Friday, 30 September 2016

Sending Messages

On a recent trip to Bushy Park, one of the Royal Parks, near Hampton Court, I saw red deer lying relaxed by the roadside ignoring passing vehicles. I felt uncomfortable with this. The herd there has been managed for many years and the parkland has few features of natural or wild landscape.

Here, on Blacka, the deer shun people, see us as a potential threat and usually run off quickly. That feels right. Deer should be very wary and timid.

At this time of year when the blood is up stags are rather different. I've never known one to be aggressive towards me but this fellow wanted to communicate his feelings so I was treated to a stare and a healthy bellow. Just a message for me to pass on to any rivals I might see.

Some say that in Bushy Park stags can at times become aggressive towards people. That may be in part a consequence of them being enclosed and with no wilder vegetation to retire into. That does not apply here.

I would rather see one indistinctly among the trees and scrub than 50 wandering about semi-domesticated in a park.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

No Welcome for Trees

Marsden Moor is the most northerly part of the Peak District. There are some parallels and similarities with the Eastern Moors and Blacka. UnNatural England and the National Trust have been spending shedloads of public money on a project, part of their supposed 'restoring the uplands', devoted to managing purple moor-grass or molinia.  It's notable that trees form no part of their strategy. This picture, above, comes from their brochure and it shows that if any place in the country needs trees this must be it. Instead of restoring the uplands to what would fit in with what nature would give us they want to take it back to an unnatural appearance that is compatible with livestock farming therefore giving it a fair chance of getting some support from the NFU and the GWCT

The picture's from Twitter and there's some conversation about it here.

On asking why there were no plans to plant trees on this devastated landscape, in common with others,  I was referred to the National Trust's spiffingly glossy brochure, page 107. It told me that
"As a rule trees are not encouraged on the moorland plateau."

I asked further "What rule that was" and "Who was responsible for it". No individuals were identified though one might make a guess about certain organisations.

 Mowing Molinia on Marsden Moor

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Bog Delights

I can't remember that previous years gave us quite such attractive September appearances of the Bog Asphodel.

Like the Ballerina Waxcap the other day its survival was fortunate. That pretty thing was only just spared from the tyres of farm vehicles. This was within inches of the tramplings of cows; many failed to outlive the onslaught. As described many times all of this area was once a happy display of the flower. Today bovine needs take precedence.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Surviving Management

The number of unimaginable cockups committed by our anti-nature, desk-occupying conservation officials continues to escalate. To go through them all would risk bringing on serious depression and threaten our normal sanguine temperament pitching us into pessimism and negativity. But as Becket had it "You must go, on, I can't go on, I'll go on"

Of all the disasters resulting from Sheffield's handing over the management of Blacka to SRWT nothing beats its approach to the 85 acre treeless grassy sheep enclosure. Why sheep in the first place one might well ask? After all there's little disagreement (apart from within the self-interested farming industry) that sheep destroy nature - it's in their nature to do so.

Along with the spineless (un)Natural England they have gone through more mental contortions to justify disfiguring this land than the number of superfluous executive officers in SCC.

Such beauty as exists in this desolate space is testament to the resilience of nature and its capacity to fight human insistence on exploiting the land (Natural Capital anyone?).

One takes a deep breath before venturing onto the sheep-managed wasteland. Through the gates and trying to ignore the management notices. Trying also to rein in indignation at the amount of tax-payers' money that has gone into the construction of the barbed-wire topped stone wall (about £40k) to keep the woolly plague in. You make your way so carefully over the deep farm vehicle wheel ruts, through the turd-tonnage and up the severely compacted track made by the management  vehicles and look around with little confidence for fungi. Yes, this year there is one, just one, example of the Ballerina Waxcap mushroom resourcefully fruiting a few inches away from the vehicle tracks. It's doubtful that one in a hundred visitors would persist as we did to find this pretty example. I've never seen more than one in any year.

Is the effort and the journey through desolation and defecation worth it? I also looked for the red waxcaps seen in previous years. There were only a few, but kicked over and crapped over.

We must remember that these few mushrooms occupied perhaps two square metres of the sheep infested land. Overall the land is some 85 acres. They claim that sheep crap is vital for the existence of the fungi. I don't believe it. Any unmanaged grassland where the grass is kept fairly short produces a good variety of fungi including waxcaps including my own lawn, and they're a good deal more attractive than Blacka's grassland.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Where We Like to Tread

A perfect combination of nature and man (rather than 'management'). An informal path through a wild and wooded area.

