Thursday, 27 February 2014

Wilder Britain (3)

 Further to the post Seeking A Wilder Britain,  there is no website yet of the new group.
The members of the Steering Group are acting as individuals and not as representatives of other groups they may belong to.
They are:

         George Monbiot (environmentalist, journalist and campaigner)
-       Ben Goldsmith (green investment, campaigner, fundraising)
-       Chris Sandom (Wildbusiness - rewilding ecologist and consultant)
-       Jonathan Spencer (Forestry Commission)
-       Ritchie Tassell (forester and woodland officer - research and practice of rewilding)
-       Craig Bennett (Director of Policy and Campaigns - Friends of the Earth)
-       David Hetherington (Cairngorms National Park, Trustee of Trees for Life, Lynx               reintroduction)
-       Hannah Scrase (independent, formerly of FSC, Woodland Trust and Size of Wales)
-       Zac Goldsmith (MP, former editor of the Ecologist, campaigner, philanthropy)
-       Tony King  (The Aspinall Foundation’s Conservation & Reintroduction Coordinator)
-       Gerardo Fragoso (Environmental Grants Manager, Arcadia)
-       Rebecca Wrigley (formerly of WWF, Oxfam – conservation, community/organisational development)

Statement here.

Afternoon Light

A bright afternoon at this time of year is a temptation even for confirmed morning birds. Bracken straw fascinates more especially as those who would exterminate it have never satisfactorily explained to me what they want it replaced with. It's a control freak thing anyway on the part of both organisms, the plant and its human enemy. Would heather look any better? The fern at least changes as the year moves on and looks transformed in summer. It's noticeable that the birch as you get close to it reduces the dominance of bracken and where many birch get together it almost disappears. Nature has its own way with these things as my auntie used to say. As for replacing it with grass that is for the conservation grazing idealogues. Let things be.

More of these.


It's odd how we've walked past this oak so many times and not spotted this.  In a high fork  a rhododendron has made its home. It was the sun striking its glossy leaves this morning when much of the oak was in shade that drew my attention. I'm used to seeing bilberry and ferns growing as epiphytes here but not this. It will have been helped by the wet winter.

In more tropical regions rhododendron does use host trees and apparently can be made to grow epiphytically in greenhouses. Here is one essay on the subject.

(posted with some reservations about spelling!)

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Blacka Moor in the National Press

The Country Diary column in the Guardian is usually a pleasant read. Yesterday it was about Blacka and a chance encounter with some of our magnificent red deer. The column is usually beautifully written and this one certainly is.

But I think the figures on deer population ('200' altogether on the Eastern Moors) may be inaccurate and out of date. These were the sort of numbers being quoted by farmers some years ago and they are not a reliable source. The Eastern Moors Partnership figures as mentioned to me two years ago were that numbers had tended to stabilise at around 130 and there hadn't been evidence that they were growing significantly. It has to be said that I'm always sceptical about statistics when I don't know how rigorous the data collection has been. As we have learned recently on the subject of badgers in the South West, wildlife numbers are not easy to count when the individual animals move about so much and tend to hide up during the day. And I think that even goes for our largest wild animal. If they're counting them on Bigmoor how do they know whether the stags have just organised an outing to Blacka or vice versa? Double counting is also very easy. I've certainly got my own view on the numbers of residents that are stable here, but there are surges at some times which double or even treble that figure leading some people to cry for a cull.

Other bits from the article: the reason  that deer on Blacka don't always flee as quickly as they might in parts of Scotland is the presence of trees here. Trees help them to feel comparatively secure.

And I'm not sure where the idea comes from that deer might impact badly on the woodland edge when the managers here plan to bring in cattle and themselves go crazed walkabout with chainsaws in just those places.

Seeking A Wilder Britain (2)

The new group referred to in this post - Seeking a Wilder Britain - actually includes, amongst its supporters, a Tory MP,  albeit one with more green credentials than most. Perhaps we should get some of our LibDem councillors on board.

The full statement is here.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Green, Blue and Brown

The last week of February, sometimes thought the end of winter, and how do the trees look? In the valley below Bole Hill the two Hawthorns look unnaturally green. Close up it's like a model of molecule structure, the moss balls like winter fruit.

This is an excellent hideaway point with a natural tree shelter.

Over Blacka Hill and beside the feeder stream for Blacka Dyke is the prime area for Rowan and Birch to play host to lichens some a startling blue.

