Thursday, 31 May 2012

Feppin' Cheek!

The transformation of the major central area of Blacka Moor from prime free recreation land before 2001 into farmland is entering its conclusive phase as Sheffield Wildlife Trust begins work on applying for Higher Level Stewardship through Natural England. Despite totally insincere statements that this will only go ahead with the willing cooperation of local people through consultation, none of which has happened, they are already beginning the process.

This brings up an argument that was ongoing from 2004 to 2006 when claims that farming designations and the grants which follow them would mean a fundamental change to the site even greater than the inclusion of an added paragraph about conservation in the covenant. At that time our concerns were dismissed by various people including councillors, officers and local groups with a cosy ‘stakeholder’ status such as Ramblers or the BMC.

The pledge that 5 years of grazing as an experiment would be the limit of the implementation of SWT’s policy is now exposed as the lie we guessed it to be. If they had intended to stick to this they would have discussed thoroughly how to resolve the ‘experiment’ through a proper process of evaluation and consultation before any thought of continuing with more farming and grazing management. Instead they are going ahead with arranging a Farm Environment Plan (F.E.P.) which is the essential prelude to HLS. This has confirmed by Natural England.

There is, deeply embedded within the culture of the local conservation industry, a lack of openness in its relations with the public that is hard to distinguish from fraudulence. It’s a culture and that means anyone who tries to deal with it or even to remove it from the inside will have a struggle. It is simply easier to get the results you want by sundry short cuts and dubious stratagems.

Sixty years of the new Elizabethan age and 66 years from the Butler Education Act and sundry educational reforms in between have delivered to us local administrators and managers of national charities who do not recognise the moral bankruptcy they practise when dealing with the public.

Would that matter so much if they had only left us large areas of natural beauty of landscape where we could get away from them?

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

May and Rowan




On Blacka the two blossoming attractions crop up where they wish and it's still possible to find one that you had not been aware of. Rowan is more numerous here so the cream colouring predominates.


That helps the more vivid white of the thorn to stand out the more when you find it. May blossom can overwhelm a small tree to the extent that you can almost fail to be aware of leaves.

It's a good year when rain holds up for long enough to give a long flowering season.

Fundamentals




Some pictorial contributions to the recent posts on Natural Beauty and The Back End, which referred to the respective rears of sheep and deer.

This is a fundamental question. Unfortunately this blog knows no way of incorporating smells.

Natural Beauty

It’s possible to give a misleading impression of the state of things. Do the pictures here show Blacka Moor as everyone will find it whenever they visit? Certainly not. The time of day is important and also the knowledge gained over time where to look. Most people prefer to take their own routes. Nevertheless they report a truth of what was seen at a certain time and in a certain place. There is also the question of selectivity. The one holding the camera chooses the view he wants to take. In some cases one is just lucky.

This one is satisfying in a special way. It sums up much of the sense of magical atmosphere that can only come when a place and wildlife are left alone by man. Almost a fairy tale illustration.


It does something else. It provides the extra picture that was not included in this post -The Back End. The ugliness that is an inevitable part of the rearing of farm animals as compared to native wild animals is something I’ve never seen or heard discussed. In fact some farmers try to claim the opposite having an agenda that claims that all land must be managed and only carefully controlled wildlife should be allowed. They then talk up various problems with disease in wildlife that they themselves deal with in their domesticated beasts. To this end they tend to imply that wild animals are dirty with multiple parasites and prone to conditions that could harm their herds and their profitability.

Well just look at the evidence. Maybe I should be more delicate, but which backside do you prefer??!!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Calm



Warm and with hardly a breeze, the calm early morning of a perfect spring day shows everything at its best. Even the sheep enclosure has attractions. Banks of bluebells relieve the cropped grass with surprising colour reminding of the days, two years ago, when no sheep grazed and Harebell, (or the Scottish Bluebell), ran riot later in the summer.


These bluebells get by because the sheep have been off until recently and so far not explored the further parts of this land. Still it's a bit freakish to have a woodland flower where there are no trees. This is where the hares and curlews may be seen.

And one lapwing flew over.

It’s not taken long for the sheep to leave their mark and their need for shade has determined that the areas around the very few trees are places to avoid unless you have a peg on your nose.


