Sunday, 31 May 2015


We are getting used to public servants treating nature with no respect. But the scorching of verges?

I'm tempted to go through a list of all the wild flowers that have been seen growing in the grassy areas alongside Hathersage Road directly bordering land designated by Natural England as SSSI. Among them are several that are more typical of the White Peak. And of course the delightful Anthriscus sylvestris.

Earlier this month I mentioned that Sheffield's Highways Department currently run by Amey has been cutting roadside vegetation contrary to recent practice. Now they've been spraying too and the evidence can be viewed as a disgustingly ugly brown scorching. It's been done along a lengthy stretch near Blacka's border wall and goes on up to and into the car park. It used to be policy to maintain solely with a single cut in late July/August.  Words fail me.

Anthriscus sylvestris

This magnificent wild flower needs rehabilitating. It suffers by virtue of its common name so needs a campaign to get it known by a better one - maybe its Latin name. Nothing like a bit of Latin to impress us.

Once you tell people it's called  Cow Parsley it immediately loses any respect. It doesn't deserve to. It's one of the most beautiful and evocative of wild plants a gorgeous evocation of late May with delicate foliage and superb complex blooms. Its habit of decorating path and track borders creates a picture that's the  very essence of spring and just what we dream of when looking forward to that season from the depths of winter.

So let's call it by its Latin name. Anthriscus is just teasingly hard enough to remember to give it some distinction.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Lazy Wind

Bright sun is all very well. But the strong wind came from north and then north-west. All canny wildlife adjusted.

Cuckoos kept low; they are usually calling from higher branches but not today.

Hinds are always keen to keep the north wind behind them and the shelter of woodland at their backs while enjoying the sun from the east.

Having shed the fluffy winter layer and revealed their more elegant reddish but thinner coat they are less prepared for the wind that goes right through you.

So would you expect these animals to opt for the most exposed parts?

We all know farm livestock is the result of selective breeding. But selectively bred to be more stupid? That's what bovine has come to mean.

A Hairy Meal

A fondness for hairy caterpillars. I suspect this was a female cuckoo as a male was calling not far off. She swung it around for a minute or two before making off with it still in her beak in the direction of the male.

Probably an Oak Eggar Moth caterpillar. One thing's for sure. Unlike the worm our blackbird was carrying earlier it's not destined to become a meal for any chicks.

Friday, 29 May 2015


While Rowan catches the eye by proudly flowering high in late May ....................

 ........ you have to look down to find this humble member of the fumitory family. Its great quality is its ability to thrive on bracken litter, flowering before the fern becomes dominant, then climbing up to higher levels among the fronds to get its own share of light.

Another Identity Problem

A pair of Linnets.

Plenty of scope for plumping. Is it this or is it that? Does it matter? Garden Warbler or Blackcap singing? Silver Birch or Downy Birch? Stonechat or Whinchat? Now it's Linnet or Redpoll?

Let it not spoil our enjoyment.

Birch and Birching

I've never been birched and you're unlikely to meet anyone who has, but the subject occasionally came up when my parents talked of their schooldays.

The punishment was carried out in the earlier parts of last century. It was a formal punishment and played its part in a much stricter approach to education generally.

Its' good that these days this elegant and fascinating tree has now begun to lose the painful association. In fact recent associations have gone the opposite way. The conservation industry's use of the word often comes linked to an exhortation for volunteers to join them in 'Birch Bashing', turning the punishment against the tree itself rather than some miscreant's buttocks.

One of BBC Radio 3's excellent series 'The Essay' was recently a talk about Birch in a short series on The Meaning of Trees. You can still hear it at this link:

There are two native species of Birch both present on Blacka. Observation skills of a pretty high order are needed to distinguish between the two, Silver Birch and Downy Birch; that's not made any easier by their tendency to hybridise. Still, it's interesting to have a go, even if you're left in doubt at the end. Downy Birch seems less common here and I think I've detected it in the Strawberry Lee Woods near the car park. Some of these trees are straighter, less prone to go off at eccentric angles and there appear to be small patches of hairs on the back of leaves on the stem. But I'm putting no money on it.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Threatened Habitat ?