The Alder's buds are swelling but it's less hospitable to other growths.  Nearby the young oak is still well protected.

Seeking A Wilder Britain

Do we need a more wildlife-friendly countryside? A steering group has been set up following the publication of George Monbiot's book Feral. From its opening statement:

" Britain's land is all managed. Even in nature reserves nature is controlled and natural processes of succession are not allowed. We have lost most of our large mammals, almost all of our native forest and living marine structures. There are no large areas either on land or at sea in which we let nature be. Our national parks are dominated by sheep; naturally regenerating native trees and shrubs are routinely cut and grubbed out in our nature reserves, our seabed is scoured and ploughed across 99.9% of its area. Conservation, to a greater extent than perhaps anywhere else on earth, aims to protect not self-willed ecosystems, but farming and ranching systems, where only a small and unrepresentative sample of wildlife can persist.

Seeking a wilder Britain involves the large-scale restoration of ecosystems, both on land and at sea, and of their dynamic, selfwilled ecological processes. By campaigning to change policy and by promoting and supporting rewilding projects, the aim is to restore lost natural wonders, encourage more natural regeneration of forests in areas which have been deforested, reestablish native species which we have driven out and provide the people with opportunities to experience natural marvels of the kind they currently have to travel abroad to see."

More here.

The Farming Agenda

It's all about control. They may be clumsy but SWT still contrive to keep hidden from most people their true objectives on Blacka Moor. They will not be satisfied until every trace of natural regeneration is expunged. The agenda is control of nature, not working with it. They encourage people to believe that they are here to protect and 'conserve' nature. Yet at the same time they destroy it. The truth is there is no money in protecting nature.

A group of deer were grazing this morning on this part of the heathland where new grass shoots were coming through. This was never intended for them. This is a bit of pasture land created by SWT specifically to give farm animals some grazing. It's one of a number of zones where the natural vegetation was razed to allow grass to dominate and provide what cows like. That has never been made clear to the public, to political decision makers or to those who have tried to engage with SWT via the RAG. There are 6 of these areas and the flimsy, unchallenged story put out was that the work was to create firebreaks. As if this could have any use in the event of a fire. You can see easily where the cutting was made. The idea is simply to help move the cattle away from the gateways and footpaths where they make so much mess that people are incensed. Put alongside the cutting down of naturally regenerating birch and pine it adds up to a determined flouting of the agreed position in the 2006 consultation - the principle of 'mimimal intervention'.

That principle has been simply chucked aside. When that was put to Liz Ballard SWT's Chief Executive recently the response was the inevitable querying of how we define 'minimal'. Well she and her staff may choose to define it their way, but we certainly know what it's not. It's not gradually, year on year, redefining a natural site as farmland. It's not installing £20,000 worth of barbed wire and now a similar expenditure on stone walling to create a secure enclosure for cattle to destroy the natural vegetation in order to trouser more thousands in farm subsidies. It's not treating beautiful native trees as learning material for new chain saw operatives on a training project.

It's not piling up the spoils as a lesson to other native vegetation not to mess with the power tool generation. It's not letting cows loose on the bog asphodel flowers.

Monday, 24 February 2014


Trying not to arouse the suspicions of the group in the woods, so approaching carefully and slowly. But as mentioned before the twigs are everywhere on the floor.

They knew someone or something was there but when a twig snapped after a careless tread  they sped away.

A little earlier one of the young stags was aroused enough to practice what he may not do for real until several years hence.

Keeping Mum

According to the Chair of Trustees of SWT,

I can assure you that no concern has been expressed about the management of Blacka Moor either at the site visit we had there last June or any other time.
Follow the link below to get a good look at those who say nothing or say yes.

When we are told that the trustees of SWT had no concerns about the management of Blacka Moor we should be able to put names and faces to that. I wonder how many of them were actually at the site visit mentioned. This information might be of value to any other organisation needing some faces to put on their websites, respectable looking people who can be trusted to keep quiet. As several seem to have been involved in education they may appreciate this link to the Education Secretary.


It appears that SWT offers the following:

I offer this information without comment.

Bridleway or Motorway?

...... or just 'an abuse of land'?

How wide should a bridleway be? Some may not be bothered if it gets to be close to the span of the M1. Advice on this from the bureaucracy - in this case DEFRA- is nearly always framed in terms that are applied to farmers and their land and there's an assumption that anyone reading may be wanting to grow crops. The farmers are told they should leave a width uncultivated of 1.5 metres for a public footpath and 3 metres for a bridleway.

