Saturday, 31 January 2015

Selective Amnesia

A view of Blacka that SRWT's staff are specially fond of is the one that they've chosen to put at the top of their draft plan for Blacka. It was used also at the beginning of a brief presentation at the public engagement meeting in September. I've seen it used by them in another meeting held the previous year. It struck me at the time that you didn't need to have explored Blacka very thoroughly to take that picture; in fact you didn't need to go more than a few paces onto the site. So it's possible to walk along the level track from the car park, take that picture and then walk back to your car without getting your shoes muddy.

But there's a rather more interesting aspect of that photograph. If you had stood on the same spot a few years ago it would have looked quite different because an unsightly power line would have dominated the view. Here's how it would have been a few days ago if still here but this time taken looking back towards the place that picture was taken from. (somewhere I've got a better quality version)

SRWT were not interested in removing that intrusion until their hand was forced by Friends of Blacka Moor who set the action in motion at a RAG meeting leading to CPRE getting involved (they had been delegated by PDNPA to recommend cases where power lines could be removed). The point is that without the intervention of FoBM the lines would almost certainly still be there and SRWT might have had to get their boots muddy going further onto the moor to get a picture.

The reason for raising this at this point is that I've been reading SWT's draft plan, all 95 pages of it, and can find no reference at all to Friends of Blacka Moor. That is odd because many other groups with less direct involvement, in and knowledge of, Blacka do get mentioned and do get acknowledged. Yet FoBM has contributed more than most to very important aspects of Blacka. Unlike the single interest groups such as cyclists, horse riders, bird watchers and ramblers, it has constantly reflected concerns about the whole of Blacka, its landscape and wildlife, its general recreational role, and its place within the local uplands and the country as a whole. Its members and supporters have put in more hours at consultations that any other groups over 14 years and attended council meetings and many other events and publicly celebrated the site in a way that SWT/SRWT has not done. There is another group that does not even get mentioned and that is Dore Village Society. It is DVS along with FoBM who were responsible for getting the dignified plaques about J.G. Graves legacy installed after waiting ages for SWT to do something. The failure to mention DVS is also astonishing in that the society has made a number of significant donations to SRWT's funds after the latter had appealed to them, usually for specific purposes such as nest boxes.

So why would SRWT forget to mention these groups while making a point of mentioning others? It's the rules of the playground again I'm afraid. "You're not always my friend so your not my friend at all" Both groups, when it has been necessary have spoken up for Blacka when SWT was doing something they thought unacceptable.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


I try  to post photographs on the same day when I can. This time I'm afraid I'm guilty of fraud. The photo below was taken a week ago. The heavy snow that fell overnight, and was still falling when I last looked out, has made Blacka inaccessible for me and probably everyone  else with suspensions to the bus service*. My car is buried and no prospect of covering 200 yards uphill. Neither does it help being unwell. It's hard not to think of the birds which are always pleased to see us without feeling I've let them down. On a cold morning a few days ago there were five robins waiting in one small tree and the other tits and blackbirds too. Small birds need to feed regularly in small doses. When we feed them in the morning they are usually desperate for the first mouthful, but have soon had enough; overeating by taking in a lot at a time is not something they do. Other wildlife have their own resources. Deer can usually knock the snow off low shrubbery and underlayer and feed on bramble leaves; a good supply on Blacka. The third heavy snowfall in a month makes this a severe winter compared to recent years, and the latest snowfall has been greater than the others. January not yet over.

* Update 30th Jan 7.30. 272 service remains suspended.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Thus Spake the Alderman

Blacka Moor was handed over to the public by Alderman Graves in 1933 and to safeguard its perpetual use for public recreation he wrote a Covenant.

This is the front page of that covenant.

The is the all important clause 2.

It is easier to read in this typed transcript.

In the early years of SWT's managing of the land the Charity Commission objected to a lease being given to the wildlife trust because the property is set aside for recreation. After several years of discussions and deliberations the Council and SWT persuaded the Charity Commissioners to put aside their objections and proposed a Scheme of alteration of the original Covenant. But the Commissioners insisted that the original purpose should not be compromised. An additional clause was added. Here is a photo of the Scheme with the new clause.

That needs to be remembered. SWT can only practice its kind of industry standard conservation as long as it refrains from conflicting with Clause 2, which it often comes  very close to doing. They know this but prefer to harrass, mislead and even intimidate people with officious notices.

Whenever I see new notices being installed by SWT offending against my recreational enjoyment I will draw attention to this. The truth is that SRWT (SWT) choose not to observe the priority of recreation and pretends it does not apply. It will only get away with it if nobody challenges them. Then they will have achieved their Anschluss

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Feelers Put Out

"It is felt ......." the passive voice is a giveaway. Another is "It is considered that.....". Those who have put out their feelers (or antennae) will be alert and listening out for phrases  like these. Who's doing this 'feeling' anyway? Using them is a signal that the writer is on unsure ground.

Is that why we find so many of them in SRWT's draft plan?

Designations and Annexations

To read what the conservation people say you would think that the designations of SSSI, SPA and SAC were all that mattered. They are wrong. The chief designation of the public property of Blacka is the injunction in the Graves Covenant stipulating that the site is here for public recreation.

The draft management plan, out for comments at the moment, invokes all of these initials as if they had some credibility. They don't, but a declining number of people are aware of this due to the determined propagandising of SRWT and its muddying of waters.

