Thursday, 29 December 2016

Unequal Companions

It's back to a kind of normal from winter on to see stags seeking companionship with fellow stags rather than with hinds and younger animals. The group yesterday was an interesting mixture, less often seen.

Neither of these two companions compared for size and maturity with the stag seen yesterday. But one was bigger than the other. It was the smaller one though who surprisingly had the better formed antlers.

There was another, sadder difference: only the smaller deer would have been able to run away.

The other was the stag referred to in this post, still getting about on three legs.

Finding Colour

Not a season for striking colours in nature compared with autumn and spring. But rising early brings spectacular sights on the right day.

Ground Frost

Plenty for the eye to feast on at ground level. Some oaks will shed no more leaves; fortunately some remain. Long may they survive.

Bracken again shows itself to be majestic in winter.

A privilege to be walking on a natural carpet like this.

And SWT's flagstones display stunning patterns in the frost. A pity they are potentially a lethal trap for anyone rash enough to walk on them.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

"Not My Department"

We're surely justified in asking how difficult is it to get things done?

For many many years it's been obvious and it's been raised with SWT and SCC that the car park on Hathersage Road needs a good deal of TLC. It doesn't get it and visitors because of this are actively discouraged. In poorish light or with a lightish snow cover the hazards are real. It's the most accessible route onto Blacka for the greatest number of people yet those who could do something simply "can't be arsed".  Recently the road maintenance contract with Amey and SCC resulted in Hathersage Road being resurfaced. Any half-decent management would have seized on the opportunity to get some improvement here. A £50 payment would have made a difference.
But guess what the attitude was?

Nothing to do wiv us guv.

The Appeal

The appeal of deer comes down to more than the Christmas card prettiness. Stags are commonplace on cards these days partly due to a confusion with reindeer - and it's worth looking at the antlers of various species;  sometimes we may wonder if the artist has actually looked at live animals. But our native deer are beautiful in their own right, so artists and photographers are understandably drawn to them.

One reason why bird watching is so popular is that birds are easier to see. Wild mammals, even where they exist, are elusive and attempts to find them can be disappointing; they often prefer to feed at night or in the half light at either end of day. In some cases this is instinctive to the particular animal and its relation with animal predators; in others it has been learned after thousands of years of hunting and persecution by humans, most mammals' greatest predator. This helps to explain why we see so few even of the smaller mammals, the coordinated attacks on them by gamekeepers, land managers and farmers.

When deer first returned to this land it was a major thrill for those who saw them. We had become used to seeing expanses of supposedly 'natural' land where significant and vital parts of the natural world were absent, as with trees; in fact the landscape had been carefully managed to be that way. Farm animals hardly provided a thrill despite the amusing efforts of some managers to whip up enthusiasm. When wild deer did return, eyes were opened and possibilities were discussed: shouldn't this be normal? Lifetimes of looking at very limited landscapes were suddenly put in perspective. It mattered a lot that this happened outside the scope of management. No forms had been filled in for subsidies before they were introduced; they came of their own free will.

But there are other aspects to the appeal. Despite their size they still remain elusive in an area like Blacka. This morning's view of a small group felt lucky once again due to arriving before sunrise. The three or four most often seen were supplemented by visitors from other parts including a large stag, a source of fascination to the youngest animal. The appeal is also linked to the knowledge that wild animals have a stake in this land which they have occupied over thousands of years way before land managers were ever thought of. They are here, or at least a few of them, each day, during cold nights like those we're getting now as well as spring and summer mornings. And look at their coats. No grooming could produce a cleaner look than the stag's backside!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Dark Days

Determined early risers don't see much on short days when clouds cover all. But slight movements suggest the presence of a few who are never far away, always close to the trees. This is their home in all conditions, wind, frost, worse: and even when we don't see them we know the place should be respected for their sake. Should be. Untamed nature gets harder to find so that it becomes a privilege to be part of it.

Is this a cry of protest or pain?

Back again even before sunrise, not that it would be noticed.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Do We Need a New Protected Areas Designation?

