Tuesday, 29 March 2011


March is the time to enjoy bark and dry leaves and lichens, before the new greens beguile us and capture the attention to the exclusion of everything else. The young oaks are a special pleasure and get too little credit from the conservation opinion formers: no sooner did the focus come to be on ancient woodland than anything else was just not worthy of notice. Fads and fashions again - but speaking as a 'Pre Baby Boomer' what else should I expect from the excessively conformist generations that followed. The latest thing always excluded every other area of experience. (exit mumbling in beard)

Sunday, 27 March 2011


The stags could have been watching events on the horizon where some distance away a group of hinds was prominent on the skyline. A rather lazy interest in March. In October the interest would have been more serious. Those interested in the future of this area of countryside, its character and wildlife, could do worse than apply some scrutiny to the South West Community Assembly meeting on Thursday this week at Tapton School on Darwin Lane. On the agenda is a report that recommends to councillors that the Sheffield Council explores with the Eastern Moors Partnership (RSPB/NT) the possibility of leasing the whole of Burbage Houndkirk and the Hathersage Moors to that newly formed organisation.

Why should I be concerned about this?

First, as a citizen who believes in accountability and proper local democracy, I see an attempt to push something through that should properly be part of a community decision in which people who use these areas have an opportunity to participate in the process and contribute to a debate. There is not just one way of approaching the management of these moors and it's clear officers wish to fast track the RSPB plan with a minimum of engagement with local people. Officers in public authorities do not enjoy consultation especially genuine consultation - it removes some of their power and room for manoeuvre...... (contd)

Secondly RSPB is a single interest group and known to target certain outcomes in terms of bird species. They have little or no interest in landscape and a more natural vegetation.

Thirdly the grouse moor model of local upland management should by now have played itself out in public land in this area. The reason it persists is, I think, because of the complex and problematic relationship between the conservation industry and the farming industry: each is powerfully institutionalised alternately feeding off and shadow boxing the other that there is little room left in the arena for an independent view. Well here should be an opportunity for the people to have their say. The moors belong to Sheffield - that's Sheffield people - and by virtue of that we should have the major say. It's time for a more natural and less shackled, less top down and prescriptive management of the moors.

Friday, 25 March 2011


"Of course we always get complaints about tree felling," say the conservationists. "You see the public are pretty ignorant really and don’t understand that woodland has to be managed. They have this quaint idea that nature can look after itself. And they don’t like the look of the place when the work is being done and is just finished. We know that things will slowly settle down and start to look more and more natural. That’s man working alongside nature as he always has. And our landscape has been formed over thousands of years by the interaction of man and nature. So we’re doing what has always happened with our power tools and chain saws and our carefully planned projects and our grants from money provided by polluting industry which can now claim to be environmentally sound. And biodiversity gains so much from operations like this. Taken all in all we’re indispensable.
You wouldn’t want to add further to the jobless figures would you?"

Thursday, 24 March 2011


It should be repeated as often as necessary: deer move about a lot and they sometimes gather together in larger numbers and at other times are solitary or in small groups. They have favourite places in certain months and prefer to be elsewhere at other times. Failure to understand this leads visitors to get the idea on the basis of an occasional visit that numbers have increased rapidly. This in turn leads to questions about culling. Culling is another kind of ‘management’ and managers like to manage. So any excuse for the woodentop managers to do their worst should be avoided. Don’t give them any excuse at all. If your thesaurus does not give as synonyms the words conservation, shooting....... and chain sawing then it’s time to get a new edition.

There were more stags across the moor this morning than previously this year, mostly coming in overnight from surrounding areas to enjoy the shelter and early morning sun that Blacka offers. And we’re reminded again of the value of trees to wildlife. Relaxing in the cover while we were in the open they knew they could not be surprised.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

All Present

In this post I remarked that the hinds and the stags were seen on different days turn and turn about. This morning was so gorgeous that both sexes were unable to resist the sun and warmth. Both groups were present. However the group of stags were the best part of a mile away to the north just about visible to the naked eye.

Hinds were much closer on the southern side of Blacka Hill.

What Goes On?