SRWT are threatening this habitat, the venue at the heart of this morning's festival of spring birdsong. Under the beech trees of Blacka's woodland can be found fascinating fungi in autumn. The blackbird in the middle of the scene is also fond of beech, as are summer visiting warblers. But the demands of conservation dogma and the employment needs of chain-saw-man come first. They claim they will be targeting younger beech and presumably that will include the small beech that light up the woodland in winter. Therefore we may assume that larger mature trees that have entrenched themselves and associated with various wildlife may be spared. But can we rely on them? We've seen what they have done to the mature birch and pine elsewhere in parts they've classified as heathland with no consultation apart with fellow travellers at the Town Hall. All depends on who is monitoring this so-called conservation work. We, of course, are not qualified in their eyes. And we know that there's precious little independent judgement around in the industry.


A frustrating feature of the spring birdsong on Blacka is that the best of it is often found very close to the busy Hathersage Road. Why? There's some good woodland there and some excellent ground cover. There's also the fact that the road is higher than the woodland meaning the boundary wall gives shelter. Other reasons there may be. Nevertheless, because of the noise, my tentative and very amateur attempts at sound recording here are doomed to failure not in the least helped by the strong wind.

This morning's star and perhaps the star of the whole season was a garden warbler of stunning power and virtuosity. As I listened I knew where he was, only a few feet from me one way and a few feet from the heavy traffic on the road the other way, but I could not see him. So no photo either.The tone was gorgeous and the delivery of each phrase immaculate as the ideas tumbled over each other; and such volume - perhaps intended to compete with the quarry lorries and commuters.

It ended when not one but two brown birds quickly flew off out of the dense bramble giving partial confirmation that this was indeed a garden warbler and not a blackcap: I still hesitate with this. Mostly it's fairly easy but certain individual birds can make it tricky. A YouTube video from BTO is useful but it doesn't give enough time for listening to the birds themselves.

Local birders are more keen on the wood warbler mainly because of its comparative scarcity. But its song, pretty enough in its way, is no match for the dazzling musicianship of these two.

In the absence of a recording of today's bird -

and -

Two fast pieces to compare with our garden warbler. The second is called Bird Gets Worm, by Charlie 'Yardbird' Parker. Improvised of course as is birdsong. The first is a bit of the famous Paganini Caprice for solo violin; Joshua Bell I think.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Conservation Tangles

How pleasant it must be for those who come across a tree and say, as Winnie the Pooh or Mr Bean might, "How nice to see a tree". The manager, in conservation and landscape, doesn't have the luxury of such innocence. He has to navigate around the tangled strands, complex analysis and mixed messages of management plans and warped vision statements. And among those messages is one that's increasingly intolerant of trees in 'the wrong place' challenging the purity of their vision - a vision in which diversity and biodiversity struggle to reach a comprehensible accord.

Just one or two of these tangles came to mind on this morning's walk. All started well and straightforward when meeting the newly emerging flowers of Rowan, that amazingly successful species which outperforms even birch and produces stunning floral displays as well. So "How nice to see this tree" was appropriate.

But the managers have some decisions to make nearby, not referred to even in their hundreds of pages of plan documents. When the Ramblers planted some memorial trees on the moors in the seventies they chose several non-native species including one that is similar to Rowan but with clear differences. There are signs this is spreading into other parts. In the picture below it's poking over the top of a native rowan on the north side of Blacka Dyke.

Another tree planted here was Whitebeam, again not referred to in SRWT's plans. That can be seen spreading into areas where it was previously absent. In this picture it, too, is poking above a Rowan.

It's also visible on the other side of the gorge.

The Red Oak, if that's what it is, lives up to its name when leaves first show.

One or two of these seem further off than the initial planting so one wonders if these were planted more widely. References suggest that acorns are not produced until the trees are some forty years old and I've not yet found small seedlings.

Striking though the red is I much prefer the colouring on this beautiful young native oak.