The draft plan constantly calls Blacka 'the reserve' an attempt to indoctrinate gullible readers. This and the constant reference to designations amounts to an attempt at annexation and should be resisted. They are a business and they have their branding and marketing strategies which are a much greater priority than any respect for the site and its users. Typical is this, under Designations and Policy Context:

"The reserve is designated as part of the Eastern Peak District Moors Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), notified in 1986 under section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (amended), and last revised in 1999. This designation was made in recognition of the Moor’s special interest for breeding birds, upland vegetation, lower plants, invertebrates and geological features. The Eastern Moors upland breeding bird assemblage is of great regional importance and contributes significantly to the national and international importance of the South Pennines (see above for species of particular importance). The condition of the site’s heathland is currently assessed ‘unfavourable, recovering’ due to the introduction of conservation grazing and birch and bracken control."
Sheffield City Council does not do anything like a passable job in protecting its public land on behalf of the public and failed to serve its citizens when these annexations took place. None of the designations, SSSI, SAC, SPA was put out to consultation with the people of Sheffield and the regular users of the site, as should have happened. Until there has been a genuine consensus built on meaningful consultation members of the public may feel that the designations referred to in this section are illegitimate and that the public may be justified in being sceptical about them and even consider ignoring any quoted injunctions. The fact is that in ascribing these designations to Blacka SCC’s officers and its elected members had their eye off the ball. A large area was established on the map by an office boy with a map at what was then English Nature. He thought he might as well take the line a bit further to go round Blacka with no knowledge of the covenant on the land and its governing document. To him it just sort of looked neater.

Another of these that gets quoted is the Special Protection Area This relates to a large area mostly not typical of Blacka and without its charitable status. Most of the birds mentioned in this section are not seen on Blacka. The designation was a job lot which enclosed Blacka with other places because it too looked tidy on the map. SRWT says:

"The condition of the site's heathland is currently assessed ‘unfavourable, recovering' due to the introduction of conservation grazing and birch and bracken control"

The nonsense of Natural England's assessments brings more ridicule to bear on the conservation industry. And it’s well deserved. All you need to do to make get 'recovering' status is to write a plan in an office then find a farmer to cover the land with cowpats!! It is standard within NE that they label an area as recovering as soon as someone writes a management plan; they don't actually need to do anything. Though the system is so discredited that they might claim a site is more natural when £20k is spent on barbed wire fencing. None of these designations were raised for public consultation and no notifications were posted on Blacka. Natural England or Unnatural England? How did the custodianship of nature get into the hands of people who sanction these industrial grade fortifications? Among those at the top of NE are farmers and business people for whom land is there to be exploited.

Roe Deer, Dormice and Over Management

From  the most recent of  the long series of fascinating articles by Mark Fisher of the Wildland Research Institute.

 We don’t manage landscapes for wild deer
Over-hunting led to roe deer becoming scarce in England in Medieval times, becoming extinct in central and southern England and all of Wales by 1700 (7). However, after 1800, several reintroductions from Scotland into Dorset, Sussex and East Anglia, coupled with natural spread into northern England, has reinstated roe deer in most counties. As with all species that are able to thrive in spite of us, we control them through culling – an estimated 350,000 deer are killed each year (8,9) but I can’t tell you how many of those are roe deer as there is no official count. The common dormouse is also a relatively common and widespread species across the middle latitudes of continental Europe (10). However, in England, it is confined to southern counties when its distribution would have covered most of England (11). In retrospect, I wish I had not alighted on the dormouse as an example, since efforts to maintain and increase its range smack very heavily of the over-management paradigm, the dream constellation for the conservation industry of a cute animal because it tucks its tail over its face as it rolls tightly into a ball when it is hibernating for half the year, or when in daily torpor during spring and early summer, and the prescription that it does better in coppiced woods and with artificial nest boxes (12).
The coppicing is a bit of a logical fallacy, justified on the basis of feeding habits: dormice are specialist feeders in that they require a wide variety of arboreal foods including flowers (nectar and pollen), fruits (berries and nuts) and some insects, their food supply thus depending over the summer months on a succession of fruiting trees and shrubs (13). This implies a woodland with a high diversity of tree types and a species-rich understorey that is not shaded-out by taller trees that would inhibit flowering and fruiting. Dormice do not normally travel far from their nest, usually less than 70m, but they avoid activity on the ground, preferring to move among trees having plenty of near horizontal branches, and being able to climb between the understorey and canopy without difficulty in what have been called “three dimensional arboreal routes” and which offer visual protection from predators (13). You might then wonder how that fits with the twin obsessions of the conservation industry of grazing and coppicing woodland. The grazing will just clear out all that understory, whereas the coppicing destroys vertical and horizontal structure. I have only once seen recognition that coppicing is devastating to the dispersal ability of the dormouse (14):
“Large-scale coppicing renders extensive areas unusable for up to five years by creating open ground which the animals are reluctant to cross. Depending on the pattern of felling coupes, on small sites this can act as a barrier to Dormice reaching potentially important food resources. This can put pressure on individuals and reduce a population to vulnerable levels”

Full article here

Countering Boredom

Snow brings a taste of the wild. It transforms all we can see and reminds us that a part of us craves for a more primitive corner of our world. Snow is the antithesis of everything controlling. Did the recent heavy snowfall respond to a bullet point in SRWT's new management plan?

Are we really so addicted to the routines of modern living? Novelty obsessions soon turn stale.

A beautifully written article in the New York Times:

It sums up many of the reasons why I criticise the control freakery of the local conservation industry.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Corporate Spin

The Wildlife Trusts have become a huge organisation and like all such spend a disproportionate amount of their time and budget on business strategy and public relations. For those who say each of the 47  trusts is independent then to satisfy me they would have to point out numerous radically different approaches to managing similar situations. So unlikely that no time should be wasted on it. SRWT's  project of getting their Blacka management plan approved has been carefully worked out to provide as little chance as possible of their being swayed from the path chosen long ago. The choosing of public engagement rather than consultation, the refusal to hold public meetings at which they would need to respond to challenges, and the concoction of an enormous draft management plan that nobody would have time to digest before commenting, are all part of this project. It will go before a single Sheffield City Council Officer (who may have the option of working for the local wildlife trust in the future) who will then summarise it for the Cabinet Member of the current administration who will certainly not read it all, never mind the comments and responses.

