Cycle path clean up

This is Winkleigh cycle path, running from the sports centre back to the village and much used by dog walkers, kids going to the play park, and of course Maggie and Euan cycling from Wheatland Farm to school and back. It was relatively new when we first moved to Winkleigh, about 10 years ago, but the grass has been growing over it slowly ever since. We’d been looking at it for ages and wondering how wide it really ought to be, and whether it would be worth making an exploratory cut back to find the edge. So when we saw Andrew Ware, a parish councillor, getting stuck in with a shovel, it was time to join in. It took four of us a couple of mornings and now you could drive a coach and horses down it. A great improvement!

Foxy Loxy

It’s winter and the days are short, but this Fox is up and about despite the frost. Here’s just a few seconds of view on the wildlife camera as the fox crossed our nature reserve Popehouse Moor SSSI. One of our New Year’s resolutions is to be out in the empty hours more. Dusk, dawn, and maybe starlit nights too. But if you can’t make it out, one of the best places to spot wildlife is from the eco lodge verandas, or even while keeping cosy behind the big south facing windows.

The restored pond fills up at the eco lodges

The bothy pond begins to fill upThe new pond at our Devon eco lodges is filling up… Well, not that new. It’s part of what was the slurry pit system when Wheatland Farm was a working dairy farm. It was filled with junk when we first arrived, and after clearing it we let it get overgrown because we didn’t have time to make anything of it. Now we’ve dug the pond out a bit and sown some marginal plants around it. Next spring we’ll clear a better path. It’s just below the fishing pond and makes a lovely out of the way spot for people as well as wildlife.

There’s also an old circular concrete structure that we want to turn into some kind of bothy or folly… More on that as it unfolds.

Meanwhile, we don’t suppose the frogs and newts will need a proper path, so we’ll be keeping an eye out for new arrivals here. Frogspawn should be a near certainty.

How many ponds is that now then?
Well, there’s the fishing pond, the main wildlife pond, the woodland magic pond, the seasonal pond we hope to turn into a reedbed, a small pond below the withy, a pond in the gravel garden at the farm house, and the tiny ‘ironic pond’, complete with plastic duck and waterlilies by our back door. They do say that if you want to attract wildlife just add water.

Don’t try this at home kids!

What do you do at your eco lodge on a wet day in Devon? Try to set fire to the pond of course.

Well, OK, not the pond but the gas bubbling up from the ‘Magic pond’ on Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest (the best bit of our nature reserve farm). Here, the trees overhang the water and drop their leaves, which eventually rot down and give off something we think is probably methane gas. As the title says, don’t try this at home!

Check out other, perhaps more appropriate, things to do when it’s wet.

It’s on our long Wheatland Farm to do list to clear out the magic pond – though it’s not near the top I’m afraid. But if anyone feels like volunteering for a rather mucky task let us know. It involves cromes (long upturned forks) and probably wetsuits! And masses of mud. A task for the summer months we think. Smokers had probably better steer well clear…

Trumpkin time!

Wheatland Farm's Trumpkin
We’re all ready for Halloween! This year we’ve made our very own carved Trumpkins. This one even has demonic eyes. Another is two-faced and shows the morning after the election (not a pretty sight, and the kitchen is missing a carving knife). The guests in Balebarn Eco Lodge also made some great pumpkins earlier in the week and maybe there are more to come…

Big bike out: To North Tawton for cake at Kirsty’s Kitchen

Here’s a lovely and moderately strenuous ride that takes you to one of the best chocolate brownie cafes in Devon, and gives you the chance to work it off again afterwards. Continue reading “Big bike out: To North Tawton for cake at Kirsty’s Kitchen”

Small copper on scabious

Small Copper buttefly at Wheatland Farm's Devon Eco LodgesIan snapped this small copper on a Devil’s bit scabious plant on Popehouse Moor SSSI. Beautiful isn’t it! We haven’t seen many of these this year so it’s good to spot this one. They live in small colonies in grassland with only a few adults seen on the wing at any one time.

Wheatland Farm to Ilfracombe by bike

Another mighty bike ride – this time from Wheatland Farm to Ilfracombe.

[Maggie] Ok, so this was more of a challenge ride for George, who wanted something to beat the 40 miles he did 2 years ago (Barnstaple and back). This one had much the same North Devon route, and was about 50 miles, but unlike Barnstaple and Back it’s one way – so we needed Ian to pick us up from Ilfracombe (I’m not up for 100 miles yet… but it’s not 50 miles by car. More like 30). Continue reading “Wheatland Farm to Ilfracombe by bike”

Go cart joins the eco lodge bike fleet

Here comes the new go cart! Everyone should have a go cart hill in their childhood. George is the main technician on this one with a bit of help from Ian and some additions from Euan. Continue reading “Go cart joins the eco lodge bike fleet”

Recycling the plastic the council don’t

Recycling food plastic at Wheatland Farm's Devon eco lodges Since Torridge District Council don’t recycle food plastics (other than bottles) we save yours up and take them to the nearest recycling centre that can handle them – Okehampton for us. So thanks to all you lovely guests for keeping them clean and easy to deal with!

