Friday, 30 September 2011

Wine and Spirits

Enjoying a warm autumn morning before sunrise is a lift to the spirits. More so when it is pretty midge-free.
Those who like making their own alcoholic drinks are sometimes seen browsing for fruit.

To make elderberry wine you start with elderberries as you might expect.
To make sloe gin you start with a bottle of gin.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Less an Inner Sanctum, More a Cabal?

The local conservation mafia are shameless. The minutes of their SMP Action Planning Workshop in July speak volumes about their blinkered views and arrogance. Another choice excerpt from this priceless document tells how they consider themselves above public scrutiny. In a section reporting their plans for future meetings we read:

"Minutes of the meeting may well appear in the public domain due to freedom of information act, so any confidential items will be highlighted as such within the meeting and minuted as such."

This shouldn't really need any explanatory comment but, just to underline the message, they don't believe that the public should know what officers employed by the public (us) are planning. Demands of transparency put upon them by nationally agreed legislation are an unfortunate inconvenience and limit their options for secretly getting what they want and plotting their actions out of the public gaze.

So they intend to subvert the legislative requirements by erecting another 'confidential' barrier around certain decisions and discussions. This has the effect of setting at least three tiers of information. First is the version presented to the public, second is what you might discover if you go to the trouble of sending in a freedom of information request and third is what they agree between them in advance not to disclose. Managing the process indeed, and making sure that any consultation leads only to their preferred solution. Who do they think they work for?

They talk also of concerns about being an Inner Sanctum. What ill-founded self- importance. By their language we shall know them. A clique of self-serving yet publicly employed professionals with a fear that they will be found out and held to account only listening to what they want to hear.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Crop and Crap...and Crap...and Crap again

It beggars belief that anyone could dream of managing a nature reserve in this way, claiming it is necessary for the SSSI status and biodiversity strategy. I assure doubters that this happens and that this short scene is but a snippet of something that goes on for half a mile. You truly can't have a tiny micro of respect for these people however many doubts you might have had before. I confess I was slow on the uptake. It was hard for me to believe that qualified people turned out by our universities and working for such a noble cause as wildlife could be either charlatans or utterly incompetent. Doubts have always hung around. Was there something I wasn't getting? All these people in a growing employment sector so sure of themselves could not be wrong? I should have remembered the bankers and the MPs.

Trust your eyes is a good precept.

The shaky camera work must be forgiven. Put it down to excitement. You don't see this every day. Only in nature reserves it seems. It is only a very small part of the pasture land on Blacka and you must take my word for it that it goes on and on and on in much the same way and it's been going on all year: it's that land which was ungrazed for much of last year and which was full of wild flowers before sheep and their crapping returned from late summer to be joined by cows and their ditto, or should that be sh***o?

Does the wider public know about this? Does the BBC wildlife programming talk about this? Do the newspapers in their weekend country columns mention this? When will they start doing so and stop recycling conservation industry press releases?

Aggressive and Shy

Reading of people being attacked by rutting stags in Bushey Park, London, reminded me that we have not seen anywhere near the numbers of red deer that we saw last year and early this (before the intrusive farming management clicked in). So an earlier than usual start on a promising morning brought some reward. One solitary thoughtful looking stag was rubbing his head against a lone pine tree and later wandered off to the woodland edge.

Bushey Park is a large Royal Park and a popular dog walking venue. It is walled in, the animals are managed and can't be called truly wild in the way deer are round here. They are far more used to people being around and that familiarity may contribute to the greater likelihood of an attack when excited during the rut. Here it is harder to get closer to deer and most people count themselves very lucky to see them at all. Wilder often means more shy. The greatest display of attitude I've seen was from a hind protective towards its young.

Sunday, 25 September 2011


The north-west side of Bole Hill is one of the wilder parts of Blacka. Let's hope it escapes the chain saw maniacs and gets to continue on its own way.

Who would prefer a scene such as this? Would purple-sprouting broccoli be any worse? At least you can eat it.

