Wheatland Farm is a conservation project in action. This month: Spot spraying, nest boxes, orchard and mosaic mowing, stacking wood. Continue reading “Land management and conservation, April 2016”
Top 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.
We’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.
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
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
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
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.
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!
Wednesday 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.
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.
The 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
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.
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).
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.
We’ve been out and about testing the new electric bikes. Reckon if we go up and down this hill until the battery runs down we’ll have a good idea of a minimum range.
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!].
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
Philip Dennis Foodservice
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.
Source Renewable, a local firm from South Molton, is installing solar PV on the new Eco lodge. it’s just under 4kW at peak generation. They’ve been really helpful with the solar hot water Ian is putting on too, advising on special mounting for our tin roof.
Worst bit was finding rust spots in the roofing sheets that needed to be fixed. But Ian pinched a sheet from the car shed that had the same profile and all was well.
The inverters take up a fair bit of room in what we hoped would be the reading hide-away, but we’ll box them in. They can’t go in the loft as it would get too hot.
The sheep arrive. They’re used to chickens but the chickens are not used to them!
Here’s a short video update for the eco lodge. We blogged about the windows when they arrived, but I don’t think we showed it on video. So here they are, coming off the lorry and then opening wide for the view. Wow!
Local plasterers Martin and Edward plastered the whole of the inside ‘envelope’, ie the air tight layer on the inside of the building. So then it was time for internal partition walls (woodwool), ceilings with insulation above them, and more plastering. The insulation was not sheeps wool in the end, but a combination of warmcell – recycled newspaper – and recycled bottle insulation, like a big duvet. But Ian can tell the tale.
Our electric vehicle charging points are fully installed and ready to go. They were donated by Zero Carbon World (Thanks guys!) who want to free motorists from having to carry lots of different smart cards around when they travel. It’s much more simple here! Just ring Ian on 07780 708 747 if you want to recharge your car. It’s free to guests (or come without a car at all!) and costs £15 to non guests. If the farm shop’s open we’ll run you up there while you wait (good tea and coffee). If we can fit it in we’d love to take you on a nature walk. Or you should be able to pick up our WiFi if you’ve got things you need to get done. It’s early days, and we may change arrangements as we go along, so just ring us for details.
We’ve installed two electric car charging stations for the eco lodges, and also for the general public. The charging stations were donated by Zero Carbon World and we’ll be on their Open Charge map. The idea is to get lots of charging stations that don’t need smart cards. That should make life easier for electric car users. If you’re staying here at Wheatland Farm eco ldoges you can charge your car for free. If you’re just passing through there’ll be a small charge, but we’ll run you up the road to the farm shop where you can get tea and cakes while you wait, or take you on a walk around the nature reserve. Telephone 07780708747 to book a slot.
No, not some modern art or fancy jenga game – it’s the larch for the new eco lodge, once again felled just 8 miles away in Mike Moser’s conservation woodland. He milled it for us, but we had to have it ‘thicknessed’ and then sanded. For that it made the short (15 miles) to Mike Latham’s joinery at South Molton. ‘Bit of a pile’, he said, when we rang to arrange collection. ‘Oh’ replied Ian ‘but I said it was about 100m2?’. ‘Yes’, said Mike, ‘But I forgot to mention that to the lads!’.
So here’s some of it stacked inside the lodge ready for flooring.
We’re celebrating, drinking Devon bubbly from Pebblebed wines because the wind turbine has put us back in energy credit. Ie it has now caught up and overtaken our overall consumption despite a busy ‘season’.
Here’s the graph that shows our cumulatiave consumption (purple), our generation (blue), our export (red) and grid import (green). Basically, after a good start the turbine couldn’t keep up with high season summer consumption (to be expected), then kept pretty much parallel for ages into the autumn – we kept expecting the lines would cross but they jogged along.