Vapourer moth

Vapourer moth caterpillar at Wheatland Farm Another fabulous beastie – a caterpillar of the Vapourer moth. It looks like it might even be starting a cocoon on the leaf. Euan found it on the wisteria – we’ll tuck it away again. The adult males fly at this time of year but the boring-looking females are almost flightless, and lay eggs on the cocoon after the emerging. The eggs overwinter this way, with a caterpillar developing in the spring. Stunning get up!

A new life for the ride-on

Refurbished ride-on toyThe toddler ride on toy has been given a new lease of life. It’s done many years of faithful service but the old plastic body had seen better days. So it has been reborn in wood, with some taps eyes, a blue smile, and new antennae.

Turbine blade replaced

Changing the blade on the wind turbine The summery weather means we’ve finally been able to change the blade on the wind turbine that largely powers our eco lodges. We’ve had the new blade sitting ready for ages now, but last time we tried, the ground was still too wet. This week a team winched the new blade into place.

The old blade developed a crack and was replaced under warranty. But it should still make a mighty fine dragonfly bench at the end of the turbine walk…. That’s a project for this summer. Let’s hope the weather holds.

The cows are finally back

Thankfully Andrew and Fiona’s TB movement restriction has finally been lifted and they have been able to move some of their cows to Wheatland Farm. Just in the nick of time for us as we need to be grazing Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor for 10 weeks over the summer. It’s this light grazing that maintains the flower rich grassland here, including the orchids in our earlier post.

So eight young cows arrived in two livestock ‘boxes’ pulled by tractors on Friday morning – just as Maggie was returning from taking Euan to school on the tandem. Often the cows are simply herded down the lane from Higher Punchardon Farm, but this time there weren’t enough people to manage that.

The summer task of ‘lookering’ begins now, ie checking on the cows everyday. They’re a bit skittish, but hopefully will soon get used to us. Apparently a handful of ‘cow cake’ is the trick.

Winkleigh Fair Saturday

Winkleigh Fair 2016Saturday was ‘Fair Saturday’ for Winkleigh – the end of a week of dog shows, cream teas, whist drives and other gentle English pastimes. The square was full of people eating chatting and of course pulling people over — in the tug of war. There were men’s women’s and finally children’s contests!

Orchids in flower

Every year we get a carpet of heath spotted orchids flowering on Popehouse Moor SSSI. Here’s a short clip of some of them in early July 2016. The are such a delight, and confirm our conservation grazing is working. This is one of the highlights of our wildlife year, so if you’re staying in the eco lodges do take a stroll onto Popehouse Moor (or ask us to take you for a guided walk). As well as the orchids it’s a-buzz with pollinating insects and nectar sipping butterflies. And if you can’t be here right now we still thank you for your visit at other times of the year – it’s your stays that make it possible to manage our small Devon farm for wildlife.

Thanks also to Natural England and the HLS scheme for ongoing support, and the Devon Wildlife Trust for always being on hand to offer practical advice.

Oak Eggar caterpillar

Oak Eggar larva - we think!Just look at this mighty beast! We think it’s an Oak Eggar moth caterpillar. We spotted it attempting to cross the road as we biked down a nearby lane. Crossing Devon’s lanes is usually pretty straight forward – but still Russian Roulette if you’re a moth caterpillar. We hastened this one on its way. If you find one do take care – the hairs make some people itch.

Oak Eggar and drinker moth caterpillars are amongst the commonest large hairy caterpillars people find in the UK, so that’s the obvious identification without asking an expert. There are some photographic ID sites online too. Butterfly Conservation has a page on the Oak Eggar and Wildlife Insight has a page with pics of the caterpillars.

Eggars get their name from the egg like papery cocoons the adult moths emerge from after their larval stage ends, and the Oak Eggar is so-named not because it is found on oak trees but because the cocoon looks like an acorn. Interestingly, the Oak Eggar overwinters as larvae and then feeds up in the spring, going into pupation in July and emerging as an adult from August. The adults are attracted to light so maybe we’ll be able to find one of those later in the summer!

Thanks for keeping food out of the bin

Many thanks to our Polish guests who left Balebarn Lodge this morning to fly home. It was great to see you enjoying the fishing, the bikes and the football. You were lovely recyclers, and we particularly thank you for keeping this lot out of the bin. Everyone over caters on holiday, and it’s not always practical to take the excess with you, but we just hate seeing food, often imported from far off places and grown by under-paid workers, ending up in UK landfill sites.

This lot will be put to better use. Looks like it’s baked beans for lunch for starters…

Watch our ‘slim the bin’ video from our environment page

Love your weeds!

Oxeye daisies

Oxeye daisies May and June are the months when we get the most from the ‘weeds’ growing in the old farm yard. These oxeye daisies have seeded themselves in the cracks and accumulated soil. They’ve been flowering outside Otter Cottage all month, and when they’re going over we’ll collect some of the seed and sow it in the meadow. Most of our gardening tends to be selective weeding these days. If it thrives and it’s pretty, then it survives – especially if it’s native.

And if you’re interested in mini-wildlife as well as flowers, the daisies are a great place to spot a stunning white crab spider laying in wait for an unwary fly.

