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: