Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Only Natural

It's only to be expected when you see people who are employed by a wildlife organisation bent on controlling things that you question the motivation. After all wild does mean not controlled - i.e. left to its own devices. Those who use the word 'wild' and who then proceed to cultivate must expect a high degree of scrutiny. Yet they do not like it when you question what they do. If a doctor made claims to be a healer and then stood by and watched as an injured person suffered he should similarly expect an indignant reaction. Yet we have the most perverse situation in the local conservation outfits. They talk of wildness, the very names of their organisations speak of wild and natural. Yet they cultivate and control. Control is hard-wired into their make-up. Deep down they know there is something wrong with this, so they search desperately for more and more spurious evidence to justify what they are doing or, failing that, set up a smokescreen to distract us while laying claim to professionalism and expertise.

The approach here is a soviet style 'Command and Control' one with a centralised decision making structure determining just what may and may not grow. And just as the soviet-style economy led to unremitting bleakness in the streets of its cities so the present anti -nature approach to managing the moors results in week after week of dreary moorland fit only to raise grouse for the city financiers to fire away at. They are then glad to get back to the softer and more pleasant surroundings of Southern England.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Playing with Stakes

It's now pretty clear that the Partners about to produce the Sheffield Moors Master Scam have resolved the Stakeholder Question in the way one guessed they would.
The injunction put upon them by the South West Community Assembly to view all the Sheffield citizens as stakeholders simply necessitates a little sleight of hand. So in previous consultations you have ordinary members of the public and others deemed to be more important selected as stakeholders. Now members of the public do not figure at all. They are all called stakeholders with a new category being invented known as key stakeholders who are, guess what? - the same people who previously would have been simply stakeholders.

It's the old tactic of promoting everyone to the next level up so the hierarchy stays the same.

Questions, questions

Some people do insist on asking awkward questions. Something should be done about them. The Sheffield Moors Partnership meeting last Wednesday gave rise to a few.
Is the 'Master Plan' going to constrain the freedom of participants in ongoing consultation groups when they are involved in discussions around a new management plan?
If not then what's the point of the S.M.P.?

Another one:
How much money will the S.M.P. partners be likely to get from Common Agricultural Policy funds and agri-environment funds in future management arrangements?

Satisfactory answers were not available. The question about money had been asked before. An answer has now been promised. We know that the organisations involved have a name for transparency.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


Too early by a few weeks for antlers to fall but from a distance one of the nine stags here looked as if he might have jumped the gun. It only became obvious when the picture was carefully examined that he was an immature beast with rudimentary headgear.

The older stags are still finding their antlers of use. Either to show off a superb profile.

Or to while away the longer and milder afternoon with a friendly scrap.


The Post-It Note Challenge

The Sheffield Moors Partnership meeting last night was certainly, as anticipated here, another Post-It note exercise. As it happened I estimate that only Level One Post-It Note Writing skills were required rather than Level Three which I suggested previously. The reading was tougher, possibly Level 5 and would have challenged even those who sailed through Key Stage One SATS. This was mainly because of sheer difficulty in deciphering other people’s writing. Any idea that discussion and debate is facilitated by this kind of approach just doesn’t stand up: by the time you’ve bent down, adjusted the bifocals and worked out what others have written the proud author of the comment has tended to move on. The one time that I managed to evoke a quick response from a stranger was when I wrote just the words WILD BOAR in the largest capitals I could.

Several people said the thing was a waste of time and several others certainly thought so but were too British to say it.

My impression, subjective of course, was that the SMP people were doing their best to put on a brave face but really wished they could be somewhere else. They were the front guys for a culture of empire building and evasiveness in their respective organisations. So you feel a bit mean asking difficult questions. They can do no other. This is an observation I make increasingly these days so perhaps says much about a) me, b) the way things are in and around Sheffield and c) a feature of modern public institutions cultivating general haplessness and a blurring of accountability. (Stop the World!!)

This is not a consultation, we were told. That much we had gathered. This was a thoughts and ideas capturing exercise and a drop-in one at that. So, after a short explanation and a few questions, we were sent round to four tables with headings such as Land Management, Access and Recreation at which were the same identical set of questions: What should stay the same, what should change, etc. Once we had made our mark via the ubiquitous Post-It Note we were set free to go home.