I hesitate to add, but it needs saying:  as distinct from this, fine for those who're looking to break an ankle:

And this, good for those who like putting their foot in it:

And new this year, a perfect trap when wet or on frosty autumn and winter mornings.

All examples of misguided management intervention.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Watching Over Us?

Attending Sunday School in the 1940s and 50s children might have been given bookmarks illustrated with scenes from the bible. I was intrigued by those showing the Almighty looking down from beautiful cloud formations or glimpses through into scenes of paradise.

Not quite so spectacular but some may believe it significant that this morning's view eastwards showed almost unrelieved grey to the horizon: In just one place, 40+miles away, there was a rosy glow, the highest point between Blacka and the sea.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Events (Dear Boy)

It's surely better to get things right than get them wrong but that message fails to get through to SRWT and their fellow travellers.

Members of the public are seemingly underwhelmed by the prospect of finding out more about SRWT's management and understandably so. My informant tells me only two turned up and when she told them it was all a sham and left very early on only one was left. Doubtless they will strive to find a way of presenting it as a resounding success.

Star guest at their AGM who gave a talk was journalist on the Times Simon Barnes. Surely SRWT have not been around for that long. Still they've certainly got things wrong for 15 years.

An event on Friday was planned to celebrate the colour and fruit on Blacka.

It should have been a week or two earlier. By the time Friday came most of the spectacular colouring and berries had gone.

It's possible to learn something on trips outdoors but in SRWT's case that wouldn't be spelling.

Could be helpful to learn something about cameras and lighting too for the adults.

Friday, 23 September 2016


One solitary deer, a red deer hind, just where I was looking out for a roe deer. She had carefully chosen a spot where she could lie down with least chance of being seen while managing to enjoy the warmth of the morning sun after a chilly night.

In parts of Scotland deer have been encouraged to increase to provide target practice for shooters. This has affected the landscape and helped to create a treeless waste.Several hundred miles further south it is sheep and cows that destroy the wild vegetation along with the employers of outfits like wildlife trusts who make phony claims they are 'managing for wildlife' while they are actually managing for farming subsidies. This is so blatant, that they shoot deer to give their cows and sheep even more opportunity to graze. With such people wildlife comes a distant second to domestic farm animals.

We need to remember that when decent conservationists, who do exist,  say there are too many deer they are not referring to this area where there are actually not enough. And they have been a beautiful feature up until the time the local managers got busy. Now it is the farmlife that needs culling. Those who manage the land under the banner of Sheffield Moors Partnership cannot claim any true status as conservationists. They are land managers whose wish is always to control. Those deer shot by the Eastern Moors Partnership could have been encouraged to spread over a much wider area. I wonder how many have been killed this year. We've certainly seen very few around here.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

In the Dark.


Given their remarkable record of withholding information and managing public perceptions the latest tweet from SRWT is strikingly apt.

I'm still waiting to receive answers to my questions about their supposed 'public engagement'  group apparently known as a 'conservation group'. Kept in the dark indeed.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Lost and Now Found?

We should really go down on our knees and celebrate the conversion of those who have previously set their faces against the true path. Cynicism is not pretty and the bad guy in the bible story is the one who won't believe his brother's transformation.

Still the feeling persists that this could be a mere PR exercise, even responding to criticism arising from the current Flood Protection consultation. The wording is very PR sounding and carefully chosen.

Questions abound.

How large an area, what proportion of the moors and where exactly? It's notable that the planting  illustrated is close to some groups of trees already there. Meanwhile there are huge areas of the Eastern Moors where there are no trees at all. Would they be planning to reintroduce native trees there, a place crying out for ecological restoration? Somehow I doubt it.

Is this compatible with the sheep and cattle grazing that goes on or have they chosen a smallish area, off the beaten track, which they can give over to this to satisfy critics, leaving the largest section treeless and grazed by farm livestock?

Are they being open and transparent about this, and will they respond to questions and scrutiny?

But we must not be disbelievers. We must trust them. Why not?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Only Where Trees Grow

The Forestry Commission is promising an exceptionally colourful autumn and has been quoted in The Times.

Not much chance of exceptional colouring on the grazed and treeless moors.In common with other artificial landscapes they are one-trick ponies confined to late summer purple.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Under Foot

A good path is more than a route from here to there.


A lovely morning up here but mist over Chesterfield meant only the keenest eyes could make out the spire of St Mary and All Saints. An example of of a national treasure resulting from some botched workmanship?

Also partly hidden and rather closer are the buildings of King Ecqbert's School.

