New barn owl box goes up

Barn owl box  at Wheatland Farm eco lodges
We’ve replaced the old barn owl box in the eco lodge field with a new one. Well, actually, and in keeping with our usual ethos, it’s a re-built owl box given to us by Maggie’s dad, who runs a barn owl scheme in West Sussex. The old one had been up almost 10 years and finally gave way in the winter winds. Fingers crossed for some occupants – we often see the local barn owls but they need a good year and expanding population for them to need new nesting sites. And good winters have been few and far between recently. Still – here’s hoping. And if we don’t get barn owls perhaps we’ll get tawny owls rather than stock doves!

Pollarding ash before the season ends

Pollarding ash at Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges
It’s the last few days before the hedgerow cutting / tree felling season ends (on March 15th). The trouble is, earlier in the winter the ground was too wet. So now we’re in a race to get this year’s work done – or at least get the big cutting done even if the clear up takes a bit longer. One task is to pollard some of the trees at the side of the lodge field. We did some of these a few year back and those are recovering nicely. The idea is to reduce their height and get new growth, but to keep this above the reach of nibbling deer. As you can see, we get some wood fuel out of it too! These were a bit more tricky as they were leaning the wrong way. It’s a pity we didn’t have a video of roping the trees and pulling so they didn’t smash the old shed, but we were too busy pulling the rope and then running out of the way. Timber!

Survey confirms willow tits on Popehouse Moor

Mary listening for willow tits

We definitely have willow tits! Today Mary, a volunteer recorder from a new conservation project, came and did a challenge survey, where a recording of song is played to see if territorial birds will respond to the ‘intruder’. And they did – at least 2 pairs on Popehouse Moor came and investigated our loud speaker. That’s good news as the British sub-species of willow tit (kleinschmidt) has recorded a serious decline in the national Breeding Bird Atlases of recent years. In the first national breeding atlas (1968-72) willow tits were found in 1220 10km map squares across the country; in the second atlas period (1988-91) this breeding range had contracted to 1200 squares; and the most recent data (2007-2011) showed them only in 558 10km squares.

They look very similar to marsh tits (which we also have), and the best way to tell them apart is to hear their song – hence the survey technique. They both like wet woodland, and willow tits particularly like dead wood – where they can excavate a nesting hole for themselves. Finding a nest would be lovely, but I don’t think we’ve got the time for the stake out…

But the survey, which is happening across Devon, will help double check the population estimates an help inform conservation approaches and priorities. Meanwhile, it’s great to know they are here. Mary said ‘it’s made not just my day, but my week’.
(Photo by Tim Watts on Flikr)

The willow tit project is a partnership between Devon Birds, Devon Wildlife Trust and Devon Biodiversity Records Centre.

Lovely feedback from spring half term

Over half term we took one of our own very infrequent holidays, so it was reassuring to return and find two lovely ‘thank yous’ from guests who were holidaying here at Wheatland Farm! We’re glad you had a good time, and we’re looking forward to seeing the Gilbert 3 back at the end of the summer.
Thank you note from the Gilbert Three

Thank you note spring half term 2016

Talking at the West Country Tourism Conference 2016

Talking at the West Country Tourism Conference 2016wheatlandfarmWednesday and Thursday were the dates for this year’s West Country Tourism Conference, in Exeter. Maggie was invited to talk about sustainable tourism. We often hear the argument that 20% of the holidaying public have extra access needs, and tourism should adapt to that. It’s true. But we went one further and pitched the idea that 100% of visitors have sustainability needs and that, rather than see this as a insurmountable challenge, it is an opportunity for every tourism business. ‘A shade of green to suit everyone’. Big or small, upmarket or budget, everyone can do something. Here are the slides for anyone interested.

2016 South West Tourism Awards at Exeter Cathedral

The Sout West Tourism Awards 2016 in Exeter Cathedral Wonderful vibe at the South West Tourism Awards last night – held in the amazing Exeter Cathedral. It was a treat to sit back, relax, and cheer on the region’s best (many of them friends).

Having won the sustainable category last year we didn’t enter this time. This year’s crop of sustainable tourism winners were all great. Three bronze award winners were offering self catering across the range from Woodovis‘ caravans/holiday park to luxurious Mazzard Farm, and a-bit-more-bling Higher Wiscombe.

Silver awards went to the Eden project and also to Plymouth Aquarium – we’ve been there recently and they really did have sustainable thinking right through their organisation from community outreach to the heating system.

To beat the competition, this year’s Gold winners would have had to be outstandingly green – and they were. Railway Holidays were worthy winners with un-ostentatious and genuinely sustainable approaches to every aspect of offering an green holiday – in Cornwall – the main drawback as far as we Devon folk are concerned!

Frog spawn again

Frogspawn 2016, Wheatland Farm It’s that time of year – let’s hope it stays relatively mild or these soon-to-be tadpoles won’t get past the frog spawn stage. These are in the gated seasonal pond in the eco lodge field. For some reason the frogs always spawn there first, before the bigger wildlife pond. Fingers crossed for the end of winter!

Croyde, a Devon beach for surfing and cream teas

Croyde is a lovely village on Devon’s north coast, 29 miles from the cottages and eco lodges. It has a sandy beach, is home to The Thatch (a big pub doing lots of food, and of course cream teas) and a couple of surf shops. Continue reading “Croyde, a Devon beach for surfing and cream teas”

Moss monsters

We were wandering through the Wheatland moss jungle when these monsters loomed out of the murk. No really, it’s a new USB microscope we’ve been playing with. Should be great for looking at pond life in the summer – all those amazing damsel fly larvae.