Outside the enclosure where, blessedly, no farm livestock have yet arrived the deer were beautifully relaxed, stags browsing lazily on the lower branches of rowan.


Hinds were snoozing in the high bilberry and leggy heather until roused to furious indignation by our presence on the path. We moved off shamefaced at disturbing them.


Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Back End





To truly know the difference between wild animals and farm animals study their respective rears.


When the sheep reappeared on the inby land at Blacka it was possible to drool over the new lambs and think that they were a positive addition to the landscape. Those who deferred judgement for a couiple of weeks may reach a different conclusion. The bridleway has now returned to what it was last year, a sheep lavatory.


The sheep themselves should only be looked at from the front. Unlike wild animals who tend to know how to look after themselves.

Rowan



More rowan than hawthorn on Blacka but both play their part. Rowan is the queen of creams. But it feels like a long time since we were enjoying the white flowers of blackthorn in March.

Green Culmination

What you’re left with when you can argue no more is the simple fact the greatest contribution to the appeal of Blacka has been made by the absence of management over many years.

This week brings us the high point of the spring greening with trees at their very best,each leaf new minted with an extra edge of immediacy that you only find in May. Whatever the delights that suburban lilac and apple blossom bring they cannot beat the simple but vivid fresh growth on birch and rowan, oak and whitebeam self-determined in a natural setting with no gardeners in sight. The seductive artifice of Chelsea displays cannot compete with a newly greened wood and a blackbird’s leisurely improvising. This is the best of Blacka and the reason that people and variety of wildlife prefer it to Burbage and Houndkirk Moor. There are those strange old farming fundamentalists who claim to see the trees as all wrong because the land should be farmed and like a grouse moor, but their views are corrupted by a mix of self interest and warped conservation industry dogma, a lost philistine cause unworthy of attention except for those who no longer use their eyes.

It's worth looking back more than forty years to my first explorings of this region: The most striking thing about Houndkirk Road to me was always coming through the gates after walking over the sheep-grazed moor. With the acrid smell of sheep receding behind on the other side of the gate, I found myself abruptly among natural vegetation with wild flowers and it was as if the world had broken free of the chains of exploitation. Behind, on the managed side of the gate the grazed area stretched on remorselessly for a vast distance monocultured depressingly not by any quirk of nature but by carefully contrived and bureaucratically planned intervention with no free wildflowers blooming. We should never stop being astonished at this. People actually planned it. And we do need to remind ourselves just what people can do.


There are more beauties on Blacka, far more, than on all the local grouse moors put together, even in the depths of winter. But now in the splendour of May we see it clothed in youthful vegetation. Left alone for long enough this will change as a child changes into an adult. Hundreds of years create ancient woodland but it has to start somewhere. But now the mix of open and wooded areas created by succession and colonisation of native species is like a young child or immature wild animals with beauties of their own. The spread of trees across the old heather moor has an immense appeal to the deer and to the birdlife in spring. And visually it captivates, bringing swelling bilberry, cotton grass and young rowan and birch interspersed with older trees great playgrounds for cuckoos and warblers. The best of this is a testament to nature’s youthfulness, the young birch in the young woodland in the springtime and seen in the early hours of the day. All renewing one’s faith in regeneration; and that is needed.


The Eye

It is being watched from the moment the beak is stuffed with insects.

Going silently from one low tree to another the cuckoo is mapping out the nesting sites of small birds in the bilberry beds. It is the eye that captures the attention, surrounded by yellow colouring and visible from a distance as birders and twitchers watch the arch-twitcher itself planning its dubious domestic arrangements.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Treeing-Up!

The last I heard from the manager of the Eastern Moors was that he had no designs on this piece of Totley Moor to the west of the track that separates it from Blacka. He may have not wanted to get into a justification that could lead to another argument about grazing with cattle/sheep. He said intervention was not in his plans as this part was ‘not treeing-up’. Sounds like a children’s game from the middle ages. Well parts of the land are showing some spirit and young trees are growing and good for them say I.


Nothing could be more dull than the arboreally-deprived pasture land over the fence.


What happens from now on may have something to do with the deer. Four stags were there this morning. But then we keep getting told that they do different things to farm livestock. Not programmed properly I suppose.
And who programmes the managers?

