel the need to appease the farming industry. But they need to be careful that their priority is wild animals. That's certainly not been clear up to now.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Lower Forms of Life

On Blacka we have numerous groups of wildlife and regular visits from humanity, allegedly a 'higher' form of life. It's hard sometimes to see humanity as a higher form when we see the behaviour of some who claim to belong to it. This morning we found the severed head of a beautiful young stag in a carefully chosen place at Stony Ridge car park . The question to be asked is whether this is ‘just’ poachers or something more. The significance of the place could be that it was next to a notice that had been posted there publicising a meeting this Thursday of Friends of Blacka Moor. At the same time that the dead deer's head had been placed there, the FoBM notice had been torn down and removed. The content of that notice could be relevant: it invited people to come along and discuss whether Blacka Moor should be considered to be wilder land and for wild animals rather than farmland managed using sheep and cattle. The conclusion is hard to avoid - that somebody, possibly with a farming connection, resents this message and also dislikes to an unbalanced degree the fact that local people love the deer.
In that case it’s likely that this blog has contributed to the motivation of the perpetrators of this atrocity in that here we have challenged the constantly voiced orthodoxy of those who say that all land must be managed with farm animals and that any wild animals must be ruthlessly controlled, be they badgers, or foxes or in this case deer. We may see these people as descendants of the gamekeepers who would string up foxes, crows and birds of prey on wire fences.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Collective Punishment

The wooded area below Cowsick can be idyllic on a sunny morning. In the mist today and yesterday there was a spooky atmosphere. Suitable perhaps as several of the trees can be classed as among the Undead. Several years ago a huge number of trees in this area were the object of a mass murder plot perpetrated by Sheffield Wildlife Trust. They were poisoned and left standing to be a lesson to all trees that did not know their place. One or two refused to die and remain almost healed from the effects of the attack, and now heroically contribute to the natural beauty that draws us here. That episode of collective punishment is unprecedented and so far unrepeated on this scale since then on Blacka. I try to repeat this story every so often lest we forget just what kind of institution we are dealing with in SWT. Anyone starting with an expectation of sound judgement and a love of wild nature from a wildlife trust should beware that the word trust may be in their name but should not transfer to those who have dealings with them.
Many of the trees vandalised were fine mature trees of the birch family whose Latin name is Betula - another link with punishment, as it comes from the Latin for beat, birch twigs having been used for punishment in days now gone.
Happier birches, neither punished nor punishing, are presently decorating the woodland along the route down from Devil's Elbow, though this too would have been a jollier spot if the sun had broken through earlier.

Friday, 8 October 2010

'The Stuff Wot Cows Do'

We don't usually talk about it and we write about it even less. Sometimes I think it's because we find it hard to decide which words to use about it. But we certainly see plenty of it.

Choose what word you will, cowpats, or s**t , or manure, or a favourite euphemism of your own, wherever the cows go, there goes it. Just for once let's consider it. The first thing to be said is there's a hell of a lot of it. Next, that produced by cattle is even worse to behold than that dropped by sheep and far worse than that left behind by wild animals like deer. Yes, there's some sort of almost aesthetic appreciation going on here. The droppings of the wild deer on Blacka are small, formed and always the same. They also are usually found off the paths. Sheep faecies is quite similar to that of the deer; it's just that there's so much of it and they are like cattle in the sense that they are not at all particular where they leave it. But cattle are not just larger and fatter, their waste suggests they are in a perpetual state of having dined on something unsuitably rich or have a distressingly weak digestion.

Earlier this year we were lucky that there was no farm grazing on the pasture land for several months. Not only did this allow many wild flowers to occupy the grassy slopes but for once the area was free from livestock faeces. It felt like a place for people, for families with children and, rarely around here, a place removed from the industrialised grazing of our countryside. Now the livestock are back, both sheep and cattle and the dung is everywhere but especially on the paths. Perhaps it's something about domestic livestock that they just do it everywhere. Least tastefully they also seem addicted to lying in it and elegantly walking about with it still sticking to them. Maybe this is a legacy of them being kept enclosed for at least part of their lives. During last winter there were extended areas where the ground was obscured for many yards alongside walls where livestock had gathered to shelter. Only coarse weeds grew there in spring.

