Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Being Watched

The upside of being a cuckoo is you don't have to deal with babies. That should make him -and her- a revered bird for some I hear talking these days: those who claim to want to live their own lives and not bother with that sort of thing. They do, though, often want to do the sort of thing that brings babies into the world as does this bird.

The downside is the rest of the population thoroughly dislikes this kind of irresponsible behaviour and makes life awkward for the cuckoo. It's rare to see a cuckoo on Blacka that's not being constantly watched and even harrassed by others, as was this one. We don't want any of your sort round here thank you. For some birds the irritation of hearing that two note tune must be almost, but not quite, as bad as walking into a shop before Christmas and hearing Jingle Bells yet again. Please play another tune.

Still, at its freshest in the woods in April with the woodland acoustic just right there's not much that can beat it. This one was moving towards us near the stream until almost above. He was one of two calling here today.

What's the Price of Opportunism?

There were powerful arguments made by George Monbiot in his recent article on Natural Capital and in his lecture for SPERI at Sheffield University yesterday evening where he further developed the theme. It's easy to be persuaded by something one's believed in for many years but it helps to have it articulated by a gifted communicator.

He gave some telling examples of the absurdity of trying to put a price on natural beauty and of the disaster that will follow from bringing  market values into decision making on all the intrinsic values that make life worthwhile. The talk was entitled The Pricing of Everything

Inevitably in Sheffield the recently arisen example of Smithy Wood came up. Any visiting speaker will look round for local examples and this is a good one to illustrate the point. The very idea of destroying ancient woodland to create a motorway service station is about as crass a piece of philistinism as you could find.

No surprise then that this issue has been taken up by those* in the the city who have a track record for publicity seeking and empire building. I wonder how much of the irony rubbed off onto them as they listened to the lecture or whether they even made the connection with their own use of CAP farm grants to turn what should be wild and wholly natural land into farmland? They certainly know the price of everything. Some think they know the value of nothing.

Let's hope then that the Smithy Wood campaigning is successful and proves to have no ulterior motivation. It's possible of course but the track record is hard to ignore.

*Sheffield Wildlife Trust has been campaigning against the Smithy Wood development - at least they've arranged to have their pictures taken with banners in the local media. And their Chief Exec has a letter in last week's Telegraph. I wonder how many of them have walked in Smithy Wood before this came up. I also wonder if they have hopes of an appeal to raise the funds to purchase the woods and turn them into a mountain biking trail?

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Why We Come

This is why we come here. New leaves on the trees, bright but hazy Spring morning. Willow Warblers, Cuckoo, Blackbird all announcing their presence along with a rather noisy Chaffinch. A small group of hinds were frisking around near the stream.

A few minutes away a couple of young stags with attitude were ignoring the example of their elders and betters  and facing up to each other. Calm down ..............*

* please insert.


This attempt to emulate the achievements of the Emperor Hadrian is still in course of erection on Blacka. It is only one of numerous structures to be found here. They include other lines of stone wall several sturdy and powerfully sprung gates that challenge the user and a mile or so of four stranded barbed wire. I'm working out the probable total cost of all of them to the humble citizen struggling to make ends meet but gratified that some of his meagre earnings is going to such essential work.

And don't forget that it's all  there to help SWT graze farm animals and therefore get even more of our money from EU subsidies. So that's O.K. How reassuring. I can't at the moment comment on the comparison being made with HS2.

I rather liked the old  broken wall reminding us that human workings don't and shouldn't always last. Would Rievaulx Abbey be better from being rebuilt?

Words of Wisdom

There's nowhere else that you can find such an articulate analysis of the state of our landscape and the practices of the conservation industry.

It's also beautifully written.

Here are links to the two most recent absorbing articles on Mark Fisher's website.

Untamed Nature

Looking at the Landscape View

Yet Moor Subsidy

Moorland farmers will receive more funding under the Common Agricultural Policy, starting next year.


Moorland farmers to receive more funding


Who's getting fleeced here? More like you and me. Grouse moor owners certainly not and accountants for the conservation industry will be very satisfied.

Picture and caption above lifted from Government's website

The picture of the moorland farmers will surprise some people. I've never seen any looking quite like that before.  Even if you accept the mismatch the breed looks more lowland anyway.

