Monday, 30 December 2013


This winter may hold surprises yet but so far it's been moderate. There have been frosts on Blacka when down below has felt mild and lately some strong winds that kept us in the woods.

Just a few years ago there was a much more wintry experience here. Pictures taken on Blacka then can be viewed here.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


Christmas 2013 is the tenth anniversary of seeing red deer on Blacka; at any rate it was the week before Christmas 2003 when I first saw them walking over Cowsick towards the woods and nobody has come forward to say they had seen them earlier than that. It would be idle to deny the importance of this event in changing our perception of Blacka.

Before then I had opposed the increasing management interventions on this longtime unmanaged space, instinctively feeling it was not just undesirable but actually deeply wrong in what was supposed to be a place reserved for nature. Men trying to control nature and getting money for doing so seemed a kind of exploitation out of place here. Everything that had changed during the years since management wound down was the best of Blacka.

Then the deer arrived, our largest wild animal, earth-born with beautiful hinds, innocent calves and magnificent stags. At a stroke we could see what Blacka should really be – a haven for genuine wildlife in which the birch and oak encroaching on the moor were at least as important as the birds and beasts. I refute any suggestion that this is sentimental; there should be real predators out here too. 

From 2003 on we would never have any patience for managers with office driven targets whose first thoughts about anything wild were “how should we control it?”.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Satisfying Everybody?

Yes I do hear people say they like the moors as they are, treeless and monocultural. It's what they're used to seeing and one shouldn't underestimate the shock to the system when preconceptions are challenged and misconceptions exposed. The propaganda has its effect as well. The fact is there are many views and some of them clash. Can they be reconciled?

It can't be done but managers like to try to do it or rather try to look as if they're doing it. It's another part of their role in life and the economy and justifies their salary. Nothing is more managerial than their well-rehearsed pose of patient suffering as they tell you they agree with you but just can't do this or that because of pressure from those who want something different.

The true position is less obvious. They have already decided what they want to do and welcome the confused messages as evidence of the need for them to take a clear path. You can't please everyone so we'll do "what we think is right". And that's the problem - because "what we think is right" usually turns out to be remarkably close to what's in the interests of the managers and their organisation. It is after all what they've already decided on.

There's an interesting take on this in the row about fences on Wimble Holme Hill and the tree cutting on Bole Hill. Some people have said they don't like the fence because it is an eyesore across the moor.So it is but do those people really not see that t he moor itself is an eyesore? `It is an utterly wasted space of over -exploited land, kept like that not because it looks good but because it conforms to a certain landscape type that favours the shooting industry. The scandal of it is not the fence but the addiction to maintaining it as treeless when it's public land where shooting does not happen. The overwhelming responsibility for this is Natural England's, an organisation that is controlled by those who support game shooting and believe that the public must be conned into accepting that its favoured landscapes are somehow precious. That of course is why the shooters and the moor owners choose to live somewhere else which is more attractive - i.e. with a more varied aspect including many trees. They like to visit the monoculture wastelands every so often to play with their guns, wear their tweeds etc. and drive their landrovers but have enough sense to know the moors would bore them if they had to live on them.

Those who like the 'open' moors need to reflect. Are they prepared to take the whole package? That includes sheep and a uniformity of view 11 months of the year. It means persecution of predators and it means fences and burning or cutting. It means killing trees by cutting and/or poisoning. It means management and we should all know by now that the quality of decision making among conservation managers is mostly dire. It means agri environment subsidies paid by our taxes for projects that are overwhelmingly anti-nature. You can't have it both ways except in the propaganda put out by the managers.

Winter Trees

The contribution of trees to the landscape should never be an issue. Only here on land designed by grouse shooters do we actually have to defend them. Like having to defend nature itself.

These mornings are great for looking down, spotting footprints, hare badger and fox included.

But when you look up it's the sheer elegance of the black branches against the sky an hour before full daybreak that makes the views memorable. Spring and autumn have wonderful moments but never underestimate the power of winter to inspire.

Thursday, 19 December 2013


I saw no sign of the birch bashers this week. I had wanted to get a photo of them  posing as happy loggers proudly displaying their chain saws and singing 'I'm a lumberjack..........'

Notices displayed at the car park about volunteering suggested they would be there. But no. Signs of the previous bout of self indulgent bashing though were all around. Crass, all of it.