"Felling for Wilderness"

The misspelling just about sums it up. Freudian. It’s what SWT will be up to this autumn with their uglification tree cutting and coppicing. But “wilderness”? God almighty where do they get them? Thinking again I reckon that the error is more likely to be that ‘for’ has accidentally substituted for ‘of’. But this mention of wild and wilderness just boggles the mind. It's about as wild as a garden cabbage patch

Do we attribute this sort of thing to poverty of imagination and experience or to an institutional culture of mendacity? But the implications are too great to pull more punches.
The Sheffield Moors Partnership Action Planning Workshop Report reveals many of the things that are wrong with the local conservation industry. Here are just a few:

1 Total insincerity. The use of words like wild and wilderness, occasionally adjusted to ‘feel of wildness’ etc indicate that they know just what they are about but want to still capitalise on the deception. How can anyone trust people who wilfully mislead. When will this industry start to be honest and simple?

2 The accent on archaeology speaks volumes. Here is a backup justification for management and intervention. And they vaguely suspect that somewhere in the archaeology they will pick up some useful reasons for sticking to their anti-nature and pro-grazing agenda. You know the sort of thing – tree roots might disturb the hitherto undiscovered bit of rock that ancient man could possibly have sat on (when texting his pal on the other side of the hill.)

3 Cultural Heritage is another of these ploys to use as a justification for intervention and keeping an artificial (but boring) feature just the same (and just as boring).

4 A nauseating surfeit of verbal hype and adjectival diarrhoea in the 2025 Vision and the Guiding Management Principles. In a few years time this will look like the pre-2008 financial products prospectuses from the banking industry. Much of this is where the horrors lie and will have to be returned to later.

5 Participation. This sets the tone of the proposed consultation. It will need watching carefully. Some previous criticisms, perhaps even some of ours, seem acknowledged but they will find a way of concocting a model which brings them what they want. Otherwise why decide everything beforehand? If they were genuine and sincere about consulting they would start with something like a blank sheet and ask people what they want. Never a chance of that.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Planning and Plotting

You may wonder who are the people currently planning behind the scenes to hive off a large chunk of Sheffield's property base and facilitate the empire building strategy of sections of the conservation industry. One side effect of their work will be to enhance a few career prospects. This blog can now reveal the names of the individuals involved. They are as follows all attending the 'Action Planning Workshop' on 6th July this year:

Nick Bruce-White RSPB
David Cooper Sheffield City Council
Mick Hanson Sheffield City Council
David Howarth Keir Asset Partnership Services
David Kingsley-Rowe Natural England
Roy Moseley Sheffield Wildlife Trust
Peter Robertson RSPB
Nick Sellwood National Trust
Jon Stewart National Trust
Ted Talbot Sheffield City Council
Roy Taylor RSPB
Sarah Whiteley PDNPA

Do note in reading the above list that there are three names from Sheffield City Council.Not only that but two of those not from SCC were from SCC until recently: David Howarth of Kier and the other Nick Sellwood of the National Trust who must have been useful to NT in knowing the way SCC works. It is the latter who appears to be responsible for guiding the process.
With all this representation from Sheffield the question that jumps out is why then are the Sheffield public not better informed about what is going on and why do questions to officers get answers implying we have no right to know? Who do these people really work for?

The report from this workshop can be accessed here. This comes through Natural England who are here acknowledged.

Comments on this will follow.

Another interesting document from the same source, Sheffield Moors Partnership, is this one. it is a draft Terms of Reference for the Sheffield Moors Partnership and gives us some insights into the way these people think. Note for example the following under Partnership Aims:

o To support one another in difficult and contentious issues, offering advice and if possible a partnership view.
o To resolve ‘local’ issues by working together, using similar practices and approaches, so creating the greater sum of our parts
Rather too many words I think. Why not just say "Close ranks after each cock-up"

Friday, 23 September 2011

Mirror, mirror..............

....Who is the most transparent of them all? Well who would have guessed? Step forward the supposedly unaccountable Natural England all diaphanously attired in documents, maps , draft policies, emails and meetings notes. And which villain is the most opaque and unfathomable? Go to the back of the class the once favourite Sheffield City Council hiding behind the crash helmet and burqa of impenetrability.
And here we were arguing that the handing over of Sheffield’s publicly owned assets to non-publicly accountable bodies like The National Trust and RSPB would mean denying Sheffield’s citizens access to information and a process of scrutiny. But then NE and SCC are public bodies while NT and RSPB are not obliged to answer your queries at all.
Could it be that there’s a culture within certain parts of certain organisations that encourages their officers to believe they work for themselves or their office and not for those of us who pay them? Never stop thinking that they work for us.
The story is this:
Recently this blog sent in identical Freedom of Information requests to both Sheffield City Council and to Natural England. This was not a game or a trap. It was done because each organisation was thought to have somewhat different information on the same topic even though some bits would definitely overlap. The subject of the FoI was involvement with the Sheffield Moors Partnership, trying to find out what was going on.
The information came back from the two organisations almost simultaneously. From Natural England came documents amounting to 12 megabytes of attachments. From SCC came one side of A4 showing a workshop agenda and a note to the effect that minutes haven’t been received yet. Not a problem with NE. Probably a cause for complaint to SCC.