Blue skies at last – happy New Year!

Willow and blue skies at Wheatland Farmecolodges It’s been wet in recent days, and there was plenty of rain on the forecast, but it ‘turned out nice’ and we went planting trees, moving some willow, grey alder and aspen from where they have sprung up to the rough grass around Beech Lodge. They should get established now before the the spring comes. And if they don’t take, well, we would have had to remove them from their original site anyway. Meanwhile, willow branches against the blue skies are showing buds already. So spring can’t be that far away.

The 2015 Devon Environmental Business Initiative Awards

Devon Environmental Business Initiative awards 2015Ian was at the Devon Environmental Business Awards (DEBI Awards) as one of this charity’s Directors. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists but especially to the Devon Wildlife Trust who won the Environmental Education Award and also to our friends at accommodation provider Higher Wiscombe, who won the Enjoyed in Devon Award. Brilliant!

The annual DEBI Awards, with the support of Met Office Exeter, have been running for over two decades and are well respected. We really like them because they bring together large and small businesses, charities, social enterprises and community projects from many different sectors. But everyone has one overall aim – to look after Devon’s environment.

And we’re particular fans of the Devon Wildlife Trust because they have helped us hugely over the years with advice, equipment and even people power. The Trust is the only charity working exclusively to protect Devon’s wildlife and habitats, and has been going over 50 years. It looks after some 50 nature reserves around the county – wildlife havens that we encourage our guests to visit (particularly nearby Halsdon and Meeth). Their education programme reaches thousands and their work with farmers, landowners and others to restore rare Culm grassland habitats (like our very own Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest) has made a landscape impact and is helping manage Devon’s water as well as capture and store carbon.

But as well as getting out in the countryside, the Devon Wildlife Trust has cleaned up its whole act by investing in an Environmental Management System (EMS) to track any environmental impacts associated with running the organisation. The system checks progress monthly, and has achieved the internationally recognised ISO14001 standard for two years running.

You can even visit the Trust’s offices at Cricklepit Mill in Exeter, where they often get the old water mill working in a traditional flour grinding demonstration!

Fossilised thinking

We were looking for a reliable figure on the subsidies fossil fuels get – it’s always useful to have something to balance the complaints about subsidies for green power. So here’s a 2015 global estimate from the IMF – £3.4 trillion a year. That’s greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments, and takes account of all the costs governments have to cover (and which private companies are let off) because we burn fossil fuels, including air pollution and the cost of droughts, floods etc driven by climate change.

The same article, in The Guardian, also had this short video explaining in very simple terms why we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

With the UNFCCC climate talks coming up next month, and scientists telling us this week that the world is half way to dangerous climate change (we’ve already had a 1 degree overall temperature rise, and 2 degrees is considered the most we can realistically cope with) it’s time we all started taking personal action and making our voices heard. We’re proud to say our latest stats show we’re still a power station disguised as a holiday destination (we have generated more green energy than we have used). We’ll soon be ditching our last gas bottles (which we use for cooking in the farmhouse) when we move to an induction hob. (Three of our five accommodation units already have these efficient appliances). That will only leave our vehicles, and we’re working hard to keep that down too.

Wood turning on the pole lathe in half term

Using the pole lathe at Wheatland farrm

It’s always great to see guests having a go on the pole lathe, and especially great to see young women getting stuck in. This image was from half term breaks last week.
Liz – we hope that essay on sustainable cities is going well too!

Outdoor chess

Draughts and chess in the lodge field! (April through to the end of October). The draughts, made out of sliced-up branches, will be in a box under the board but the chess pieces will be at the house – under the sofa in the conservatory. Feel free to borrow them, but please return the chess set after use. (That way hard to replace pieces are less likely to get lost in the long grass.) Continue reading “Outdoor chess”

Real Devon icecream!

Even on a grey day you can’t beat a Hocking’s Ice Cream! Made in Appledore, they are an integral part of a Devon holiday. There are almost always vans on the Torrington Commons, on Bideford Quay (car park end) and at Northam Burrows Country Park, among many other places.

Go small game hunting!

From spring to autumn you can go ‘small game hunting’ in our wildlife pond. Voyage out across the pond in the good ship Tender and collect armfuls of invasive Canadian pondweed, which Maggie or Ian will help you search for invertebrates (and the odd newt). Continue reading “Go small game hunting!”

Big butterfly count 2015

gatekeeperDid my second big butterfly count this afternoon. There were only 6 in the garden:
2 meadow brown,
1 red admiral,
1 v tatty speckled wood,
1 peacock and
1 gatekeeper (pictured).

Well, it wasn’t entirely sunny. A few days ago I did a count around the wildlife pond and spotted:

8 ringlet,
9 skippers,
1 silver y moth,
9 meadow browns,
3 cinibar moths,
2 peacocks and
4 small tortoise shells.

I’ll be doing a few more and we hope guests will join in. Sightings can be logged until the end of August.

Bumblebee nests

bumblebeeWheatlandFarmEcoLodgesBumblebees are in decline across the country, but they seem to be having a good time here. We know of at least 3 nests this summer and the garden is literally buzzing. And one species (not the one in the picture I’m afraid) is a bit unusual. We’re pretty sure it’s Bombus hypnorum, the tree bumblebee (because it nests off the ground?). It has only been known in Britain since 2015 but seems to be doing well. Here’s a clip of bees returning to their nest in crates in the wood shed. Not hugely photogenic perhaps, but worth recording. And yes, we’ve submitted the record to BWARS, the bee wasp and ant recording society.