Monday, 18 September 2017

Early Birds

Sunrise at 06.44. The woods before that.

Birds were already calling out declaring their territories.

Feeding time comes a bit later when it's easier to see.

The nuthatch knows just where to hang out to be first in the queue.

Sunday, 17 September 2017


A mature stag wanders across speculatively. Perhaps hoping to come across females.

Disappointingly the only females in sight are these, and they are only welcomed by those making money out of them.

These days we see few larger stags compared to ten years ago and often wonder why. We do know that the wildlife trust have absolutely no interest in protecting them and are more likely to worry about the boring bovines. We also know that a number of local landowners like to use their guns.Very depressing thoughts.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Short of Glamour

Not likely to be ordered from the florist even as a contrast to spectacular blooms. These are the seasonal accompaniments to a typical mid September walk. And not without their own kind of appeal.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Perspectives on Grouse Shooting

A month ago an article was published in the Guardian written by that keen writer on birds, Mark Avery. Its purpose was to persuade readers that grouse shooting should be stopped and the evidence presented was, in my view, overwhelming. We've known it all for many a year, of course, but the subject has become more high profile in recent times, with petitions including one to parliament, revealing the depth of feeling across the country. There is no justification that shooters can come up with that even begins to deal with the case against driven grouse shooting; those attempted are so feeble as to be laughable.

What rarely gets mentioned in the debate and the arguments used when this issue is discussed is the role of the conservation industry, those heroic saviours of our wildlife and countryside. How often do you hear of the wildlife trusts' attitude to this so-called 'sport'? or the RSPB and the National Trust. Apart from the occasional brief and usually non-commital comment you will struggle in vain to find reference to the issue. Members of both RSPB and National Trust are less reticent and RSPB members are often well ahead of the charity's bosses encouraged by Avery as RSPB in exile; that led to an appearance before the parliamentary select committee of an RSPB man alongside Avery.

This is all very interesting but why is it that these charities hang back on this. You get an indication if you read one of the comments below the line of the Guardian article. That ruthlessly honest commenter on the management of our landscape, Mark Fisher, exposes the underlying anomalies and fault lines in the approach of Natural England and the designations it's responsible for that allows grouse moor owners to claim their 'sport'  benefits the landscape! I quote his comment here in full. If only there were more with his knowledge and integrity:

5 6
Grouse moors and their SPA/SAC nature designations are one of the more intractable issues when the nature conservationists of which you speak, laud them for sloppy peat and alleged avian, reptile and invertebrate diversity, require them to be actively managed, throw agri-environment funding at them, but mostly hold their noses over the disgusting slaughter of everything else that goes on there - and that includes the RSPB which routinely shoots foxes. Because of this unholy alliance of vested interest between nature conservationists and grouse moor owners, the latter get to assert that they are saviours of "biodiversity" in that they are fulfilling the management requirements of the nature conservationists who brag about the extent and importance of heather moorland compared to continental Europe. Its the perennial rolling of excrement in glitter.
About nine years ago, as part of the process for informing the uplands vision in Vital uplands: Natural England’s vision for the upland environment in 2060 various scenario workshops were carried out that looked at how the future might look in 2060, and carried out an initial assessment of the long term risks and opportunities that could influence the natural environment by 2060. Unusually, the production of Vital Uplands was a very inclusive consultation process, as were these scenario workshops, in that they had a broad spectrum of views rather than the usual input from vested interest. One of the more striking outcomes from the scenario spinning was that grouse shooting would be banned way before 2060. Unfortunately, you wont find the report documents of those scenarios, nor the Vital Uplands vision, as they were pulled a few years after their launch as the vested interests complained about them, essentially because they had not been given a veto over what they contained.
Think about what that says about the ability of public will in this country to have any influence on the future of its natural world. Why don't we have a system like that in France - Grenelle de l'environnement - which brings together all of civil society on an equal footing to set ambitious national goals in many areas: biodiversity, natural resources, climate change, relations between the environment and public health, and issues of "environmental governance" and "ecological democracy", all of which end up in a national implementation plan that has legislative support. The quaint British custom of petitions hardly seems to match up.

A resounding "Hear! Hear!"

Terns and Weeds

Two things today. What do they say about conservation?

A delightful story about the Leek-coloured Hawkweed, a flower thought to be globally extinct, but recently found to be growing in small colonies in Monsal Dale  and Chee Dale in the Peak.

Only the most enthusiastic of nature-lovers will claim to be confident in identifying the range of hawkweeds and near relatives. Most of us may love to see them but are shy of committing ourselves; we may even be happy with "a bit like a dandelion", there are so many broadly similar yellow flowers; in this case hundreds of species and 'microspecies'. And this one was only identified as a separate species 60 or so years ago.