Among the papers from NE it’s clear that they have a timetable for nobbling the high-ups in Sheffield Council only after the whole plan is so thoroughly worked out that they will feel obliged to welcome it. All this work so assiduously prepared is done and paid for through public money some of which is from charitable donors to NT and RSPB but other amounts doubtless from Sheffield City Council itself. Within this £16000 will be from RSPB and NT will be hoping to use the Environmental Stewardship money received for Burbage.
There's also the question of Sheffield officers working at helping outside organisations to take over Sheffield's land and that two previous Sheffield officers are part of the process now working for NT and Kier.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Hunting Season

These seasonal hunters for the hallucinogenic mushrooms, hunched and sometimes hooded look nothing like the Blacka regulars. They have strayed from an urban setting and seem uncomfortable with the outdoor scene. I doubt they found much. The Liberty Caps and Waxcaps tend to be a bit later, after the best of the woodland fungi. What you might have found were the unwholesome specimens associated with livestock faeces much encouraged by Natural England's policy of promoting vast numbers of sheep.

Totley Moor in this part has few features of any kind but one talking point has always been the ruined brick shelter that had contrived to take on the appearance from certain angles of an old ram. Even that one stimulous to the otherwise famished imagination has now been shackled by managers who have recently put a fence round it.
Doubtless this is a decision by the new EMP people. We saw this with SWT years back. Priority was given to eliminating all possible health and safety hazards at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps this is why they don't want trees up here. Some reckless character might choose to risk his life by climbing one of them.

Not too many worries about the sheep on Thistle Hill where those responsible are very relaxed about any perceived need to provide water for the flock: the tank was empty again.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Treasures in the Shade

Dropping down from Piper House through the woods in early morning is a journey from light to half light, deep shade then brief illumination.

Fungi explorers would have enjoyed this. I can't remember seeing as many Fly Agarics in a few minutes. They looked to have shot up overnight as slug blemishes were scarce.
Present nearby were Birch Boletes Brown Roll Rims, some I've forgotten the names of and some I've never learned. I would have been happy to find Saffron Milkcap but the Scots Pines are elsewhere.

Wandering through the relaxed and unmanaged spaces it's a shock to come up against a reminder that Philistines have been here.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Why Burbage Should Not Go To The National Trust

Just a taster for the reasons that RSPB and NT should not extend their empire by taking over Burbage Houndkirk and the Hathersage Moors. There are and will be others. These reasons are purely on the basis of accountability.

A council is a public body. It is answerable to the public for what it does in particular its council tax payers but also the wider public. Anything that it does is subject to laws and regulations that have evolved over many years. These include requirements that guarantee transparency and fair dealing. If I ask for certain information from Sheffield Wildlife Trust they do not have to give it to me and what they might give has no standard requirements for accuracy. The same applies to the Eastern Moors Partnership who have simply ignored some of my requests in the last months. Transparency for the conservation industry is sending out a press release with a slanted story telling what they want people to think at a time to suit them. Sheffield City Council has to respond within 20 days. For a council, fair dealing is subject to challenge through agreed complaints procedures and with the possibility of reference to an ombudsman service. None of this applies to NT or RSPB or SWT. Recently even the Charity Commission has been taking a back seat in regulatory matters and only gets involved when serious fraud etc is suspected.

Handing land over to NT/RSPB takes away important and guaranteed rights just at a time when local people are supposed to be receiving more power over their neighbourhoods via the localism bill. Very timely, I must say.