It's somehow unreal and a symptom of our increasingly upside-down world that nature reserves are places where you're encouraged to join those who wish to destroy nature. Birch trees are one of our most amazingly valuable sources of biodiversity. Only oak rivals birch. There are more than 200 species of insect associated with birch and another 100 or so mites.That in itself makes it a wonderful attraction for birds. As for other forms of diversity try looking at the bark of birches wherever you find them. The range of appearance is quite staggering as if we are looking at many different species. This is an utterly vital part of its role in the landscape. In other parts of the planet rainforests bring hundreds of different species into very small areas. Here in temperate zones the range of species is more restricted. Birch makes up for this in its own brand of diversity beyond biodiversity, with scores of varieties of visual beauty. The kind of people who demolish trees don't see this. They see a word, a job to do, an idea; they don't, or can't, properly look. They're too busy dealing with what to them is an alien species. To a Martian all humans will look the same. You either have to be human or have excellent empathy to distinguish the variety of characters .

Tuesday, 17 December 2013


More than most this hind and calf are inseparable. Sometimes they are in a larger group but often it's just the two of them.


Sunday, 15 December 2013


In Sheffield the new brutalism is out here on the moors. Once the city was known for its brutalist architecture, housing blocks like Kelvin and Park Hill Flats, the sort of monstrosities that are so ugly that someone who imbibed warped public relations with mothers milk decided to make a virtue of their mean spiritedness and give them a trendy label. Brutalism is like heroin chic and having your jeans half way down your bum.

Now it's out here where some of us come to escape trends and managers and manipulators of public opinion. You may complain of the wanton vandalism of tree destruction claiming that natural beauty should be inviolable. But you get nowhere with these who have seen the light of the new brutalism. Ugliness is the new beauty. Destruction is the way to conserve. Desolation is what we go out into the countryside to enjoy. If they say it often enough we will eventually repeat it back at them. Wildlife can only be wild if it is controlled.

The key to controlling people's way of looking at things is to label them differently. If you tell your helpers and volunteers that you'r about to destroy some beautiful birch trees they may well balk at the prospect. Calling it scrub bashing and it's easier to come to terms with.

A New Symbol

Barbed wire and deer hair

I see no reason why this could not be the new symbol for Sheffield Wildlife Trust. Due for a re-launch anyway and wildlife trusts have hardly been on the front line in defending the badger from sustained attack in recent months.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Holes Old and New

These walls were built many years ago. Here a hole has been incorporated. This makes it unlikely that sheep will have been in the fields. That can't altogether be ruled out because it would have been quite easy for the hole to be plugged. These days it's ponies that you're more likely to see. The likeliest explanation for the hole is that it was for the benefit of shooters who could use dogs to recover game that had fallen over the boundary.

Foxes and badgers may well use such holes today. Indeed only a few yards away a fresh digging has appeared right next to the path.

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Bad and the Beautiful

You may have to search to find the beautiful

These days you don't have to look far to find the bad.

And you're much more likely to come across the ugly.

Monday, 9 December 2013

As We Say, Or As We Do?

Should we really expect other countries, especially under developed countries to maintain the habitats necessary for animals like the tiger and the elephant so we can see these creatures on our TVs and feel good about them; when at the same time we do nothing to reinstate the wilder landscape that should still exist at least in some parts of this land and re introduce the animals that we have wiped out - and which could live in our sparsely populated uplands?

Some double standards here I think as another pre-Christmas wildlife survival appeal drops out of my newspaper.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Charter for Appeasement

The RSPB, now managing the Eastern Moors, turned down an opportunity to give us an exciting vision of a wildlife friendly natural landscape. Instead they prefer intervention and fences. It's worth looking at why. A good start could be to read some of the constitutional documents accessible from the RSPB's website and ask why they are the Royal SPB. Once you look at their royal charter things start to become clear. They have to tread very carefully in relation to those who shoot birds among whom of course are the royal family and other wealthy people.

In order to gain the supposed respectability of having a royal charter the RSPB has compromised itself well and truly. An important condition embedded in the charter insists that they can take no position on the shooting of game birds. There's no doubt that this sets the tone for much else. The kind of landscapes shooters like are not natural landscapes. If you promote less impoverished landscapes you will not be popular with shooters. In the uplands and moors it's the treeless hills favoured by grouse where the shooting is easiest to find. So any move towards naturalising these ecologically limited hillsides risks incurring the wrath of the industry and threatens their charter. The charter turns them into the cat's-paws of the game industry. Wouldn’t they be better off just calling themselves the SPB? After all the shooting industry is responsible for the persecution not just of the birds they shoot but their predators, harriers, buzzards, various mustelids foxes and corvines in order to give the ground nesting birds an easy life until the rifles come out in August.

This royal charter has other effects. It makes the RSPB a very conservative part of the establishment which means it’s unable to move forward, always attracting safe conventional figures into its fold who prefer the status quo and favoured ‘country sports’ which always use guns. That’s one reason why the RSPB is branded as appeasers by raptor groups astonished by the charity’s muted criticisms of gamekeepers and their responsibility for the murder of hen harriers.