Wading through this intentionally dense and impenetrable document and absorbing the style, the impression is of something that's half management plan and 50% corporate spin.

"What about all the errors and crucial omissions?" you may ask. Of no significance at all. It will all be approved on the basis of its weight of words, accurate or not.

Friday, 23 January 2015


Many people, perhaps most, when asked, would prefer a 'proper summer' and a 'proper winter'. Part of that scenario would be serious snow in January. Blacka has had a taste of that lately and it doesn't get it every year even at this altitude. The prettiness and the otherness of snow appeals to our romantic and aesthetic senses.

For some of the residents that entails a desperate struggle. Two robins came searching for me at 8.15 diving at my supply of cheese before I could get the lid off the box. We were a hundred yards from the wall caff, the normal feeding station. The resident crow had been calling at me earlier than that. Others were waiting anxiously but more patiently. Concentration could not be faulted.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Every Branch Big With It

There's nothing, absolutely nothing, as fine as walking through woods like these after heavy snow. The title of Hardy's poem is Snow in the Suburbs but woods that have regained a sense of wildness are even better. Stillness was the key ingredient. Coming together: heavy snow, no wind, no frost, no thaw, and only animal footprints. All in careful balance and we have storyland scenes. A shaft or two of sunlight is the only thing that could possibly improve it. No man had a hand in this.

This woodland is at an altutude where we find little comparable woodland. It should therefore have special protection and be left to its own devices.

This is exactly the scene described by locals as 'Narnian' and until two years ago had a suitable wardrobe-like entrance, now opened out in the name of biodiversity - that word again and it conceals a multitude of sins - but once the tempting entrance to a secret world.

The marvellous other-world that we have here is another reason why we need woodland at higher altitudes. There's not enough of it. We're fairly well served for ancient woodland in lower parts of Sheffield but new woodland at higher levels is needed. Answer: less management.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


An email today from SWT reminding us that comments on their DRAFT plan are to be in by the 31st January.

It’s proving a test of stamina to read, and respond to, SRWT’s draft management plan before 31st January but I’ve made a start. A DRAFT response, at least the first part of one. Probably to be added to later. I’m keeping my powder dry for now as publishing it now means that slavish supporters of SWT associated with the industry and disguised SWT personnel will get the chance to say the opposite anonymously thereby statistically cancelling out my response. A classic ploy and a parasitic one. It’s a sign of desperation that they will sink that low. But it’s what we expect from this source.

Nevertheless here’s the (DRAFT) beginning:


Before commenting on the details of the plan some important things need to be said.

Much of the difficulty here stems from the relation between Sheffield City Council and SWT (Sheffield Wildlife Trust) now SRWT (Sheffield and Rotherham WT). The Council is a public body and there is an expectation on officers to deal openly with citizens, to be transparent, to respond properly to requests for information and to be subject to complaints procedures if necessary. That is not so with SRWT and local people have very good cause over the years to mistrust what they are told by the organisation. Sheffield CC has some kind of monitoring procedure that is meant to safeguard the interests of the public in public land but that seems very inadequate and in the hands of a delegated officer who may at some point in the future be found to be working for a conservation charity like SRWT; this is not fanciful: several Parks and Countryside officers from SCC have made the move. Those who are up to date in national affairs will see this as comparable to HMRC staff finding themselves working for PWC.

Consequently we keep coming upon parts of the narrative of this plan that need to be questioned and challenged. The points at issue  occur where there’s an attempt to give unsubstantiated justification for what is in the interests of the wildlife trust and its staff. Rarely is proper evidence provided and those facts which are omitted and others that are wrong induce many suspicions of other statements. In other words the wildlife trust is in a similar position to other private suppliers of services to the council: citizens, however determinedly they try to engage, can have no reliance on the statements given by wildlife trust officers whose first duty is to the interests of their organisation and through that their jobs. Several local people who put in a lot of their own unpaid time in early consultations gave up because of lack of trust. One comment, sadly typical: “It becomes stressful. You can’t go on for ever telling people they are not being honest.” (vocabulary slightly adjusted)

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Feasting on the Dawn

One of the loveliest sunrises this morning. This is one of the best times of year for morning views, even better after a fresh snowfall. It's best to watch the  progress from first light to full blazing orange and gold.

Getting there is the problem. The Streets Ahead billions have transformed our street from a rough, potholed, but negotiable uphill cul-de-sac to new smooth tarmac that is treacherous whenever there's ice around. If you get to the top other roads are normal apart from having to cope with morning rush traffic, every vehicle driven by someone trying to catch up after oversleeping.

The murmurating daws were active along Ringinglow Road about half an hour before sunrise,

Snow can even flatter a refuse dump so here things can be special.

Paths through the woods with fallen trees and glows from the east making patches of exotic colour on the floor, eyes were fully satisfied.

If we could just mute the traffic noise perfection wouldn't be far away.

Monday, 19 January 2015


I've never liked this word, nor any of the others concocted by adding -ees on the end. SRWT and its allies don't like anything at all to do with consultation. It strikes terror into their hearts. So much so that they spend vast resources in defending themselves against its feared harvest of criticism.

They have now proposed a new consultation method. Frankly they might just as well give up altogether. They've made the process so unsatisfactory not to say depressing for anyone who has tried to engage with them that it would be more honest not to do it at all. They dismiss serious points and go their own way.