Monday, 28 April 2014

A Devastating Riposte to 'Crop and Crap' ?

I have copies of the A4 laminated notices SWT have posted up on Blacka previous years when announcing the return of their cows to the moor. Each year the text of the poster is slightly different as staff agonise trying to find a fresh way to justify what's inherently unjustifiable. Maybe half a day's work went into this year's revamping the old file. This year it's not 'heathland' but 'moorland'. You can imagine the fingers poised on the keyboard as the decision is taken to delete the one word and replace it with the other. Was there consultation with the resident Marketing and Communications Manager (or 'spin-doctor')  I wonder? In which case a whole day or even two might have been needed. Ways have to be found of spending that farm subsidy after all.

Generally however it's a case of marginal tweakings here and there. The one new feature -such radical reworkings don't come that often - is reference to the habit their cows have of using the place as a public lavatory.

This blog of course may have nothing to do with what SWT chooses to focus on. They certainly like to maintain that is the case. But I'm reminded of our previous posts on this subject. Those posts or something similar may have sparked this change of the file. Samples here .... and here. But the riposte here is rapier swift - having been in gestation for a year or two.

To take this new statement seriously you have to believe that when cow defecation is not liberally splattered on the footpaths and around gates, insects on Blacka, and by extension 'chicks and fledglings' too, are seriously threatened. But this wildlife trust propaganda is not directed to those who think. The local conservation people believe we are all stupid of course and that may be  because they have come across some of us who probably are. If you go round door to door across the whole of Sheffield  getting people to sign bank mandates for membership of SWT you will meet some who will believe you: how else do they get 6,000 members?

But the question that haunts me is: if shit is so wonderful for wild places and biodiversity why do they not transport the SWT HQ lavatory output onto the moors on a daily basis? There will surely be insect and micro-organisms that will relish it. Biodiversity is everything.

This one came up last time. You would have perhaps thought shame would hold them back from repeating it.

This year the last phrase is added proof of some mental struggle. But can they really be talking about light trampling in respect of cattle and when they know that the beasts have twice trampled very heavily on Bog Asphodel flowers in Cowsick?  But that's why they use the word 'light' isn't it? They're trying to extricate themselves from responsibility for  what the cows have done!!! "It's not our fault gov'; the beasts didn't read the orders!"  

This is another one that is repeated from previous years. It was garbage then and it is now. The project to stop these shrubs and trees from performing their role of natural succession is doomed to failure. The last 5 years of cattle grazing has done nothing to stop the inevitable drive for ecological restoration that SWT and NE wish to wage war on.

Here's a target area for heathland (?moorland?),  more scrub (lovely scrub, much lovelier than cowpats and don't the wild birds love it?) than before they brought on the cows.

That's because the cows shun the heather areas in favour of the grassy places. The only animals that feed off the bramble and scrub are deer. But the C.A.P. doesn't pay up for them.

Here's one this morning eating what SWT's cows are unlikely to be interested in. Can anyone believe the trust know what they're doing? Their accountants perhaps.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

What 'Conservation Grazing' Really Means

We owe it to the iniquitous C.A.P. farm subsidy system with its opaque Pillars 1 and 2 and its dubiously policed Cross Compliance rules that Blacka gets cattle and sheep and a drearily inflexible management.

Serious challenges are in store for those trying to fathom the accumulated complexities of farm payments and it’s best not to make the effort unless you stand to benefit personally. Impenetrable systems are bad for transparency bad for democratic accountability and good for those who set themselves to play the system. You just have to look at the opportunities well connected people have for avoiding tax.

We knew it was bad news for local people’s attempts to influence the course of Blacka’s management when we saw the decision had been taken to define it as farmland. Common Agricultural Policy subsidies and their various means of rewarding farmers for not quite ruining the land, landscape and general environment are high in bureaucracy and low in enforcement. So people can and do get away with a lot as long as they know how to fill in the forms. There’s only one honourable approach to these grants for wildlife land managers and that’s to leave them out of the equation.

Many people want the C.A.P. and farm subsidies reformed and some want the system done away with altogether. The environmental payments are justified by decision makers because they bribe farmers to desist from over exploitation and ensuring fewer of them dig out hedges, make huge monoculture fields and put short term profit before flood-causing soil erosion etc.