So the news that there are people who dedicate at least part of their lives to spotting the differences is genuinely heartwarming.

BBC radio's Open Country programme featured the National Trust's recently purchased property on the Northumberland coast (£1.5 million). Here the Little Tern is protected from every known threat and watched over 24 hours a day by NT's volunteers because it can't look after itself. There are plans for rising tides, predators etc.

How far do we go? The hawkweed was simply 'found'.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Call ....

Food for thought in these short films showing that elements of wildness can be found in parts of the UK.

If we are simply looking for bits of magic in less controlled land then even on Blacka you don't have to walk very far to get a brief taste of what wildness has to offer.

Unfortunately we can't guarantee this will continue.

Even now SWT's managers may be planning the next round of chain saw operations.

What for some of us is the call of the wild is for others the compulsion to control.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Watching and Being Watched

The "overgrown" places are where some people want nature to be controlled. But they're often the richest in wildlife. It pays to keep looking, slowly move forward, then look again. We may not see it but there's always something watching us.

In this case the camera confirms what we only thought we saw. It certainly saw us.

Friday, 25 August 2017

How Wild?

Our friend with the orphean lyre headgear was watching this morning. He was on his own. This little scene says something about the quality and value of wildness on Blacka and elsewhere. Much of what's growing here is "overgrown", that is going its own way rather than being forced into a pattern prescribed by those who've never been here. The deep shrub layer and the spreading young trees look to be just the surroundings for a young deer, much more appropriate than short heather moorland. The natural beauty that we find here can never escape the influence of exploitation in the past but managed witha suitable light touch we could get a balance that satisfied all but the least flexible. That would mean a more open mind from the managers and one more engaged and  with more sensibility, so is sadly very unlikely.

But meanwhile there are still isolated views which show what can be achievedwith a wilding and partial wilding approach. Here that's likely to be unintentional on the part of the conservation charities whose failure to prioritise natural beauty over a dead handed biodiversity agenda diminishes our landscape experience.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Just Perfect

Those people who love to see our native deer can't wish for a better place to see them in natural surroundings than at Blacka Moor.

There's no shortage of managed deer parks often attached to stately homes where deer are semi domesticated. It's quite possible to see stags lying at the side of a road in such places as Hampton Court in London. They are of course fed in winter. To hear people talk of these animals as 'wild' is a travesty. Far away to the north of the comfortable surroundings of the home counties are the Scottish highlands. Many people see the deer on those mountains as being in natural surroundings. In fact they are just as managed, being kept in an artificially high numbers to serve the shooting industry. this results in an overgrazed landscape almost devoid of trees. It's possible to see deer in absurdly large herds; at that level numbers destroy the natural ecology and lacks visual appeal.

Our good fortune at Blacka has led to us seeing deer just occasionally perhaps and in small numbers. Any talk of 'damage' is nonsense when put alongside the impact of farm animals. And we just need to see them to know that this is how we should experience wildlife. The beauty can stop you short.

The spots on the back of the young deer have faded and are now barely visible even to those who can get close up. But the intense affection of the hind remains, the calf sometimes backing away from the nuzzling. This scene needs the trees and scrubby surroundings yet it's comparatively rare to see photos like this. Like the deer themselves the vegetation has not been managed. This is as close to  real experience of wild nature as we are lucky enough to get.

Our young Orphean lyre stag is not far from the hind and calf.

Thursday, 17 August 2017


The floor level of this woodland is densely crowded with bramble and various ferns and others. This makes great shelter for wildlife, rarely seen but sometimes heard.

During and after rain it becomes even more private and impenetrable. Just the ticket for animals seeking refuge.

This morning the sound was a desperate scuttling as something was trying to escape. My guess was a roe deer or two, unseen in the very deep bottom layer leading into the rhododendron. It was confirmed shortly afterwards by a group of prints, one of which was tiny.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Tweed Lobby

As expected, in the days leading up to 12th August the grouse lobby floods the media with phoney nonsense in press releases. They tell everyone that shooting grouse is the very best thing we can possibly do for wildlife in the uplands.

But this is more fun:

Monday, 7 August 2017

Return of the Wild

Slowly the pine marten is returning to parts of the country where it was previously wiped out.

Now let's have them in South Yorkshire.

Thursday, 3 August 2017


.. but threatening. Some of the loveliest fresh green summer views come in the intervals between downpours.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Well-Earned Embarrassment

I wasn't involved in the consultations around the National Trust's management plan for its High Peak Estate. But I'm sure it was tackled in much the same way as that for the Eastern Moors run by the partnership of the NT and the RSPB and also that for the Sheffield Moors Partnership.