Here's one permanent user who knows more about Blacka than everyone at SWT. They don't even know she exists. Not on the list of consultees or stakeholders. She just happens to live here without being part of the economy. Anyway she's not a dendrophobe, an essential qualification for local conservation consultees.

Late Delivery

Christmas cards are still coming.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

"Judge Us in 85 Years"

More about the D(R)AFT plan.

Aim 1. Return woodland areas of the reserve (excepting wet woodland) to upland oak/birch woodland with by 2100.


Translation. In the light of ‘minimal interference’ we know that people don’t like all this tree destruction but meet us on site in 2100 and we’ll show you why it was worth it

At the current rate SRWT will have produced enough pages of B******t by 2100 to fill most of the libraries in Britain. Some of them may even by then have visited Blacka a couple of times, at least jumped out of the car to pin a new notice on the gate or even walked along the track 100 yards to take a photograph - if it's a fine day that is.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Rationalising the Vista

Rationalisation is a term in psychiatry meaning the concealment of your true motivation by making your actions seem more acceptable. It's largely concerned with areas of thinking on the border of the subconscious. I mention this because there's a lot of it going on in the draft management plan of SRWT. Reasons are given for plans that are in fact phoney grounds and not the primary motive at all. There's a lot of it.

One already discussed is the claim that they are right to stop nature being allowed to do what it wishes on a nature reserve because bad men in raincoats might be hiding behind trees ready to jump out shouting "Boo" at any passing women. (Try looking up the word dendrophobia.) Disbelief followed by hilarity was the reaction of several women I know who heard this. The true motivation was always known. Fighting nature with cows and fences provides much more opportunity for managers to manage and make a career out of it.

Another interesting bit of rationalising concerns views. Blacka looks out over parts of Sheffield and north eastern Derbyshire. The story told by SRWT is that without the constant war on nature, with chain saws and barbed wire and cattle grazing these views would be lost. This is nonsense but some might find it plausible. The inference they want us to make is that only cows or sheep can keep views from disappearing.

We know they are committed to cows and sheep and the substantial grants that come with them so they would want us to think that. I find that when you put it to people with all the factors explained they say they would prefer it to be as natural as possible and accept that more trees would eventually spread. But they would also like to come across open spaces that can be quite small every so often. Suddenly emerging into a space from where you see a distant view is much more enjoyable than being unnaturally open all the time with largely monoculture vegetation around you. The problem with the conservation industry is that they are all or nothing. A huge area has to be set aside for their heathland fetish and cows, sheep, fences and all the rest that goes with them. The simple way of doing things won't do.
What's that?
Well you set up a default of nature going its own way. Then you make exceptions in carefully chosen parts. Every two years a team roots up small trees in one of these limited areas before they become fully established to maintain some openness in otherwise wooded and natural landscapes; that's done after consultation and with intelligent judgement, of which, I admit, there's not much to be seen.

But of course we should always hope that nature is self regulating. What about the influence of wild animals such as deer? The management mafia is so inconsistent that at one time they warn us that deer might become so numerous that they need managing (aka shooting) while at other times they say grazing animals (like deer) are needed to stop too many trees growing.

Winter Wear

Keeping your neck warm is crucial if you want the blood to flow freely to your head. Expect more brain activity from those wearing scarves. Lots of choice for men at M&S and John Lewis, but better if you can grow your own. Hinds also have more neck covering at this time of year but stags' needs must be greater. Why unless the antlers make more demands; that's unlikely since they grow in summer. Surely not extra brainwork from a male?

That also needs a lot of rest, and sometimes you can see where it takes place.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Interpretation/Indoctrination/Education ...

... a sort of variant of Tony Blair.

At least it shows a greater vocabulary.

Now we are to have more and more pedantic stuff from SRWT consistent with their determination to interpret everything to serve their own purposes. According to their plan (past posts passim) they are intent on overwhelming us with even more propaganda. A new supa-dupa board is due to be installed at Compost Fortress to tell us all about the spiffingly wonderful work they are doing. Will it have interactive displays and flashing lights? Possibly but it's a certainty that it will extol the virtues of more and more management, more and more farming and more and more cow crap.

In fact it's due to replace the Compost Corner facility altogether for the reason that the elegant structure is useless. SWT never tried to use it properly and it's doubtful they knew how. This has been a joke for years but also seriously symbolic of SWT's approach and working practices. We learned later that on the strength of this edifice and similar succesful constructions, SWT were setting up to run practical classes in country crafts charging something like £80 a day. It brings a tear  to the eyes each time we walk past it. Originally the uprights were much higher and even SWT was embarrassed after it became subject to much mockery; they then sawed off a couple of feet from each post making it slightly less prominent. At one RAG meeting a suggestion was made that battlements might be incorporated into the design in recognition of it dominating the view from most parts of Blacka.  On another occasion a notice was found attached to the board announcing that it had won an award from the Royal Society of British Architects. It was a spoof but at least one local walker was initially taken in by it.

Now it will go. Unless English Heritage steps in before it's too late. I hope that the regulars will be given notice of the date of its demolition. A ceremony with a rendition of  the Last Post could be arranged.

But what about this new high-spec notice board that's planned? However many times SWT hears people tell them that we don't want marketing and information boards they insist on going ahead. There is an organisational compulsion to evangelise and it seems to matter not that they do it without sensitivity or elegance.

They even claim that this satisfies the criteria of the Sheffield Moors Partnership to minimise visual pollution because it restricts such interpretative panels to site entrances. Come again? SMP is supposed to bring harmony across different organisations. Well it may be the entrance to land managed by SWT but all the land around is SMP land and there is supposed to be a seamless transition from one to to others. To the right is land managed by EMP to the left land managed by SRWT. Does the change have to be shouted at us?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Taking on the Dog Walkers

SRWT’s new DRAFT Management Plan ratchets up further the anti-dog walker stance. I predicted this would happen years ago when they took over the site and decided to use it for farming management (which they deviously call conservation.)

