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.

Campaign for Bare Hills?

Apparently it's National Parks Week. Time to think of responding to the Peak District National Park's consultation on its management plan; we've got to the end of the month.

There's some funny ideas in those who run the Campaign for National Parks. See this Twitter stuff:

Sunday, 23 July 2017


Not bubbles at all, but water droplets.

The overnight rain clears leaving a jewellery display.

A bit of sun adds more.


The "beautiful headland" of Beauchief stands proud in a scene that might have been much the same a thousand years ago. We would have to ignore the tower blocks.

Friday, 21 July 2017


Some of our best wild plants are unfairly maligned. Hogweed may not have the delicate beauty of cow parsley but it's not for that it gets treated with suspicion. Common hogweed suffers because of an association with the huge giant hogweed something that can give you a nasty rash. But the native common variety has many virtues. Insects love it and are often to be found on the delicate white florets.

Wild food enthusiasts also speak highly of the flavour of its young shoots and use the seeds in many ways in cooking.

Ragwort is another story. Its gorgeous yellow flowers are a treat to behold in July but it gets a bad press as being toxic to livestock especially horses. Consequently people are exhorted to destroy it and typically those parts of the media that thrive on scare stories spread alarm with shock headlines. Such was the alarm that a Ragwort Control Act was put in force in 2003 with a national code of practice devised for controlling ragwort.

More moderate voices, notably from the charity Buglife, and Friends of the Earth poured scepticism on the exaggerated stories. More recently officaldom has relented and moderated its stand. Buglife points also to the immense value the plants have for invertebrates, pointing out that many insect species rely entirely on ragwort.

Ragwort belongs to the enormous daisy family of plants along with orchids the largest in the world. Many of these are very similar especially yellow ones such that few people claim with certainty exactly which is which often having to resort to magnifying glasses and botanical keys. Still there's no doubt they add to the attractiveness of the wayside. They start with coltsfoot in March and then dandelions followed by many others that superficially resemble the dandelion.

Hogweed is a member of the carrot family helping to explain its being favoured by those who seek out free wild foods.

Another wild flower blooming now is yarrow and it seems to have no blots on its reputation. I had at one time thought the flower yarrow must belong in the carrot family alongside hogweed, cow parsley and other umbellifers, but is actually another member of the daisy family.

Yarrow's pure white flower head and feathery leaves have given it a place in folklore and there are romantic associations of a sprig of yarrow. Its virtues don't end there. According to Culpepper, yarrow...

'stays the shedding of hair, the head being bathed in a decoction of it ...... and the leaves chewed in the mouth eases the toothache.'

Managed for "Biodiversity"!

and compare:

All on the "nature reserve" of Blacka indicating the corruption of language and absence of thinking we come across here.


Various thistle family species are in flower and attracting insects. Burdock shows its bristly flower for quite a short time. It's still managed to attract this butterfly which looks to me to be the small skipper.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Good Crop

Rowan berries will be needed by wintering birds.

Some situated more in the sun are already nearly ripe.


Ferns and umbellifer plants unfurl their leaves and flowers creating fascinating forms. The angelica, an introduced plant, now a common wayside find, probably wins the gargoyle competition.

But of interest to cake decorators.

Rushing Things

The lynx is one of Britain's native animals that people have killed off in the past. It had a vital role in the balance of wildlife and ecosystems.

The idea that we should to reintroduce the eurasian lynx into parts of Britain is admirable but the problem is all about how to go about it. There have to be more in support where it matters or it will fail. This article expresses things well and explains why some of the conservation supporters have split from the Lynx Trust.

I believe that another group may be about to be formed, still in favour of reintroduction but committed to  tackling things in another way.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


In childhood play we called these soldier beetles "bloodsuckers"; all down to its colour of course. When we tried to tip one down the back of a friend's shirt we did not know that they were completely harmless. Our innocence was compromised.

The soldier beetle's innocence is not in question - unless someone discovers he has wealth salted away in a tax haven that is.

Skies are Everywhere

It's very tempting for those who hold a camera.

But beware that you're not justifying a boring, and boringly managed, landscape with an interesting sky.


Around the Fringes

Red coats now conspicuous. So keeping to the fringes means it's easy to withdraw.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Less Shy

Despite the grey, just a bit clearer today.

Strings Needed

Orpheus was famous for charming the wild animals with his music. Was this how he made his lyre?

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Bashing and Using

Those who enjoy bashing with a stick at the plentiful vegetation alongside paths often dish out the punishment on nettles, bracken, willow herb or even hogweed or bramble. There are plenty of all of these and they know how to spread.

The local deer have their own uses for bracken as a refuge from people and also perhaps dogs.

Goose grass is a resourceful plant with tiny white flowers. Its stickiness is valued by children but its real purpose is to allow it to grab a hold of these vigorous and robust weeds. Hitching a ride like this means it can reach the light without putting in the arduous effort of growing its own erect stems.


Lincoln has been retiring of late. Just visible sometimes with the naked eye, but those who don't know where to look, or whose sight is not so good, don't see it at all (and doubt that I can either). There's been a haziness even when the right conditions have been overhead here. Just to the north it's been clearer. A little better with more magnification.

Others prefer to stay concealed too, though forgetting that long ears are a giveaway.

Magnification helps here too.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017


The ideal spot for dancing butterflies is a sheltered but sunny space surrounded by native trees. Speckled wood and meadow brown were holding some kind of country dance event.