Discriminations

I did speak with someone not long ago who said he couldn't tell the song of a willow warbler from that of a chaffinch. Once you know it inevitably you forget the process you yourself went through and the learner is going through now, so it's easy to scoff.
It's about discrimination of course but then there are those I've come across who don't understand the word discrimination itself; they think it means being unfair or prejudiced!

The more tricky identification problems may be about differences between the songs of garden warbler and blackcap.

And telling a linnet from a redpoll.

Shoddy

When stuck for something to talk about those of a certain age can always fall back on standards of workmanship being worse today than 'their day'. Those who don't want to be labelled curmudgeons may just stay quiet and not complain.

Poor standards are poor standards whatever year and date it is. And failing to speak up actually makes things worse.

When the contractors arrived to remove the power lines there was genuine cause for satisfaction. But I was surprised that so many men and resources were deemed to be necessary, especially because a lot of it was done in a very simple way with power tools cutting off the poles at ground level.


All the more annoyance that the job was not finished off in a way which might have been a source of pride. The poles were chain sawed from one side and then the other but left with a hard, sharp crest of splintery timber sticking up. An injury waiting to happen. If you add that to the poles left in the car park it's hard not to conclude that the managers responsible, who did not ensure a proper job was done, could not care one way or the other.


The answer is simple: when a contractor is brought in you simply assume that a rotten job will be done and at the very least that corners will be cut. So you supervise and check up immediately afterwards - and before they get paid. But then bureaucrats who spend little time on site have no pride themselves in the place. The dead hedge recently taken down after five years or so was not removed - I found it discarded partly hidden a few yards away. A similar thing happened when an old bench was replaced.

Food Supply



The last days have changed things dramatically for the birds. Just before temperatures rose the situation was desperate for some. My measure for this is the response when we get to the wall where each day we leave a few seeds. Only on Monday we were being mobbed by the resident finches, tits and robins not polite enough to queue at Bloggers Caff. And the grated cheddar was the most popular number on the menu.

Once the warmth arrived the story was different. Insects were around and all could relax. The robin, who had fed from the hand during the winter and early spring, even arrived with beak stuffed with flies as if to show me that I was no longer needed; in fact his real reason was to grab some cheddar and add it to the insect meal for a well blended dish. He then raced off into the shrubs triumphantly.


Suddenly flies, grubs and caterpillars abound.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Compulsion

Comments from the public on that part of the the Sheffield Moors Partnership process dealing with 'Sustainable Land Management' show such a wide variation of points of view that it is simply not a 'sustainable' position to say that things should now go forward and the officers construct a master plan. At the very least there should be another local process involving genuine consultation within which some examination of these views takes place.  Anyone considering that the officers of the partnership have the capabilities of Solomon to steer a path through this have more faith than is good for them and us.

One or two of the comments raise the question of a possible cull of the deer illustrating a compulsion and a misapprehension often found. This is the 'everything must be controlled tendency' that is common in managers and farmers and sometimes taken up by others who have responded to scaremongering often  presented by people with a very limited view of what's going on. Leaving aside for the moment the vexed question of farm livestock it's worth considering the numbers of deer seen on Blacka. Last year and previous years in April and May deer were often to be seen in numbers up to and even over twenty.



Later in the summer these numbers declined as the animals moved around in smaller groups. Some people, thinking they have seen a lot of deer consider them as if they are fenced in like cows, concentrating their impact within an enclosure. In fact I looked out for deer many times from June to August and was disappointed. But such is this compulsion to control and cull that some people only need to see a large group and they think there is a serious issue. This perception is something the managers are prone to encourage because it serves their purpose - to show that management should always be around to step in when necessary.

This year too the numbers of deer have been high during spring. And it helps that they have the place to themselves at least until the demon defecators are installed. Then perhaps they may move on     -    noses in the air.

Buttresses



This could be the area SWT refers to in its A4 laminated notice thanking us all for not disturbing the lapwings last year.  I call this part of the pasture land The Buttresses. Lovers of trees avoid it and I can't remember when I last saw anyone at all walking here.
I was wondering why (if you want to get a reputation for being grateful, that is)  you should wait as long as a year to thank people for doing something you didn't ask them to do in the first place? Something to ponder.

Further across is a lonely tree. That's sad I think.



Aren't there things like dating sites available now? But anything companionable would soon be gobbled up by the woolly strimmers. The sheep themselves are now back in their enclosure with the exception of those that escaped and those that have found their way onto the grassy verges and even tarmac of the A625.