There's a different perspective that is commonly ignored and that's because nobody wants to accept they have any duty outside what contributes to or is influenced by 'the economy', that well-known blight on the land Should all managers just simply ignore what's demonstrably ugly because there's no definition of it in economic terms? It also goes beyond the look of the thing and affects the wildlife, and I define wildlife pretty broadly here as in any vegetation or animal life that chooses to live here. The ground that is being churned up and damaged is a habitat for something and those who ignore the ready-made route which is firm stone and less than 3 metres bear a responsibility.

Not far from here Sheffield Wildlife Trust's mindless operatives were logging recently. I insist that this was done because they couldn't think of anything else to do. I wrote this and I repeated it to its Chief Executive and Chair of Trustees. Of course there was a denial. But they did not give me  a credible explanation why ten mature trees were destroyed on a slope where trees help to a) combat the spread of bracken, and b) contribute to the upland absorption of rainwater thus reducing the run-off that is often seen on this bridleway eventually finding itself in the streams.

How much better if those workers had been planting native trees and shrubs at the side of this bridleway to discourage horse riders and mountain bikers from going off to the side. But SWT have been responsible for this site over 12 years and shown no interest before so we should have no expectation they will respond to requests now.

As a historic route an argument could be made for keeping the bridleway to the width we can see further down. It simply looks better that way.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Ground Level

Off path in the woods all is dry. Lots of  looking down is advisable as well as peering ahead through the trees. The strong gales have left so many twigs on the wood floor that it's near impossible to walk as quietly as we like to.

There is more green than only bramble. And it's so much more vivid when we've got used to the colours of winter and are longing for new growth.

But these ferns are resilient unlike bracken decaying in its own way.

The woodland  floor is changed in larger ways too. Several trees have fallen sometimes inconveniencing the riders who are of course a priority.

We may be kept waiting for many things but no conscientious manager misses a chance to order mobilisation of the the chain saw squadron.


Table manners may be deteriorating at the Wall Caff. The various robins have co-existed in a manner of speaking for the winter months but the new season is creating tensions. So we've had serious gesture politics, puffing out of red chests and music used as a threat.

Professional Management

It may be risibly immodest to think anything said here could influence the plans of the undead at SWT's headquarters, but  this new post could almost be a response to the post here, Access Neglect of 6th February. Hardly likely as it takes several months desk-planning to reach a decision.

But it fits nicely with what we know of the managerial style, something the locals tend to call window dressing. A good show of intention and efficiency at the place most people see. What could be a better symbol than a signpost? We're in charge. And then the surfacing.

This scores many points because some of it is as far as 100 yards into the site demanding the need to be bravely out of the car for long enough to feel it's not yet summer. If they had gone any further they would have had to deal with this.

But credit where it's due; some of the grit has even been sprinkled into the mudbath at the edge of the car park, like a couple of pinches of salt. Professionalism is its own reward. Not much for anyone else. And they've only had twelve years to achieve so much.

Meanwhile the walk this morning went somewhat further than 100 yards and took, for once, as a penance, the dreary route.

You have to tell yourself that the land where the sheep are pastured is also part of Blacka given to Sheffield by Alderman Graves to uplift the spirits of the populace. Oh well.

It's worth noting this in the context of the debate that's currently going on (presumably on another planet) about land management in the uplands and its affect on flooding lower down. Here, compaction of the ground is everywhere. A couple of thorn trees and a flock of sheep are evidence of the response to calls for more woodland.

Two main reasons, livestock farming and unconstrained mountain biking. All is a testament to the sound judgements made in resisting calls to review policy. What right do those annoying  people have to demand natural beauty? When will they learn this is about conservation, i.e. conserving extreme examples of past exploitative practices, aka cultural landscapes

Here can be seen the tracks of the farmer's vehicle. I gave up calling for the driving of vehicles all over this land to be stopped.

Tracks and compaction are now everywhere, adding to that caused by the sheep (and cattle) themselves. But, heigh ho, you can't get it right all the time can you, or even some of the time.

I even got the PRoW officer to have a look at this, the mud on the bridleway sending bikers well over to the side and creating a double width track.Did anything happen? Please be serious.

Pretty enough to bring tourists to view.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

In The Moss

Wet mild Februaries. Good for lichens. Good for moss.

Opportunism and Lost Opportunities

You would just expect the wildlife trusts to make opportunistic statements about the floods. And you can read their comments here.

