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 self catering Devon holiday that makes it possible to manage this patch of countryside for wildlife rather than food. So you’ll see more butterflies and barnowls than cropsprayers and cowsheds.
A long term biodiversity project…
Since 2006 we’ve been working to restore our Site of Special Scientific Interest nature reserve, and to extend its wonderful wildlife to the rest of the farm.
We reckon is this at least a 20 year project, and there’s always some land management going on.
So far, we’ve:
Replanted the old orchard with traditional apple varieties;
Reinstated light traditional summer grazing on Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor, our two biggest fields;
Reshaped and replanted the wildlife pond (and put boats on it for you to enjoy);
Started an ongoing programme of traditional hedge management;
Put up boxes for barn owls, song birds, dormice and bats (we have at least 6 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;
Planted many trees;
…Backed up by super-sustainable tourism
Wheatland Farm’s wooden holiday 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 (the farmhouse uses a biomass boiler, burning wood from the farm. 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, 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.
Who manages Wheatland Farm?
We are Ian (Ripper), Maggie (Watson), and our two boys, 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 environmentally-damaging 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 apply nearly enough of it, 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 action remained thin on the ground. Farmland wildlife, for example, has been particularly hard hit in recent decades. Wheatland Farm fulfills 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 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 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 our energy strategy, and is in charge of the turbine, solar panels and biomass boiler. He’s also a fixer of many things, and ‘repair rather than replace’ is a strong part of our sustainability approach.
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 consumer choice 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 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 pay to keep this part of Devon as lovely (more lovely even) than it was when you found it.”
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 has also achieved 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. 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!”