Burbage So Far

The only official news out in the open about the determination of the NT/RSPB partnership to annexe what has started to be called the Sheffield Moors is the minutes of the SW Community Assembly meeting at Tapton School in March. I believe that the minutes of that meeting and the resolution were tweaked afterwards to show a more positive welcome for the Sheffield Moors Partnership than the discussions indicated - not an unusual happening. It goes in a pretty meaningless way to say that

".....further exploratory discussions with key stakeholders, including the people of Sheffield, to consider the benefits and feasibility of potentially extending the Eastern Moors Partnership model to the Council’s Burbage, Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors, be welcomed"

I don't know how you can welcome something that hasn't happened but nothing here is specific. I just know it needs watching.

Since then there have been some events which I've been able to glean information about. An ex-officer (another one) of Sheffield Council from Parks Dept-Nick Sellwood - has been recruited by NT to oversee the project within NT and he has appointed a project officer. A group of Sheffield Moors Partnership people unknown have attended an 'awayday' run by a group called Clearer Thinking - not to be confused with transparency, unless my FoI request brings some detailed information. Someone else from Parks and Countryside - possibly a David Cooper - attended. Paul Billington who is the Director of Sheffield's department that includes parks says that nothing is yet a 'done deal' but nobody's taking any more bets. All depends on Cabinet which I'm sure will be lobbied. Councillors will normally follow the lead indicated in the recommendations within the report and past experience suggests that decisions are in effect decided beforehand between directors officers and the resposible cabinet member - in this case Leigh Brammall assisted by Garry Weatherall.

Apparently these SMP people are coming up with some sort of Master Plan which sounds like conservation people who consider themselves masters of the universe. How much Natural England have been involved I don't know. I have so many questions about all this that I need to buy a new hard drive. I have FoI requests in on, 1) contacts with SMP involving council officers and awaydays details; 2) similar for Natural England; and 3) still awaiting request on RPA payments for Blacka Moor.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Being Candid

Recipe for Intrusive Dullness: The Eastern Moors Prescription

Now to cash in those credit tokens accumulated so far by pulling punches on the Eastern Moors Partnership's draft management plan.

Those hoping for an exciting vision leading to a landscape that thrills, that captures the imagination, that delivers the unexpected, an experience of a lifetime, will be disappointed but wearily unsurprised given the record of the conservation industry. Anyone wanting much the same as we've always had, but lightly dusted and spruced up, may be content. But there's nothing here to inspire a new generation to enthuse about wildlife on a landscape scale. Instead it's all about management, management and more management. That and "extensive grazing" which is what managers do. No wonder that the conservation workers I see are so keen to end their working week early on a Friday afternoon. If they do get out and about in the weekend they'll be as likely as anything to be getting their thrills from active sports like mountain biking for lack of anything thrilling on the ground. Much of this area is boring and dull for being artificially planned to exclude trees. It lacks secrets and a sense of wonder. What You See Is What You Get: The old fashioned northern industrialist virtues of Gradgrind so caricatured by Dickens. Any excuse for a bit more management protection - this species of caterpillar, that potential bird resident several thousand desperately uninteresting archaeological features that amount to little more than a few stones and a glut of speculation. By some clumsy implication the message is put across that all this will be irretrievably lost to the detriment of mankind if we allow the land to become a heart-warmingly romantic expression of the natural integrity that is latent within it waiting to escape the stranglehold of extensive grazing.

Of course you will find people who want it to be the same as when they were children with no natural change. Even power stations and pylons can affect some people like that. Well paid public employees in the natural conservation sector are rewarded to see beyond that. It’s as if Christopher Wren surveying the smouldering ruins of old St Paul’s and the streets around had said “Nothing that a couple of coats of paint can’t put right.”

Every professional vested interest seeks ways of embedding itself into the fabric of our culture and society. The law is saturated with examples and recent instances include the codified compliances of the health and safety industry. Intrusive as these can be they are intended to prevent people doing things which are deemed to be not in the interests of society. The conservation industry is unique in taking this even further: it seeks to stop nature doing what it wants to do! If this prompts a double take its justified: there’s scope here for a new comedy series. It is so amazingly arrogant. Artificial man made (and man-ruined) landscape types have to be protected – from nature! And the EMP management plan is full of the bumph all giving supposed pretext why essentially self serving plans have to be followed to the exclusion of anything remotely imaginative.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest
Special Protection Areas
Birds of Conservation Concern
Special Area of Conservation
International Union of ………. etc. etc. (contd on page 94)

Many of these don’t bear looking into. Every one is or should be disputable by the public and each embeds more and more strongly the controlling position of a defined interest group – the conservation mafia.