So what does the increasingly interventionist and species-conscious conservation industry plan to do with the aliens? We know they are getting more ruthless in wiping out those species they don't like or which don't fit their character assessments and habitat criteria for each zone. Witness the removal of mature Scots Pine from the open areas. Shouldn't we be told about this? Or will this be discussed in the dark rooms where their secret conservation group meets?

Then again, this avenue of sycamores was planted obviously as a roadside border. It's therefore both a recreational and a conservation issue. Yet they will decide to remove them on conservation grounds alone.

Adding to their own tangles are the cows presently grazing on the inby land in precisely the spot where I found orchids in a previous year. For them this is easily resolved by answering the question "which brings in funds - orchids or cows?"

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Derby Yo Yo

The Derbyshire Yeomanry was a train, or rather a steam railway engine.  I first came across it as an eight year old. Some of my friends were keen train spotters and I was persuaded to join them, on an expedition that became a regular feature of the school holidays, to the nearest main railway line where they watched the trains and underlined the numbers in their Ian Allan railway guides. Standing on the bridge looking over the LMS line the third or fourth train I saw was drawn by a splendid green engine. I was enthralled and showed my enthusiasm. My friends were unimpressed. "That's only the Derby Yo Yo" one of them said. Its nickname was down to its regular habit of going up and down the line at regular intervals. They were only interested in the unusual trains or ones they had never seen before. However fine the Derbyshire Yeomanry was it meant nothing at all to them. And as a boy anxious to fall in with the group I quickly learned to identify with this judgement.

The point being that, for many of us, scarcity or rarity has huge value but whatever is commonplace easily gets dismissed. That memory always surfaces when I come across bird watchers. To most of them the common birds have little or no value. I recall the RSPB/BTO man who sneered at those who talked of blue tits. And if a freak weather event brought to our shores an American bird of comparatively unexceptional appearance there would be hundreds of punters wanting to 'record' that they've seen it despite its lack of character. In fact there might be another species closely related and more commonly seen with much greater life enhancing qualities. Who could deny that blackbirds are more worthy of our protection than, say, Dartford Warblers bearing in mind their respective qualities of musicianship?

With this in mind here are two visitors to our bird caff this morning. I think both would be easily dispensed with by some birders in favour of the curlew or the tree pipit. (1) top, a female chaffinch. (2) a coal tit.

Who is so godlike to decide that they are dispensable?

Coal Tits were the most timid of visitors to the caff. Family pressures have changed that. They are now first to the food bank.

Watching and Spotting

Just keeping an eye on you.

But nearly missed despite the spots ....

The speckled wood ....

Monday, 25 May 2015

Division of Labour

Nothing to do with party politics though feminism may come into it.

This was her third visit to the Old Wall Food Bank in very few minutes, each time stocking up on the handouts and scooting off into the bushes. Dad was working slower, surely he had done his bit? Mostly he fed himself then went up into the tree to sing. After all the family home and its territory need defending.

The Old Wall Caff has become extremely popular with the local bird population and winter conditions and nesting season are when customers are keenest. Much of its appeal is the position. It's sheltered from the prevailing wind by a mature rhododendron barrier making it very attractive in the morning. The sun coming up makes a fine microclimate. The rhododendron provides excellent cover while pines rising above and through the shrubs are also wildlife friendly both being, of course, evergreen. Several pairs of chaffinches, coal tits, blue tits, great tits, robins, dunnocks and a blackcap visit as well as the blackbirds and are fed in return for providing the music. Lizards, voles and shrews sometimes put in an appearance.

Now this great facility is under threat. SRWT is going ahead with its intention of removing the rhododendron here as well as on the south side of the woods despite earlier indications that they would relent. This act of unprecedented callousness is proof if any were needed that the trust is not to be trusted with anything but a commitment to raking in grants for their own benefit rather than that of wildlife. I will of course retract this comment if they change their minds. Please write in if you wish to complain. Just to SRWT will do. There's no planning application reference.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Nature's Paths

It's harder now to find places where recent human interference is not evident. This naturalness is what many of us value and on this site particularly. Until the present regime, of course, run by those who rate a site for the scope it offers to provide them with jobs and projects, opportunities for fencing, chain-sawing and livestock management.

