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.


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Ethereal But Crooked

The light was again special, this time illuminating the town of Chesterfield with its crooked church.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Change for the Better and for the Worse

To sit and listen to people telling us that we must accept, even embrace, change from those with no sense of irony is the kind of thing that makes attending meetings purgatory. It starts off bewildering but finally seems simply laughable. You get the impression that many people may be unaware of the irony.

At the Re-visioning Parks event we were treated to a talk from Parks Department the gist of which is that we must accept change. Yet this comes from people who, in their role in the Sheffield Moors Partnership, produced the most conservative and unadventurous 'master plan' imaginable. All calls for a more exciting and innovative approach were brushed aside foundering on their reliance on the agenda of the grouse moor lobby and the lure of grants and farm subsidies. Yet the officer talking to us last Thursday was blithely telling us about his old granny getting older and so her garden became some kind of obscure metaphor for what the public have to accept, namely 'change'. It rubbed in the salt to find he ran over his allotted time so much that the schedule did not allow time for proper questioning.

Here on Blacka Moor we have had change over a hundred years, change that is natural and wholly worthwhile bringing with it a regeneration of an exploited land area and the recolonisation of native wildlife that everyone surely must welcome. So we thought. Yet we were wrong.  The return of native wildlife served only to have them label the place as being in 'unfavourable condition', i.e. too much nature and not enough management.

Wildlife management, if there's any place for it at all, should be all about helping along natural change not stonewalling in the hope that nature will go away.

Who does not love the change to bracken in the autumn? - genuinely unmanaged and at its best as the sun rises.

Wrap Up

Cold mornings to come? It's not actually the first frost up here but may presage a number of others. For those facing their first winter it's worth being prepared with ample covering as is the youngster with mum. He  looks male. Their neck covering tends to be thicker and darker while the hinds have a creamier look.

Light, Ethereal Light

Glowing skies to the east invoking another world. And when you zoom in you're looking straight at one of the loveliest sights in the country, the west front of Lincoln Cathedral.

Sadly from 40 miles away the amazing detail is not obvious. But what's life without imagination?

A little earlier with sunrise about 7:35 we are truly privileged to watch the migrating birds as they wing westwards.

Earlier still the full moon through the trees. What more can you ask for?

Monday, 18 November 2013

All Change

The woods are the place to see change. From season to season and within seasons week by week. Trees do not only provide homes for an enormous number of smaller living species but unmanaged woodland also gives shelter to some of our larger mammals and is itself a constantly changing spectacle responding to light  and weather conditions in ways that managed grassland and moorland cannot. It's not only bright sunlight that reveals beauty here.

Dull mornings like today provide enough material for a William Morris design catalogue.

This reminds me of the presentation at the recent Re-visioning Parks event at which those of us who relish the experiences of natural change were told that we should be embracing "change". Now don't we know just what is happening when we are lectured on the need for change. They want us to dance to their tune or quietly accept someone's agenda. The question should always be asked - who is it that will benefit most from top-down change of that sort?

Sunday, 17 November 2013


It's not often dead still on Blacka. It was today. And warm was a better word than mild after you've been walking uphill for ten minutes The woods hang on to colour effects around the beeches with the small trees giving vital diversity.

The tree creeper's not a bird table regular here but is often in the area just keeping a distance.

One of those unshowy quiet birds, but with  attractive wing markings.

It was so still one of the deer was struck into a motionless pose as if in sympathy with the conditions. Closest yet to a Thomas Hood day.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Peaceful Assembly

Rivalry is probably over and peace breaks out. All were gathered together  as if for a family reunion. They soon made off, though, when this uninvited guest came along.

First all the hinds attended by young, then the ten point stag. Bringing up the rear was the old fellow still showing his trade mark bits of vegetation around the antlers.

Not Listening

They're paid by us. They work for us. Supposedly at least. But some of them pursue their own agendas and look to their own interests. That's what I have to conclude from recent experiences with the officers in Sheffield City Council.

But what's particularly unpleasant is the insistence within the corridors and offices at the Town Hall (and Meersbrook Park, HQ of the council's Parks Department) that local people have to accept 'change'. Well change is what I love and what I record on this site. It's natural change as against artificially driven change that should be valued. Change driven by the agendas of vested interests of whatever kind should be rigorously challenged, especially when we're told it's all about 'cuts' when we know they would be pressing for their options whatever the financial climate.

At a well-attended  meeting of our local community forum on Wednesday evening there was unanimous agreement that the local Common Lane Open Space should remain much as it is and that local people should be involved in decisions about its future. Some of us said we might be prepared to accept that parts of it might have less grass cutting and be more wildlife friendly bringing the chance for more wild flowers etc. But top down one-size-fits-all plans from the council should be resisted. What's right for one park ain't for everywhere.