Wind seems to have picked up a bit now – but it will be interesting to see how things develop from here. It’ll probably be March before we have any sensible idea about what it will generate over a year. We’re almost empty now but busy again at Christmas and New Year, and they are bound to be fairly energy intensive, so we hope to build up a bit of credit before then!
We’re insulating the roof in the new eco lodge with recycled newspaper and bottles. Originally it was going to be local sheep wool, but the factory doesn’t treat it against moths etc so we’d have had to get into the roof and spray it each year – and that wasn’t really practical. So instead we’ve gone for a mixture.
On the flat sections it’s warmcell – treated pulverised newspaper that you ‘fluff’ into a thick heat retaining layer.
But that won’t work on the sloping sections, so here we’re using insulation made from bottles – it just looks like the the inside of a nice new duvet! It’s 85% recycled. Shame it’s not 100%, but never mind. It’s important to be closing the waste loop and buying products made from what might otherwise have been rubbish. These industries need support.
Repairing and strengthening the sofa bed with a strip of aluminium left over from a previous life will give this bit of furniture a new lease of life. It’s invisible — on the inside, and good wood glue is essential too. Repairing rather than replacing is our strongly preferred option, mostly because it avoids all the up-stream environmental costs, be it logging for the timber or just delivering the bed down Devon’s narrow lanes.
We try to minimize waste, even when it’s a big birthday party. We re-use and recycle as much as possible, and now the kids love their lunch boxes for the new term.
They are made from from recycled beer kegs! Ingredients? Mini beer barrel (drink contents), an old seat belt, a brass door knob from our old house, a cupboard handle we couldn’t bear to throw away, and some wood offcuts Ian turned on the lathe.
As for the party (a while ago now), it was great fun to see so many friends and we were really pleased to manage it without disposable plates or glasses etc. People bought food contributions, the freezer bulged for a while afterwards, and just about everything got used. Best of all there was just the normal amount of rubbish at the end of the week.
We’re investigating whether we can switch some of our water consumption to the well. It’s close to the house and has been bugging us for ages that we’re not using it. So Ian has made a start on investigating the feasiblity, pumping it out, and storing water for the garden in a borrowed tank. Now it’s refilling, so we can assess the rate of flow. It must be about the driest part of the year – and it’s certainly the driest I’ve seen the farm in the past 5 years.
But it seems to be replenishing at only around 100 litres an hour. There was a store of 5-6000 litres when it was full, but it’s not recovered yet (about a week later). So it looks like we could probably run the house on it, and maybe the laundry, but probably not the lodges.
Using it just ourselves would make it easier on sterilising it to begin with too. We could keep mains for drinking water (no bottled stuff here), but run the loos, shower, bath and probably the laundry on well water from a header tank.
Exactly when is another question though. It wouldn’t cost that much, but it would be disruptive, digging up concrete for pipes and pumps, replumbing part of the house. Meanwhile, we’re flat out with guests and the new eco lodge. So it’s on the ‘to do’ list, but realistically there are other things ahead of it for the time being.
We’ve bought some new pillows, and they’re made from recycled bottles…
If we want recycling facilities we also have to ‘close the loop’ and buy recycled products. So like the duvets we bought last winter, we looked for pillows made from recycled material. It wasn’t that easy. I looked online first, and didn’t come up with anything much. But I knew Marks and Spencers had their ‘Plan A (because there is no Plan B)’, and sure enough, there it was in the small print of their pillow page.
But I still wanted to check what the pillows actually felt like, so I rang my Mum who lives near a store and sent her on a pillow-pinching mission. When she got to the shop she asked “a group of young staff” where she could find pillows with recycled filling and they looked at her blankly.
One offered to ‘ring head office’ and did so, reporting back that “it was a one off bulk buy and we don’t have them any more”. Hmmm. Plan A because there is no Plan B?? Surely not?
And indeed when I next was near a store and went in, there were the pillows and they feel fine. At the cashier’s desk I made a point of saying why I’d bought them. More blank looks. So good marks to M&S for corporate responsibility, but a bit more staff awareness is required!