It's as if we hadn't seen their management of Blacka Moor allowing cattle to send peat into upland streams, their persecution of birch and bracken, their failure to even discuss the restoration of large areas of the landscape.

Now turn to a wise and balanced article by Mark Fisher on floods densely packed with information about the way this topic has been considered over recent years, good advice rejected and opportunities lost. This piece like all from this source needs careful and concentrated reading; it makes no concessions to the management of public perception (aka 'spin').

One brief quote for now:

On a wider point, I fear the conservation industry has made a cross for itself (and us) to bear in its fetishising of species and habitats in degraded landscapes, such that large areas of the uplands that are Special Protection Areas for wading birds will preclude any loss of open-ness through woodland planting. More proof, if needed, of how the conservation industry has blighted any real debate about our uplands. But it is not just the uplands – the opportunity mapping for woodland in the fluvial floodplain of the Parret River catchment was severely constrained by the presence of a large chunk of the Somerset Levels and Moors SPA and the North Moor SSSI, open wetland sites designated for breeding waders and wintering Bewick swan (26,27). While you would think that the New Forest would be predominantly woodland, over half of it is an open landscape of predominantly heathland (34%) followed by grassland (10%) and wetland (10%) (18). The designation of the New Forest SPA for heathland birds, such as Nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler, as well as the presence of waders in the wetland areas (28) will ensure a restriction on woodland expansion there too.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Trusting the Trustees

On 21st January I asked Sheffield City Council, via a Freedom of Information request, how it had been exercising its duty as trustees of Blacka Moor.

Dear Sheffield City Council,

Land at Blacka Moor was gifted to the public of Sheffield in 1933.
Sheffield City Council takes on the role of charitable trustees. I
would like to know how the trustees have exercised their duties in
relation to Blacka Moor and monitored the management of that land
by the lessees, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, over the last three
(actual request is a bit longer, see website)

I have had no response from SCC yet despite the 20 day period allowable for answering FoI request having expired.

Not surprising since I'm pretty sure the fulfilling of these duties in relation to charitable land is a very low priority. In fact my guess is they don't bother with it at all.

The trustees of Sheffield Wildlife Trust, via their Chair, Anne Ashe, did reply to my letter written in December. You can read that response here.

It is in the main a not unexpected defensive statement designed to give the impression that everything in the garden is fine, though being open to suggestions. I will make some later on. Suffice at the moment to note the comment responding to my criticisms and the view of the trustees: "no concern has been expressed about the management of Blacka Moor, either at the site visit we had there last June, or at any other time". Does this need a comment? Just this one for the moment: Trustees of any charity that express no concerns are not worth having.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Woodland Management

It's common to hear people refer to 'management' in a tone of voice that implies it's always wholly beneficial. "What this place needs is some management". I'd like to have a ten pound note for every time I've heard that. It's to be heard about any human affairs but it's more questionable when it's about landscapes and woodland. In the woods we like 'good management' but then what's 'good'? In the case of some plantation style woods it's mostly come to be what the Forestry Commission or the Woodland Trust choose to give you grants for. Having heard about the locals' discontent with SWT's management of the planted woods at Greno Woods I stopped by to have a look at Lady Canning's Plantation at Ringinglow. There's been activity here in recent years from the Council in a Woodland Trust scheme. I've not seen the written details of that scheme so I have to judge by what I see. And 'what you see' doesn't seem to have any sort of priority at all.  If this is a good way to manage older plantations then the criteria is absolutely not having something that's good to look at. Is this fated to be the result of every centrally funded scheme?

I'm assuming that the Council received a hefty grant on condition that the work done included creating spaces between the densely planted pines because that's deemed to be good for biodiversity - allowing native species to grow alongside the crop. There are difficult considerations in old plantations like this of course and any work done will have multiple consequences among trees that have matured in unnaturally crowded situations. But what's happened here makes no concession to our sense of what looks right. Yes it's an artificial man-created environment but it's as if Capability Brown had never existed. It's industrial management that Gradgrind would have approved of. But few others, surely.

Huge forestry machinery has taken  bites out of the pine woods leaving behind channels in straight lines going off at angles. These floors of these corridors are occupied by stumps of the removed trees and every so often lumps of uprooted trees. Because the pines have grown in sheltered condition surrounded by others they have concentrated on reaching for the light in competition with others so trunks are thin and root systems barely adequate. So the extra corridors for the wind to come in have resulted in numerous falls many of them recent days.