So it's time for the members of the RSPB to get rid of the R and give itself the chance to be honest about shooting. Then there would be a possibility of working towards better looking more wildlife friendly uplands. The economy is also linked closely with shooting. Sheep farming in the hills does not pay. Any other industry as unprofitable as hill farming would have sunk without trace years ago if it did not give the desired outcomes for the wealthy game industry of cropped heather and treeless vistas. The fence on Wimble Holme Hill is only there because of the power of the establishment to dictate that most high land must remain free from trees so that ground nesting birds can breed - and get shot.

Cheesiest Post Yet

From 2013-12-06
This demands an apology.

Cheese is actually what he's waiting for. But Google have hi-jacked my picture and turned it into something else. Thank God it only happens once a year.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Who Is Qualified and Capable?

The Eastern Moors Partnership has erected this abomination. Yet they are simply not qualified to do so. I have no hesitation in saying this. They do not have the capability.

When Capability Brown in the 18th century redesigned the grounds of large country homes he did so as an artist might. A lake here, a group of mature trees there, a folly or handsome bridge etc. It was all thoroughly artificial but it conformed to an idea of what looked good by aesthetic standards of the day. His designs have stood the test of time but they have no validity as models for what a natural landscape would look like. Nevertheless nobody could argue that he didn't know his job. He created the settings that people wanted for their houses and nobody argued that he was unqualified.

We now have people designing landscapes on an even grander scale on public land in the Peak District who have absolutely no qualifications in landscape design. Natural landscapes are of course a different thing  - they don’t get designed; they go nature’s way so don’t need professionals. But these managers are making decisions which should be taken by those who have a qualification or proven capability demonstrating artistic sensitivities. They may be quite knowledgeable about birds and vegetation though I sometimes wonder about that. They understand how to fill in forms to rake in farm grants and write management plans. But they have no expertise or artistic background that qualifies them to decide what looks good in the world of man made landscapes, no portfolios holding photos of previous projects, no references from satisfied customers. Yet they are going ahead, unquestioned it seems, in deciding that an extensive fence should be installed and that land on one side of the fence can be natural and eventually become woodland while that on the other side should be more or less impoverished by livestock grazing. 

On a major area of public landscape in a national park it must be quite something to be the one that decides just exactly where a severe highly visible straight line should go, a bit like being elected to the post of God.  And the fence is visible clearly whatever they say about 'uninterrupted views'* in the hope it will deflect comment. And if and when the trees grow that rigid line will not disappear; it will be a fixture in the hills with trees one side and none the other. So who gave them the idea that they were as qualified as Capability Brown? For this land is no less manufactured than the estates of the wealthy. It is totally artificial so the artist is the one who we would expect to decide.

Now I wouldn't be making these criticisms if they had decided to go for a more natural approach over the whole site. That would have meant they were abandoning human intervention and allowing natural forces to prevail. There would be no fences and no decisions made about what goes where.

How they can claim that this maintains an 'uninterrupted view' heaven knows. But then I can't understand why anyone would want a view of this chunk of devastated over-exploited moorland. If you want something worth looking at go down the hillside to look over the woodland that has sprouted up on Blacka. But then that's not designed by managers (and don't they hate it for that).

Comments welcome


In return for receiving bargain meals at the Wall Caff selective customers are expected to pose for Christmas cards. This is usually only grudgingly tolerated but on cold mornings hunger beats all reservations.

Others, including the dunnock, don't have quite the same seasonal appeal but are very welcome anyway.

click for slideshow.....

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Dehumanised ............. and Dogs

In this post I mentioned the curse of dehumanised office-dwelling vandals whose remit it is to devastate everything natural in the countryside. You have to wonder at the amazing way that the world is being turned on its head by economic and managerial forces.

SWT has no employee whose job it is to be constantly present on Blacka. Yet they have the time to devise reams of paperwork suggesting they have utterly lost touch with the world they are supposed to be managing. Another of their traits is obsession with presentation and spin which you can see on their now regularly edited website -edited it should be mentioned to reflect well on themselves and their agenda. A recent click on it revealed the main page regarding Blacka Moor topped by a large picture of Wimble Holme Hill and the area to the south, not Blacka at all. The reason doubtless was their desire to show off heather in bloom. They do now have photos of some of Blacka in other parts - it's taken them long enough. I guess someone's realised that it doesn't do to for people to see more about Blacka on a blog like this one than anything that the so-called professionals can be bothered to produce. Yet here people can see what Blacka is really like. With their web pages you always get the sense there's an attempt to manipulate the perception to what is in their interests.