The main result of this will be that we will have more and more obtrusive self-important notices stuck up around Blacka, something that's become a major irritant in recent months.  What must it be like in their Stafford Road offices? A4 busybody notices everywhere I guess: Please wash up your own coffee mugs! Only use approved recycled stationery! It is the duty of all staff to keep the photocopy area tidy!

Here it's all justified as 'interpretation'; that's conservation-speak for propaganda, sometimes flatteringly described as 'education'. Isn't that just what we come here for - sanctimonious instruction forced upon us as if we're still at school? There's truly no end to the small-mindedness of these unimaginative managers forcing their one-sided view on us all.

Notices will mean nothing to those dog walkers who have been using Blacka for their activities (exercise for themselves and their pets) for many years and they will have some pretty sound arguments on their side.

I would be an unlikely campaigner on behalf of dog walkers but I don't like duplicity and I don't like managers constantly hectoring us with office notices stuck up at the entrances to land they claim is 'wild'  (for heaven's sake).

It's up to dog walkers to speak up against what this wildlife trust plans to do but here are some thoughts:

I suggest they respond in writing to SRWT and tell them, politely, to get s*****d, perhaps helpfully pointing out the contact details of a good taxidermist. They should then contact their local councillors.

The very least that the public should expect is that those working for the public should not go back on their word. Duplicity is not a nice thing.
Some more points I think are relevant:

1 When SWT was worried about lack of popularity and the huge and growing support for a petition against their management of the moor their Chief Executive appeared before a Council scrutiny committee and gave total assurance that SWT had no objection to dog walking off the lead. He made this unqualified.

2 During consultation with the Countryside Agency at the time of the CROW act leaflets*** were published insisting that whatever people were doing before the act would be unaffected by the new law. People have been walking dogs the way they do here for as long as the site has been public land. Public recreation of this kind is enshrined in the Graves Covenant. The most loyal lovers of Blacka should therefore not be hindered or harrassed. So references to the CRoW Act, to Public Rights of Way, Access Land and 'designation', in relation to dog walking are irrelevant. It is incompetence on the part of SRWT not to be aware of this;  I should add also on the part of some of the single interest groups who campaign for access: they have been responsible for some of the muddying of waters in respect of rights and access.

3 The dog walking issue has a special role in the differences between SWT and the regular users who have for long been the major interest group. Unlike horse riders, bikers, bird watchers and the conservation functionaries who organise, evangelise and champion their respective causes, the dog walkers themselves are more laid back and not given to fighting for their rights. Until, that is,  they see injustice whereupon they become a serious headache for officialdom in any form.

4 The petition organised in 2006 was against the change to the wording of the original Graves Covenant which pointed to public recreation as the primary purpose of Blacka. The Charity Commission had serious doubts about Blacka's being managed for conservation purposes and took a long time to agree to it . Officers in the city council eventually persuaded the CC to agree that conservation could be one of the management objectives but as a safeguard a clause was inserted to the effect that in any conflict between conservation and recreation it was to be recreation that would prevail. And to be very clear, local people walking with their dogs has been consistently over a very long period the most characteristic recreation pursuit on Blacka. Every month of the year. For decades at least before any mountain bike appeared here and well before horse riding became as prominent as it is now.

5 Following on from 4 above it is therefore to be understood that conservation is only to be allowed here by special consent and on condition that it does not undermine the prime purpose of recreation. As dog walking has traditionally been a major recreation activity here, perhaps the major one, it must be obvious that no conservation objective should put difficulties in the way of dog walking.

6 The idea that ground nesting birds should receive special protection assumes we all agree that managers should artificially maintain most of the land as a treeless zone completely against the will of nature and attractive to only a specified range of wildlife. Ground nesting birds are a problematic obsession for an organisation that calls itself a wildlife trust and claims to value the 'wilderness' feel of Blacka. These birds should be subject to the conditions that all wildlife is vulnerable to. The supposed 'iconic' ground nesting bird of the moors is the red grouse. It is only through persecution of predators over many generations that grouse have been encouraged to breed on these moors in the numbers they do. And we all know what happens to them afterwards. They are featherbedded with artificial habitats tailored to their needs and any potential natural threats trapped, poisoned or otherwise 'humanely' excluded so the birds are in good condition for the gun, and then the table.  Pet dogs are pretty inefficient predators and most can't compete with the natural and native predators that land managers persecute. Even here, in what they are pleased to call a nature reserve, the new management plan is suggesting that it will 'humanely' cleanse the area of foxes!! - is this just to meet some disputable and arguably bogus biodiversity target??

7 To say that dog walking outside the bird nesting season can go on as before is no concession at all. Firstly it is not in SRWTs power to make any concession. Dog walkers consider they have a right. And 1st March to 31st July is 5 months, hardly a short period in the year, and the most popular period of all for visits.

8 Dog walkers have traditionally been looked down upon by some other groups who generalise from one or two experiences in a way they would not accept regarding other activities. They do not seem to allow that dog walkers have a very important role in public land that is not duplicated by any other group. They typically visit regularly and therefore see things not seen by others. Their eyes on the site are a safeguard and they should not be discouraged.

9 The repeated references to conservation designations will not go down well with those of us who have known Blacka and its neighbouring land. These designations, SSSI, SPA, SCA and now Nature Improvement Areas were imposed from above in an undemocratic way often with no consultation with the public. Even when English Nature/Natural England contacted the local authority requesting public consultation this did not happen. Some might think it's a case of 'No consultation - No compliance'. I could not easily argue with that.
From this authoritative public leaflet distributed in 2000.

