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.

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.

Bees are buzzing in the old cob wall, Wheatland Farm

malehairyfootedflowerbeeThe solitary bees are back in action outside Ian’s workshop, where they nest in the old cob wall, in little tunnels. This brief clip shows a black female landing and entering. The main image is of a male – much yellow-er (image is from the USGS’s Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab’s photostream on Flickr – as I can’t get them to stay still long enough for a photo!). They are called hairy footed as they have distinctive hairs on their legs, which are used as visual signals during mating. Right now, the bees are busy visiting the early flowers we cultivate: lungwort, green alkanet, they even like aubretia. The flight season is only from the end of March to late May though. The females collect enough nectar to make a ‘pollen mass’ in each tunnel, onto which they lay a single egg. When we first came here a neighbour (a bee keeper even!) suggested we spray and kill them. But they’re never any trouble and to me it’s a real pleasure to hear them on the wing once more.

Swallows return, 2015

Swallows' return cake, 2015The swallows are back! An adult was swooping low through the farmyard yesterday at dusk. What a relief, we’ve been on tenterhooks ever since two were seen at ‘The Lymie’ 2 miles away (no, not spotted through beer goggles) last Thursday. Now we’re ready for this year’s cake….
We always make one when they return. The rule is that the first sighting on the farm (has to be verified by a second spotter, no cheating!) wins the first slice.

Swallows are so amazing. Here’s the video of them swooping through the hole in the barn door, shot back in 2013. We’ve fixed up the door since then, but still made sure there are gaps for them to get in and out.

Liz Swallow – we’re thinking of you and enjoying your namesake….
Alison T – I’m guessing this is another official sign of spring – I’ll look for a hash tag.
Brenda and Norman, our guests in Balebarn, we’re bring your slices round now any mo!

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).