So  for that reason I have no sympathy with all those managers and others responsible for the mess they are in regarding grouse shooting on the High Peak moors. They deserve their embarrassment.

All the key decisions will have been taken at private meetings of people employed as public servants, the main elements carefully crafted to get difficult issues sidestepped before the *glossy brochure*. That was to be presented for approval by the national park's to those in political committees with a duty to say it should go ahead. These managers would not accept that there could be another perspective that needed to be worked through before any plan was to be sanctioned with a legal agreement lasting decades. They came before the public, or the small number who knew that some process was afoot, with their plan fully formed convinced that they could contrive to push it through with just a few minor adjustments to demonstrate they were "listening".

And there were reasons why this manipulation was necessary. Not just the large funding arrangements that needed to be sorted out with DEFRA, but the fact that all this land had already been designated in various ways with an absolute minimum of public involvement, if that is there was any at all. Those designations include Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation. All these pre-ordained classifications are just the job for taking away any influence the public can have even in public land. Until an upsurge comes along in the form of justified indignation such as the petition against grouse shooting. Hence the embarrassment.

Sheep Fallout

Natural England, the Peak National Park Authority and the various conservation industry institutions join with sheep farming interests to discourage dog walking in the Eastern Moors and generally across the uplands of Britain. Sheep farmers of course don't like dogs, other peoples' dogs that is. Extravagant claims have been made for the biodiversity and landscape values of sheep grazing though in more recent years these have been muted among sections of the conservation lobby who have tended to prefer cattle as supposedly beneficial herbivores (while shooting those entirely natural herbivores, wild deer!)

I've sometimes wondered what an entirely independent and impartial study would make of these supposed benefits compared to a situation where all farm animals were to be withdrawn and dog walkers were no longer discouraged. What would the land look like after a few years of this? I've already posted a photo comparison taken during just one year but that was short term. Nobody from the wildlife trust has tried to answer this nor produce for a sceptical public any detailed report showing the ecological or landscape benefits displayed by their grazing management over more than ten years.

This blog has consistently supported the rights of people to walk with their dogs on Blacka which is designated recreation land. That's not without occasional reservations regarding certain individuals but those isolated incidents have to be set against the institutional damage done by self-interested and sometimes self-righteous officialdom.

Let's look at some of that damage done by those in managerial capacity here.The walling and fencing across what was previously a fairly open landscape has been on a scale more like fortification than boundaries. And done badly with discarded materials left around that could easily harm wildlife.

This coil of wire still remains. There was a lot more some of which was eventually cleared away after complaints but only months later. It's obvious that the standard here is what we might expect to see on some of the more carelessly managed farmland of which there is plenty in the national park. 

The bridleway traversing the sheep enclosure inevitably gets used by farm vehicles but other tracks have appeared with no right of way status of which this is the most notable, one I warned was developing many years ago; needless to say I was ignored.

This is in addition to the relentless cropping of the sheep themselves which deals with almost all wildflowers that would grow here. In fairness I did find one or two harebells this time and even one hare running off, not bad for 80 acres of a nature reserve. The other things that seem to grow beyond sheep cropping level are rushes in the wettest parts, some coarser grasses they will be grateful for in winter and thistles.

As the wildlife trust have taken against wildflowers here it's hardly a surprise that the one flowering plant that has survived the depredations of sheep is now being targeted by weedkiller. Not to go further than just mention the encouragement of their partners in the RSPB/NT in shooting red deer (they have the cheek to complain when a dog chases deer), nor the lovely cow defecation around the gates and on paths, nor the destruction of native trees.

When all this is added together where does the potential damage of a dog walker stand on a site set aside for public recreation, or the very occasional use of the land by silent model glider enthusiasts?


Seeing rosebay willowherb in bright low sunlight it's easy to see how it got its name of fireweed. The common flower is a very early coloniser of burnt sites and became noted in London's bombsites after the blitz of WW2. It's also called fireweed in America where it is quick to appear after forest fires.

But the official name here serves to remind us that it's just one member of the willowherb family, probably the most successful though smaller members are not so conspicuous.

Rosebay is instantly recognisable with its flowers on spikes each one having larger petals at the top and the leaves arranged spirally.

Also along the track is a small patch of broadleaved willowherb, equally tall, but less extrovert,  more gentle.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

National Trust Members: Time to Speak Out

A petition is due to be presented to the National Trust's Midland Director at Kedleston Hall today. This is after the following advertisement was published.  Many members of the National Trust who value wildlife in our uplands will be reconsidering their membership.

