Land management and conservation, March 2016

Woodpile at Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges

Wheatland Farm is a conservation project in action. Our land management happens all year round, so while there should always be something lovely to look at, sometimes there’s something going on that looks a bit more messy, or even destructive. But it’s happening for a reason. Here’s a bit more about what we’re doing this month and why it helps to manage our Devon farm for wildlife.




What? Putting up a new owl box

Where? In the eco lodge field, on the south side

Why?

Barn owl box  at Wheatland Farm eco lodges This replaces an older box that rotted away. We hope we’ll get barn owls, but if we don’t maybe a tawny will take up residence next year (it’s a bit late for tawny owls this year – they nest early). Or maybe we’ll just get a family of stock doves! We know barn owls nest of a neighbouring farm, but they need a good year and a rising population to expand to a new nesting site, and sadly those have been few and far between recently. Wet winters are not the best news for barn owls.







What? Pollarding ash trees

Where? The east side of the eco lodge field

Why?

Pollarding ash at Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges We’re pollarding the other half of the ash trees here to thicken up the canopy and keep it low, to give more light to the larger chestnut trees, to provide managed and sustainable wood fuel, to keep the trees manageable on our small holding, and for aesthetic reasons. We did the first few ash trees a couple of years ago and they are developing well. Most trees will pollard so long as they’re reasonably young. These trees were planted 24 years ago – you can see in the rings. So that’s about the limit. We’re a bit worried about Ash die back, but there’s nothing we can do and it hasn’t happened yet. We’ve got our fingers crossed.  Have you spotted the little chair Ian carved? It’s from one tree we cut right down to the stump (because it was too close to the neighbouring more mature chestnut).







What? Establishing a wormery

Where? Next to the bike shed

Why?

Composting worms As our eco lodges have got busier, our green cone digesters are finding it difficult to cope with all the food waste. The wormery, once properly established, should help speed up the process and help keep food waste out of the waste collection and landfill.







What? Scything rushes around the wildlife pond

Where? The field below Balebarn eco lodge

Why?

We’re trying to control the rushes here – and it’s an ongoing battle. We are cutting some of those growing along the path that goes around the pond. They are all self seeded and since there’s no grazing here if we did nothing they’d take over and we’d lose the wild flowers on the bank. It’s not the right time of year to cut masses of rushes – there might still be dormice hibernating at the bottom of the clumps, but these few we can check before we cut. And there’s that old saying about omelettes and eggs.



What? Tackling a huge nettle patch

Where? Below the wildlife pond

Why?

This area used to be ablaze with birdsfoot trefoil in August, but it has become overloaded with nettles. So we’ve scythed the dead stalks and we’ve sprayed the nettles. We only use herbicides on nettles, creeping thistles and docks. Actually, nettles are generally the least troublesome of that trio, but here they have run riot. And if we spray now, before other plants emerge, there’ll be a chance of recovering those wildflowers. As our guests will know, there are still plenty of nettles about the place for small tortoise shell butterflies to breed on!







What? Hedgerow work

Where? Between Lower Newland Moor and Balebarn Lodge field

Why?

What was once a hedgerow has become a line of willows that are falling off the bank and establishing an invading frontier of nettles, brambles and new willow. We’ve cut the east side this year. Next year we’ll tackle the west. Larger branches are kept for our biomass boiler.







What? Spot spraying

Where? In front of the eco lodges

Why?

After ten years we’re still fighting the legacy of overgrazing by horses under the previous owners. This field is in long term management to return it to flower-rich grassland. It’s cut in patches on rotation. But in March and April when the nettles and creeping thistles emerge, and before everything else gets going, we spot spray with a herbicide so as to knock back the thugs and let the other plants thrive. Later in the year we pull these plants by hand if we need to.