Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Bird Update

The cuckoo was last heard two weeks ago but birdsong has continued well into late June. This morning, though, it felt different and quieter. That has coincided with the arrival of warmer more settled summer weather.

Bird behaviour is easier to observe than that of mammals but there are still new things to notice. At the Wall Caff feeding station it's now chaffinches that dominate.

At other times they have been only occasional visitors; now three pairs have become regulars. Meanwhile around the car park goldfinches are in occupation but no chaffinches; the goldfinch is now much more commonly seen - waiting whenever I raise the blinds at home, yet no appearances at the Wall Caff.

Tits, great, coal and blue, are rarely absent but now in smaller numbers than in May, while dunnocks remain among the first to appear.

Blackbirds have always been a favourite and they come regularly, but here there's been a change that I've observed before. They still collect food to take off to the young, particularly the female, but do so much more secretively. In May they were more conspicuous. It's known blackbirds can raise several broods in a season so perhaps a failure due to predation has led to the second attempt being carried on more covertly. The sight this morning of a jay being chased off by the male blackbird in the bushes might be some confirmation of this.

No bird does more to endear itself to us. It's a daydream of bleak winter days to see oneself sitting in the garden at the end of June, dozing with a  glass of cool wine beside and all the time accompanied by sublimely laid back music from the blackbird perched at the top of the pine. It happened yesterday.

Whitethroats or, more likely, lesser whitethroats are regularly seen among the bilberry and heather, along with the usual pipits showing off their aerial displays. This morning one whitethroat was giving a group of crows a very hard look from the top of a stunted rowan.

But it was the warbler ensemble that was notably lacking today. They've been a major feature since they first arrived, now reduced to a few scattered soloists.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Purple Patch

While Creeping Thistles are as often seen with white as lilac heads, the Marsh Thistle's flower is deep purple. Stems can also be purple.

This could be the season's purple period ( usually associated with newborn babies crying). End of June you don't have to look far on the moor for purple flowers.

Foxglove can dominate in places, sometimes taking over a whole hillside.

And this intruder, never far away, is trying to stick to the rules.

Back to thistles. Is any common wild flower more imperious than the finest thistle of all, the Spear Thistle?  Soon to be crowned with purple.

Nature's Topiary

Those raising concerns about deer browsing on their garden plants might be interested to see examples of the artistry of Blacka's deer.

Holly is famously prickly and awkward to manage. But the local deer have discovered a way. The newer leaves on the outside are both tasty and nutritious. Only later on do they become hard and very spiky. Their browsing has led to some attractive examples of natural topiary.

Those wishing to contact this eco-friendly gardening service ....................

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Wool Is Being Pulled ..

If we don't allow ourselves to look and see and believe what our eyes tell us then there's no hope left: here, it's only our own fault if we let the wool get pulled over our eyes.

There are many miles of railway embankment, roadside verges and abandoned wasteland with more value for wildlife, the environment and ecology than this section of Blacka. Yet this gets the managers lashings of public money in the form of grants all justified by the most spurious environmental designations. Don't take my word for it. Just look. It's plain to see. But do believe your eyes - not the wideboy stories that are told by the 'professionals'.

Of all the issues around the management of Blacka as a nature reserve nothing shows up the phoniness of the local conservation industry more acutely than the deplorable state of this sheep enclosure.

Not even the chain-saw obsession with clearing native woodland.
Nor the crass anti-democratic policy of excluding from consultations those who have an alternative view.
Nor the cowpat-and-barbed-wire infestation they choose to call conservation grazing on the heathland.

No, bad as these are, it's the failure to even begin to think about whether they should continue to have sheep grazing on these upland slopes that marks out the conservation agenda as being utterly bankrupt. I just say come and look at it.

Any genuine nature reserve would allow and encourage natural vegetation to thrive, not import the woolly slugs to scoff every wild flower before it blooms and deposit the waste liberally so as to make it near impossible to keep your shoes out of it. And is there a coherent policy which explains how this management impacts on  flood protection strategies in the valleys? Management of this kind creates serious soil compaction on higher land leading to water running off rather than being absorbed.

And if the conservation mafia had not got control and the site was restored to the original and legal purpose of a 'public walks and pleasure ground' it could be a venue for many enjoyable recreational activities including kite flying and family picnics: five years ago paragliders who used the site just two or three times a year were told they could no longer use the site  - for 'conservation' reasons! We have to put up with the impact of sheep 365 days a year and huge amounts of public subsidy for fences, stone walls and agri-environment grants. Nothing could be more perverse.

If anyone's tempted to believe that the local conservation industry is on the right track they should visit here and see for themselves.

But as a taster see this link:


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Sun and Shade

Some like the sun.

Some prefer shade.

Others are not sure it's wise to come out at all.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Saut and the Bog Flower Saga

The publication by SRWT of minutes of the "Blacka Moor Users Forum" meeting of 17th May reminds me of what I said at the time about the bog flowers and the path across Cowsick Bog. The minutes are not 100% accurate about what I said but probably as good as one could expect. SRWT's manager had brought up their intention of using large flagstones on the paths to prevent habitat damage. I had pointed out that the work of installing had already caused damage itself. He pointed to some small shoots which he claimed to be newly emerging asphodel shoots. I didn't argue with this, not being sure that what looked initially like coarse grass shoots might turn out to be just what he said.