There is no doubt that grouse shooting in Britain has been responsible for serious wildlife crime. It is not simply that the killing of birds for pleasure is an outrage. Many other native wild animals from hen harriers and other birds of prey to mountain hares, are routinely targeted by gamekeepers who believe the remoteness of their workplace means they can't be found out.

I wonder what kind of partners they are seeking. Of course there is form in the RSPB who partner the NT in the Eastern Moors. They are responsible for the killing of foxes and red deer despite grazing themselves with cattle and sheep to bring in farm subsidies. But will even the RSPB find this

But what can you expect of those who think this kind of landscape worth preserving?

An update on this issue can be found here:

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Picture Tells Story

This one tells a story that should shame Peak District land managers.

At the top a treeless hillside devoid of interest.

In the foreground also treeless an ugly scar, a straight line cut across what's already an affront to the landscape, deliberately kept free from the complexityof nature and artificially reduced to a limited selection of vegetation that conforms to the prescription defined by the words "good agricultural condition".

A central section where nature has been left alone much preferred by the local wildlife just visible at the edge. In this large area that's the only bit with any decent wildlife and landscape value.

What do they have against trees?

Friday, 28 July 2017

Nobody's Lane

The top track that runs along between Blacka and that part of Totley Moor to the west is well used  by walkers, bikers and horse riders and is used by the vehicle of the grazier who owns the livestock. No grazing happens on that section of the moor to the right of the picture (west) or the track itself however, meaning that what grows on and to the west is not influenced by SWT's or Eastern Moors' intrusive grazing regimes (both use cattle and sheep). So the absence of farming means we get scattered trees, deep shrubs and, fringing the track, various wayside flowers that attract butterflies and other insects giving it a more interesting character than where the livestock are kept.

It's not strictly within Blacka's boundary but it's worth a few words because some people never go further than along here - not least certain senior officers of certain conservation organisations!

The track is straight but care needs to be taken as it's rough and stony in places; this must be the result of some pretty careless work when it was originally laid many years ago indicating that sloppy management is not just a recent phenomenon. Inevitably water drains across the track and there are two places where we often  need to divert to the side in order to avoid it going over the top of boots.

Nobody takes responsibility for this track, presumably because the likely authorities or organisations, SCC, PDNPA. DCC, SWT, RSPB, NT and any other combination of letters, can't be bothered. Possibly they fear having to cough up funds to make repairs, or being liable for any accidents. But it's not credible that SCC should be able to shrug off responsibility seeing that it must have helped to lay the track in order to give vehicle access to its land. Attempts to find out have come up against blank looks as stony as the track itself. The wildlife trust claims to have tried but my guess is they just gave up too easily - probably accepting without argument such excuses as SCC officers have given me, i.e. that all their stuff before a certain date has been archived in some inaccessible basement. They shouldn't get away with that.

Some drainage has gone on in the past and a ditch runs alongside the track part of the way. Much of that part is fairly wet with a thriving area of marsh orchid and ragged robin amid the rushes. To either side there are common flowering plants giving plenty of interest.

Rather common plants but such a variety as we see less often than when I was a boy. Certainly not the kind of variety that you might find anywhere within the bounds of Blacka's grazing enclosures. And we might come across something a bit special like this among the thistles and docks and willow herbs:

- the seeded head of a marsh orchid.

And over the wall various tree species are present alongside the rhododendron, including beech, ash, oak, birch, pine and willow. Some of these have sent their seeds out over the track and onto the previously treeless area beyond, making even more interest to the benefit of numerous birds.

This growing wilder area is a delightful confirmation of the benefit of hands-off management and puts to shame the sheep-wrecked hillside beyond. It's a treat to see a young oak growing expansively here, currently favoured by small bird families of whitethroat, stonechat and various warblers.

The view is much improved by the spread of trees but, of course, as usual with the local management mafiosi, we have to be aware of doctrinaire commitments to "openness" that can lead to sudden incursions of chain-saws outside the bird breeding season; all can change in an hour when they sense a feeling of power.

It's not unknown for people to claim to visit Blacka who've never stepped foot on it. They will likely be those who get this far, having negotiated the rough parts of the bridleway to see the end of the woodland opening out to reveal extensive views to the east and south.

The track follows the typical pattern of lanes used by vehicles with bare lines where wheels have crushed the life out of the ground

.........  and a central reserve occupied here by couch grass, clover and plantain.