Another noted change observed is their gradual ratcheting up of the anti-dog messages. Why they should bother about ground nesting birds God only knows: they don't come here often enough to care. Not many years ago they apologised for making discouraging noises about dogs but they've now somewhat changed their tune. The reason dogs are an issue with these very narrowly focused conservation wallahs is that they persist in designing, managing and promoting totally artificial landscapes that appeal to only a certain kind of bird - those that nest in treeless wasteland landscapes where the main justification for that kind of intrusive management is that it provides birds for shooting. Why should it seem fair that someone must not be able to walk their dog here simply so that birds can breed and then get shot after August 12th?  I sometimes think the conservation managements are employing lots of the lesser sons and daughters of landowning aristos, the kind that have been shooting game birds on their estates for hundreds of years and want a good population of them for their future indulgence. They of course always have their dogs with them as others have pointed out. For my part I see dogs on Blacka as fulfilling an important function beyond my own pleasure in meeting them. I like to see the red deer on Blacka remaining wild and that means being wary of canine intruders, the nearest thing to the deer's natural predator, the wolf. Without dogs to alarm them they may get more and more tame and domesticated in behaviour taking away the sense of another wilder world that is the main part of their appeal.

Winter Afternoon

Days when the sun rises near 8 am also give short afternoons and when you're on east facing slopes the sun goes even earlier. This is the case with much of Blacka. It offers excellent views to the east at their best on a bright windy day with the sun well over to the west. Then you can watch the sun gradually leaving only the tops of the nearest trees lit up.

That's when the masses of fieldfares swirl around trying out roosting sites. or maybe they're competing to get the last of the sunlight.

Defenders Needed

The conservation industry is so arrogant in this country that it rides roughshod over the concerns of ordinary people.
One of the latest examples can be seen here. Well done to those who've committed to fight it.

One of the most distasteful aspects of this is the underhand way that these conservation  organisations set up or cultivate their own supporters groups or 'Friends' groups to give an outward appearance of community support  so as to protect themselves from the inevitable outcry that will follow when they destroy native vegetation. It's not just wildlife trusts etc who do this but also local authority parks departments. The clumsy but effective management of these lower order managers makes us ask who are the real powers behind all this anti-nature land management. And some people swallow the propaganda deception wholesale.

They are the people who just don't understand that this is part of two trends which coincide at a point in time: 1) the empire building of the conservation industry managers and
2) the desperate need certain powerful lobbies have to promote treeless landscapes that provide artificial habitats for the kind of birds that wealthy people like to shoot - and where it's easier to control (i.e.kill) predators.

I know for example how much effort SWT put into going along to groups of people ripe for persuasion that they must be doing a grand job. These people are unlikely to be sceptical even though the presentations made by SWT staff are usually sadly lacking in basic skills and are often inaudible or incoherent. Many of the groups are composed of older people who are often predisposed to think that young people should be encouraged to do something for 'the environment', or 'the landscape' or 'wildlife', and frankly don't enjoy trying to work out what's right in the context of anything that smells of controversy. There are many of these groups in a major city like Sheffield and span a considerable cross section of the public from simple old people's groups and church groups who like to be entertained by a slide show to ex professional and business people as in Rotary and Probus. SWT of course have got to do something with their time: they certainly don't spend much of it on their 'reserves' compared to office and meeting commitments. And each time this happens a collection will help to boost their coffers especially if the more gullible are persuaded to take out a membership subscription via an ongoing direct debit.

There is a lot of this cynical management going on and plenty of large scale role models dedicated to centrally controlling every area of life.

If ever independent groups were needed it is now. People to defend their favourite places from these dehumanised vandals.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Fiery December

Winter warmth has brought a fresh red crop of mountain cranberries just when we might have thought the fruit picking season was well behind us. A reminder of that earlier pledge, not yet fulfilled, to make some preserve. The sun on the bracken once more delivering spectacular effects.


These are  just a few of the regulars at the Wall Caff.

Greater numbers than usual in attendance these days. The great tit above was very bald in the summer but has now recovered thanks in part to the good nourishment supplied here daily. He rewards us with being first in the queue and has been known to come on the hand.

Some would say -doubtless in a rich country accent- that this is a sign of hard weather to come. We shall see.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Using and Exploiting

Animals with simple needs get to know very early on how to satisfy them. The first need is survival. They get to use what’s in the landscape to help them. This is a long way from the complex systems of modern industry. Here is how to use what's in the landscape, seen this morning just around sunrise. The hind is using the trees to shelter from the cold north-west wind and is positioned on a south-east facing slope to catch the first warmth from the rising sun.