The beginning of the second paragraph is the important one: " As explained earlier none of this restricts what people already do with their dogs by right, permission or tolerance".  For many years, certainly long before SWT arrived on the scene, dog walking has been tolerated and permitted by those responsible for managing and by the charitable trustees. Indeed when notices appeared in spring on neighbouring moorland none appeared here. There were  none of those "Get a Grip" and warnings about lambs and ground nesting birds. Because managers recognised this as an area of recreation.

Definition Please!

Memo to the local conservation industry.

Please define a 'feeling of wilderness and open country' and 'wild and open'.

Could one get this 'feeling' in a supermarket car park?

Definition of wilderness - the free dictionary:
A large tract of land that has not been significantly affected by human activities.

Antonym:  Land that is managed by humans?
Such as with farm animals, fences, farm subsidies, tree cutting, spraying etc.?

Definition of 'feeling' anyone?
fanciful sensation?
misguided idea?
imaginary impression?

Magic Words: Biodiversity and Humane

When you see land managers using the words biodiversity or humane, stop, think and wave your antennae about. They are regularly used by those who want to avoid detailed scrutiny of their plans.

Humane is such a benign word but is often found  preceding those other less obviously benign words 'killing' or 'shooting'; but be wary of finding it used in phrases like humane management.

Badgers have received notice that they will be dealt with humanely (via 'sharpshooters') and the latest animals to be reassured by this word are wild boars in and around the Forest of Dean. The humane humans who've long been itching for an excuse to get out their firearms are now in opportunist mode after a fatal road accident on the M4. Now's our chance, they say.

Deer and foxes learned long ago that humans speak with forked tongues. Management is not something  they welcome. Those who play God are not their friends. Now SRWT is flagging up a humane solution to foxes. And what could possibly justify that? Yes, you must have guessed it. Biodiversity.

It's the fetishising of ground-nesting birds combined with an obsessive compulsion to manage everything that leads to this playing God with the landscape, selecting which things should live and which are expendable. They are much closer than they would like us to think to the grouse shooting industry and some of its gamekeepers.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Living with the Barbarians

They're everywhere those who put their own selfish needs before those of wildlife. Wildlife in this country has no sanctuary and must find it own way of accommodating to the ever present Philistine.

Each one of them approached the fence and hesitated, weighing up the risk. Then stepped through. Only one leaped over.

Do they tell this to the pensioners they doorstep for a membership fee?

Glaring Omissions

Yet more on the SRWT draft plan. I really would rather not do this but duty calls:

If this was a concise document omissions might be excusable. But the decision was taken to make this a huge document and we know why. They believe that in the eyes of simple people – or busy people who can’t find the time to read it - that weight of words brings respect and credibility. To some of us who know the site and have been with the history of SWTs involvement for many years it just exposes them to more questions. The more pages are written the more doubtful statements are made. But even more significant is that after going over the top in quantity important and highly relevant things are actually missed out. Why are some things left out?

For two reasons:
1) Those writing the plan just don’t know as much about the site as they would like us to think, and 2) Because there are some things they would prefer not to acknowledge.


1    No mention of the changes made to the Graves Covenant. After considerable pressure from SWT and officers friendly to them in Sheffield Council the Charity Commission, following long deliberation and many misgivings, allowed SCC to give a lease to SWT for Blacka. This meant a change to the original clauses of the covenant which set public recreation as the chief purpose of the management. They now included another objective, that of conservation, which would allow the wildlife trust to have a role here. But the CC insisted that a key safeguard should be inserted to the effect that in the event of a conflict between recreation and conservation it would be recreation that should prevail.

2    The text of the management plan describes a number of basic features of the site such as infrastructure. It claims that the electricity power line that used to run across the centre of Blacka is still there. This was taken down several years ago after being first raised at a RAG meeting by members of Friends of Blacka Moor. The then manager at SWT was not particularly interested and wanted to talk about something else,but eventually wanted to claim credit after the public saw the immense improvement to the views! Is it just typical SWT sloppiness that its 'comprehensive' description of the state of Blacka is written by someone who doesn't know about this?

3    Roe deer are not even mentioned in the wildlife of Blacka yet are some of the most delightful wild residents!!! Clearly not as important as sheep to a wildlife trust!!! What use is something that brings no money, no grants or subsidies?

Australian Influence

Among the deer presently appearing on Blacka is a couple who've been watching You Tube movies from Australia.

Anything the Aussies can do ..

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Oh, Yes? 2

Comments, selected from the public engagement via post it notes or anonymous online contributions.

Possibly the most egregious:
As a regular member of the RAG I also think that too much consideration, time and credibility has at times been given to individual views or those purporting to represent an interest group. When actually it seems fairly obvious they are one person’s somewhat unscientific views and campaign against any form of conservation management.
SWT's iniquitous response:
We have had several comments in relation to this and so the draft plan proposes some alternative engagement approaches for the future.
Who wrote this comment? We don't know and we can't make them accountable for this comment. My guess would be a SRWT staff member. Otherwise I have a list of 6 people who have links to SRWT as employees in the conservation and national park industry trustees or friends who are unprincipled enough to write this.They are not independent. I specially like 'somewhat unscientific' Can we automatically assume that this commenter's views are approved by the whole 'scientific' community? Without transparency and without accountability we just have to assume this unattributed comment is egregious. It's just what the doctor ordered for  SRWT because it leads them to justify the failure to consult the public.

As for ' too much consideration, time and credibility has at times been given to individual views' that can only be those of SWT managers whose tactics for dealing with those wanting to discuss important matters were usually to talk on and on endlessly about trivial matters in the hope that there would be no time left for serious scrutiny.

