Hares on Popehouse Moor

Here’s a snippet or two from the wildlife camera, spotting some hares on Popehouse Moor in recent days. I love hares! A year or so ago we were lucky enough to have some leverets on the old manure heap. Lets hope the population is still growing.

Devon Environmental Business Initiative board meeting

Last week Ian went to the Devon board meeting in Exeter (a train and bike ride away – apparently the helmet drew comment at reception). David Rose has joined the board from SW water, bringing his low carbon experience. We remember him from his time judging some of the Devon and South West tourism awards. He is also part of the Devon and Cornwall energy and environment management group, but his big task seems to be improving sustainability at south West water. He’s in charge of all their renewables, including covering the roof of Peninsular House with solar panels.

Awards were on the agenda for board, and spreading the word. (All the information is on the DEBI website http://www.debi-online.org.uk/awards. 27 September is the closing date.)

Th directors also discussed making the newsletter paperless and using social media rather than stamps and envelopes.

Next meeting is at Highfield Farm, Topsham (November).


Baby hares

Aren’t they absolutely gorgeous! Tiny baby hares (leverets) on some rough ground. Probably only a day or so old, and it’s quite normal to find them alone. Mum should come back at dusk to feed them. She doesn’t stay with them for fear of attracting predators. She may even split them up in the coming days, and go to each in turn.

Meeth Quary Nature Reserve

The Devon Wildlife Trust bought the old clay pits at Meeth and turned them into a massive nature reserve, which it opened in 2013. It makes a lovely day out with a real feel of space – 150 ha! Continue reading “Meeth Quary Nature Reserve”

Mower maintenance at Wheatland Farm

Time to give the orchard mowing machine a bit of summer maintenance… She’ll be more comfortable like this. We need to keep the orchard mown as part if our HLS agreement, and this is the least fuel intensive option. Plus at the end of the year we get a freezer full of meat. If that sounds a bit harsh, well bear in mind that this is a ewe that’s no longer fit for breeding because of a mastitis problem. This way she gets another season of retirement before the inevitable. Thanks to friends at Fisherton Farm who kindly gave her to us.

Devon’s Halsdon Nature reserve via the Duke of York

Here’s another lovely ride from Wheatland Farm. It’s a 17 miles round trip down quiet lanes, through friendly villages to the River Torridge and the Devon Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve at Halsdon. Continue reading “Devon’s Halsdon Nature reserve via the Duke of York”

Reclaimed kitchen takes shape in Balebarn Ecolodge

Balebarn Lodge’s new kitchen is finally taking shape, put together by Simon from Exeter firm Chunky Monkey, who custom make furniture out of reclaimed wood. The worktops will be storm damaged sycamore. The cupboard fronts are pieced together from offcuts and then sand blasted and painted. We’re really looking forward to seeing it in its full glory!

[update: in autumn Chunky Monkey won the Devon Environmental Business Initiative’s Green Manufacturer award 2013. Well done Nigel and Jackie!].

Our low impact Devon laundry

Each year we try to turn off the tumble dryer from November to April. But your holiday cottage laundry is always dried by wind power whether it’s out on the line as here, or in the farm house condenser dryer, powered renewable energy (our turbine with green tarrif back up).

And when we do turn to the dryer in winter, using a condenser dryer means at least the heat is keeping us warm, rather than venting to the outside.

Frogspawn and tadpoles

Spring wouldn’t be spring without frogspawn and tadpoles. We’ve got some on the kitchen windowsill and that makes them easy to photograph. Here are a few video clips to show them developing.

Here they are, about a week later, just about to come out of their spawn

It didn’t take long, the very next day they were out of their spawn. You can see their little gills developing to absorb oxygen from the water.

The image at the top is a batch of them ready to be released into the pond.

Ian joins the Devon Environmental Business Initiative as a Director

Ian has been invited to become a DEBI director, after helping judge last year’s awards. Today is the AGM and the first board meeting. He’s looking forward to it, not least to hearing more about lots of other (and very diverse) green Devon businesses. The picture is Ian with Kevin Frediani at the DEBI awards last November.

Winkleigh Green Group’s plastic recycling still going strong

Today was switch over day for the Winkleigh plastic collection our local green group started over a year ago. Philippa has organised a transition from the cages by the community centre to a monthly supervised ‘collect and sort’.

Collections will be once a month (10-11am first Sat.). As well as plastics they take cardboard – which is great for us ‘outlying’ residents as we don’t get a green wheelie bin for card. We’ll help out when we can – but Saturday is our change over day for the cottages and lodges so we might be doing most of our share in the winter months when we’re less busy.

First one went well, with a photographer from the local paper and a goodly collection of plastics and cardboard. The lorry went away well loaded.

Cows go home, autumn 2012

At the end of September the cows have to go home – partly because we only have summer grazing here (we want to protect the field) and partly because they’re due a TB test (fingers crossed). Here’s a short video of them being collected – on foot. Home for them is half a mile up the road at Fiona and Andrew’s farm.

Owl stopped turbine?