I had previously pointed out that in several recent years cows had wandered across the bog and made a complete mess of an area which once displayed a wonderful array of bog flowers. My message was clear: that management in various forms had done nothing for the natural beauty here and often quite the reverse.

Well, I've been watching those shoots to see how they will develop. Cows have wandered over as in past years, have left their distinctive appetizing marks over the path itself and have put their heavy stamp on the soft boggy ground to the side (something the trust likes to claim is good for invertebrates).

Evidence of cows' presence is not confined to waste products and ground upheaval. Their attention to grasses and other vegetation can also be seen especially on the edges of paths.

But in this case it is the shoots I've been told are of the bog asphodel plant that have been cropped.

I'm still not absolutely convinced that these shoots are as claimed as I usually await the appearance of the stalks before identifying these flowers from mid July. It's certainly possible. **

But if they are as told then perhaps we should be concerned not just for the flowers being damaged but also for the welfare of the livestock. Lambs are these days often kept off land where bog asphodel is present because of Saut. This is a poison caused by the plant that affects the kidneys. Lambs ears and wool are affected and it also causes problems with cattle.

More information in the links below.




** 29th July
A small flower stalk has now emerged confirming the identification. See picture and evidence that cows have been eating the leaves.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Midsummer Woods

The place for a morning walk.

A bonus of guilty pleasures in enjoying those flowers.

Gardening and Deer

Among the arguments used to justify culling deer you sometimes hear that deer have been damaging people's gardens. One of these came to light recently. A resident was considering putting up a new fence having seen deer in her shrubbery and borders. How often these incursions happen is not clear, nor what other measures may have been taken. But there seemed an element of fear in the complaint. Even if the intruders were stags this fear is unfounded. They are of course much more frightened of us and do their best to get away, unlike, say, cows which cause a number of deaths and serious injuries each year.

As for damage caused by deer this might cause a change of plans, just as I found I couldn't grow cabbages in one place because of club root. Sometimes the best response is to adapt.

My son recently moved into a house just south of London on the edge of a small patch of woodland. He and his wife were delighted to see deer in their garden. One up on me, he thought: I have to go to the woods and on the moors to see wildlife like that. Talking to neighbours he found that all had agreed to have no fences at all because they liked to see deer wandering across unhindered. It's also useful when the children's ball goes astray. Their gardens look beautiful but they've probably discovered which shrubs work best in those conditions and adapted.

As for wildlife causing damage, there's no doubt which animal in the world causes most devastation. I try to remember this when I see the wood pigeons among my redcurrants. It's easier to welcome the blackbirds who eat the berries on the Pernettya. After all, its for them I originally planted it. Without encouragement how else would I get to enjoy their singing?

That's one choice. Plant what the deer don't like, or plant what they do.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Getting Wet

A young stonechat in the rain. The parent is foraging nearby.

 Being left here is no fun. Must be some shelter somewhere.

Bath Time?

This large fungus needs more investigation. Possibly a polypore.

It looks ideally placed and shaped to provide bathing facilities for the local birds.

Sunday, 21 June 2015


One of the superb qualities of our native oak is its "climbability". No tree is as satisfying as the oak for those compulsive adventurous children who aspire to get off the ground; in doing so they rise beyond the constraints of everyday life, dominated as it is by adults and their tiresome conventions.

But it's not as simple as to say that all oaks are climbable. Deep in the woods where all trees put their energies into pushing towards the light many oaks and other species lack the lower branches needed to give climbers the early support they need. This is where secondary woodland comes into its own. Where oak has been a pioneer species colonising previously open land it gets enough room to spread its boughs laterally and creates a wonderfully shaped broad and complex organism. Everything about this kind of oak in this situation feels right. Not just the overall shape but the smell, textures and the quality and quantity of light that is allowed to penetrate to the inside of the tree.

Those of us who, as children, were lucky enough to live near to land where nature was winning back control found this to be just one of the delights of places left and neglected without a purpose in man's affairs.

My own children were so lucky. They loved the secret parts around the wasteland left to go its own way; in this case it was the mound above the Totley Tunnel, its ventilator shaft in the centre and all around the soil and rock  from the excavation had been colonised by oaks, bramble bearing berries  and secret paths through the undergrowth.The oaks were a hundred or so years old and admirably climbable.^^*

Similar oaks to this can be found on Blacka's eastern perimeter.


^^* I wonder how much, if any, of this kind of experience will find its way into the latest publicised scheme  from the Wildlife Trusts? They are press-releasing a "campaign" called 30 Days Wild and have apparently got thousands of people to pledge to do something wild every day for a month. As ever with projects and press releases from this source the main benefit of this looks to be for the media image of the organisation. The reality is likely to be another series of activities vastly over-controlled. To extend this to other parts of the management-infested conservation industry, the National Trust have another media grabbing project called Spirit of Place. I seriously doubt that the places they're thinking of could be anything like the wasteland that gave enchantment to the lives of children I knew. They do not understand the value of places whose charms are dependent on lack of human control. Why should they? Their role is to control; and to promote it they celebrate those sites that show evidence of obvious human intervention.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Up from the Stream

Spotted again.