Many ordinary folk are familar with SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and some have heard of SAC (Special Area of Conservation) and even SPA (Special Protected Area). All these are administered and supposedly monitored by Natural England and DEFRA in the most opaque and bureaucratic, and I'm sure inefficient manner. A full list of all these ca be found here.

 I'm suggesting we need another one, namely SAD (Special Area of Devastation). This will be an overlapping designation. In other words it will be limited to areas that are allegedly protected such as SSSIs and SACs but are actually a total wreck either because they have been badly managed, inadequately monitored or wrongly chosen for their original designation in the first place.

This idea has been growing in my mind for many years during which I've watched the management of Blacka but I've now seen evidence that the problems are more widespread.

You can see it all on this webpage in which photos are shown of moorland in the north-east Peak District precise position not identified but can't be far from here. It's caused a minorTwitter storm. But it's hardly a surprise, surely, to those of us who know this area.

Everything starts with man determined to control nature.

Monday, 12 December 2016


Vested interests of the shooting industry contrive to keep too many deer in the Scottish Highlands and the pictures here reveal just how that prevents ecological restoration. It explains the lack of trees.

There are various ways the gamekeepers ensure a high stock of animals always to be available for the shooters including winter feeding. Similarly the over management for one species on grouse moors. Our small numbers of deer on and around Blacka have little impact. Here it's the imported sheep and cattle that are preventing restoration. Sheep numbers until recently were ridiculously high because of the way the subsidies worked. Even now there are just too many to allow a natural vegetation to develop. A more balanced vegetation will only come if we have more balanced wild animals and that means predators alongside the grazers and browsers.

Red deer spend much of their  time in small groups, or even solitary. But sometimes large numbers get together as in this picture. That seems to be mostly in open treeless landscapes. Why? Could it be that in woodland they are less exposed and don't feel the need for safety in numbers? There could be other explanations. Even an opposite one. Would they gather in this way if predators were a significant threat? Bring in the wolves and let's see!

Morning Light

All so keen to get to work on a Monday.


Sunday, 11 December 2016

Sun Day

Saturday was gloom all over at sunrise. 360 degrees cloud. Today was better. Some of us are so sceptical that we resemble primitive man: will the sun really rise again and if it does will it be on the opposite side to where we saw it last?

That sense of wonder and doubt is precious. Relations with natural world should be based on wonder and magic. Beauty must never be explained by a formula.

It's almost too easy now for those of us who chase the sunrise in May and August. But it's one thing where winter competes with the special pleasures of spring,  summer and autumn: sunrise comes when we are better able to view it. Within five minutes we can see the sun's first edging over the horizon to its full appearance.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Breaking Down

This is a good time for seeking out wood rot fungus. There are many varieties. Found on dead wood, they have the capacity to break down cellulose in the wood mostly via enzymes which they secrete. Some, like Honey Fungus, can attack living trees and are dreaded by keen gardeners. But in general they have a vital role in the natural world. A wet fallen branch or log is where we're most likely to find them.

This has been a good year for fungi and those we usually seek out in late summer and autumn have been easy to find. It's refreshing that it's not necessary to be an expert identifier to enjoy them, if you're not looking for edibles that is. Only the most specialised mycologists can cope with the majority of those found in the UK.

I've remarked before that local employees within the Sheffield Moors Partnership have been known to try to defend their absurd anti-tree/pro-sheep management of the 'inby land' here because, as they claim, the sheep and cow droppings help to produce a great variety of fungi and this is why that land is SSSI. The argument is nonsense. You don't need cow and sheep defecation to encourage mushrooms. I'm not the only one to have a lawn that is even now covered in fungi of various kinds

There are different fungi at the moment to those found a few weeks earlier. There's a specially dense group of Herald of Winter and several others. I walked along SWT's sheep enclosure the other day. After travelling some 20 times an equivalent length to my lawn I gave up looking for mushrooms. To give SSSI status at least partly for the fungi you might expect there to be thousands. But there were plenty of sheep droppings, all down to excellent management.

Needless to say no sheep or cows have ever been known to graze or defecate on my lawn.

The story told by SWT that you need sheep crap for fungi only breaks down even further any trust we can have in the managers here.