They will get here eventually of course but as of now this north facing slope above the southern stream offers some well needed respite.

The woodland here is not as old, complex and fascinating as that associated with the other stream valleys and gorges. But I've always liked the restorative feel of once seriously exploited land returning to nature with vigorous healthy tree and shrub growth.

The energy and innocence complements the quietness and gives the spring birdsong the stage it needs. Warblers were beyond expectation, cuckoo was calling and a solitary blackbird was mellow and complacent. As so often it was the virtuoso blackcap which claimed most attention.

I must have missed the growth in deer tracks across the side of the hill in previous visits. This time I went straight down so they were obvious. At least six of them run parallel with the stream equally spaced.

On the other side of the stream the tracks visible went obliquely up the hill

- where several hinds had been climbing up the previous day.

Trees are the usual rowan, birch and oak with holly and some excellent venerable hawthorn, always worth a visit on its own.

In one part, near the stream sycamore has made a home and on the eastern end close birch woodland has now reached a good height where it had established itself  after a heather fire in the eighties. This is where the wildlife trust has seen an opportunity to justify intervention. Thinning with chain saws and log piles left mostly tidy to give a reminder that "woods must be managed" - or we don't know what might happen.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Message

If you do nothing else at all it's vital to produce a glossy brochure. Getting the message out is what the local conservation industry gives absolute priority to. Now even their management plan gets the treatment. Not all of it, just a few images and some slogans.

This is the important work to which both Eastern Moors and Sheffield Moors Partnership devoted so much energy that they must have sunk back exhausted when done. They are children of the age of  brand building strategies and target marketing.

And the target for these glossy brochures is not the people who know and use the 'product' - i.e. those who walk the land. The money all this costs is directed at those who need to be persuaded they are doing a fine and creditable job and who are impressed by this kind of thing: their 6,000 members perhaps, few of whom actually come here; or councillors or grant dispensers, the decision makers for whom this gives reassurance. Reading what it says or even examining the pictures is not necessary. As when voting in an election it's not what your policy is, it's whether you radiate confidence.

Morning on Blacka Hill


It'll cost you £85 for 100ml of the stuff. It's sold by Penhaligon's of Burlington Arcade, London, who describe it thus:
"Quercus declares itself with a light burst of citrus and basil, supported by a heart accord of jasmine, cardamom and muguet that is sweet, spiced and supremely delicate. The greenness of the basil persists into the surprisingly resilient musk and sandalwood base notes. These are warmed through with moss and patchouli to create elegant, strong and uplifting cologne. Named after the Latin for the British Oak, Quercus is a modern and invigorating cologne enjoyed by both men and women."

I'll probably stick with carbolic for now.

All oaks are Quercus, not just the native British Oak, which anyway has two separate species not greatly different to each other.

At the spot we call The Hollow above the falls dropping down to Blacka Dyke is a small planting of another oak commemorating the service of an officer of the Ramblers. These oaks are described in SRWT's new management plan as 'Red Oak'. There are many different oaks around the world and their leaves of course change colour with the seasons. Still this needs checking and whatever happens in autumn the predominant colouring of these oak leaves through the year is green. It's interesting to compare the leaves of the imported non native oak with those of the native oaks on site.

First a 'normal' native oak.

This one is more advanced having lost its early spring colour and settled into its regular green.

This is our non native oak,with longer and more pointed leaves and a tendency to droop.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Royal Progress

May is queen of months. Up here one measure of its progress is by the appearance of flowers. We've had the whites of wood sorrel and wood anemone, followed by violets and the spectacle of bluebells in the woods. We enter a new stage with the arrival en masse of cotton grass before yet more whites take over in succession with rowan and then hawthorn crowns the month with May's very own blossom. Compared to the strikingly exotic rainbow effects seen now in suburban gardens it may be fairly tame stuff but there's a purity in the restrained and, yes, 'naturalness', of unmanaged land which lifts the spirits without straining the senses.

