A world away from Whirlpool

Yuck fom WhirlpoolTop marketing drivel from Whirlpool!
[Maggie] Recycling day brings an opportunity to read other people’s papers… Sometimes it’s handy to keep up to date with ideas and trends – free training.

This time the Super Brands 2016 supplement from the Guardian’s 5th March edition caught our eye. Any top tips there for building a successful business? There were some pertinent comments from the Global Head of Marketing at Investec about focusing on the culture and behaviour of the organisation and good people ‘who are good at what they do and are fundamentally interesting to be around’.

But dear oh dear. Now I know how and why we are fundamentally different from Whirlpool, who seem to be priding themselves in being at the forefront of planned obsolescence – the idea that you must have some new slightly improved ‘thing’ all the time whether or not the old one is still working.

Bad for the consumers who have to keep working to afford the new shiny thing.
And bad for the planet that has to keep coughing up the raw materials.

Reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s Lorax:

I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
to the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering…selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.

I’d like to think we’re the polar opposite of Whirlpool’s attitude. Wheatland Farm is about long-lasting quality and comfort that doesn’t need constant consumption to maintain its appeal. That’s why we re-use, re-purpose and recycle, not just in ‘not-at-all-brand-new’ Balebarn Ecolodge but in all our Devon accommodation.

Spring flowers along the Tarka Trail

Yesterday we went biking – and the spring flowers are out in force along North Devon’s Tarka Trail. It was really lovely and refreshing to see carpets of primroses and wood anemones – and to get out for some gentle exercise. More on this section of the Tarka Trail here.

Staying in Nuthatch Ecolodge, April 2016

Thank you note for Nuthatch Eco Lodge, Wheatland Farm, Devon Holly and family left us this note when they left earlier in the week. It’s great to hear they had a good Easter holiday in Nuthatch Lodge. And Holly has already booked to come back to Devon at the other end of the summer. Brilliant. Looking forward to seeing you!

The Swallows are back again

2016's swallows return cake at Wheatland Farm

Yay! It’s that time of year. The annual ‘swallows return’ cake had been baked. Ian and our guest Sue in Otter Cottage spotted the first swallows swooping over the farm yard. Brilliant – the world is still turning and summer is on it’s way. Sue and Ian have been awarded their spotters slices!

Get me to the pond on time

Spring is in the air at Wheatland Farm and the wildlife knows it. Well, OK, the weather today isn’t quite what it was yesterday when George made us this video clip, but the toads won’t notice – they’ll be in the pond laying those long strings of toadspawn that usually produce an ‘almost-plague’ of little toad-lets in June.

George wants a job so he can finance is new freerunning habit. So I think we’ll be hearing (viewing?) more from him over the coming months. Might was well make use of the younger generation’s familiarity with tech and social media!

More evidence of dormice

Some more evidence of dormice around the cottage and lodges! On tidying up the garden in Otter Cottage we found a dormouse hibernation nest nestled in long grass. What to do…leave it? But would the next dog visitor find it before the occupant had a chance to wake up? With more dogs due at the weekend, and the nest partially revealed, we decided to relocate it over the fence to less disturbed undergrowth. But when we lifted out it was clearly empty.
Dormouse hibernation nest, Wheatland Farm eco lodges
We’re feeling partly relieved of the responsibility and partly worried – if it was this winter’s nest it is way too early for a dormouse to be out and about. But maybe it was from a previous winter? Hmmm. Time to schedule more frequent gardening…

And across the lodge field we’ve found other traces of dormice. A recent guest staying in Beech Lodge found this nibbled nut in the car park. She had had professional training on distinguishing nut nibbles by dormice from other mice and she was confident… though even a trained eye can get it wrong sometimes.
Nibbled nut, Wheatland Farm eco lodges
So overall, it’s encouraging news. Dormice should stay in hibernation for another month or so, but with spring on the way hopefully there will soon be abundant food when they do emerge. Apparently they are partial to a bit of blossom after waking up.

Building a new wormery for the lodges

Composting wormsWe’re busier than we’ve ever been, and our green cone digesters are over filling. What to do? Sure, we can remind people to slim the bin. But there’s still going to be food waste from the eco lodges.

So we’re hoping a new wormery will speed up the break down process. We’ll be decanting some of the semi-digested green cone waste into the new contraption near the bike shed. It’s been made (from the bottom up) out of an old farm tank we had knocking around, a recycled tap (for the worm waste), a good layer of stones, a sheet of plastic with holes in it, some garden compost, a thin scattering of kitchen scraps and, as a starter, 500g of worms from Wiggly Wigglers. On top of that goes a layer of wet tabloid papers (good use for them…) Finally, there’s a lid to keep the rain out but let the air in.