So what conclusion? This is a response to the oft repeated comment that "this is what the countryside is like - don't be squeamish." All I've ever said about Blacka is that we need some places free from farming and farm livestock, fences, farm priorities and all that comes with them. I've done my share of mucking out in my farming days and feel no squeamishness. That's not the same as wanting to find it everwhere I walk. Now the plan seems to be to put them back on the moor just at the muddiest season and we know already what that will mean for the paths.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

White Rainbow

It's rare to have a morning when you see nothing unusual. But this morning's mist and low cloud was unpromising. Experienced hillwalkers would have spotted the signs that the bluish tints in the sky directly above could give us some of those special views you get with temperature inversion.
The thing to do was to get to the highest point as fast as possible even at the expense of wet boots being penetrated by the soaking grass on Thistle Hill. There we were greeted with a delightful sight: a white rainbow, or perhaps we should call it an albino rainbow. It's not easy to find out anything about this. Google is useless because it seems to be the title of a song or a group, so popular that references account for several pages. As one whose physics is lamentable, allowing me to just about understand the conventional rainbow, I suspect any scientific explanation would leave me far behind. So a simple description will have to do. A perfect arch, its whiteness was, as often with the colouring on the normal one, more dense nearer the ground; and at one end, after a while, it was just beginning to show a slight golden hue.

The cloud moved back after a time just allowing us some precious minutes warmed by the sun where it had penetrated, watching the progress of the burning back over nearby hillsides.

Other sights of the morning included a yellowish mushroom doubtless with only a Latin name; I suggest someone names it after some design of South American hat.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Blacka Moor Meeting

A meeting will be held next week on 14th October to discuss suggestions for the management of Blacka Moor.

A new management plan is due to be drawn up soon to begin in 2011 and therefore it is sensible for those of us who care about the place to have our say and put forward our ideas. If any of you who read these pages would like to take part in any discussions you are welcome to attend, whatever your point of view.

The meeting will be at 7 pm at Totley Library on Baslow Road on Thursday 14th October. If you are able let us know you will be coming through the email address at the side or just turn up.

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Rain, then sun, then rain again, the pattern for several days. This is preferable to constant grey. Afternoon sunlight after morning downpour brings special lighting, as it did today. Water racing down the track eventually reaches the stream creating enough noise to drown out any other disturbance. How could this stream ever have been a mere trickle?

Saturday, 2 October 2010

It's How They Look

Looking at wild animals such as deer every so often you are freshly reminded just how beautiful they are. In the case of red deer I find it’s their coats that are so appealing, especially in summer and autumn. Of course in winter they put on extra layers of fluffy insulation which protect them from the cold and by early spring that starts to look scruffy as the extra layers moult. But even that is disarmingly attractive. By now, in October, they are at their peak, looking their best and ready for any opportunity like any young blade about town. By comparison much of the farm livestock that is 'utilised' (God, what an ugly word!) for conservation grazing is depressingly unattractive. You frequently see them looking pretty unhealthy and with excrement sticking to them in a way you never see with deer in the wild. I guess that’s why the more cunning managers like to use highland cattle, though so strong is the philistine tendency that sooner or later we’ll see them with numbers daubed on their backs. I can remember as a small child being taken to look at lambs frisking in the fields. Nowadays you could very well find they were all covered with lurid and untidy patches of coloured dye or even grotesque numbers. Soon there will be a generation which has never seen a sheep without these identification marks on them. Further than that my prediction is that farmers will in time be pressing for deer to be controlled and regulated, with marks on their backs and subjected to an annual dip. Already they are raising fears about ticks and it’s not hard to see they will blame the presence of deer. But the idea that such problems are the fault of the beautiful wild animals that we see on the moor when the farm animals often look so wretched - well, that seems hard to take.

This morning was a welcome respite after yesterday's downpour but the early walk was not yet bright and sunny. The sun was struggling to get through the mist and when approaching the hinds from downwind we were closer than usual giving rise to suspicious looks from the dominant stag further away.