Did nobody think of making visitor friendly informal spaces planted with oak and birch?

Bramble Bonanza

It's been a good winter for bramble. The lack of a long cold spell has meant it's been thriving. Colder spells tend to check  growth but it's gone from strength to strength recently. And plenty of green leaves on the woodland floor is generally good for wildlife. Deer feast on the green leaves and it's common to see them munching away.

If you look carefully you may see that some of the leaves are being used by other creatures. The bramble leaf miner creates striking line drawings like the coastline of a treasure island.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Sleeping 6,000

The last paragraph in the reply to my letter on accountability is here with my comments below.

That I should have had to raise this before anything is done says a lot about the slackness in the council and in the wildlife trust, though as a private outfit they may think it’s up to the public body to know its job. Right back at the beginning of the handover we were promised that SCC would be keeping their eye on what went on. This was left for a while to unsupervised officers rather than those with a remit to see that democratic essentials were complied with. Then it ceased altogether. As charitable trustees of the land you might think that role would be taken seriously. 20 years ago there would be an annual report to a council committee. I’ve seen minutes to show that. Even after I raised the deficit some six years ago this was only addressed in one year and from then on lapsed. Nobody is taking responsibility to ensure that proper standards are being followed. If this is looked upon as being the likely scenario for future leasings and outsourcings then we have been warned.

In the absence of this some might want to claim there’s public scrutiny via the RAG. That has been shown to be fraudulent. Are local councillors following this up? No. Are Cabinet Members? No.

As for SWT’s 6,000 members having some scrutinising role that is even more of a joke. Where do these members come from, from where are they recruited and how much do they know? 6,000 sounds good but observation tells us that they are approached at supermarket doors and part with their subscriptions on the spot. Or at their own front door. Twice I've had them at my door. They may be deficient on the ground in their 'reserves' but they put plenty of energy into recruiting members and public relations.

My next door neighbour wanted to know where I went for my regular walk. Blacka Moor, I said. Where’s that, he asked. I told him and went on to describe it. He was interested and asked more questions. Sheffield Wildlife Trust was mentioned and he remembered that he was a member, having been recruited by a personable young man who rang his doorbell some years back. He’s a lively minded person with a fair knowledge of wildlife but had never heard of Blacka Moor even less got involved in activities or scrutinising what the management got up to. Should he have more of an influence on what happens than those of us who walk there and observe every day? (After this he found out more, read and met George Monbiot and resigned from SWT.) The 6,000 story is no substitute for proper processes on public land. How accountable are they?  I suspect very few of them know anything at all about the issues. They are being used as some kind of undefined bargaining chip.

As for suddenly now deciding something has to be done about the RAG and having more frequent meetings that is just window dressing. The Higher Level Stewardship agreement has been signed a year ago with no examination of the issues and not a single question answered. Even in Sheffield there has never been a more contemptuous or contemptible attitude to consultation.

Roe and Red

Both deer species on Blacka are native to Britain although they've gone through local and national extinctions over the centuries. But they have more of a claim to occupy the land than rabbits or pheasants for example.
It's unusual that on Blacka the Reds are more common than the Roe and of course easier to see. Having spotted Roe several times lately I was looking out for them again this morning but they're elusive and no luck. When their young are born, usually in May or June they are spotted as with most deer and it's common for them to be twins, even triplets unlike with Reds.

The best pictures I've seen of Roe Deer are on this Flicker site where you can also find many other superb photos of wildlife particularly insects and bugs. The photographer uses the name 'steb1'. He seems to be the same as the one who signs in with that avatar regularly on national newspaper websites to comment below the line on wildlife and environmental matters. He has a background in ecology and he's sometimes to be found supporting  the views of George Monbiot and Mark Fisher, but there's a strong independent strain to his comments reflecting his own direct experience. He is with others, a critic of the conservation industry and its addiction to farm subsidies. The pictures of insects are about the best I've seen.

Although no Roe Deer presented themselves this morning, as I turned round from photographing the lichens on a Rowan I found a small group of hinds had walked quite close behind me.

Some of them appeared surprised to experience the sun, pleased by the warmth but dazzled by the glare.

The stag came along later and followed them towards the lower woodland.

Favoured Hosts

This tree does not stand out from others for much of the year. But  February is a good time to look for lichens on Blacka.

A group of similar trees close to the stream here have been specially favoured and wet weather is what they like.

Knowing the record of the local interventionists we should perhaps put a no chain saws notice here.