This exercise is being carried out at two other centres during the next few weeks. After that the Steering Group would convene a meeting on April 21st billed as a follow up meeting. Will this lead to a proper consultation? Holding one’s breath is not recommended.


Saturday, 18 February 2012

Sheffield Moors Partnership Meetings

There are to be three public meetings billed as "Capturing Your Ideas" which we are told will lead to the formation of the Sheffield Moors Master Plan.

The first is at Totley Rise Methodist Church on Wednesday 22nd Feb at 18.45.

Details here.

If you wish to attend you need to book.


Woodland management gets grants from organisations such as Natural England and the Forestry Commission. This is part of the system of managing our countryside that keeps the wildlife and conservation charities going. If we didn't do this they will say everything would go wrong. We managers are necessary. Nature can't be trusted. One such example on Blacka is called 'glade creation'. In this spot quite a bit of creativity has been applied. There was a quite natural glade here in the first place. Then along came the chain saw operators grant funded and cut down various small trees leaving piles of branches around.

Now if anyone doubts that such management is necessary some time in the future they can point to the evidence of past management that has been essential.

Meanwhile a hundred yards further on is a small glade entirely naturally created. It has character.

And no piles of branches.

Trees have fallen creating, naturally, diversity and spaces valued by wildlife. And the value of dead fallen wood is greater than that of piles built from humans.

Thursday, 16 February 2012


Most people know there's a fair chance of seeing deer on Blacka now and, after all, animals of their size should be easy to spot. Yet days and weeks can go by when they are elsewhere or well hidden in secluded parts. Even when they are present, though, many people still fail to see them. That has much to do with the habit deer have of remaining still amid taller plants and trees. And they do blend in with certain features of which dead bracken is a good example.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


My comments in the previous post "Leg Cocking" are not the only criticisms made of the way the wildlife trusts go about stamping their brand label on woodland. Mark Fisher writes of the way Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are damaging the character of woods near Grassington insistently practising a'humanisation' of the experience.
While the wood no longer has the burden of a productive purpose, the Wildlife Trust and their volunteers are nevertheless driven to industrialise the woodland through sanitary logging and coppicing, leaving the evidence of their intervention as piles of saw-chained logs and brash, as well as the ludicrous dead hedges, none of which are in anyway analogous of structures found within woodland in wild nature. Constructing dead hedges is a method of stock proofing that has no contemporary context in Grass Wood, but which is a common way of the conservation industry in disposing of large amounts of coppice material that would have been taken away when the wood was worked for poles and charcoal-making.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Leg Cocking

The piles of cut wood referred to in this post form a purpose that is not always understood by walkers in the countryside. There are scores of them in woods near the car park. Everywhere that Sheffield Wildlife Trust works doing their woodland management you can be sure to see piles of logs. They are left there, first of all rather untidy then later a group collect them into a neat pile. It is, we are told, for wildlife and biodiversity reasons that they are not removed: a pile of logs gradually rotting away is a good habitat for all sorts of creatures. That’s the story. Of course if you just leave the woodland to evolve in its own way dead wood would fall to the ground and rot away with no need for human intervention. But it’s important for those who manage to show that managing is necessary. The mantra is Woodland Must Be Managed. If we were not here, they say, everything would go wrong. The piles of logs fulfil an important symbolic role. They tell us that the managers are here and in charge. This is a managed landscape and this is the mark. A statement of ownership and power. To that extent it is a reflection of the practice of wild animals marking their territory. The managers who manage the woods and insist that piles of logs are left are behaving just as the dogs who cock legs. It’s a declaration that all who pass that way are meant to note.


Not a day for love among the deer population whatever the calendar says. The stags are more interested in standing around in groups grooming. It’s the coats that they pay attention to.

When milder weather comes the thick stuff that helped protect them in the cold nights may feel a bit too much of a good thing.
Some of those standing around today may look very different shortly as the first antlers start to fall. That brings us to love again as stags’ antlers are reputed to have aphrodisiac properties and you can buy products that make that claim. Those selling deer velvet (the membrane that covers the growing antlers) also claim practically every other medical benefit including anti-ageing and muscle growth so use your judgement before purchasing!