My Freedom of Information request to SCC was about plans to give the the public land of Sheffield Moors and Hathersage Moors to RSPB:

Dear Sheffield City Council,

I would like to see details of the process by which decisions are
being taken to lease important areas of public land owned by
Sheffield City Council to private outside organisations and/or
charities such as RSPB and the National Trust. The land in question
includes Burbage Moor, Houndkirk Moor and the land referred to as
the Hathersage Moors. My request includes access to all records
held of minutes of meetings reports and correspondence since
January 2009 involving SCC directors, officers and elected members
plus officers of outsourced departments such as Kier Asset
Management and others including prospective lessees.

Yours faithfully,

You can follow the progress of this on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, here.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


March is a good time to notice aspects of woodland that vanish or get overshadowed later on. One of these is the intricate random tracery of crossing branches in the higher parts of mostly young trees.
Another is the endlessly fascinating patterns created by dry decaying leaves and fallen twigs. Self hypnotic at times similar to seeing pictures in clouds.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

"Our Turn"

In previous years at this time small numbers of deer have been seen with a mix of stags and hinds. Something different has happened this year. Hinds and stags have always been in single sex groups. Odder still, and probably coincidental, each morning that stags have been obviously present there have been no hinds to be seen anywhere and vice versa. A case of turn and turn about. This week the stags have been prominent but no sign of hinds. Now the stags are absent replaced by seven hinds.


The brightness of the early morning sun still low in the sky makes some things stand out with unusual freshness. Are holly leaves always as shiny as this?

Does this simple scene with an old wall and birch trees always look as striking as it did today?

Middle Men

The work to the bridleway at the north west corner of Blacka below Hathersage road seems to have stalled. This was paid for by the Forestry Commission grant recently received. For a few days all was activity, then all stopped with no work being done for more than a week leaving the track worse than before. Doubtless things will begin again but having started why not finish the job?
The story about the wildlife trust in Warwickshire that renovated a bridleway with urban waste including asbestos is appalling.
It should also be a wake up call to those who are responsible for the way the conservation industry functions. Most ordinary people think that these wildlife trusts are out there protecting our countryside and looking after the natural heritage and its animal life. So they are willing to dig hands into pockets and support them by donating alongside gifts to other charities. They are misguided. Wildlife trusts, if SWT is anything to go by, behave for much of the time as an agency or middle man in the conservation economy whose role is that of a deskbound contractor. They pull in the funds, contract the work out, then, when it's being carried out, they are nowhere to be seen. The same applies to the grazier who lives many miles away. Having got him to sign up to the required grazing it's all left to him while they are in their offices chasing more grants. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust in the example referred to did not even know about the materials used; it was up to members of the public to raise the alert.

Farms in a Landscape

Several farms along Whitelow are attractively disposed in the landscape. This one should also be that. The setting is delightful. It's when you look closer that you see dilapidated buildings and hosts of caravans. At the back there is a dump and some sort of excavation is always going on; old decaying black plastic sacks are strewn about. A contrast to this can be seen looking out from near Ringinglow Road across to the Mayfield Valley, a superb arrangement of farms among green fields almost nothing detracting from the general impression.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Musical Thrushes

The mistle thrushes started singing in early February. This has been a good year for their songs. Like all the thrush family the phrases are well spaced, carry over distance and are easy to listen to, enabling identification of individuals. Mistles are genuinely eloquent but have a pale slightly nervy tone to the voice which takes a bit of getting used to. It's as if they need some relaxation therapy. Another way of thinking about it is that the song has a quality not unlike that of the robin - a vocalist many people consider as favouring a minor mode. The pure vocal quality of mistles suffers in comparison with the blackbird whose delivery has the professional ease of those who've had voice training at an early age: the 'cool', laid-back effect so prized in modern culture of not appearing to have to try. But blackbirds have only just begun to sing on the higher parts of Blacka. Competition for the mistle has recently been more from his speckly cousin, the song thrush. This bird leaves nothing to chance. He sings loud and clear and just in case you may still not have heard he repeats at least once sometimes three times. He's also an avid observer of other birds' calls plagiarising any good ideas for his own use. Hear the curlew imitation at the end of this clip.