Most of us didn’t anticipate  this would empower others with no remit to exploit the land to do just that simply in order to get entitlement to the same funds. That is what the conservation industry does. Instead of allowing land under its control to be its own self with minimal intervention it takes advantage of the system to garner gloops of dosh from the subsidies intended to constrain farmers. The effect is to seriously limit the capability of a grander landscape evolving with more inspiring views and wildlife.
The result of this is to totally skew the whole approach to the landscape especially the upland landscape. The minimal intervention which nature and the land craves for its immense benefit for a balanced wildlife is ditched in favour of more farm-style management which brings in the subsidy dosh that was originally supposed to be a bribe for farmers many of whom would otherwise be tempted to go all out for maximum cropping and stocking for a greater profit.

So that's why we get cows and sheep on Blacka. Not for conservation reasons but for the subsidies. Conservation grazing is in fact doing just a measured dose of naughtiness so you can get the same benefits as the prodigals when they rein in their worst potential excesses.  But the most objectionable aspect of this is the dishonesty that goes along with it. The conservation wallahs put lots of their creative energies into justifying this interventionist approach trying to persuade the ingenuous public that their farming management is good for the land and for wildlife. The resulting phrasings are usually incredible often contortionist and sometimes frankly hilarious. Only the gullible would fall for the stuff which scarcely betters “..the dog ate my homework..” for desperation. Here's a sample, much laboured over and adapted over the years, some stretching credibility to the utmost for anyone who actually looks at what happens while others are just ridiculous. It comes from SWT's recent notice pinned up on Blacka. These are their 'benefits of cattle grazing':

Number five is new this year and wins the comedy award.

As usual the question you have to ask is how on earth did nature survive at all before man and especially office-manager-man came along and told it what to do?

A lot of this justification project revolves around their counterfeit hallowing of barren heath and moor landscapes because allowing wildlife friendly native trees to grow in the land brings in no subsidies. It's what nature does without any help. Disaster for the managers. So they wage war on the natural vegetation while verbally and physically attacking it as unfavourable, as if it’s a flowerbed besieged with weeds. All the time these utterly corrupted managers claim they are managing 'wild land' or 'wilderness'. The rational world is turned on its head.

Out of interest the total sum paid to Sheffield Wildlife Trust from C.A.P. payments for 2011 was just short of £17,000. In 2012 it had climbed to over £111, 000.  Source of information via this search.

What the Cuckoo Likes

This is not the weather in the ditty "........And so do I.." but he likes it well enough. Sound file below recorded beside the stream.

Further into the birch woods:

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Lure

Why should a 'Nature Reserve' not be a place where nature determines the management? We all know the answer by now. £££s and more £££s. The conservation industry which depicts itself as the saviours of wildlife is addicted to the tempting rewards of farming subsidies. On farms these subsidies can tempt landowners and managers to moderate the worst excesses of their exploitation via Higher Level Stewardship. On land managed by the conservation industry the very reverse is practiced. The land's intrinsic desire to become more wild and hence more wildlife friendly is reined in by the managers' inability to resist the lure of farm subsidies which bolster their role and protect their salaries.

Why do they need to graze with cows when large herbivores are already here quite naturally and much more elegantly? Deer bring no farm subsidy. Is scam too harsh a word?

The most distasteful aspect is, of course, the hypocrisy that accompanies this with much printing ink consumed by spurious self justification.

The most pitiful aspect is that people tell lies so often they themselves start to believe the story.

Thursday, 24 April 2014


The combination of calm conditions with mist and sun breaking through is likely to produce a White Arc and this morning it nearly did. But though for a short while it was visible at each end the full effect never quite happened.

Lots of contented behaviour among birds and beasts with much warbling and deer standing or lying around chewing.

Two things seriously detract from what might be the most desirable place to be. One is the knowledge that shortly all will be corrupted by SWT's brainless addiction to conservation grazing and imminent arrival of bovine defecators, The other is the main road and its traffic: some mornings you can be scarcely aware of it because of the wind direction. But it's often a problem for those of us who believe national parks should be havens of peace.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Age Qualification

Seniority is a condition of belonging to certain groups.