The lambs look smarter than some we've seen in other years with a creditable ethnic balance and the ewes too. This one is an exception though whether it's mange or the latest poodle-style fashion I can't say.


Years ago I used to see so many lapwings on farmland before the industrial scale farm management drove out all but a small residue of wildlife. The ones I remember would like the ploughed and harrowed fields where no grazing was happening and, there being so many of them, determined people would wander over looking for plovers eggs while the birds would dive around peewitting several at a time. The eggs were difficult to find and its unlikely that this had a major impact on populations. So it was modern methods of farming and food production that contributed to their decline and doubtless pesticides too. Now the wildlife trusts seem keen to manage this land with farm animals when it is public land with no necessity of being involved in food production except for the whacking great grants from the CAP. BBC's Farming Today slipped in an item yesterday telling us that farm incomes were going along very nicely thank you despite the recession. Now, now, that's not allowed - farmers with nothing to complain about?



Monday, 21 May 2012

Doing Different




As mentioned in the previous post SWT's cattle are shortly to appear and use Blacka as their latrine. The discourse around this policy of devour and defecate has its amusing side. One source of entertainment is the response you get when you ask why. It usually takes the form of telling we sad ignorant people that "our landscape was formed many thousands of years ago by complex processes among which was the influence of large herbivores". I used to hear this a lot. It's getting so we don't hear it so often now. That may be because word has got through even to the conservation people that we now have a good supply of wholly natural unfarmed large herbivores on the moor so that explanation won't wash any more. They've had to re-think their mechanical response in the light of the deer's presence. The current favourite is "cows and deer do different things". Once again we come up against the command and control approach of those who have drawn up their blueprint and must impose it whatever the consequences. We know that they will always find a role for managing.

That was the compact promised them when they were indoctr trained in their university courses and which they implement using business study diplomas. "We are indispensible." That is the message. They are no different to any other groupprotecting their own role. How did the natural world get along without them, their newspeak, their interventions and their grant applications in the early days of the earth?

Doing different is something that visitors to Blacka will concede in one respect. (number two in fact): you may have to explore for some time before finding what the deer leave behind them. No such difficulty with the cows.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Propaganda

When Sheffield Wildlife Trust pins notices on Blacka you’re advised to read between the lines and with imagination. There’s usually more than a little imagination gone into the writing of them. With SWT the assumption must be that every statement is spinning a story they want you to believe in order to massage your perception of themselves as an organisation. So nothing should be taken at face value. All is part of a constructed narrative for the unwary to swallow.

They have put two notices up on the gates. One is the dreaded one we knew was coming but just hoped it wouldn’t appear, the one telling us they are bringing their ‘crop & crap cows’ onto the moor, their anti-nature storm troops. We’ve examined this sceptically over the years and there’s not much more to say apart from that it’s pretentious nonsense.


The other is this one.

What it suggests to anyone coming fresh to it might be this.

Last year, near where people walk with their dogs some lapwings have bred. The dog-walkers had co-operated with SWT. It would be really appreciated if other dog walkers who didn’t know about this made their dogs behave as well.

This is being economical with the actualit√© to say the least. If the lapwings bred on Blacka (and it’s possible, about as possible as that SWT might sometimes tell the truth) they did not nest anywhere near the places that dog walkers – and really all other visitors – go. They may have bred at the far side of an adjoining area known as the inby land that most people probably don’t even consider to be part of Blacka. It’s the cropped grassy enclosure usually full of boring sheep and covered with their smelly faeces. People don’t enjoy walking there and would struggle to find a decent place to sit down never mind have a picnic. It would be a long way from the bridleway and there is only one other path from which any of the few passers through rarely deviate. There is very little to attract most people although there are badgers and hares and, at the moment, wheatears.


Two years ago SWT dug some scrapes especially to attract lapwings so they want to be able to say it’s been a success and it may have been. I did see a quite large group of passing lapwings at the top of the pastures on two occasions but I rarely returned partly due to a foot injury and partly because it was so unpleasant unlike the previous year when they had problems with their sheep and it was covered in wild flowers. I might have expected to see signs of more regular ones but could have simply missed them

I specially like the ‘Thank You’ bit. It’s promoting a narrative of co-operation between the public and SWT which they hope will translate into more supporters and the idea that they’re good eggs after all despite their incompetence and insistence on messing up everything they do. But then some newer visitors could not be aware of that.

