Lovely news, Wheatland Farm’s Devon Eco Lodges have received a Pledge For Nature Award from the North Devon Biosphere Reserve.
And we’re not the only local winners either – Winkleigh’s Biodiversity Group won a community award and local organiser Kim Melhuish was chosen as a Community Champion. Big cheers all round.
Winkleigh Biodiversity Group is a loose affiliation of like minded folk living around our Devon village. The group manages the young trees at the Winkleigh Sports Centre (Maggie cut the grass there in 2020, and will continue in 2021) and has a wildflower verge project going on. Kim is the person who puts the most effort in, keeping people in touch with each other, organising tree planting, and doing surveys like bumblebee counts – including often helping Maggie with the monthly Wheatland Farm Bee Walk from March to October. Lots of people in the Biodiversity Group are also part of the Winkleigh Environment Group – a larger grouping with a wider remit. Here’s a picture of Kim, last summer, on a bee walk.
Wheatland Farm’s Pledges
Last spring we pledged 5 new nest boxes – and exceeded that by a good margin, putting up quite a few near the lodges where people can see the birds coming and going. Of course, then we had lock down, so the lodges were not busy, but the birds didn’t mind. Our favourite nest of the year was actually a blue tit nest in an old gate post!
We pledged to expand our reed beds, and that’s under way (phragmites grow quite slowly, at least at first, then they really take off when they have stored up enough energy). The reeds at the main wildlife pond are almost doing too well now, size wise, but they provide brilliant roosting areas in winter. This year we’ve had a small starling roost. In previous years pied wagtails have predominated – either way it makes a lovely dusk time spectacle to enjoy from the veranda at Balebarn Eco Lodge. The smaller patches planted to either side of the field below Balebarn Lodge are also taking hold now, as is the little wet scrape that receives the water from Beech Lodge hot tub in the main lodge field. We’ve got more phragmites growing too, in a nursery area.
Here’s an image from last summer of one of the scrapes in the field below Balebarn Lodge, and another, from last spring, of a patch of recently planted seedling reeds in a wet corner of the main lodge field. This was a second attempt – the first failed but hopefully the better established plants will come back this year (everything’s looking pretty dormant right now). We will supplement them this year.
Of course, our main pledge was to manage Wheatland Farm and all our land around the eco lodges for wildlife as well as holidays. We keep a management diary of our conservation work, and that’s probably what sealed the award, as it records what we do throughout the year – and that adds up to more than just a few plants and bird boxes.
Plans for 2021
So now it’s time to be thinking about more Pledges For Nature around the eco lodges, with spring almost in sight. We have some plans. We really want to dig more ponds in the turbine field, and have talked to our Natural England advisor about them. But that’s a big project, so we can’t really ‘pledge’ it yet. Options are being progressed though.
We will be cutting more reed as soon as new growth comes through, so we can do more to establish the mini reed beds near the lodges. We put masses of cuttings in a bucket of rainwater out of the way somewhere, and eventually a proportion of them sprout roots. It seems the easiest way to get baby plants.
We are replacing a very dilapidated shed this winter, possibly two if we make good progress. One will become open fronted to the field, and should provide an outside convening space for family get togethers at the eco lodges. That could be handy if covid restrictions persist. But inevitably, a tidy up is unhelpful for some wildlife. So we will pledge to include wildlife space in and around the new structure – a bat box on the outside, yet more bird boxes, and a really big ‘insect hotel’ nearby, made from a large piece of concrete culvert that has been hanging around unused on the farm. Here it is in the raw form – we’ll report back.
So, more on that project later. The first thing we’ll do is plant the devil’s bit scabious seeds that came with our plaque – just as soon as the snow clears!