The worms were the expensive bit (over £20). And perhaps we could have got some from the cones. But we wanted to get ahead on the year and certainly ordinary earth worms aren’t much good – you need brandling or tiger worms. You can dig them out of a mature compost heap, buy them from a fishing shop, or order composting worms online.

There are lots of online resources on building wormeries, from tiny ones in a box to farm scale ‘vermiculture’. Here’s what seemed to stand out to us.

Build in a tap or holes at the bottom so you can drain off any ‘liquor’.
Cover the top of the compost with something damp – newspaper, a towel etc.
Put a lid on the whole thing to keep the rain out.
The worms eat the fungi that grow on the decomposing food, rather than getting stuck into a broccoli stalk on its own, so you need conditions that help things rot.
They come up to the top ‘scraps’ layer to feed, but otherwise they like to live a bit deeper in the compost they’re busy making.
Worms like most kitchen scraps, but not too much of any one thing, and particularly not lots of citrus, onions or garlic.
Your worm population could double every 3 months or so, given the right conditions…
…which are damp and dark and not too much over feeding. Get it wrong and they will either die or desert.
Leave air holes, but not vermin holes, and keep it in the shade in summer, adding water occasionally if it starts to look dry.

Land management and conservation, March 2016

Woodpile at Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges

Wheatland Farm is a conservation project in action. Our land management happens all year round, so while there should always be something lovely to look at, sometimes there’s something going on that looks a bit more messy, or even destructive. But it’s happening for a reason. Here’s a bit more about what we’re doing this month and why it helps to manage our Devon farm for wildlife.

What? Putting up a new owl box

Where? In the eco lodge field, on the south side


Barn owl box  at Wheatland Farm eco lodges This replaces an older box that rotted away. We hope we’ll get barn owls, but if we don’t maybe a tawny will take up residence next year (it’s a bit late for tawny owls this year – they nest early). Or maybe we’ll just get a family of stock doves! We know barn owls nest of a neighbouring farm, but they need a good year and a rising population to expand to a new nesting site, and sadly those have been few and far between recently. Wet winters are not the best news for barn owls.

What? Pollarding ash trees

Where? The east side of the eco lodge field


Pollarding ash at Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges We’re pollarding the other half of the ash trees here to thicken up the canopy and keep it low, to give more light to the larger chestnut trees, to provide managed and sustainable wood fuel, to keep the trees manageable on our small holding, and for aesthetic reasons. We did the first few ash trees a couple of years ago and they are developing well. Most trees will pollard so long as they’re reasonably young. These trees were planted 24 years ago – you can see in the rings. So that’s about the limit. We’re a bit worried about Ash die back, but there’s nothing we can do and it hasn’t happened yet. We’ve got our fingers crossed.  Have you spotted the little chair Ian carved? It’s from one tree we cut right down to the stump (because it was too close to the neighbouring more mature chestnut).

What? Establishing a wormery

Where? Next to the bike shed


Composting worms As our eco lodges have got busier, our green cone digesters are finding it difficult to cope with all the food waste. The wormery, once properly established, should help speed up the process and help keep food waste out of the waste collection and landfill.

What? Scything rushes around the wildlife pond

Where? The field below Balebarn eco lodge


We’re trying to control the rushes here – and it’s an ongoing battle. We are cutting some of those growing along the path that goes around the pond. They are all self seeded and since there’s no grazing here if we did nothing they’d take over and we’d lose the wild flowers on the bank. It’s not the right time of year to cut masses of rushes – there might still be dormice hibernating at the bottom of the clumps, but these few we can check before we cut. And there’s that old saying about omelettes and eggs.

What? Tackling a huge nettle patch

Where? Below the wildlife pond


This area used to be ablaze with birdsfoot trefoil in August, but it has become overloaded with nettles. So we’ve scythed the dead stalks and we’ve sprayed the nettles. We only use herbicides on nettles, creeping thistles and docks. Actually, nettles are generally the least troublesome of that trio, but here they have run riot. And if we spray now, before other plants emerge, there’ll be a chance of recovering those wildflowers. As our guests will know, there are still plenty of nettles about the place for small tortoise shell butterflies to breed on!

What? Hedgerow work

Where? Between Lower Newland Moor and Balebarn Lodge field


What was once a hedgerow has become a line of willows that are falling off the bank and establishing an invading frontier of nettles, brambles and new willow. We’ve cut the east side this year. Next year we’ll tackle the west. Larger branches are kept for our biomass boiler.

What? Spot spraying

Where? In front of the eco lodges


After ten years we’re still fighting the legacy of overgrazing by horses under the previous owners. This field is in long term management to return it to flower-rich grassland. It’s cut in patches on rotation. But in March and April when the nettles and creeping thistles emerge, and before everything else gets going, we spot spray with a herbicide so as to knock back the thugs and let the other plants thrive. Later in the year we pull these plants by hand if we need to.

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

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!