About us

Misty flowers on Popehouse Moor SSSI

The Wheatland Farm Story

This certificate is too darn big for a decent selfie!
We are Ian (Ripper), Maggie (Watson), and our two boys, George and Euan. We came to Wheatland Farm just before Christmas 2006.

Ian has over twenty five years of experience in sustainable tourism in the UK and around the world. His first award for sustainable travel was back in the 1990s, when the adventure travel company he co-owned (Guerba) won a prize for treating their climbing guides well. Ian says, “It was almost a bit embarrassing – were were just doing what was right and decent, and we were winning prizes for it”.

Since then of course sustainable tourism has come a long way, but there are still ‘mountains to climb’.

Ian spent many years travelling and working in Africa, but felt stuck in the office as a Guerba director. When the company was sold, he and Maggie decided to do something more hands on. At Wheatland Farm, Ian has taken the lead on pragmatic and incremental greening. He has installed solar hot water on all our holiday accommodation and managed our switch to becoming ‘better than carbon neutral’ with our 11kW turbine, solar panels and energy management measures. But most important of all, he’s built (almost single handedly) our ultra-low carbon eco lodge, Balebarn eco lodge. Once just an ugly tin-roofed cow shed it’s now a sleek and exclusive holiday rental accommodation built mostly from recycled materials (see more on our accommodation and blog pages).

Maggie is a professional ecologist and science communicator, and Wheatland Farm fulfils her wish to do something tangible for UK conservation. She started her career studying marine protected area management in Kenya, then worked for the World Fish Centre in the Caribbean. There, she became disillusioned with science when she was told not to comment about a damaging airport extension being built without any environmental controls. Ignoring that edict, she and friends managed to leverage £500,000 for silt control on the project (and the chief engineer married the main activist – it could have been a Hollywood story line….).

Convinced that we already know a lot of environmental science but don’t apply nearly enough of it, Maggie returned to the UK and worked for the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC’s) communications team, where she and colleagues published an award-winning quarterly magazine and championed ‘science in plain language’.

NERC is the organisation that administers government spending (your tax money) on UK environmental science, and at the time the budget was £350 million a year. Yet even with all the knowledge that investment was bringing, personal action remained thin on the ground. Despite an early career spent in overseas conservation, Maggie was very aware that much was going wrong in our own back yards, with farmland wildlife particularly hard hit in recent decades.

So combining Ian’s tourism skills with Maggie’s ecology knowledge seemed a natural next step. They bought Wheatland Farm, a small patch of Devon farmland with an important but rather neglected Site of Special Scientific Interest. The aim has always been to turn farming the land ‘for wildlife’ into a financially viable proposition. Maggie says, “It’s about building a sustainable tourism business out of a natural asset, rather than trying to ‘green’ an existing outfit. It has never been primarily about profit, and that’s a subtly different starting point from most green holiday outfits.

“And making this conservation work viable is  where you come into our story.

“Yes, we farm the land with traditionally-managed livestock, but it’s your stay that really funds Wheatland Farm. Most farmers we know rely pretty heavily on agricultural subsidies. We get a bit of help from the government’s Higher Level Stewardship scheme (it’s bought gates, paid for hedges to be laid, and an orchard to be replanted), but we’d still be here without that help. Your holiday really does help pay to keep this part of Devon as lovely (more lovely even) than it was when you found it.”

Maggie also works as a freelance web editor, specialising in putting science stories into plain language, often for audiences in the developing world.

Wheatland Farm has won numerous awards, including the top award for sustainable tourism in England in 2012 and again in 2015 (the VisitEngland award for sustainable tourism). It also holds gold level approval from the Devon Wildlife Trust.

Ian and Maggie look forward to welcoming you to Wheatland Farm. Ian says, “We love to talk to people about what we’re doing. You don’t have to be interested of course – we’re certainly not banging on your door and lecturing – but we’re usually around and often have time to chat, whether it’s about wildlife, green building, energy management or whatever. And we hope you love this special place as much as we do!”

If you want to read the ongoing story of Wheatland Farm, check out our ‘buzz’ blog pages and Wheatland Farm on facebook.