Cotton grass is interesting. It's not that long ago that people were telling me that it was a problem. In those days it had not become as widespread as now and many like what they're used to. The heather on the moors, boring as it seems to me, is for them them a link to their childhood and that of their parents. Any invasion however natural takes some effort to adjust to.

But the big decision makers in the conservation businesses seem to have decided that cotton grass is 'a good thing'. That may be a reaction to those of us who have complained of the 11 month visual boredom of the moors. The species-ism of the professionals is amusing. Now they are planting the stuff on the high moors as a 'restoration' project.

So where is naturalness in all this?

Up on Blacka Hill is a section of the heather moor that has now become white all over. Some may think this pretty. But this is not an urban park with mass plantings of annuals. It's the result of an unfortunate decision to cut the heather with farm machinery presumably to provide grazing for cows. It's not remotely natural. More like a white stain on a dark tee shirt.

Down near the bog is an area that is not exactly natural but at least it's been preserved from farm machinery. The cotton grass here blends in with its surroundings. There's a lot that could be questioned about this area but the spread of the cotton grass does look more natural.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Economies of Scale

Will we ever see eye to eye?

What we value most about our green spaces is a sense of naturalness that may show the benign influence of a human touch, something that is similar to what we aim for in the more relaxed and informal of our gardens.  They (the conservation organisations) are  industrial operations. We value things on a human scale. The conservation industry wishes to work 'efficiently' bringing economies of scale. 

Two examples raised at the walkabout users forum yesterday.

The clearing of rhododendron from the woodland. The job is planned as an industrial operation. The chain sawing is done as one part of the operation. Large limbs of the timber are piled up and left. The next stage comes later. It may be burning or shredding. The central planning of this produces economies of scale. The piles of timber are left for weeks, months and in some cases years between the two stages. There is no doubt that the priority is efficient working and use of forces and resources.

The second example is the plan to turn an informal path - or desire line - into a public right of way. This will probably release funds for another project - projects are what they like - and allow a small section with problems to get attention. The trouble with this is that the repairs are done to certain standards and the informality which people cherish is immediately lost. Also once the path gets on the system it never comes off again. Any future management initiative has to be logged and bureaucratised.

Strange that the notices in the car park had been covered with graffiti put there by someone who obviously did not like all this management. By the time the walkabout meeting began they had been removed. And that infantile 'Paws on the Moors' notice keeps getting removed and then reappears.

Light and Shade

Wednesday, 13 May 2015


Email received today:

I’m a trainee with the Yorkshire Invasive Species Forum; a partnership between Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Calder & Colne Rivers Trust. It has been set up to develop a long term strategy for dealing with invasive plant species.  / During May we’re running workshops on invasive non-native species ID, surveying, recording and biosecurity. Invasive non-native species are a major threat to native wildlife, and have a huge economic cost. Comprehensive surveying and recording of these species ( is vital in targeting key areas for treatment to prevent further spread and damage. Groups like yourselves are ideally placed for surveying and recording invasive non-native species. 
If possible please could you pass on the details of these workshops (see attached poster) to any members of your organisation who may be interested in attending, or in becoming a volunteer surveyor. 
My reply

The species my local wildlife trust are most interested in removing are native species which we wish to retain. 
My list of invasive species I would like to do without: 
1 Sheep 
2 Cattle 
3 Chain saw operatives 
4 Conservation industry managers 

If you agree then I'm happy to help! 

Best wishes,

May Verdure

Greenery invades and conquers. Knowing a place and its appearance well still means the change is dramatic.

Being in the middle of areas where greenery is repressed - on the adjoining treeless heather moors - contrives to make it more striking.

A long way below, on Strawberry Lane a bank was cleared and planted with gaudy flowering shrubs. Apparently the green of May was not enough. The hybrid rhododendron was criticised by some who felt it was not what that place needed. You can now see the display, just, from Blacka, in the middle of the picture.