I'm still waiting for NE to write proposing to make my back garden a SSSI - and offer to pay me Higher Level Stewardship. There's certainly no earthly reason for wasting public money on Blacka's sheep dump.

Scrambled Thinking

Depressing tree-starved hillsides. And is the idea really that more heather would improve it?

It might be just what a motor cycle scrambler wants but is that what the rest of us want?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Good Question

One of the children on an event organised by the local managers asked a pertinent question. Not the sort that we would expect the managers to encourage.

Where would we be without trees? Yes. well, where?

Could we be standing on Bigmoor? Or Houndkirk? Or Burbage?  If things go on as they are even Blacka Moor? All substantially treeless, yet below the tree line and all the responsibility of Sheffield Moors Partnership which includes SWT, RSPB and NT.

Something will have to be done about children who ask such tricky questions. Such behaviour does not endear you to managers.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Making a Mark

Never underestimate the capacity of the undereducated to impose their own impoversished vision on our world.

In pretence of defending Blacka from fire and creating firebreaks they have imitated one of the grossest acts of insensitivity that grouse moor owners inflict on the landscape.

More farm machinery has been introduced  and used to cut a swathe into the heather making a delightful straight line scar across the hillside.

On the right morning, crisp and frosty,  it leaves a rigid straight white line along the side of Blacka Hill. So natural!

"We are the managers. We are important. We leave our mark."  To the tune of .... ? (open to suggestions)

Beyond Irony

It had, of course, been meant to be ironical. I had suggested that Sheffield Wildlife Trust might consider that National Tree Week would be a good time to bring out the chain-saws.

Truly, they never let you down.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Deer Numbers in Perspective

I took a look back at posts from this blog and it made me think:

                                  Young deer before dawn.

Does it give the impression that the numbers of deer on Blacka are much greater than they are? If so that's misleading. Numbers are actually small and you can walk here every day for a week and not see any. I'm careful to be here at the best time and I know where to look. But also it's tempting to post pictures when I do see them. That could make some think that there are obviously lots of them around and culling is a good idea. When I do see them they are usually the same five or six I've seen often before.

                                  Half an hour before sunrise
A good many comments from the more progressive conservationists focus on there being too many wild deer in British landscapes causing unnatural vegetation and stopping the regeneration of trees for example. It should be made clear that this applies to parts of Scotland not to most of Britain, around here for example. In the Peak District the problem with grazing animals relates only to sheep and cows. Scottish landowners and gamekeepers do all they can to encourage large numbers of deer and grouse so there will be lots of targets for stalkers and shooters. That creates an unbalanced and artificial kind of upland scenery, without trees and inhospitable to large varieties of wildlife some of which is actively persecuted by gamekeepers. The same happens on the grouse moors of northern England though deer are less common.

In the Eastern Moors area, including Blacka and Burbage, Sheffield Moors Partnership's attitude is different, but equally odd. They talk about 'cultural' and 'traditional' landscapes where sheep and cattle eat all before them and trees become a rare sight. The story is that they  like to maintain open views, but they rarely mention the farm subsidies. Trees are not welcome for reasons of ideology and doctrine which seeks to justify man's ongoing control over natural processes - in effect, farming. In this scenario deer are not welcome; tolerated maybe to an extent but an irritant at times when they don't do as they are told. Their independence -wilfulness (a word linked to wildness) - is inconvenient.

So those who want more trees in the landscape of Scotland are right to be concerned about the way the shooting industry keeps large numbers of deer on Scottish hills. On the Sheffield Moors perversely the conservation charities want to stop trees growing!! They cut them down and use cows and sheep as anti-tree warriors. They certainly can't complain there are too many deer even if numbers double, so long as they continue to use sheep and cows.

Estimates made suggest the whole area of Sheffield Moors has probably about 150 deer which is not a lot when you consider that there are some 2,500 hectares of land. One reason they tend to concentrate in one part of the whole Sheffield Moors expanse is due to management of the land in the past. There are ways of getting them to circulate more but it hardly looks to be a priority when cows are being brought in  doing a far more intensive wrecking job than the wild animals.

                                          Lame stag. See here.