Even though love is out of season for deer they still manage to make a romantic scene on the edge of the woods. That effect is, however, destroyed by unwanted intrusions of the kind put here by the wildlife trust. And even if you were in the mood your beloved might be on the other side.

Only one thing to do ...

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Magic Compromised

It's an unlikely spot for enchantment but when places are allowed to go wild it happens more often than might be expected. This woodland is surrounded by rhododendron but in the middle the trees are native and as full of character as anything on Blacka. It is close to a major road and despite the useful deadening of the noise, courtesy of the rhododendron, the sound of traffic never quite goes away; it's just that the visual interest helps you to forget it. It's also close to the car park so those out for a short dog walk use it frequently. Everything plays its part. The thick evergreen also keeps off the wind, giving it appeal to red deer, foxes and badgers. There's a layer of shrubs including bilberry and bramble through which alder birch and pine create natural sculptures worthy of a gallery. Many small birds relish the native trees even more when they can also take advantage of the evergreen shelter. This morning the numbers of robins and tits astonished us as they fell over themselves to get to the daily deposit of seed and grated cheddar that we leave for them on the wall: it was like a fictional greetings card from the RSPB. One robin seemed intent on landing on my hat as we were harrassed having taken a minute or so too long to reach the feeding station.

We've always known that wildlife trusts have a compulsion to remove rhododendron so were reconciled to work being done. So I discussed this with Sheffield Wildlife Trust and thought that they understood. The signs were that they did. When removing rhododendron, we agreed, do not take it all and do nothing to destroy the character. And one feature in particular was a treasure: The main entrance through the rhododendron into the wood was a leafy corridor and as you come through it the magic is thrilling. My daughter summed it up one morning when a dusting of snow lifted the view. "It's just like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe". Others too have called it Narnia having walked through the wardrobe/corridor into the enchanted world. That special feature has been communicated to SWT and we thought they understood. Obviously they didn't. The 'wardrobe' has gone and with it some of the sound insulation too. We were not against the thinning of the evergreen but this is so draconian I've not trusted myself to write about it before. And still anything said cannot do justice to the sense of helplessness.

They could have cut rhododendron at any other point and we would have scarcely minded. It simply underlines the gulf there is between us. All around have been left scores of piles of branches tidily gathered together compromising the special atmosphere we once had.

The debris has been here for months and could be permanent.

There is still beauty here but less of it and the truly worrying thing is that with people like this in charge what hope can we have that what we still have will remain? It is as if we are different species and the aliens are not the invading evergreens but the managers dropped on us from another planet where they think and feel in a different way.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Curse of the Ugly

Ugliness brings down everything to its own level. It's the blot on the landscape and the rotten apple in the barrel. And industrial scale ugliness is as bad as it gets. The trouble is that everything that's done nowadays gets done as an industrial project, the humanity, if there ever was any, is squeezed out of it, and the result is a tainted experience because efficiency is the driver rather than natural beauty. The removal of the scar of the power lines across Blacka Moor has been a revelation. With one action we have wiped away something that some of us had hardly realised was corrupting our vision. Industrialised landscapes are often characterised by sheer scale and may make us think of power stations, factories and oil refineries but one of the most industrialised landscapes is the grouse moor often a vast expanse of shackled and dehumanised space where top down discipline has been imposed by managers set on repressing and punishing most of the characteristics of free nature to serve their own economic ends.

Free land has varied and changing views and trees are the star performers, changing week by week throughout the year. This week it's been tree rime that's delivered natural beauty at a time of year when open landscapes can be depressing. Blacka's return to a more wooded character should be welcomed. Nobody should be cutting down and poisoning, bashing and coppicing. Celebrate nature fighting back.

Each one of the trees in the picture above has grown of its own accord. It was not planned and would certainly not have been allowed to grow under any regime like those managed by wildlife trusts today. Blacka today would be a much poorer place if conservation of their preferred kind had been practised here 50 years ago. The trees here show many different sides to their character as they change over a year. Today they are beautiful because of the rime from frost and fog. Later in the year as spring comes they will go through a succession of various shades of green. In the autumn the colouring will delight us in another way.

I remember that in my childhood farmland was often attractive in ways it rarely is today. The farming industry in its publicity welcomes the changes as a sign of progress and efficiency and when looked at like that you see they may have a point. But we've lost a lot in getting that efficiency. That's all the more reason for keeping large parts of our landscape separate from the compulsion to manage and control.