Not having all the time in the world I now append below my (draft) response to the (draft) consultation on the management plan of EMP. Anyone wanting to suggest other things please comment.


Eastern Moors Partnership Management Plan

1 A missed opportunity: Three areas of contiguous public land could have been considered as one. There could finally have been a chance for nature and wildlife to develop and for the land to evolve with integrity over a substantial area in which there is freedom for wildlife to roam. A tragic failure of vision and ambition. This is a sad day.

2 "Wild and Open". Utterly perplexed at the continuing use and juxtaposition of these two words relating to this landscape. Yet their use here is key to what is wrong with this management plan. It is comparable to saying a man is tall and short, fat and thin, at the same time. It is forgivable for strangers with no knowledge of the landscape to make the mistake of calling this land wild, but for people claiming authority or expertise to quote them in an official document is bringing the language into disrepute.
When you call this land wild it suggests that wildness is something you value. It evokes a sense of anticipation and a sense of otherness, and a sense of mystery - something which captures the imagination as only a self motivating landscape with its free spirited unshackled wildlife could do. So why do you then produce plans to make it look just like you want it to look, with details of all sorts of farming style interventions designed to manage and impose human prescriptions? I’m struggling for suitable acceptable words to describe this – what do you call somebody who says one thing and then does the opposite? But this is an official document from an organisation managing a public asset. Micro managed wildness? Incomprehensible!

3 Why no proper consultation about the Agri Environment Scheme and the other ways of this being funded? Is this public land or is it not? Where is the money coming from? How much from public funds controlled by Natural England? How much from public funds from PDNPA and how much from members of NT and RSPB ?
Is EMP a charity? Will it submit its accounts to the Charity Commission?

4 Why is it necessary to cut trees below climbing edges? What next? Ladders and lifts? Surely climbing is an adventure sport with participants getting a kick out of tackling natural features? And seeing as the trees ought really to come over the top why not let them? Is nature wrong? How does one get to qualify to be god?

5 How do you justify doing something not mentioned in this management plan – but shouldn’t it be? – using a grazier from far outside the area, in Halifax!!? He will be one of two used and this seems utterly perverse. Speaking as one who wants no grazing at all and a purer natural and unfarmed landscape here, I’m told that I should remember the needs of the ‘local economy’. How local is this?

6 The process of supposed consultation has been calculated to guide the responses along certain desired channels. Despite a statement that EMP is ‘very transparent’ there was a refusal to disclose the names of organisations playing a key stakeholder role in this process. That is shameful. What exactly are the perspectives that are too problematic to even consider?
7 The "clear and transparent" policy promised for managing the red deer. They've done well without one for many years and have thrilled visitors. Leave them alone. Why does everything wild have to be managed?

Friday, 16 September 2011

Wildly Interesting

A short quote from an article in today's Guardian

" ... (that) British peculiarity: the desire to halt natural succession and keep ecosystems in a state of arrested development.
Heather moorland, a degraded habitat whose recovery conservationists are determined to prevent, is a good example. So is the sheep-cropped turf of many nature reserves. So is coppiced woodland. We manage them furiously, clearing trees and shrubs or preventing trees from growing to their full height, for fear of what they might become if we let go. As a friend of mine asks sarcastically: "How did Nature cope before we came along?" Conservation of this kind has nothing to do with protecting the natural environment. It's a manifestation of another national obsession: gardening

George Monbiot's article and the comments below are well worth reading - the link is here.

Being Nice

..........or Being Kind. (see following day's post 'Being Candid', but only afterwards.)

The strain is telling. Attempting to be both positive and honest at the same time can tear you in two. Like trying to stay vertical standing on the deck of ship tilting 45 degrees. To me it may stand out a mile and a half that the consultation document of the EMP Management Plan reflects the most dismal failure of imagination yet can you really say that without offending? So I don’t say it, in fact I retract it ….for now.

“People have put a lot of work into that”, will be one response from past experience. That’s it then. Briefly you think of all those other things that people have worked very hard at (Moscow’s tenements, Kelvin flats, most present-day television, my singing, etc.). There is a strand of modern culture which feels the need to treat any project as if it's a worthy effort from schoolchildren who must be praised lavishly lest they get discouraged and need expensive counselling.