Weedkiller Madness

Weedkiller has now been used along the inside of Blacka's boundary in addition to that sprayed along the verges on the road. Not only is this land designated as a nature reserve by a wildlife trust, it is also a place where locally scarce plants grow - or used to. There seems to be no end to these examples of gross philistinism around here.

We might expect that the landowners would know how this came to happen but apparently not. They deny all knowledge. It's my guess - just that - that some contractors, inadequately supervised, have done this.

11th June

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Young and Scared

It seems early for this young fox to be out exploring independently. Something may have happened to its family. Even out here on a nature reserve not everyone is well-disposed towards predators. I had seen him very briefly twice before in recent days, always on his own, so was ready with the camera on approaching the same spot.

This is the time of year when we're most likely to come across young birds and animals. Many don't survive. The fox itself is a predator and itself kills weaker specimens of other wildlife. We should do all we can to ensure that public landscapes are balanced through the presence of a range of species including predators, not by human action. I wonder how many foxes have been targeted by local conservationists since they discovered that curlews' nests had been raided not by dogs but by foxes? Always an excuse to play God.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


Not on anyone's target list but a group with four members on Blacka the thistle is an under-celebrated flower. Perhaps it deserves better.

It grows well in open areas but that's its problem. Most open areas are blighted with sheep grazing and sheep don't like prickly plants. So all the other wild flowers get eaten up leaving little else but thistles. The result is far from a diverse and interesting sight with the thistle playing a role along with others; its more like an unsightly monoculture devoted to advantaging one plant. Those in the sheep enclosure are mainly Creeping Thistle with some Spear Thistle.

Also in wetter parts to the south of the site is the Marsh Thistle.

We may also be lucky enough to find the Melancholy Thistle if the cows have not trampled on the one place where it's found. They've already visited one part of the bog.

Ancient and Active

Mention of venerable trees to most of us might suggest oak and yew. But the claims of hawthorn should not be forgotten.

It's also one of those trees that looks old and worn yet remains vital. It would be good to have an easy way of ageing these specimens in this corner of Blacka.

Today these ancient hawthorns are showing that they still have much life in them. Despite being twisted and gnarled, trunks rutted and boughs drooped they still glory in the power to reproduce.

Monday, 8 June 2015


Tall birch with a breeze lifting the leaves and a blue sky is one of the sights of early June.

Less tall birch is a good backdrop to a youngster showing off his new headgear.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Watching Unseen

Most times we see wild animals and birds they see us first.

To see them relaxed, not knowing they are being watched, is a privilege. No hides for me but it happens. Like the coal tits feeding their young this morning. Better still the young fox exploring. Was he old enough to be out on his own?

The hind on the other side of the stream valley was in her sheltered secret place hardly visible.

She remained lying with her head turned back and eyes closed as if listening for another heartbeat.

Natural beauty.

Return of Cr*p 'n Cr*p



Also known as 'conservation grazing'.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Secret Place

It's rare that council functionaries display enough sensitivity to satisfy all the public. Sensitivity is not a core part of their remit. Things that are precious to some of us don't figure in job specifications. At the moment there is a big outcry in Sheffield about the destruction of roadside trees to facilitate street and footpath maintenance. Trees are also part of our concerns on Blacka, even on a place reserved for nature.

Nothing on Blacka is perfectly idyllic, but often we come close with the compromise easier to forget.

Sometimes it is road noise that intrudes, sometimes it's evidence of intrusive human activity. But all life is compromise and we can live with some things - up to a point.

But our more secret and near tranquil areas must not be given up without a fight. If that fight never raises itself beyond a bitter and lonely complaint  that should tell us something that we may not wish to hear.

One delightful place is just where multiple threats have already begun.  This little known and very small section of the neighbouring land is a wonderful place to spend time in spring. Despite its proximity to the road, audible in this recording, the overwhelming sense is of naturalness.


While taking this short recording I saw the doe below, tongue out as she was drinking at the stream. She had not seen me. A secret and perfect place.

Just a few metres from here a little known informal path is being converted into a bridleway at the behest of the Public Rights of Way unit of the Council. Tranquillity will decline.

There are other threats: SRWT's species agenda with its dislike for 'non-native' species (except cows and sheep) has already put sycamores, beech and horse chestnut at risk of 'ethnic cleansing' measures.

The trees here are sycamore, horse chestnut ........

and lime.
None fits the 'native only' plan so can't be guaranteed a future in the new pure-race community of their brave new world. Non native trees may survive in the short term - some of them- but unlikely in the medium/long term plan dedicated to only oak/birch woodland. Yet who could complain that what we have here now is unsuitable?

Very close by is, for Blacka, a rare elm.

Night Visitor

Left behind by an irregular visitor to the Old Wall Food Bank.

He would be more likely to be feeding on some of the customers.