 It's to either side that more interesting things happen. Summer afternoons are when butterflies and numerous other insects can be found here attracted by the flowering thistles, ragwort, willow herb sundry umbellifers etc. This is also a good place to linger after a night's rainfall and enjoy the effect on the tall grasses.

Will a time come when such unmanaged tracks start to lose their essential character perhaps, when weedkillers have been overused and more places start to look like the edges of golf courses while conservation workers nervous of letting nature get on with things go over the top by spreading wild flowers seeds? Let's hope not.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017


Enchanter's nightshade, in the darkest parts of the woods and hardly noticed.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The Cow and the Stag

Looking at my recent rant about cows on Blacka I've decided it was intemperate yet still can't regret a word of it (apart from a missing capital letter).

It beggars belief that there are those who see these animals as having a place on land supposedly set aside for nature and wildlife -while all around we can see under-used farmland. If you particularly like cows then there's a plentiful supply of them all over Peak District's farmland. And given the scale of funding that has been used (public money) shouldn't we ask why a similar or greater sum should not have been put towards ensuring that real wildlife has a home here unhindered by farm management? Because we know that wildlife flourishes greater where there's no farming agenda getting in the way.

I'm reminded that I've not been seeing the majestic stags that I was seeing a few years ago - animals that had made their home here and which were undoubtedly the sort of animal that should be here. of course there are people with guns around and the RSPB, allies of the wildlife trust, have killed some for reasons I've never understood. The really big animal here was an inspiring sight in the dim light of early morning more than a year ago. What, I wonder, has happened to him? Shouldn't this be a regular sight that a wildlife trust does all it can to encourage instead of occupying Blacka with dull-witted farm cows?

I've used this quote before from the famous Victorian naturalist and columnist on The Times, Richard Jefferies.

The land is his, and the hills, the sweet streams, and rocky glens. He is infinitely more natural than the cattle and sheep that have strayed into his domains. For some inexplicable reason, although they too are in reality natural, when he is present they look as if they had been put there and were kept there by artificial means. They do not, as painters say, shade in with the colours and shápe of the landscape. He is as natural as an oak, or a fern, or a rock itself. He is earth-born— autochthon—and holds possession by descent. Utterly scorning control, the walls and hedges are nothing to him.—he roams where he chooses, as fancy leads
In this continued rant I am particularly intolerant of the behaviour of certain groups who give tacit or active support to this discredited management simply in order to get favours for their chosen activity. They know who they are and they doubtless think they are being clever in forwarding their own single interests by giving support. Some of the comments I have heard have been beyond parody in their sycophancy from a position of ignorance of an organisation that scarcely achieves adolescence. We know how this is received. It leads to gross complacency through absence of scrutiny.

Monday, 24 July 2017


Usually it's the deer that get blamed for damaging young trees.

Hit Out of the Park.

This major controversy is going on not far away in the Peak Park but resonates more widely as a national issue.  How much will it figure in the responses to the National Parks' draft management plan?

Bored and Boring

These cows should be given compassonate leave. They're obviously miserable. They stand around without being able to think of anything to do. We know they shouldn't be here. After all this is supposed to be a nature reserve and these are farm livestock. Anyway who wants to see such depressing looking creatures obviously from over-exploited stock with no minds of their own. A nature reserve should be, well, natural, with wildlife that you wouldn't normally see on a farm, animals that are alert and independent intent on survival.

Centuries of breeding have created these dull-witted animals that can't think for themselves being totally dependent on humans, lumpish and vacuous. Could anyone imagine a fox, a badger, weasel, deer etc, with such a dim expressionless face? Nobody's saying that they don't have a place somewhere, and there are fields all over the country, thousands of them dominating the countryside where you might say they look as if they belong. There's enough, more than, countryside for cows and sheep. Here's one place we had the chance to reserve somewhere for the animals that lived here before they came.

So why are they here? The answer is money, money again. Someone in the cash strapped conservation industry has worked out that if they forget the fact that this place is supposed to be for people and wildlife they can call it agricultural land and rake in farm subsidies. And they have also worked out that with a bit of imagination - not much is needed - they can persuade the most gullible sections of the local community - plenty of these -  that the cows serve some sort of useful purpose; nonsense of course but we live in an age when confidence trickery abounds. The effort needed for anyone of average thinking power to believe this is considerable so the success depends on the people being either lazy or far too busy to have time to work out what's going on. And the piles of public money necessary to service this cow regime must astonish anyone who does work it out. And all for beasts that shouldn't be here at all!


So why do things like this happen? Why are there so many cock-ups in Britain? A recent newspaper article pointed to the answer: from large-scale projects down, there is simply not enough deliberation; things happen with minimal scrutiny.