A failure to be positive about plans labels you as being negative, not constructive, condemns you,the commenter, as being a non person exiled from influence and stakeholder status, or beyond the pale (not 'pail' by the way). Some of our local councillors are a bit like this, I've found. If you complain about an organisation, a policy etc. they are prone to come back at you with "What's good about it/ them?" You know straight away that they are working to a formula: if this bloke only tells me what's wrong then he's just a belly-acher with no balanced view so I can safely ignore him. So it’s wise to have a comment like “Joe Stalin loved his grandchildren and was kind to cats”.

The great and always technically brilliant Australian operatic soprano Joan Sutherland understood this very well. An interviewer once asked what she thought of the Welsh singer Kathryn Jenkins and she replied simply "Nice boobs".

So let's find some positive things to say about Eastern Moors Partnership's Plan.

1 The pdf file shows it as being a fine-looking glossy document packed with pleasing graphic design features.
2 Some attractive photos litter the pages adding greatly to the overall positive impression.
3 The general presentation is of a professional standard indicating a good grounding in public communication skills.
4 We should give a welcome to the clearly drawn charts with well chosen symbols. It's easy to refer to.
5 Following on from 4 above, we certainly know some of what EMP is going to do, at least regarding what they say here, unlike Sheffield Wildlife Trust who present their RAG attenders with barely decipherable maps and charts as if they are afraid someone might understand them.
6 Unless they’re not telling us there is no suggestion that barbed wire will be a major new feature.
7 No wind-farm planned, no travellers camp, no caravan site, no concreting over for a skateboarding park, no skyscraper office complex for EMP, PDNPA, NT, RSPB, NE wildlife trusts and other conservation bureaucracies, (unless this comes later to administer the expanding empire).
8 No grouse shooting plans, (though links may be established with the grouse industry given the ‘gardening for grouse’ style of land management enabling grouse to breed comfortably on the Eastern Moors then fly over to be shot on commercial grouse shoots.)
9 An impressive collection of adjectives in the text: exciting, stunning, amazing, stunning (again), healthy (twice), sustainable (predictably), iconic (kept us waiting for that),and, inevitably ‘wild’ – (steady, remember the resolve to be positive) …..although I could not find ‘tip top condition’ this time. Otherwise boxes well ticked.

Having, I hope, earned myself some credit points I may be tempted to use them up in a coming post.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Supervised Play

Serendipity prevails here. If you set out to look for something in a wilder and more natural setting it's pretty likely you won't see it; but there's also a good chance you'll see something else as interesting. This morning was something of an exception. I found what I was hoping to see, and other things too. A bit of autumn mist and an early start to look for the deer having seen little of them on recent walks. Would there be any signs that we are not that far from the seasonal rut?

Well the large stag was well placed to look down onto the land where he (if it was he) ruled last October. And that's where the hinds were with their young. They were still very protective. A slight movement from us and a loud bark from the largest hind sent them all scattering.

Later the sun came through to reveal them more relaxed in a part only a few yards from the deep cover of bracken and woods.

This is an ideal place for some well supervised play. And when they are unaware of your presence deer can be playful. The setting is perfect with September morning sun warming their backs and an easy escape route behind them.

But the large stag, when he comes to make a move, may not have things all his own way. There was movement in the thick bracken to the north where an antler was briefly seen. Other pleasures were to be had too. The times before and after the 7.30 to 8.00 a.m. traffic were peaceful and birds fluttered. Not the swallows moving south west as yesterday but others.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Self Assessment

Funny old world it is with reality and virtuality fighting for dominance. Some of us, who lived much of our lives before the information and digital revolutions took over, still don’t fully get it. We struggle to accommodate our thinking to the change. We sort of know but are slow and clumsy and still somewhat disbelieving. Paperwork and presentational skills, marketing hype and being a step ahead in the game of spin are all parts of this virtualization as is getting the message across online and in the media - however much or little it reflects the reality.