Abso-newtly lovely at the wildlife pond

A newt from the Wheatland Farm wildlife pondHere’s a pic of one of the newts we found when dipping the pond. Isn’t it splendid! The wildlife pond is heaving with ‘damsels’ and ‘dragons’ right now. You can sit on the bench and hear the dragonflies clash in their aerial territorial battles. The more delicate damselflies are busy depositing eggs on waterweed – but that makes them easy targets for the birds, who perch in the reeds and nip out to snatch a tasty morsel for themselves and their young.

The turbine room – great for a rainy Devon day!

After some lovely sunny weather it’s now turned to ‘soft rain’. So it could be a good day to take a coffee to the new ‘turbine room’. Once the farm’s dairy (back in the 1940s – you can still see the date on the trough) it went through a storage phase and has re-emerged as a dry garden, with succulents ferns and even herbs. Continue reading “The turbine room – great for a rainy Devon day!”

A revolution in people power

Sunday Times, May 2016It always feels good when the Sunday Times reports on something you’re part of. OK, it’s last week’s paper (left by guests as we don’t buy ’em). But it’s still worth noting. In a piece entitled ‘Will the last energy giant to leave your home please turn off the lights!’ Danny Forston talks about a life or death crisis for the big energy supplies, brought about by 3 factors:
climate change rules closing dirty power station,
oil prices have fallen,
and so too has the price of installing renewables.

Some renewables are finally becoming cheap enough to not necessarily need subsidies – solar panel costs for example have fallen 70% in five years.
This shake up in assets and demand, coupled with a more distributed system of power generation that’s emerging as individuals plug their renewables into the national grid, looks like it might be squeezing the big six in the power production game. We’re in there! Thanks to the turbine and solar panels we’re a power station, and still a net exporter to the grid (just about – despite rising occupancy and better use of our own power).

And web savy supply-only companies are heaping the pressure on the big six by luring away the energy giants’ customers with better deals.
In 2012 less than 1% of UK homes had non-big six power supplies, now that’s nearly 15%.

We’ve been avoiding the big six for a decade. Back in 2006 we had Biz Energy (who had a green tarrif). Briefly we were forced to use British Gas who bought Biz Energy – and our contract – but as soon as possible we switched to Good Energy (who only supply renewable power), and have been with them for over six years.

But things are set to change further. There’s research, driven by the electric car industry, that has halved costs of lithium batteries in three years. Soon, if you generate power at home, you’ll be able to store it at home too – good news for everyone with solar panels who goes out to work. (In the meantime, why not get an iboost and divert that exported power into your hot water supply?)

Better storage also means we’ll need less back up conventional power stations in future because the intermittent nature of renewables won’t matter so much if storage and smart grids can smooth demand. And that doesn’t favour the status quo.
The article reports a former CEO of Npower as saying “The energy supply business is facing a life-or-death moment” and describes how the power companies are reinventing themselves.

Bike Week UK 2016

Bikeman at Wheatland FarmBike Week UK 2016 starts today. We hope you’re not feeling this rusty! We’re offering a prize to help you get Devon into cycling, via Love to Ride. It’s a weekend in our Nuthatch Lodge at the beginning of October. Hopefully it’ll still be good weather for biking Devon’s lovely lanes and taking a breather at country pubs. Register with Love to Ride for a chance to win this and other great prizes. You can use their app to record your rides this week and set yourself challenges.

And what will Wheatland Farm be up to this week? We’ll be upping our usual cycling quota:

We’ll be biking Euan to school on the tandem – something we usually do in the summer.
Maggie will be biking for exercise as well – maybe we can blog our 45 min route.
Ian is going to build himself a road bike from old bike bits we’ve got lying around – and take it for a ride.
George will join Maggie on a Sunday cycle… “but you always go so far… I’ll just go up and down the drive…” OK so we’ll have to work on that one. But at least he can bike to judo and back.

What will you do?

An evening walk with Winkleigh’s green group

A walk around with Winkleigh's green groupOn Friday the Winkleigh ‘Green group’ came for an evening wander around the farm. It’s an informal set up where anyone can drop by, and about 12 people turned up. We took a walk around and explained how we manage the land for wildlife rather than food, and how the holiday accommodation finances that, then all sat around for a bowl of soup and a chat. Summer flowers are coming out, and we found one heath spotted orchid, but not carpets of them yet!

Popehouse Moor SSSI management progress recognised

Lower Newland Moor, Wheatland Farm Devon Eco Lodges, May 16Our recent visit by Natural England has produced a good report for Popehouse Moor’s management, saying it’s still in ‘favourable’ condition and that all that scrub bashing and grazing is paying off. Lower Newland Moor, where the turbine is, is also improving with our advisors noting better plant diversity including ragged robin and bog stitchwort. The visit has meant we can apply for a derogation to weed wipe the rushes that are becoming more dominant – but that won’t be until next year. This year we need to graze, then cut the rushes in late September. Next spring, assuming the rushes get away before the grass and the ground isn’t too wet, we can ‘wipe’ the new shoots with a herbicide and leave the grasses and flowers untouched.

If you’re interested in the full report, it’s here