This young stag is just getting his first bumps and spends his time with the hinds and other young deer. One day he may be accepted by the group of older males who can seem  to guard an exclusivity of membership.

They were relaxing out in the open well away from any paths and indulgently sheltered from the wind but well positioned to enjoy the morning sun. It just needed pipes and broadsheet Tory newspapers to complete the clubbable scene.

Saturday, 19 April 2014


Easter weekend and it's a fair bet a lot of sweetness will be on menus. One of the sweetest sounds on Blacka comes at the time of the festival of Willow Warbler song, this year coinciding with Easter. Although not the loudest of birds it dominates by sheer coverage, no area of woodland being free from it to the extent of staying just short of the cloying. Only a week ago the Chiff-Chaff, an earlier arrival, had little competition. Now its close near identical cousin has eclipsed him with a completely different song.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Evening Light

The woodland near the Hathersage Road car park is one of the better things about Blacka. Visually it would be the best but traffic noise too often intrudes to make the top favourite. Even so some of the sounds from song birds compete very well. Walking here in the dim evening light  brings a different atmosphere but always there's the feeling the alders are more than just a physical presence.

An interesting Country Diary in the Guardian describes the wealth of wildlife in a part of Northamptonshire a hundred years after cattle grazing ceased. If we could just be so lucky.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Slow Lane

A good place to hear the first cuckoo.

For us it's got two names, Quick Way going down and Slow Lane going up for obvious reasons, mainly that walkers have already walked much uphill before coming to this trying slope. But the spelling varies to Sloe Lane in autumn when the fruits of Blackthorn are prominent.

This is an enjoyable spot despite the climb. There's shelter from cold winds, a sense of tranquillity, and this morning Willow Warblers were all round adding to the pleasure of hearing the Cuckoo.

There's a lovely contrast between the two thorns. Blackthorn gets its flowers out before its leaves while on the other side of the track the Hawthorn chooses the opposite way.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


In the same view we used to be able to see a simple power line crossing Blacka and power stations in the distance, 30 miles away. We're fortunate that the intrusive power line is now just a memory. The view of West Burton Power Station has changed too with the addition of wind turbines some ten miles closer. Not much wind today to disturb the flight of the buzzard, now a fairly common sight over Blacka. This one was being mobbed by crows a couple of mornings ago. He eased away powerfully.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Whose Job to Protect Paths?

This post is prompted by this not unexpected observation.

At least one horse rider has decided that the fine terrace path above Blacka Dyke can be used for  riding. After all cyclists are now using it and have already changed the surface considerably since they've been doings so and also changing its previous character. It's well on the way to becoming as bad as the Devils Elbow route and the Wimble Holme Hill route which means eventually serious intervention comes and we say goodbye to one of its main features, its humble  informal attractiveness.

Blacka Moor is not the Lake District where paths are under severe pressure from huge numbers of tourists and fell baggers who've come from all over Britain and foreign parts. Blacka is off the main tourist trail but has problems of its own that responsible agencies are bent on ignoring.

Blacka's  paths are in various categories, bridleways including some long established historic routes, newer bridleways created in the last century, public footpaths (PRoWs officially designated), unofficial paths, or 'desire lines', and finally wildlife routes such as deer tracks.

In the Lakes a lot of the erosion caused by vast numbers of visitors has been repaired by teams from the National Park and the National Trust. There are mixed views on this work. Many would have wished the paths had stayed as they were 70 years ago which would only  have happened with fewer visitors. Even the harder volcanic rocks can't resist the constant pressures.

Blacka's visitors in number are tiny compared with the Lake District. But paths are under pressure just as great. Why? And who should sort it out?

It seems to be a matter for the Highways Authority. The responsibility of the National Park and the leaseholder Sheffield Wildlife Trust is less clear. Comparison with the Lakes raises questions. Sitting in the Sheffield Highways Authority is the Public Rights of Way Office. So can we claim they're responsible? Well the PRoW people are not responsible for maintaining land that goes beyond the statutory width of a path or bridleway. So that must be the landowner's responsibility - in this case our friends at SWT.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Spring Art

A walk in Spring constantly brings to mind thoughts of jewellery. Shapes and forms are the stuff of art.