This much more recent building will never be an architectural treasure whatever its merits inside. It is one of the remaining blots on the landscape now reduced from three to two after the caravans have been removed from Whitelow Farm. Its crime is the unrelieved straightness of the profile and the distracting reflective quality of the roof. It simply does not fit in with its surroundings.

Lessons might be learned of natural architecture up here. 

Sphagnum moss is surely an inspiration for modernist schools of architecture, and, scaled up, great possibilities for fun for school pupils.

Other familiar sights on these mornings look for a different kind of perfection.

Meanwhile the avant garde shows another way.

A cool night, a bright morning, dew everywhere and spiders too.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Life and Death and Bracken

Bracken's dominance over certain parts of Blacka is undeniable but it declines rapidly after August, even part way through. That's because it stops growing. When it's actively growing it looks like this.

The vibrant green changes to a dark green once the growth halts ...............

.......and soon afterwards more obvious colour changes indicate that it is dying back.

Eventually this leads to bronzing, starting witha few plants and soon affecting all.

We then get the attractive golds and oranges that are welcome winter attractions when much else has lost its colour.

This notice shows that SRWT are once again treating Blacka as farm land or grouse moor land where only approved plants and trees are allowed to survive.

They can do this because they have found a way of accessing public money to do so. There are the usual phrases about 'precious heathland' and 'internationally threatened' (Putin gets everywhere these days) all contributing to a flaky justification for poisoning native plantlife on the part of a wildlife trust that claims they are protecting the wild character of the land! We're also familiar with statements to the effect that the Asulox spray 'is not usually harmful' (note the 'usually' - would that mean e.g. only 1 in 10 people?)

I saw two notices, one of which was actually inside the sheep enclosure. Approaching the spraying area from Blacka Hill  I saw no notice. Doubtless the soft fruit would have also received its share of the weedkiller

If you browse and eat as you walk you may not see the notice until too late. These are certainly not organic! And the spray will not have enhanced nutritional value.

The use of Asulam (Asulox is the brand name) is banned by the EU but Natural England has gained a special one year dispensation for 'Emergency' use under very strict conditions. It would be interesting to know the criteria for an emergency applied by the local NE branch to allow this.

There are clear directions for when and how you apply Asulam spray, available on the manufacturers website:
    "Asulox, they tell us, is not approved .... for application via weedwipers or driftsprayers"
As SRWT's notice tells us a tractor will be used and I guess that means a weedwiper.

    " Do not cut the bracken or admit livestock for at least 14 days after treatment"
Cows were wandering around not far from the sprayed area this morning. In previous years I've seen cows grazing in the precise area of spraying the same day.

     Spraying should be done when bracken is vigorously growing before senescence."Senescence in bracken can be identified with the start of the fronds turning darker green, becoming glossy and hard to the touch with subsequent bronzing"
Bracken on Blacka has been dark green and glossy for several weeks and showing clear signs of yellowing and bronzing. 

In all their management practices SRWT are going against the spirit of minimal management on a natural site where the default should be to allow natural processes to follow their own course. Persecuting trees, including mature birch, oak, holly and pine has allowed bracken to have a free run when the presence of these trees had been clearly demonstrated as controlling bracken naturally. This has been crazy intervention and inexcusable intrusion. They are correcting what they call an invasive species which they have themselves encouraged. The invasive species that we should be worried about here is man, in the form of obsessive management.

It also shows once again that SRWT and other local managers are little different in essentials to those who manage grouse moors for shooting. An interesting article from 2012 relates to Scotland but is worth reading as are the comments below:

Blacka Moor and Flood Protection

A major flood protection scheme is being developed by Sheffield City Council. A consultation is currently in progress. From past experience there's very little chance that the plans already hatched in the Town Hall will significantlt change after consulting. Another feature of Sheffield's consultations is the lack of suitable detailed information that's made available for the public to make a decent evaluation of proposals.

This issue was raised in December last year on this blog; and again in an open letter to leaders of political parties on Sheffield Council in January this year.

So how has the council responded? This link is to a document that is part of the consultation relating to the catchment area relevant to Blacka and surroundings:

The main theme of my comments was the contribution made to flooding in the lower land by the way that land is managed  in the hills. Bare treeless land like that on much of Blacka enables much more water to run off into streams and rivers lower down. Sheep grazing and the removal of mature and young trees by conservation charities funded by public money including agricultural subsidies are the motivation for this. In time a wilder landscape with more trees would help to moderate water flows where most rain falls.

I'm unable to attend any of the consultation events but can say that so far I've found nothing that even refers to the management of the hills despite this being mentioned not just here but in a previous Sheffield Waterways Strategy which mentioned "Management of the upland catchment .... to improve stormwater retention."