But enough. Just mentioning it threatens to give playground tactics credibility it does not deserve.

Oh, Yes? 1

Highlighting some of those things in the reported comments from the Blacka public engagement:

"We want Blacka Moor to basically remain a wild area with minimum interference from man."

SWT/SRWT's response:

Unfortunately, there are very few truly wild areas left in Britain but the aim of the draft plan is to retain the feeling of wilderness and open country at Blacka Moor. If Blacka is to remain as it is, ‘a wild area’ with open views and heathland, this will involve some human intervention. Whilst we aim to keep this to a minimum there are management activities proposed in the draft plan. These activities also aim to meet the legal requirements for the site because it is a protected site of European importance for its birds and habitats and of national importance as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

 Yawn, yawn


For enthusiasts and sales reps of the stuff.

Arguably in any new stakeholder forum that might eventually emerge, alongside the equestrians and the 2 wheelers and the farmer should be the suppliers of fencing materials. The economy is such an important reason for doing anything these days. Come to think of it, however, it's the stake that's holding the wire, not the other way round.

Close observation of the above picture reveals that this animal is in the frame, and, as yesterday, remains insouciant. It's a day of rest is it not? And that means a lie-in.

Well, no that would not suit George Osborne for whom the economy, 24/7, is all. Those days are gone when Sunday was a special day, and the stag and I are set to become a distant memory of another way of living.

"Please Love Me"

There's a story about a sad postman who has no friends and never gets letters. He becomes so jealous of those whose letters he delivers that he steals some of their letters and writes letters to himself.*  This was before the age of social media. It came to mind when reading another document associated with SRWT's management plan, a report on comments made in their dodgy public engagement events.

Some of the comments reported are so obviously written by SRWT people themselves that you wonder yet again at their failure to see they will be found out. It's another example of the survival of the school playground in the practices of local conservation charities.

They've made this easy by making all comments anonymous. And that's even easier with an online consultation when one person can make many comments; they don't even need a pseudonym. They have form on this.

I think you're doing a great job. Keep it up

Common practice in the advertising industry for many many years. Why should the conservation industry be any different?

Says Mrs D. of Parkhead. " My life has changed since I started to use the new Blacka. I would never have thought that barbed wire and cowpats could make such a difference. My thanks go out to all the wonderful people at Stafford Road"

* May be by the wonderful children's author, Joan Aiken. ( Actually she also wrote much excellent adult fiction)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Threat of Minimalism

Always we have to remember that the landscape managers must have their landscape to manage and that they cannot allow anyone to get away with suggesting that landscape should be left to its own natural salvation. Nature is the enemy and without the all powerful manager all is disaster. That is why the SRWT is really the SRAWT the Sheffield and Rotherham Anti-Wildlife Trust. And that is why a disproportionate amount of office time is spent by wildlife trust employees in trying to find reasons for stopping natural processes and very little on protecting nature. It sounds perverse and it is perverse but so much resource is put into propaganda that a surprising number of gullible people are taken in by it.

We've discovered from their DAFT management plan that the key statement in the 2006 Vision has been changed from the simplicity of Wild with Minimal Interference to something much more ambivalent:
A feeling of wildness, with minimal interference; there will be as little management as possible, but as much as required to realise the vision.
The document then goes on to describe page after page of projects to interfere in innumerable ways that change the character of Blacka. In every way they can they look out for ways of interfering because that is what they do. Time and again they identify natural regeneration as a threat - to views, to archaeology, to women's safety.  They make the most they can of the scope it offers for management - normally an excuse for attacking the natural regeneration of wildlife, ie the trees and the bracken which from autumn through winter is one of the most beautiful sights on Blacka.

Wild Views and Open??

This promises to be tedious but it has to be done to stand up to the bureaucratic vested interests represented by SWT's (SRWT's) ghastly daft DRAFT plan. More will follow but the first to be put up for examination here is Section 6.3.4     My inserted comment highlighted so.

6.3.4 Habitats, vistas and views The impression of wilderness, freedom and adventure provided by the mixture of open space, dense woodland, deep hidden valleys and unmarked paths, is a significant part of the attraction that Blacka Moor has for its visitors (see the Vision at the beginning of the management plan). During the most recent public consultation (autumn 2014) reserve users again affirmed their support for the site to be kept ‘as it is now’, listing the mosaic of habitats, rough paths and tracks and views over, and out from, the site over the city, as features integral to their enjoyment.

SWT is again telling us that people want what they want and they have lied about this before.
We know that  their survey was corrupt because it was anonymous. At the only meeting I attended there were more people from SWT and other conservation groups than independent members of the public. I know - I asked for a raising of hands. It was easy for anyone from SWT to submit multiple responses to their online survey and they themselves assessed the answers received. They have a reputation for this kind of fraud. Even then 'as it is now' can be interpreted many ways.

The shift from moorland to woodland over parts of the reserve has caused concern amongst some users. Many walkers, particularly women who visit the reserve alone or in female-only groups, value the open areas of the reserve, which offer good visibility and so feel unthreatening to explore. Although the risk of assault in country areas is significantly less than in urban ones, many surveys have shown that fear of attack inhibits some women from exploring rural areas generally, and woodlands in particular. Several current reserve users have stated that they plan their routes to incorporate as much of the open areas as possible, and actively avoid more enclosed areas.

Hard to believe they are still making themselves ridiculous by using this desperate argument about women and open areas. What about these 'many surveys' that never get referenced when this daft argument comes up? And these 'many women'? Has this any more force than my saying that many women I know tell me this is nonsense - because that is exactly what I hear. SWT staff should grow up and not use this absurdity to justify what they want to do. Does this anyway get cancelled out by those who fear cows, that cause more deaths in Britain than wolves across the whole of Europe?