When I tried to explain this to the officer concerned at the  Re-visioning Parks event mentioned below, he walked away saying he didn't want to hear this. The same officer a year or two back had told me that most people wanted Blacka Moor to be quite different to what I wanted. When I had asked for his evidence he mentioned a visitor survey that SWT claimed they had conducted but we know was utterly fraudulent. The message here is clear*. As far as Sheffield officers are concerned (and many elected members) if the people tell you what you don't want to hear just invent responses that fit in with your agenda and go around saying "this is what you, the public, tell us". Or go out and talk to impressionable people who know nothing about the situation on the ground and feed them propaganda until they accept what you say, à la SWT.

* After being told by the officer that visitor surveys showed that people who used Blacka Moor did not agree with me and other members of Friends of Blacka Moor I sent in a Freedom of Information request for details of these 'visitor surveys' and received a response in these words:
In response to this request I can confirm that Sheffield City Council has not conducted a visitor survey relating to Blacka Moor. The Council has also not asked any other individual or organisation to conduct a visitor survey relating to Blacka Moor on its behalf.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Sheffield's Parks Set For Hiving Off....

.......and it will be bonanza time for the empire builders among the NGOs.

There's no appetite in Sheffield Council for keeping control over the publicly owned green spaces. This was the inescapable message coming out of yesterday's event called Re-Visioning Parks jointly hosted by Parks and Countryside Department and Sheffield University's Landscape Department. The winners from this will, predictably, be the NGO's itching to extend their control and influence, The National Trust and Sheffield Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. The process began some years ago and by now is well under way albeit with no public scrutiny encouraged - that would be expecting too much from Sheffield City Council where transparency still means one of those little things you put in an old-fashioned slide projector.

One council parks officer made it clear that he was in favour of putting these organisations in charge of the parks. A National Trust speaker gave a presentation in which he he showed a plan of Millhouses Park indicating how they could turn the facilities into money. The key to this was, apparently, and vaguely, 'endowment'.

There's no doubt that government cuts and other strangleholds they maintain on council spending have a lot to answer for here. But the defeatism of those who should be fighting to keep accountability and public scrutiny of these huge third sector bureaucracies is deeply worrying.

Some may think The National Trust might make a good job of certain facilities in urban parks albeit with no commitment to democracy or public involvement in decision making. But Sheffield Wildlife Trust are never less than utterly embarrassing and we still wonder when Sheffield Council will grasp this.

But you have to ask the question why public employees within the council are so keen to make the case for handing over public assets to outside bodies. Isn't that contrary to their own interests? The answer's not difficult. And you find it when you notice how many council officers move sideways into nice jobs in the private outfit that takes over the public assets. Once they've smoothed the path to a takeover within the council they neatly slot into a job with the new provider doubtless with a generous bonus which the public can no longer find out about. There are rewards for helping the empire building of these companies. How many ex Council Streetforce managers are now on the books of Amey who are now responsible for road maintenance? And shortly after Nick Sellwood moved from Parks and Countryside to The National Trust he was put in charge of Sheffield Moors Partnership and eased the way to them taking over Burbage Houndkirk and Hathersage Moors.

What's that smell?

Intervene or Stagnate

Land Managers simply cannot step back from intervention. It would challenge their very existence.

From documents on Burbage and Houndkirk's Higher Level Stewardship justification.

The HLS provides consent for a limited burning rotation (on dry heath only) which is considered necessary to help break up some of the more homogenous blocks of mature heath and create a wider range of opportunities for vegetation and birds. It also consents controlled grazing and bracken management. 
A 'natural' site, supposedly being controlled by managers lest nature does the 'wrong' thing!!!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Barking Mad

Afternoons in November bring a different sort of light.

Today was bright and still. The wooded valley below Bole Hill is more easily accessible with the bracken died back so time for a walk beside the racing stream. Here we find the charming waterfall that few get to see.

The sun is already too low to get to the floor of the valley but treetops remain bright.

The deer are not happy, unused to being disturbed in their sanctuary and some angry barks warn the small herd. They can accept us to an extent when they see us coming in more open country but don't like being surprised.

Climbing back we can see the stag watching us, his indignation unquenched.

Managers and the Grazing Obsession

Sunday, 10 November 2013


There's no shortage of either the incomers or their targets this year.

Burning Bush

Nobody should be entitled to an opinion on the value of wilder land as against managed land who has not watched the autumn sun rising over birch and bracken. They should certainly not be allowed to get away unchallenged with sweeping statements that both are weed species upon which war must be declared using the term 'bashing'.

Moses was not observed to be present but perhaps in his way the deity was speaking.

Not far away others were present waiting for the sun to reach their hideaway.

More pictures taken around sunrise this lovely autumn morning .

Saturday, 9 November 2013


A movement behind a Rowan shows the difference between the two stags dominating  Blacka.

Each has a couple of hinds with him and at least one young calf.
How many times they have met is anyone's guess but the older one is of a bigger build and both seem satisfied with the way things have turned out. The one below is obviously the senior of the two.

The impression I have is that the older hinds are with the older stag.
This is one of the younger ones.

And close to the stag is one of this year's calves.