Mediaeval cathedrals are full of designs motifs and patterns that were all around man for thousands of years in the natural world inspiring some of the greatest art. Nature comes first, art follows.

All of these images are wholly natural and native and would have been familiar to all. Everyone would have known their own local names. 

Chapter Houses in the great Minsters at York and Southwell are a botanical treasure trove.
And stone masons and wood carvers didn't need to look far for inspiration for carvings on misericords and gargoyles.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Worth Waiting For

The first really balmy spring day, warblers excited, Larch, Wood Sorrel and Bilberry flowers showing.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Change of Coat

Nothing to do with new lines at M&S. We've noticed similar at this time of year before. One or more of the deer suddenly appears much darker than the others. The closer one is a young stag. Previously I've assumed that he's been rolling in mud (it's usually been male). That could be the case and there's evidence for it in black peaty parts of the wet valleys. But it's still an assumption and something of a puzzle until I get to see it happening. Most remain much the same as throughout the winter.

Of course the coats of these animals gradually change colour during the coming weeks until there's no trace left of the warm but dull winter garb and they handsomely justify their names.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Changing Trees

From above much of the woodland is little changed. Some scattered green among the birch is actually male and female catkins which can be found on the same trees.

Not all the birch have these, some being presumably less mature.

Two days back both Chiff Chaff and Willow Warbler were heard in these trees but not since. My own garden had a Blackcap among the Flowering Currant today. I assume this is the same one seen many weeks ago with an accompanying female. I had understood that these overwintering Blackcaps would have come from the continent and were likely to return in spring. But this one could have decided to stay. Would save a journey anyway.


Spring is about renewal but it can be a draining business for some of our larger wildlife. There's a period when everything seems a great effort.

But the burr on the head is already bulging with this years growth.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


The more you look into the land management and wildlife pond the murkier the water gets. No statement from land management interests should be taken at face value. They're all into defending their interests, their jobs and their dubious practices.

The latest example of this comes from Scottish Gamekeepers.

These people are claiming they love ground nesting waders. They really want to justify their persecution of predators something they enjoy doing in itself. The bird they're really out to protect is the one they serve up for the rich to shoot, the red grouse.

This sits alongside the charity Songbird Survival, another scam from the shooting industry which loves some wildlife so much that it goes out and shoots it after first of all shooting other wildlife that might prey on it.

Pseudo conservation is a trap for the unwary punter who likes birds.

........... and they're off !

Not the grand national but the race to produce the first green leaves. Entries from native broad-leaved trees only.

Rowan is usually an early leader. And it confirms its superior readiness by bringing the flower alongside the first leaves.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Conform or Else

When humans don't interfere nature thrives. Original and picturesque forms are created, sometimes elegant and other times strange and compelling.

That is why the years of non intervention on Blacka were the best thing that could have happened.

Man is itchy fingered and can't leave well alone. These natural sculptures are an aberration in the small imaginations of those for whom all land must be managed like a garden or farm. For such people a tree has to grow a certain way, usually a single trunk with no low branching. That's the way they learned to draw them as children. Anything that does not conform to the simple pattern must be made to respond to force. Too much individuality is bad for collective discipline. Hence everywhere now we are seeing young trees being punished that threaten to diverge from the child's simplistic concept . The chain saw is taken to them. 

The need for parade ground posture means non standard limbs must be taken off and the spoils dumped at the side. This is a now common sight on Blacka in and around the newer woodland. Piles of logs, branches and twigs cover the woodland floor. You're not allowed to forget that this is a place where destructive man is showing his compulsion to be in control.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Hill Fog Bonus

Not many people like fog. It's been most dense in the hills. The enveloping cloud is just the thing to bring out these effects. But we must have trees. Our landscape does not have enough trees in the hills. Where you do find them, especially  alongside hill streams there's always something to look at.

It's no secret I find moors boring and in comparison with wooded uplands I can't see why anyone should be so determined to tell us these artificially treeless and exploited open wastes are 'iconic'. But on a foggy day in March they are as dreary a place as an abandoned industrial estate. Except the latter has usually been colonised by some interesting botanical specimens. In the trees however the mist becomes a feature.