Far and Near

The sun appeared briefy at 6.15 then was lost behind clouds for a couple of hours reserving a better show for later on. But the narrow eastern window revealed West Burton power station, 30 miles to the east, creating warmth for early risers. Much closer by the frost was on the ground and those who had been out all night would have to wait before warmth penetrated.

When it did, lying in the heather was more enjoyable.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Not a Great Surprise

Confirming a suspicion that there might be something about wildlife trusts generally.


I wonder where they got the money to do this - presumably from some grant provider - one that fails to monitor what happens to its money - or rather the public's money?

Monday, 14 March 2011


It may not be good for our souls for there to be many mornings like this. Calm, and with ground frost adding complexity to the already gorgeous colours of the dead bracken and the only regret that I missed the first rising of the sun by a few minutes. Even near the road there was an absence of the usual traffic noise. I wondered if there was a truck drivers convention somewhere on the west coast? Resident birds were singing anxious to enjoy their moments before the coloraturas arrive. Could it be true that more perfect mornings occur on Mondays than other days? During the cricket season it often seemed that most rain fell on a Saturday. Scope for some serious research.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Fait Accompli

Phony consultations are so commonplace in the world of the conservation industry you expect little else . To be fair most consultations in public life anywhere amount to providing the powers that be with material that they can trawl through to find useful comments to justify what they always wanted to do. SWT's bid for £44,000 plus from the Forestry Commission (mostly to destroy trees) was subject to certain conditions being met and one of these was that it had to be demonstrated that there was local support. To this end notices were put up telling people what was going to happen. Note it was what was going to happen not what might happen subject to the results of the 'consultation'. At the bottom of the notice was a sentence telling us that we could comment via the 'public register' if we did so by a certain date. The day after that date had passed SWT's tree cutters were out in the woods busy with their chain saws. No time had been allowed for consideration of those comments whatever they might say so the work could begin on a pre-planned date. So there was never any doubt, was there, that this was going to happen and the comments on the public register were always known to make no difference. In fact that much was clear from the notices anyway. How long can those in public office carry on running these phony exercises when it's becoming common knowledge that commenters are just wasting their time and energy?
Now you can see the effects in the woods. As far as I can see those felled are sycamore which have a habit of creating a canopy that does not suit the requirements of the lesser spotted woodpecker et al; it is also a non- native tree which scores negative points. Yet not far away numerous native birches of mature status have also been felled in recent years and it looks as if that might be the fate of some more now SWT have this grant.

Silent Chorus

They looked well rehearsed and ready for a performance.

Scarcely visible in the mist, on approach they revealed themselves only to those who are used to searching the hillsides. They were all lying down arranged contentedly well spaced out and facing the same way, ten at least of them and from certain vantages only showing antlers. This was so well posed you would hardly have been surprised to hear them burst into song like a male voice choir.

Friday, 11 March 2011


March can be a confusing time for those who watch deer. The oldest stags are often, but not always, the first to lose antlers. But instinctively we assume that the older ones are those with them and that those without are younger. Most of the group on the southern slopes of Blacka Hill had fairly simple antlers while one or two had none at all. There seemed little to choose between them in body size.


Seen in the picture above at sunrise this morning is the structure of hurdles erected by the grazier who has now taken all sheep and cattle off the pasture land. It is just where it was before being moved away last year. It has all the incongruous characteristics of a temporary structure. For more than a year I had been asking for it to be removed or located at a less conspicuous site. The reason for this is that this 'temporary' lop sided structure could be seen from a considerable distance away lit up by the sun as the only such object and it clashed with the rest of the landscape otherwise free from manufactured artefacts. A stone built permanent structure would not have been so much at odds with the surroundings. I had been asking SWT for its removal for well over a year with requests falling on deaf ears. Two new SWT people, Clare and Brendon, were sympathetic and eventually the hurdles were removed. Now they are back again. This illustrates the situation referred to in my reply to Nigel's recent comment. He says that 'many, many' times SWT has done what I asked for. A more accurate version of this would be that I have asked 'many, many' times and sometimes after a long wait something happened - but only temporarily.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

In the Woods

Before the interventionists had their wicked way the woods gave plenty of evidence that they were just fine. Some places where trees were very closely spaced and others where the canopy allowed more light to penetrate. Underneath the beeches little else grows although autumn shows a decent presence of fungi.
Deer are not seen there so much as where there's a good quantity of low shrubbery.