But who cares about reality when you can achieve your goals by making things up and presenting it well. And the text of many presentations is written by people who are employed to do only that and have minimal contact with the material and process they’re describing. After all most people’s contact with wildlife is through the media in one form or another. If you're in a job where your business is being responsible for something on the ground like a national park or a nature reserve there's still a lot you can get away with by prioritisng the narrative that sounds good, tweaking the message, inflated claims and clever presentation skills; much of this can be accomplished with a minimum of resources devoted to the 'real work'. But then in this weird office world what is 'real'? The thought sometimes comes to me when writing this blog. But this is only a mild form of the disease when compared to the way the big players go about things.

These reflections follow reading the recent article by Mark Fisher, the revelation that Sheffield Wildlife Trust have been claiming money for work they've not done and the publication of EMP’s consultation document. In fact it’s everywhere and we had rather hoped that this place was a sanctuary. Even as we open the gate onto the moor we can't miss that notice telling us that “Highland Cattle are Grazing the Heathland of Blacka”. I wouldn’t know who wrote the words ‘crapping over’ as a substitute for ‘grazing’ but it was closer to reality than the virtual message of the original. Only one highland is there – the others are a mixed bag.

Mark’s article starts by telling us that The Peak District has won what I suppose must be called a “prestigious” diploma from the Council of Europe. The first paragraph of his article is a dry classic, ending as it does. For some of us self assessment is about filling in a tax form. Conservation people get to write their own script and then review it. Just imagine an author, film director or composer being given the chance to pen their own reviews with no independent voice being heard – leading of course to writing a cheque to yourself, something I’m beginning to think is commonplace in the conservation industry.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Preciousness, Mushrooms and that other stuff

What it comes down to is the insistence that all we have now we must hold on to at whatever price. And that prospect of gains unknown and unquantified but potentially inspiring must be in all places repulsed. Supposedly this is in the interests of biodiversity. In reality it is in the interests of comfortable 9 to 5 weekday jobs environmental and farm subsidies, reluctance to be challenged and made to think too much.

I am not a biodiversity denier, the latest apparel of the right-wing climate change sceptics. But all new ways of seeing, all new legitimate targets are pounced on hungrily by those bandwaggon riders seeking an advantage before the rug is pulled. It may not be world wide but locally it's a biodiversity scam crafted to trouser farm subsidies.

Take the recent Eastern Moors Management Plan (Consultation draft). Among its numerous depressing statements, documenting interventions all over the place, is one to the effect that "some grasslands support important fungi and so will be managed with these in mind. They require short grass and so will be grazed by sheep". So in order put a few waxcaps under prime protection ( and I don't deny they can be really pretty) a whole system needs to be put in place with departments of Natural England alerted to bring on funding arrangements to enable certain farmers to provide woolly defecaters to cover the whole area with s**t. Blacka's grass also has waxcaps and they did not vanish when the sheep were away on holiday, but if they had been harder to find the gain in wild flowers was compensation.

As it happens I don't believe the theory anyway. Fungi grow underground. It's only the fruiting body that emerges above. Spores may not travel so far in the wind if the grass is longer but the idea you have institute a whole regime of farm style management to stop the waxcaps dying out is risible. The main argument, though, has to be about what is being missed by not allowing nature to go its own way. Unmanaged land and woodland bring their own species which have just as high a claim to have a place, even more so in fact because they are not managed. Let's have places where managers are conspicuous by their absence - and not just because they are in the office planning more intervention.

Sunday, 11 September 2011


It's regrettable that landscape quality so rarely gets discussed. When people are so privileged as to be invited to contribute to consultations this seems to be well down the ranking order of items for discussion. Yet it is the single subject that has so inspired painters over many hundreds of years and probably still remains a favourite of amateur painters today.

When I raised the question of Burbage Moor at a meeting last year, daring to suggest that its artificial treeless state was unfortunate, some noises from the grouse moor lovers made me think I had strayed onto a forbidden subject. Perhaps the same die hards choose to consider empty moors as 'wild'.