Owl stops wind turbine?…. not sliced or diced though.

The turbine has shut itself down a couple of times recently, and when we’ve gone to check it has reported a ‘vibration error’. After a few of the same errors we notified the engineer. When he came and climbed the tower he found the problem – regurgitated pellets, probably from an owl, on the vibration sensor inside the cowling. Apparently it’s not uncommon. Unfortunately they weren’t in a good enough state to keep and examine (or maybe dissecting pellets doesn’t immediately spring to mind if you’re a wind turbine engineer). But Nick’s a ‘country lad’ at heart and so I guess he has a fair idea what he’s looking at. I’ll not be climbing the 18m to see if there’s anything left up there…

He says it’s warm under the cowling and near the gears, and one turbine he serviced ended up having to put wire excluders on the opening to keep birds out!

January flowers

It’s only mid january, but already there are flowers out. The dotty daff is in bloom by the pond again, there are primroses in the garden and lungwort in under the hedges. I’ve even found a tiny violet in flower, tucked in at the bottom of the gatepost near our back door. I never clear out that little pile of leafmould, knowing the violet will flower there. But it’s not usually as early as this.

Meanwhile, Ian had dramatic news from the end of the drive – a sparrowhawk making a kill! It took and blackbird and Ian snapped a pic on his mobile phone – you can just see it, wings outstretched, holding the poor blackbird in the ditch. Looks tiny doesn’t it – it’s real, not a mock up though.
Sparrowhawk taking a blackbird

Devon Environmental Business Awards 2012

Ian introduces the Devon Environmental Business Initiative’s
2012 award for an innovative low carbon business

[by Ian] Last week it was the annual DEBI awards – the Devon Environmental Business Initiative Awards. Last year Wheatland Farm won the low carbon business category. This time I helped judge it.

The winners were east Devon eco business Carbon Compost.
They take someone-else’s waste product – donkeys’ waste from the Donkey Sanctury (yup, it’s not bullshit it’s….) – to grow trees to make charcoal. They use more donkey waste to create compost, mix the 2 to make Carbon Compost, and sell that as a great soil improver and fertiliser that locks up the carbon in the soil. A bag of their compost will offset a 100 mile car drive (something to think about when you’re coming to Devon on holiday?).

Us judges we were particularly impressed by Carbon Compost’s highly innovative charcoal retort, which the company has perfected and patented. It recirculates and burns woodgas that other systems vent to the atmosphere. This means their charcoal production is much cleaner, and nearly twice as efficient as the charcoal ring kilns normally in use.
They have also made these retorts mobile, so you take the machine to the wood rather than the other way round, saving a lot of energy.

Their partnership with the Devon Donkey Sanctuary creates a prefect closed loop. Liquid waste is filtered through SRC willow which is harvested to make the charcoal. Meanwhile, the solid waste is composted and then mixed with the charcoal. This produces the saleable product that helps both Carbon Compost and the Donkey Sanctuary. Everything gets used and it is all very local.

The business also manufactures the retorts locally for sale- and that could make local charcoal more competitive and lower the product’s carbon footprint.
 Here’s a bit more about the other finalists – all worthy contenders.

ATASS is a knowledge based Devon company with a core business (if I understood it right) of modelling outcomes for sporting events and providing this data to companies depending on these predictions.

Not necessarily a ‘obvious’ eco business but they take a very green approach to what they do.

ATASS provide top end bike sheds for their staff and a shower room heated by waste heat from their servers. Their headquarters has a BREEAM rating of ‘excellent’ (and that’s pretty hard to get).

The care and attention to detail here is amazing, and the Devon Environmental Business Initiative judges enjoyed a tour through an office that is light, warm, spacious yet low on demands from our planet.  It’s how all offices should be built but most don’t come near.  

ATASS also has a social enterprise company – ATASS Respect – that funds environmental research and sustainability projects.

Their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint is impressive, with company support for car-sharing, a ‘live local’ policy for staff and even an ‘empty carpark day’ once a year.

There is no doubt that if more companies followed this path we might start to hope that C02 levels might be tamed. Well done ATASS!
Bicton EaRTH

If anyone is considering any building work they should first pay a visit to Bicton EaRTH in east Devon.

The Bicton Environmental and renewable Technologies Hub is a fabulous example of how an old building can be converted and added to in a beautiful and sustainable way. The building invites the enquiring mind from the moment you walk in and stand on a glass floorplate exposing the underfloor insulation and heating system.

The build has turned redundant agricultural buildings into a low carbon, high comfort suite of classrooms and a stunning meeting room, flooded with light and yet warm and functional with a very low carbon footprint both in the build and operation.

Beyond the infrastructure, Bicton EaRTH provides a training centre for renewable technology engineers.
They aim to become a hub for all the students of Bicton college who will have time in the EaRTH as a part of their agricultural college courses. Greening the agricultural sector must be a good thing!

Philip Dennis Foodservice

Easy to find – the 500kW wind turbine gives away the location of Philip Dennis Foodservices. That’s a tad bigger than the 11kW one at Wheatland Farm!