Once again a failure to address fundamental causes and develop a long term plan?

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Why Purple?

The crude artificiality of heather moorland which only exists because man farms the land is illustrated very well by this poster from Eastern Moors - you know, that organisation that said it valued wild landscapes.

What is wrong with the natural colouring of the local hills? That would be various shades of green throughout Spring and Summer, changing to a great range of colours including gold, yellows and bronze during Autumn. Trees are of course the natural vegetation of these moors and it's only been supplanted by heather following intense human activity dating back many hundreds of years and encouraged and managed by the grouse shooting interests.

Peculiar Row

The row about the National Trust and the Borrowdale farm will seem very odd to those of us who know what the NT is doing here. The arguments have been portrayed as being about the Trust wanting to rewild the landscape while sheep farmers (and the sainted Melvyn Bragg) want it to stay the same - i.e. sheep wrecked, because that kind of desolation is what they are familiar with - in other words 'heritage'.

The many comments that I've seen have been either from farmers and their supporters or from people who strongly support rewilding - seemingly a growing tendency. A fair sample of comments below the line can be viewed at this article.
Unfortunately rewilding is not what the NT wants to do. Their intentions may be to remove sheep from many hillsides but I very much doubt we'll be seeing lots more trees in the uplands of the lakes. Their work will be very interventionist and the stuff that makes conservationists secure in their jobs, not the wonderful self determination of nature that happened on Blacka before the wildlife trust got their hands on it. And will they be installing lots of fences, like they have on Houndkirk and Burbage and Wimble Holme Hill? If so maybe the Lakes lovers are less likely to be as supine as locals here.

Sunday, 4 September 2016


Yesterday's rain was still hanging around early on. A sharp shower took a few more leaves off one of the Rowans leaving little left but red berries. It could claim to have done its bit so might as well go into retirement for the closed season.

For the first time SRWT has had a go at the Himalayan Balsam, yanking it up and scattering it across the footpath. I first told them about it several years ago and told them again after their management plan implied there was none on site. Last year I pointed it out again and a not-very-serious effort was made to clear a few. The stimulus is as usual whether they've got a group of 'volunteers' and can't think of much else for them to do that's not too far from the car park.

Bracken clearance on paths is another example. It's little use clearing bracken at this time of year as the ferns are just about to die back of their own accord.

Also strimming or scything now leaves them looking particularly ugly along pathsides when this does not happen to the same extent in July or earlier - when it would be better for walkers anyway. If it's been left this late then should be left altogether and allow natural decay to do its job.

In previous years in late August they've sprayed bracken in larger stands. So what's happened this year? I've seen no notices though someone mentioned having seen a rather general poster message elsewhere. If they spray they should make it very clear indeed. But then this is SRWT.


A week has put a slight rosy glow on the Haws.

But this is one contest where Rowan beats its Hawthorn rival hands down.

This must be a cue for some Rowanberry Jelly making - a great success last year.

Already we've had Blackberry and Apple Pie.

And Lingonberry Preserve

Not, unfortunately, GMI Free (that stands for Guaranteed Management Intrusiveness Free) nor Organic as nobody knows what SRWT gets up to when our backs are turned.

Reminds us that years ago I put it to the SWT management that with less inflexibility and more cooperation from them the whole local community might be persuaded to engage in an annual Blacka Moor Food Fayre. Not enough farm subsidy money in it for them to even consider it.

Friday, 2 September 2016


Another marker on the way through summer and into autumn is the scorched bracken frond. The colder nights from mid-August on are deadly to exposed bracken, famed for its tenderness.

At the same time one notices the early morning intense activity of smaller birds while jackdaws re-establish the westward migration after roosting in Ecclesall Woods.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

High Woods

We're desperately short of high woodland. Nothing lower down quite matches it. And the best of it is on Blacka where you can still walk on paths minimally managed among trees that are not the result of human decisions. That is a prime commodity, as close to self determined nature as we might get and it teems with wildlife.

This strikes against the insistent dogma of those who constantly and publicly espouse the virtues of open landscapes. Whenever that word open is used it is a calculated shot fired against the obvious desire of people to have some landscapes where nature is not exploited or controlled. Managers love to exaggerate the appeal of treeless land. They talk about the empty moors as if they are essential to the character of the district. Never has there been a time in the past when the character of our whole landscape has been set in stone by people sitting around a table in offices and committee rooms. Not even one hill can escape. Control is everything.

The woods can sing of course.

Not this song but for some reason it keeps coming to mind.