The appeal of Blacka is partly that it changes season on season and year on year. Its mix of mature, leggy shrubs, young trees, bracken and established woodland gives it variety and also mystery as there are places some would call overgrown where wildlife of many kinds can find its own level. The thought that certain moors will look the same for hundreds of years is enough to bring on a fit of depression. Where would you choose to live? Somewhere that has exactly the same view 300 days in the year and decade after decade? Or a living vibrant place with windows looking out onto trees reflecting the seasons and shared with wild animals?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Crop and Crap

Conservation grazing as currently favoured by the challenged local conservation workers could well be called Crop and Crap Management. Grass grows tall and with integrity all over the countryside where you allow it - often with wild flowers mixed in. This cannot be allowed of course. Such simple attractiveness is unacceptable - no job for managers.
Bring in cows, the landscape navvies to engineer away such bad ideas of nature. The result is visible along the paths. To the side the straight cropped edges of the now short grass blades are everywhere.
So need we ask what happened to the rest of the growth?

Ordures of the Day

A profoundly agreeable selection this morning.


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Public Money and Public Scrutiny

No secret that this blog maintains much of the management decision making at Blacka is about getting hold of grants especially farm and environmental subsidies. Also interesting is the discovery that the Countryside Stewardship Agreement was signed in 2002 even though it was never discussed at the lengthy Icarus consultation in 2006. I have regularly said that the major problem with handing over public land to private organisations is that there is no longer a possibility of genuine public scrutiny. We have found that Sheffield Wildlife Trust can simply say what they want and disclose information or not when asked by people who otherwise would have a right to know. Through Freedon of Information request to Natural England we can now read the text of that Countryside Stewardship Agreement. You can access the papers here though you will have to open a zip file. Amongst other stipulations it insists that:

"Grazing must take place for at least 12 weeks between 1 April and 31 August."

This is of course a major contentious item for the public. The grazing and farmification of Blacka was just what we had resisited. But it was on this that Sheffield Wildlife Trust depended to get its grant.
But what happens if they don't comply with this requirement and for one reason or another do not or cannot graze?
Well apparently they just carry on getting the money. This can be seen in another document from the same FoI request. It shows that a similar amount has been paid for each of the years from 2007. Extract below:

Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 7714 71.85 £3,592.50 Dec-07
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 4267 19.22 £961.00 Dec-07
TOTAL £4,553.50

Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 7714 61.14 £3,057.00 Nov-08
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 4267 6.51 £325.50 Nov-08
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 9040 10.74 £535.50 Nov-08
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 5665 12.71 £635.50 Nov-08
TOTAL £4,553.50

Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 7714 61.14 £3,057.00 Oct-09
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 4267 6.51 £325.50 Oct-09
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 9040 10.64 £535.50 Oct-09
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 5665 12.71 £635.50 Oct-09
Enhancing lowland heath SK2881 6515 0.07 £3.50 Oct-09
TOTAL £4,557.00

Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 7714 61.04 £3,052.00 Oct-10
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 4267 6.55 £327.50 Oct-10
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 9040 10.67 £533.50 Oct-10
Enhancing lowland heath SK2880 5665 12.54 £627.00 Oct-10
Enhancing lowland heath SK2881 6515 0.07 £3.50 Oct-10
TOTAL £4,543.50

Yet payments were made after claims went in for two years on this chart when no grazing happened. The details show clearly that the payments were made even when the main condition for the payment was not complied with. Do we really have this sort of money in the public purse to pay out on an operation that is useless anyway and didn’t even happen? In 2008 and in 2010 there were no cattle on what they choose to call the ‘lowland heath’ (at 1100 feet, for goodness sake??)– and in my view the place was much the better for it. I have the photos to show that.

I am now awaiting a response from the Rural Payments Agency regarding Single Farm Scheme payments. It will be interesting to see if further payments were made in the same years.

Monday, 5 September 2011


It seems somehow suitable that Blacka should suffer an invasion from the ballooning fraternity. Wildlife and farmlife too are among the victims of inflation in the conservation industry. As the huge intrusive thing loomed over the hillside the sheep took flight as have deer on previous occasions. Tranquillity is not a major concern of wildlife trusts unless it affects their chosen species, or their remote office work. They are too busy over promoting themselves. That is what they are good at. It brings them acceptance and accolades from those who read their self appraisals yet never visit the sites they manage. An example near the beginning in this article.

There are days when you would be better off seeking tranquillity in the supermarket car park; at least there you would not suffer the stress and frustration of having your expectations dashed. Helicopter flights, sudden roars from overhead balloons and mad shouting bikers can wreck your chances of getting some peace. But then if only those responsible would spend some of their resources in promoting the best aspects of these sites instead of those that bring in grants we might get somewhere.