Walk and Ride

The sign saying "Walkers only in winter" could be misinterpreted. Pedants might conclude that nobody is allowed to walk in summer but it's OK in winter. Its true purpose is to say that those who ride bikes and horses should not go this way in winter. Even pedantic interpretations do chime with the way quite ordinary minds work. For example the chip-on-the-shoulder mountain bikers (and such do exist) may have a dislike for walkers as a category. This can come from a history of being disapproved of by ramblers. A quite common attitude I've observed is this:- "I don't see why you lot can do this but us bikers can't. Up with bikers down with walkers" etc. and similar sophisticated arguments.
Whatever the reason someone has torn down an identical notice that had been pinned on the gate at the other end of the path.

Would it make any difference if the notice had said "Walking only in winter"? Those anxious to identify themselves as members of one group or another can't then complain that only one group of people which is allowed in and that excludes bikers (horse riders tend not to be quite so touchy). After all everyone walks.

Incidentally the gate from the car park and adjoining areas accumulate more notices each week, all part of the managerial culture that emanates from SWT and the conservation industry generally. You might consider you're in the office or staff room rather than a natural area. It's much easier than going out onto the moor to observe and check up on what happens. Print out a notice at the office and when you're driving that way just drop in and pin it up; then back in the car (pity you had to get out really) and off home. Certain similarities with the lay-by litterers suggest themselves, those who booze and bonk on a Friday evening throwing out the bottles and packaging. Oh and contraceptives too.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Bus Stop Target

Those who wait for the bus at Piper House should know by now that they have more likelihood here of being badly treated than at any other stop in Sheffield. They could in fact be swept through the wall behind them and deposited into the woods below along with the bus stop itself and any bollards that aren't paying careful attention. In recent years the bus stop has been knocked through the wall three times. There have been fatal accidents on this bend and frequent near misses and drivers losing control. After the last time the bus stop was treated so unceremoniously I wrote to the Council suggesting it might be wise to choose another site. I didn't get a reply.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Holding Stakes

What is the difference between a public consultation and a stakeholder consultation? When managers use words like stakeholder what exactly do they mean? How do you tell a stakeholder from a member of the public? The truth is that it’s a very convenient term for managers who can make it mean more or less what they want – so it has to be categorized as a weasel word, one that implies more than it states carrying a sort of meaning that rarely gets defined or challenged but useful for distancing managers from those being managed. I referred to stakeholders when reporting on a recent post More Minutes. This is a teasing subject because interpretation is all.

When Eastern Moors Partnership consulted they too had a series of near identical workshops to those being held by Sheffield Moors Partnership. After that a selection was made of certain individuals named as stakeholders but not identified who would go forward as special consultees. As far as I could tell when things were so secretive they were representative of various groups such as climbers, farmers, ramblers, and neighbouring landowners, councillors etc. The rationale was doubtless that the chosen ones in some way had more of an interest in the outcome of decisions made than ordinary members of the public however much the latter might know the land and understand the issues. The trouble with this is that the particular chosen individuals may have little knowledge of the details compared with others who are not chosen. Unless they make a point of canvassing much wider opinion then there is a strong likelihood that certain perspectives could be sidelined or just ignored. That of course might be to the advantage of the managers who might prefer not to have to respond to views and ideas that they are not comfortable with or which challenge their own interests.

That is indeed what happened with the EMP consultation. Despite asking to be considered a stakeholder in the EMP consultation my request was turned down and the names of those who were kept from me. It was as if the managers were trying to prove just how undemocratic they could be. Yet Danny Udall the EMP manager had said in answer to a question from me at a public meeting that the EMP was absolutely transparent.

Hence my question to a Sheffield City Council officer representing partners in SMP asking what was meant by the South West Community assembly being a 'key' stakeholder.
The answer I received was thus:

"The South West Community Assembly was identified as a key stakeholder due to the fact that the majority of the Sheffield Moors Partnership (SMP) Area falls within the South West Community Assembly Area. One of the key functions of Community Assemblies is to ensure local communities are effectively engaged in decisions effecting their neighbourhoods. Given the location of the SMP area within the South West Assembly area, it was felt appropriate that a report was taken to specifically to the public meeting on the 15th December 2011. Further reports will be taken as the masterplan develops. The key stakeholder referred to is not a reference to the Assembly Manager. The stakeholder reference is a reference to the Councillors that represent the wards within the South West Assembly.