Other animals have escaped from captivity more recently and are wandering on the road and in these woods proving that even with the new grazier on Houndkirk and Burbage all is not quite right.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

To Relent or Not to Relent.....

.....this is the question: Why speak out? Putting your head over the parapet can have consequences. You get identified by the great ones of this world, Middle Eastern Potentates, Chief Executives and the like; a measure of paranoia often goes with such exalted positions, and speaking out can damage your prospects. You may also arouse the resentment of meeker-minded folk who get nervous when the boat is rocked and prefer blind allegiance to the status quo. But a quiet life is just what I favour so have a little sympathy with the sheep – even the ground nesting variety.

As for prospects there’s some value in having none anyway (my position) which denies the said Potentates and CEOs one means of silencing criticism. In a comment under a recent post, one CEO, SWT’s Nigel, accused me of having a ‘relentlessly hostile attitude’ (Nigel’s words) on this blog. Is he not getting a bit touchy? what so gets up Nigel’s nose, is hardly that. He would obviously prefer something more deferential in my attitude as against the occasional bit of irony and a little taking the p*** at his expense. But I guess that what really peeves is that I insist on applying some moderately detailed scrutiny to what he and his people get up to on Blacka. If that troubles him I have to assume that he lives in a world where he thinks he has a right to only uncritical esteem and reverence. Maybe wildlife trusts don’t get enough examination and analysis from the media. Anyway, if I’ve been unable to resist certain temptations then he should remember it was he and his allies who were the first people to start making the dispute a personal one rather than a difference of policy and vision.
Readership of this blog would be astonished and surely disappointed if I suddenly resorted to slavish admiration of the sort he may crave for himself (and perhaps gets from devoted minions).
But a central plank of this blog has been opposition to most of what SWT represents. No apologies for that. I could write a long boring post explaining why but not now-if I’ve not already made that clear I will get round to it some time. I could also spend a lot of time discussing choice of words. Opposition is not always the same as hostility. The latter suggests personal animosity. At one time I certainly was tempted to feel that: In 2007 SWT’s response to opposition was to go in for high-handed institutional defamation. That’s more what I would call hostility than the pretty tame stuff I go in for. I wonder, by the way, if Nigel regrets the way he handled that. He could of course be too proud to admit it. My indignation then was justified. In fact I have thought since that my reaction should have been stronger. This had not been the first personal attack. But I was never fully sure how much was down to calculation and how much to inexperience or incompetence. Eventually a long time later, a kind of apology was wrung out of Nigel in public at a council meeting. By then it was too late.

But, at risk of doing what I said I wouldn't, I will mention one central objection I have to SWT and therefore to Nigel. I don’t call this hostility, simply determined opposition. I just don’t like the attitude SWT have to Blacka Moor. Observation tells me they just don’t care enough. I judge this by the SSCA test. This is my own measure of care and effectiveness in the local neighbourhood. It stands for Streetforce Standard and Criteria Assessment. Everyone in Sheffield has a personal story about Streetforce. Mine is about the long area of public grass verge along the pedestrian walkway near my house. Streetforce are supposed to maintain and care for it but my neighbour and I have to do it ourselves because we've noticed Streetforce can’t be bothered. Eventually after many phone calls you may get to talk to a manager and something gets done –the absolute minimum and just once before it reverts to normal. SWT score well on the SSCA. They show little if any sense of proprietorial responsibility, no evidence that they really care about Blacka. To them it’s just another job. This is a malady of the spirit, a deficiency rooted in a mindset that sees the place as providing a service to the organisation rather than the other way round. That’s been so evident over many years that I can’t see how it can be denied. I can imagine the kind of excuses that would get made to explain this but there are so many examples most but not all of them small. You can forgive one or two incidents but as with Streetforce eventually give up.