Management of the reserve will therefore:

Protect and conserve the ‘wild and natural’ landscape and open views of the nature reserve.

This will involve the active control of birch and bracken on the heathland as these have been identified as elements that detract from people’s enjoyment of the reserve – birch because it blocks open views and vistas and gives a feeling of enclosure, and bracken because it displaces more attractive and wildlife-rich habitat, blocks paths and is unpleasant to walk through.

You absolutely cannot conserve a wild and natural landscape by cutting down and poisoning native wildlife. People who say this cannot expect their word to be trusted on anything. 
As for the weasel words "have been identified" !! By whom for G's sake? This ghastly document is littered with examples of attempts to mislead by using unspecific and unreferenced claims to justify a policy that is being undertaken for other reasons than those stated. The kind of thing is "many women" say, "many walkers".... "many surveys"...... Somewhere I'll soon find "It's widely believed that"...., and "It is acknowledged that"....  

The Essence

Essentially SWT (now SRWT) is about people wanting to pursue a career in land management and looking around for land  to manage. The draft management plan presently in draft form and out for responses encapsulates this, well hardly succinctly because it's too drawn out, but in one place. It's about making a case for intervention in a largish land area when many would say let's allow nature to go its own way.

The way they go about it is really quite straightforward. A decision is made that they wish to create as much opportunity for intervention as possible and they then look around for as many justifications as possible. What's wrong with this? The problem is that it's entirely the opposite process to what should really be happening. An honest approach would start with nature and accept that a default of no intervention should apply. Only in extreme situations with wide consultation should anyone try to fight natural processes. To them this is identified as a threat to their careers.


Unfortunately it's not possible to avoid commenting on the wildlife trust's dreadful management plan draft. It's not much fun to read about it and it's even less fun to write about it. But they've set a deadline of the end of this month and there's a lot of it, nearly all highly questionable. If it goes ahead in this form it will be very bad for those things I and others have particularly loved about Blacka over the years. Comments made here will be put towards a response. Please contact me if you have anything to say.

This means there will be less time to devote to wildlife etc. This is the progressively corrosive effect of bureaucracy.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Feeling the Draft

SWT's (now SRWT's) Draft Management Plan  - link here.

There are other works of fantasy fiction out there but few that are so blinkered. The text is littered with errors, guesswork, half truths, managers' wishful thinking, devious motivations and and misinterpretations (just a start); that's the positive. Negatively there are the glaring omissions. In all this it encapsulates much that our fourteen years experience of SWT has already told us about them and their agenda.

Anyone determined to read and comment - and the interminable length is enough to put most people off ** - would be advised to approach it keeping in mind the wise question, "why would it serve their interests to say that?"

From the Draft Plan it's hard not to deduce that this is an organisation with little interest in wildlife but a great deal in finding opportunities for grant funded management activities.

** Not just the length which could be reduced by 70%. The file on the website has changed since being first published. I downloaded a copy to print off some pages and then found that the original had been altered and with different numbering. This was in the section that SWT had requested special attention to and which had been referred to in the email sent out with wrong numbers. Just a mistake? - heard so often before that it's become expected. Calculation or incompetence? Either is in their interest. Making it difficult for the public to read and comment only makes their own jobs easier if we give up and do something more rewarding. Most people have heard of confusion marketing. This is confusion management, or confusion consultation.

Heard at the staff meeting: " I know let's just pretend we're useless and often get things wrong" After all it's not hard to believe is it?


This morning the two were happily sharing space. Would that humans could do this. Two species but both females.

But differences showed once my species turned up. Roe must be the most easily startled animal on the moor.

The hind moved downhill at a steady pace while the doe shot off at great speed. The usual white to the rear.

The hind found some more typical company.

A nearby stag preferred his own company and saw no reason to get out of bed


The previous post was obviously written in a moment of weakness. Further readings from the Draft Management Plan for Blacka reveal that SWT are far from earning absolution.

This document is so shameless it could come from only one source. The subtitle could be Doar's Revenge. Yes, still around and no change.

It's instructive to ponder that the subject of this blog, so confined  as Blacka and minor in the scheme of things, can throw up so much iniquity. A naive everyman might well wonder: if it's like this here, then what must the rest of the world be like? Best not ask.

The question has to be: Is it worth wasting time and energy on this? Others decided long ago that once it became clear just what the outfit here was like they would no longer even visit a place they had previously loved.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Signs of Change?

If so it's probably only minor and the least one could expect. But we should encourage it.

Following my comments on damage to the woodland by mountain bikers, and the traditional absence of SWT staff from Blacka over holiday periods, the new SWT manager has turned up at the weekend and confronted those making a downhill bike trail.

Well it's a beginning and there's a long way to go. Friends of Blacka will I believe play their part if a proper process of consultation is begun. But it's hard to see how the fundamental issues can be resolved without much more concession from SWT - now SRWT.

Dear January

The first month of the year is probably most people's least dear, coming as it does after festivity and indulgence. It seems a long way to the summer holidays.

To see deer in the woods feels just right in January. It's necessary to remember that even to those of us who have spent a good part of our time over many years enjoying aspects of the countryside and its wildlife this is a comparatively new phenomenon. Real wildlife and large animals occupying the woods was not a feature of my walks until the last ten years.

This morning there was a large party of red deer comprising hinds and younger animals. Timid as they are it's still possible to get close to them with care.

Not so the roe deer which were not far off and quickly disappeared.

It needed extra persistence to get this close:

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


The annual seasonal photo shoot had to be postponed till the new year. Now, for the record, regulars at the Caff have condescended to pose on a frosty morning.