The Wheatland Farm Story
Wheatland Farm is an ongoing conservation project, and you become part of that when you stay. No, you don’t need to get muddy (though you can if you want!) — it’s your Devon eco lodge holiday that makes it possible to manage this patch of countryside for wildlife rather than food. So you’ll see more birds and butterflies than cropsprayers and cowsheds.
Wheatland Farm is a long term rewilding project…
We’ve been working since 2006 to restore our Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest, and to extend its wonderful wildlife to the rest of the farm, which we manage as a nature reserve. It’s a rewilding project for our corner of Devon – to use the current buzz word. But we’ve been doing it for a decade and a half now, long before rewilding was fashionable.
We reckon is this at least a 20 year project, but actually the closer we get to that, the more there seems to be to do. So there’s always some land management going on.
So far, we’ve:
Replanted the old orchard with traditional Devon apple varieties – they’re bearing fruit now;
Reinstated light traditional summer grazing on Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor, our two biggest fields, in a grazing arrangement using our neighbours’ Devon Red cows;
Reshaped and replanted the biggest pond, giving it over to wildlife and putting boats on it for you to enjoy. It’s home to about 13 species of dragonflies and damselflies; a kerzillion frogs and toads, and we’ve even seen water shrew here at Wheatland Farm.
Started an ongoing programme of traditional hedge management;
Put up boxes for barn owls, song birds, dormice and bats (we have at least 9 bat species, maybe more);
Adopted a rolling programme of grassland management in our ‘lodge field’, mowing patches, using yellow rattle to help encourage wildflowers, and leaving some grass long to support overwintering butterflies and provide habitat for voles (to feed the owls!);
Managed back invasive rushes – an ongoing task!;
Planted many trees, especially letting oak seedlings spring up.
…Financed by super-sustainable eco lodges
Wheatland Farm’s wooden eco lodges all have solar hot water (with immersion back up for rainy days!) and run on 100% renewable energy, most of it generated on site from our 11kW wind turbine and solar PV panels. We’ve also brought a cottage back into holiday rental use. But most importantly, we’ve built ultra-low carbon Balebarn eco lodge. Using straw bales from three fields away, lime plaster made in Devon, local wood cladding, and a host of recycled materials, we’ve transformed an ugly tin-roofed shed into a sleek and exclusive holiday home with bags of quirky upcycled style. Wheatland Farm is a far cry from most Devon holiday parks – instead it’s small and personal, with wildlife at your doorstep.
Who manages Wheatland Farm’s eco lodges?
We are Ian (Ripper), Maggie (Watson), and our two sons, George and Euan.
Maggie is a ecologist by training, and science communicator. She started her career studying marine protected area management in Kenya, then worked in the Caribbean where she became a bit disillusioned with research when told not to talk to the media about an un-sustainable airport extension. 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 take nearly enough green action, Maggie returned to the UK and worked for the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC’s) communications team, explaining how your tax money gets spent on UK environmental science. At the time the budget was £350 million a year. Yet actual change remained thin on the ground. Farmland wildlife, for example, has been particularly hard hit in recent decades. Wheatland Farm fulfils Maggie’s wish to do something personal and tangible for UK conservation.
Ian has over twenty five years of experience in sustainable tourism in the UK and around the world. His first award for sustainable holidays 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 holidays have come a long way, but there are still ‘mountains to climb’.
Ian build Balebarn Lodge almost single handed, so if you’re interested in eco building, Ian’s the one to talk to – he’s amassed quite a bit of experience! He takes the lead on Wheatland Farm’s energy strategy, and is in charge of the turbine, solar panels and biomass boiler (heats the farmhouse with wood from around Wheatland Farm). He’s also a fixer of many things, and ‘repair rather than replace’ is a strong and recurring theme in our sustainability approach.
Your Devon holiday means you’re on the team too
Keeping the Wheatland Farm conservation project feasible is where you come into the story. Wheatland Farm has always been determined to follow a low carbon, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable business model, and it’s your holiday in the eco lodges that makes that viable. Maggie says, “It’s about building a sustainable tourism business that showcases and also protects the countryside, rather than trying to ‘green’ an conventional holiday business. It has never been primarily about profit, and that’s a subtly different starting point from most holiday companies, even green ones.
“Yes, we farm host a few cows – the grazers in our rewilding project – but it’s your stay that really funds Wheatland Farm as a Devon nature reserve. Most farmers we know rely pretty heavily on agricultural subsidies. From 2011 until 2021 we had a bit of help from the government’s Higher Level Stewardship scheme (it bought gates, paid for hedges to be laid, and an orchard to be replanted), but that’s not what’s keeping us going. Your holiday really does pay to keep this part of Devon as lovely (more lovely even) than it was when you found it.”
Wheatland Farm’s Devon Eco Lodges have 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 held gold level approval from the Devon Wildlife Trust for the duration of its accommodation scheme.
Ian and Maggie look forward to welcoming you to Wheatland Farm. Ian says, “We love to talk to people about what we’re doing. But only if you’re 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!”