The reasons that this is more lamentable with SWT are:
1 that SWT has been given this land because they claimed they could make a much better job of it than the council, so we should be expecting more.
2 that I have always believed a charity would be run by people who go the extra mile, and not just ‘when time allows’.
3 the mismatch between SWT’s self promotional publicity telling us how wonderful the place is and the evidence suggesting they scarcely care at all.

Part of the mission of this blog has been to expose that mindset. Put simply, places like this need vision, care, respect and love and there’s no reason why you can’t give that just because it’s your job or career.

I now relent - for a while.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Odd Appeal

The appeal of walking is rarely analysed. Like most of the best things in life it has complexity. Still, some of the elements can be extracted.

One of these is the slow progress that encourages lingering and dwelling on the detail of close and distant views. The sight of a narrow path ahead twisting around a bend into the mist is a particular favourite.

A Puzzle

The canoodling seats recently installed on Blacka have another odd feature about them. Staples have been driven into the surface. Why? There must be a good reason or is that expecting too much?

Staples are routinely used to prevent boots slipping on wooden steps etc.

Were the staples put on benches as a concession to more puritan voices - intended to discourage those canoodlers from getting too comfortable in such a public place? Or indeed, going quite the other way, an encouragement for those who prefer this kind of tactile addition to their relaxation?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Hold Tight

Just as we have kissing-gates close by it's only appropriate that further contact should be encouraged by what I think we should call courting-seats. SWT have installed mini-benches that are of ample size for one but two would need either to take turns or arrange one on the lap of the other.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


It could have been a wagon train or a line of alien invaders standing out white against the dull brown of Houndkirk Moor. If we had spotted a tree there it would have been about as startling. In fact we were seeing a line of bales for collecting heather to be used for re-seeding some of the eroded sections of Peak District moorland. This activity helps to keep the conservation workers busy. Alien invaders of another kind are also welcome for much the same reason.

Aliens would have been more interesting.

Some other noteworthy features of the local managed environment were on view in the pasture land. Visitors who only come out in the warmer and lighter months will soon be flocking here to see one of the district's finest examples of a surface livestock latrine.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


The Peak District National Park is not only the busiest National Park in the country but also the most exploited. I draw a distinction between those who eke out a living individually such as a modest small businesses, a dairy farmer on his own land or a shop owner in Bakewell and those who are part of a much greater and more organised national or international enterprise whose commitment to growth means that, unfettered, they will continue to make a greater impact. I put in the latter category those whose business activities are of a significance that impacts significantly on the National Park and which usually promotes itself aggressively using PR techniques and even legal enforcement in some cases. Use of these tools for me defines exploitation, a term I interpret as indicating something more systematic and industrial. Among those who should be considered as in this category are the conservation industry itself and also to an extent certain leisure industries such as mountain biking and of course we shouldn't leave out the grouse moor owners and tenants. But the most significant of these by far is the quarrying industry.
When quarrying gets in the news it's usually the impact on the land that's being quarried that receives attention in the media. This is where the two rival industries of conservation and quarrying go head to head. But quarries impact in other ways too. A petition was presented to the South Community Assembly recently asking for a council ban on HGVs using Bocking Lane. This alarmed other people living on Abbey Lane who feared that would lead to the same traffic then using their road. Residents near Abbeydale Road also lobbied because they too were concerned about a possible increase of traffic and pollution if drivers decided to re-route there. All of this followed a previous decision in Derbyshire to stop the same vehicles going through the village of Holmesfield. These HGVs are nearly all carrying limestone from Derbyshire quarries towards the M1. probably going north. Those heading south will tend to join the M1 at Chesterfield. These vehicles get out early in the morning to avoid the worst congestion and may then return empty later in the day. As the northern boundary of Blacka runs along the A625 you can't ignore these vehicles when exploring that part of the site.
A blanket speed restriction ruthlessly enforced would reduce the impact somewhat but the problem should really be dealt with at source - while there's something left of it: by agreeing what a national park is for before it's all transported along the motorway.