The proximity of this valued landscape to Sheffield as a whole, means that quite rightly all Sheffield residents could be considered stakeholders in what happens within the SMP area. It is with this in mind that Stage 1 of the Masterplan production has been concerned with publicising to as wide an audience as possible, the Stage 2 consultation events that will take place during February and March. The SMP Steering Group is very clear that is wishes to ensure all stakeholders have an opportunity to express their views as part of the Masterplan production process. These consultation workshops are open to all who wish to attend and I feel demonstrate the Steering Group's inclusive approach."

On first reading that may sound fair enough. But when everyone is a stakeholder what is the position of the public? And then what is the role of the 'key' stakeholder? Perhaps it’s best to ask who is not a stakeholder? And does a kind of blanket definition not give more influence to the managers themselves whose role is the only one distinguished from the general mass of the public?

Monday, 6 February 2012

Rough and Smooth

Snow dominating the view below while heather is mostly brown and snowless up above.Quite the reverse of normal expectations. The leggy heather shrubs are like trees in this respect. Their roughness shrugs off the snow while the smooth cropped surfaces of the pastures in the lower land remain white over.

Friday, 3 February 2012

No Better

No place can look better on days like this. Cold clear air and almost no breeze with the sheltered spaces flooded in warming sunlight and wild animals relaxed and basking. Tall unprescribed shrubs are an essential element as is the bronzed bracken showing that it can be a scenic delight at this time of year. Few days in July and August come close.

Bash Ho!

Of the many sins and failings of the wildlife trusts, one that rankles more than most is that they have striven to make it seem acceptable to 'bash' wildlife. Tomorrow on Blacka Moor SWT's Department of Community Engagement (or something) is hoping to gather a party of volunteers together to do some 'birch bashing' and its attendant activity 'coppicing', bashing by an only slightly less offensive term.

"....if you particularly enjoyed the birch bashing, then the next Blacka Moor Community Work Day will be right up your alley, as we're once again coppicing on Bolehill!"

Well, yippee!

One of the aims of those who plan and manage these activities is to present it so as to seem quite a normal sort of thing to do. The hope is that nobody will take a step back to the time when they first heard the term and instinctively reacted against it - a wholly correct reaction in my view. And a primary aim of the exercise is to reinforce a view that nature cannot be trusted and is only tolerable when rigorously controlled like a delinquent child.

I've sometimes wondered if there was also a psychological element in the mix of motives. Is this an activity designed to appeal to the meek among us who in normal social interactions are largely acquiescent but secretly long to assert themselves over those living things that do not and cannot fight back?

But birch is a fascinating tree with immense landscape value in itself and in combination with others. It is never the same twice, being capable of bending and twisting in an infinite variety of sculptural forms. Those who see it as a weed tree would doubtless think the same of all trees that have occupied the near sterile grouse moor that Blacka once was.

More Minutes

The minutes of the Sheffield Moors Partnership Steering Group meeting of 2nd November can now be read at this link.
I'm told that future minutes of this Steering Group will be made available on the SMP website (just started). Whether this would have happened if we had not sent in several Freedom of Information requests I can't say. The question that's begged of course is - now demands for transparency are having to be satisfied will certain things be discussed 'off the record'? That had already been implied in previous minutes when members were reminded of the possibility of FoI requests. Some who read the news may recall GOD ( Gus O'Donnell - Government Cabinet Secretary) making this point recently.

I've asked for clarification of the situation regarding the vexed question of stakeholders referred to at the bottom of page one of the minutes. Who are the stakeholders and are some stakeholders more important than others and thus designated as 'key' stakeholders? And how does this square with the South West Community Assembly's asking that all Sheffield citizens should be considered stakeholders? I await the answer to my query with interest.


For the largest stag at least, the barbed wire is no challenge. He simply eased himself over the fence. I've often wondered how much consideration they give to the land on the other side, its rockiness, the vegetation etc. before committing themselves. But that's from the perspective of an ageing human who treads carefully everywhere now. As a child such risks were bread and butter.