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’.
willowtitfromFlickr
(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

Wood turning on the pole lathe at Wheatland Farm
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”

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.

Hedgehog in daylight at our Devon eco lodges

hedgehog We spotted a hedgehog taking a wander through the garden in the broad June sunlight. We hope it’s ok. It looks healthy enough, and soon retreated to the undergrowth. Apparently sometimes nursing females come out during daylight to find a drink. But if we see it again we’ll take more action. Meanwhile, there should be plenty of food about and all our mini ponds have ‘escape routes’.

insect architecture

wasp nestHere’s a pic of some natural architecture, which has unfortunately had to be removed from around the lodges. In general we’d leave wasp nests be (yes, that’s what it is), but we know from experience that come autumn when the wasps start to die off in large numbers we get a problem with dozy insects buzzing people. So when we find a nest, we deal with it. If it’s small enough, like this one, the simplest way is to knock it into a jam jar and pop it in the freezer. Winter comes early!

It’s beautiful though.

Cows return to help us with our conservation grazing

cows return 2015The cows are back for summer grazing. We’ve got 7 young ones this year, again from Higher Punchardon Farm, just up the road. They arrived on Wednesday and they’ll eat the grass on Lower Newland Moor (the turbine field) and Popehouse Moor, our Site of Special Scientific Interest. Their job is light ‘conservation grazing’ that will ensure the grass doesn’t overwhelm the diversity of flowers we have. And we hope their movement between the two parts of our farm will help spread the flower seeds around too. Our grass isn’t the lush stuff that dairy cows like, but these cross bred Devon Reds thrive on it. They are bullocks but only young. They’re easily scared off, but it you sit still in the grass they may come to sniff you out!

Our Devon eco lodges win Gold Award for sustainable tourism in England

Visit England Gold Award for Sustainable Tourism 2015The Visit England Awards for Tourism Excellence have just been announced. Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges took the Gold award in the Sustainable Tourism Category, presented at the Gateshead Sage yesterday (11 May 2015).

We’re surprised and delighted. To come anywhere in the top five is wonderful, especially with the stiff competition. We achieved gold in 2012, and to do it for a second time is a real accolade. Probably what helps us stand out is our absolute commitment to sustainability. We are not just greening an accommodation business, we are running a ‘green’ business that supports, and is supported by, wildlife in the countryside – in other words we’re using, but also growing (quite literally) what economists sometimes call natural capital. If only more economic growth would take this path!

But it’s about much more than just looking after our wildlife, because if wildlife conservation teaches one thing it’s that you can’t protect isolated ‘pockets’ – you have to look at the whole system. And it’s the same for sustainable business. For our lodges and cottage that means thinking through the environmental implications of everything we’re buying, and everything we’re throwing out. Usually, the best way to go green is to do less of both. This award particularly recognises our inspirational ‘not-at-all-brand-new’ Balebarn Eco Lodge, built with many recycled and reclaimed materials and constructed to standards that ensure it will use minimal energy over its lifetime.

But we’ve also ensured all our other accommodation is highly energy-efficient. Our annual fossil fuel use for home and business is about 0.7kWh/m2 (the Green Tourism Business Scheme say ‘good’ is anything under 240kWh/m2) and our kgCO2/room-night is actually negative because we generate more wind and solar power than we use.

Words and statistics are one thing, but there’s nothing like seeing, so here’s a new video about Wheatland Farm produced by one of our marketing partners, Green Traveller

Further information
Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges is owned by Ian Ripper and Maggie Watson. 01837 83499 / 07780708747
Other winners in the Visit England Awards sustainable tourism category were:
St Cuthberts House Bed and Breakfast in Northumbria.
The Green House Hotel in Bournemouth.
At-Bristol Science Centre, which aims to be the UK’s most sustainable science centre.
Colton House, a luxury guest house in Staffordshire.