It was great to see serious carbon reduction taking place in an industry not known for is green credentials.

The company now supplies 60% of its £170,000 electricity requirements from its own renewables.

But they have done more. Their trucks deliver foodstuffs all over Devon, the South West and beyond, and are equipped with the latest efficient refrigeration units. They use the new aerodynamic body shaped to increase fuel efficiency, and the company is fitting Euro 5 spec engines to their newer vehicles, ensuring they minimise fuel consumption.

By gaining green credentials, this green Devon business now find it is gaining customers, who want to be able to trace their own eco actions back through supply chains. There’s a wider lesson for all here.


Autumn animals

It’s definitely autumn now, with leaves on the ground and the hedgerows going tweedy. This tiny newt has taken refuge in my polytunnel. I hope he survives the winter. The hedgehog fell into a drain and had to be rescued. It’s a young one from a late litter, and rather underweight to be heading into winter. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to feed him and warm him. But he was clearly nearly hypothermic they quite often don’t make it. There’s a heavy flower pot over the drain now, to stop the chickens dislodging its wire cover.
Baby hedgehog 2012

August flower and damselflies

Here’s a few more wildlife pictures from our Devon farm this August. I love these damselflies, so delicate yet so striking. And the yellow flowers with the red tinge are Wavy St John’s Wort – from the family herbalists use to treat depression. This particular species is pretty scarce, and it’s one of the plants that make our Site of Special Interest nature reserve ‘special’.

Of course there are butterflies everywhere at the moment. Here’s a beautiful peacock.

And there was actually a real peacock to be seen outside Otter Cottage the other day. We’ve no idea where it came from (or where it went), but it was certainly exotic.

North Devon Surf School

Here’s a day out for rain or shine. If it’s sunny, then all the better, but if it rains, well you’ll be wet anyway so it won’t matter. Right on the edge of Westward Ho!’s gigantic North Devon beach you’ll find the North Devon Surf School. Continue reading “North Devon Surf School”

Belstone and back by bike

Fancy a road biking challenge? If you’re inspired to get out on a bike here’s an idea: Wheatland Farm to Belstone, on the edge of Dartmoor, and back. Yes really, you could do it for lunch at the Tors Pub. Don’t be daunted! You can borrow our free farm bikes.  Continue reading “Belstone and back by bike”

Clip ‘n Climb in Exeter

Clip n Climb in ExeterHere’s a real holiday adventure, and it’s indoors, so perfect on a rainy day. Clip and Climb, on the quayside in Exeter, has a self belaying system that’s really great for kids. And their adult climbing walls are pretty innovative too.

Children as young as 5 can have a go. You can too – either on the clip and climb walls or on the proper climbing wall.

Or just have a coffee and watch!

Clip and Climb is bookable online, and we recommend you do just that if the forecast is looking bleak.

You can drive, and park in the large and good value carpark nearby, or you can get the bus (stagecoach 5B from Winkleigh) into the city centre.

A placid bee swarm

Last week we were just checking on the chicks, when Ian spotted a swarm of bees clustering around the base of one of the young apple trees. Oh no! We were hoping they wouldn’t swarm this year, and this one was going to be difficult to collect as it was so low. If you read the books, they say ‘collect a swarm by cutting the branch it’s hanging from and letting it fall into a cardboard box’. Not this one – and we really didn’t have time to deal with it.

But by chance Ian’s bee mentor, from nearby Hollocombe, had rung the day before about going through his own hives. We called him back and he offered to collect ours. Here’s a short video of the process. Rashid doesn’t feel the stings badly anymore, and prefers to work without gloves. And he doesn’t even bother with a veil until he starts disturbing the bees.

So if you think of bee swarms pursuing cartoon characters who have to leap into the nearest pond, have a look at this video and then think again!

When bees swarm they fill up with honey to fuel them in their search for a new home. This makes them remarkably placid. And anyway, they’re busy doing their own thing and not out to sting passers by. If you see a swarm don’t panic! If you know a local bee keeper call them and they will probably collect. Otherwise, the bees will sort themselves out sooner or later – the scouts are looking for a suitable home, and once they find one they’ll tell the others and the swarm will move off.

New sewage plant for our eco lodge

We’ve chosen a bio rock sewage treatment system for the new Eco lodge. It uses no power, is good with variable loads and has an excellent discharge quality.

Here it is being ‘discharged’ from the lorry! A bit of a tricky moment for Ian but at least they don’t factory test them before delivery.

Orchids in flower again

Heath Spotted Orchids, Popehouse Moor, Devon June 2012The orchids are in flower on Popehouse Moor again, lots of heath spotted orchids and a smattering of southern marsh orchids. The cows are in to graze again too, but this year there are not many of them and there is a much bigger area for them to graze, thanks to scrub clearing and fencing (supported by the government’s Higher Level Environmental Stewardship scheme). So we hope the end result will be lighter and more extensive grazing over a longer period, maybe even spreading wild flower seeds between Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor (where the turbine is).