She has used the dry bracken to create a nest around her keeping much of her body heat from scattering into the cold air around.

Further off one of the young animals keeps some body warmth around him using his own coat, fluffed out. 

Now the cold nights are more common lots more growth of thick body hair bulks out the coats of these animals and they will increasingly lose that striking redness which characterises them in summer and autumn. Long necks are particularly vulnerable to the cold and extra layers appear there.

Wild animals use the landscape and what's in it; that's not the same as exploiting it. Farmers never tire of telling us that farming is a business and an industry. That's why we shouldn't have it in every corner of the countryside. The clashing narratives are too many to be counted that rise up when land managers, farmers, shooting apologists get to speak (far too often). Perhaps we should add to the list those academics who push for more management - presumably because they can run courses for young aspiring land managers. For example what is a 'cultural landscape' when you decide to promote it? What culture do you choose out of many and which elements do you leave in and which kick out?

All historical periods, their communities and cultures have used what's in the landscape. It's just that when man goes beyond living alongside nature and uses every way possible to drain it of its previous essential character then we're into industrial exploitation. When SWT decides that for them the character of the land on Blacka must reflect what it was, say, 150 years ago (if that's what they want – they’ve never made it clear) then that kind of cultural landscape must be their target. But it's highly questionable to re-impose it using the means available in the 21st century - heavy machinery and chemical sprays, top down management and (a particular favourite) laminated A4 notices stapled to posts. Far better to allow what wildlife there is to go its own way and influence what we have in a benign non- industrial way. 

So come on, let's hear from those who defend the refusal to allow a natural unexploited landscape to exist anywhere in this country.

Friday, 29 November 2013


Badger cull called off in Gloucestershire

Many of the celebrations around the calling off of the badger cull in Gloucestershire come from those who would cheer any minor success for wildlife against the human oppressors.

But the big lesson here is that we should never be surprised when confronted by the surpassing incompetence of the landowning and land-managing classes. It is truly a case of 'you couldn't make it up' except that we did, or at least predicted it. So many farmers' leaders and spokesmen just don't understand the need to show humility in the face of the natural world - to them they are 'the people who understand the countryside'. The evidence does not confirm that. They have learned to define themselves as a class born to exploit nature rather than live alongside it. The aristos and their new money allies in the shooting fraternity see themselves as having a god given right to shoot all that moves. Defra and Natural England have shown themselves to be institutionally useless, places where the wise heads have to stay quiet while the bungling top layers of bureaucracy flounder around trying to satisfy vested interests. Will they learn? Will my premium bond come up?

Monday, 25 November 2013


They trample the bracken and help create pathways through it. They eat the young birch saplings and are first to take advantage of the new rowan leaves in spring. Yet still the managers plan to bring on farm animals supposedly to do the same or similar things - although we know it's really to trouser lucrative farm subsidies.

They don't get anything, as far as I know, for the 'work' done by deer which is doubtless why the managers plan to manage (i.e.cull) the deer - perfectly crackers if you're also bringing on cows unless it's just to keep the cash rolling in.. So many things that are done by man are done copycat fashion, 'because it's what's done.' Rightness or reasonableness has got nothing to do with it.

Here the deer have volunteered to manage the bramble unpaid. While the oldest looks on, supervising, the youngsters are taking advantage of the remaining green leaves.

But his own appetite gets the better of him.

I've referred before to this stag as having 16 points and had previously counted 8 on one side and simply doubled the number. Now I'm wondering if we should say 15 points as I can only see 7 on his left side. Even examining photographs is not easy; there are some that just branch at the very end.

More pictures taken recently.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A Place to Pause

Another grand woodland area is this spot. You can never just walk through here. You have to stop and enjoy the woods with sculptural forms on all sides; fallen trees, young saplings, fungi of many kinds, autumn carpets of leaves.

 It is like a stage set but like none that could be designed by man. It's a special delight in the snow and around sunrise.

 Pictures here are taken of each angle from one point.

At dawn the deer sometimes move out from here but like to stay within reach of the trees. Young and old together.

Wood Wonders

Much of Blacka is woodland yet the obsession of the managers is with the blighted heathland elements that offer so much more opportunity for meddling. That's not to say they would not be looking to exploit these parts if and when they can. Perish the thought they will get public money to destroy everywhere as they are bent on destroying some parts.

This little visited area has excellent birch and oak along with holly and other trees making it fascinating for wildlife not to say humans who appreciate its value.

Down below is a stream that is similarly undisturbed.....

.... one of the quietest spots for miles. A clear track has formed from the feet of deer: no other prints were seen until my size 11s came along.