Ox Stones



This weather was not the best for visiting Houndkirk and Burbage. But then Blacka Moor had managed to please even under mist and drizzle earlier in the day when some excellent birdsong from warblers had cheered us up. Even at home the valiant blackbird and others were charming us from the rooftops and telegraph poles. This time I went to the Ox Stones, a feature in an otherwise drab expanse of heather which comprises Burbage Moor. My opinion has not changed. The place is an indictment of the conservation bureaucracy as feeble and blindly failing to distinguish between that which is worthwhile and that which is frankly a waste of space.



What a scandal this place is. I saw no sign of any wildlife at all unless you include the sheep droppings. You might think it barmy to imply sheep have anything to do with wildness but that’s just what the Sheffield Moors Partners did in their vision-defining awayday in July last year when they talked about the ‘wild and open’ and ‘natural’ landscape. To think of the history of the English language and the development of literacy and we now have people in fairly senior posts presumably well paid who happily debase the words we use. Should we compel them to eat a page of the English dictionary each morning?

These moors have value in proportion to what you are doing on them rather than having h any beauty or dignity of their own. Walking across them with a companion you can enjoy a good conversation; on your own you can be thinking out the wording of an essay or turning over a tricky problem in your mind. Once you start looking at the scene itself you realise that its character is more a lack of character and the best thing is to go back to talking to yourself. The precipitous rocks of Burbage Edge and Stanage are popular of course as cliffs and steep hills always are. But at and around them are miles of dreary moorland populated with miserable looking sheep – places that the game industry would love to get their hands on. The best way to thwart them is to allow nature to reclaim it encouraging a variety of other wildlife to move in.

Have you noticed that the people who manage these places don’t visit them for 11 months of the year? They only come in August. Just look at the photographs in their websites and publicity material. They portray a place where the heather is always purple. They have to do this because there’s nothing at all special about any other time of year. Every day it looks the same, quite unlike a landscape with trees which constantly changes.

As I approached the Ox Stones, the only distinctive thing around, I sensed something that I remembered from one of the earliest memories I had about Stanage Edge some 40 years ago. There was a cold north east wind but it was sunny: a good place to sit down admire the view to the west and eat our sandwiches would be those rocks where we would find shelter. The place stank from many yards away with sheep urine and all ledges were covered with faeces. This is now referred to as ‘iconic’. The Ox Stones also provide sheep shelter and it shows.

As I said all that these featureless livestock lavatories have to offer are places to do something else in, preferably while moving through them quite briskly. So without the radical changes that are necessary and unlikely to come from the conservation industry another 20 years will see them used more and more by people intent on speed and thrills – there’s nothing else for them to think about up here. Hence the bikers and motor bikers and 4X4 drivers and joggers who you'll be likely to meet up here. Those who seek natural beauty will continue to be disappointed if they’ve not died out themselves as a species.


Under the Weather?


Not the best picture of a cuckoo and he's not the best cuckoo. At least his call is not the classic pure two-tones we expect. He clips the second note and sometimes sounds as if he needs a throat pastille. But this has been a poor May for spring warmth. The last few days there have been at least two cuckoos around one of which is a much better vocal performer.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Stewardship


Environmental Stewardship earned by farmers and landowners for putting sheep on the land is justified because of the public good that it delivers, or so it's claimed. As the brakes screeched and the horns sounded when these woollies chose to dash across the fast A625 Hathersage Road one might have concluded that helping to reduce the number of motorists on the roads was part of that public good.

It's quite possible that many more of them will have found their way onto the grassy verges when they see what this group have discovered. Responsibility for these animals is shared between Sheffield Wildlife Trust, the farmer (who lives some 20 miles away) and the Dark Peak branch of The National Trust. I've let SWT know about this several times but as they've put a block on my emails bouncing them back as 'undeliverable' I can't know if anything's got through. I've now told them using a different email and that seems to have worked.

Of course it's possible they are all too busy to deal with such mundane and tiresome everyday tasks as looking after your farm animals, being sat at the desk working out if the acreage of the grass verges along the road can be claimed from Rural Payments Agency and Natural England as part of Higher Level Stewardship.