Not what it says on the box (and that’s good!)

When a box bearing this green labelling arrived I wasn’t all that impressed at first…

But looking closer I see that Machine Mart Ltd, where we bought replacement emergency lights for the lodges and cottage, really are reducing their packaging by re-using it.

Instead of sporting company branding, the outer box had orignally held staples.

Inside, instead of polystyrene, there was a mesh-cut cardboard sheet for padding.

So good for them! Simply using less and reusing more should be common, and hopefully commercial, good sense.

And yes, it will go back in the recycling for another round of the system.

A guided walk around Popehouse Moor for the Winkleigh Society

[Maggie] On Saturday we hosted a walk for the Winkleigh Society. It was a follow up to my wesbite project, Winkleigh Places, back in April.

Of course, Popehouse Moor is my most treasured place near Winkleigh, and it was lovely to be able to share it with other local people who don’t normally get a chance to see it. It was just a shame that the orchids aren’t out yet.

I have to say that one of the best bits was actually when we got back – and sampled Marie Claude’s cakes and a much needed cup of tea. Ian had put chairs out in the new lodge, as yet without it’s walls but that just enhanced the view. The lodge itself doesnt look much, but it’s only just ‘out of the ground’. That’s Mike Moser’s wood in the background ready to become very local and sustainable stud walls.

Every body got a chance to chat and it was a glorious sunny afternoon.

Another green cone biodigester for our Devon accommodation

…that brings us up to 5. And we need them all to deal with waste from the lodges and cottage that would otherwise end up in the bin.

If you’re not familiar with this design of biodigestor, it’s basically a basket dug into the ground with a double walled cone on top to speed up decomposition. You fill them up only to ground level, unlike a compost heap. And you can add most food waste, even bones and pizza, again unlike compost.

And then you wait for it all to slowly disappear into the soil. We rotate which one is ‘open’ while the rest get to work.

No, they don’t smell.

But don’t let anyone tell you that rats won’t be a problem – they will if you don’t take action. A plastic basket sunk into the ground isn’t much deterrent to a burrowing rat. To keep the beasties out of ours we’ve wrapped the basket of the green cones themselves in chicken wire (2 layers) beore putting them in the ground. And we’re taking the top layer of soil off all around the mound where the green cones are, covering it with chicken wire and putting the earth back again.

I think we should all be dealing with food waste at home, and not putting it out at the kerbside to be trucked around the country and thrown into landfill. But the hard truth is if we’re going to do that we’ve got to plan to deal with the unwanted wildlife that attracts. That or just waste less in the first place!

Finalists in the Environmental Responsibility award of the Devon Federation of Small Business

We’ve been selected as a finalist in this year’s Devon Federation of Small Business Awards We’re one of 4 finalists in the Environmental Responsibility category…

…The others are the Dartmoor Chilli Farm at Ashburton, Pipex Ltd, and Schooling Building Contractors Ltd. Having had a quick look at the competition I’m impressed! Don’t think we’ll be writing our acceptance speech just yet, but hopefully come the awards ceremony (4 June) we’ll at least get to meet some like-minded and interesting people, whether or not we win.

Devon’s Instrumented Hive project

Ian has been helping rebuild the website for the Instrumented hive project, based in in North Devon. It’s a group of enthusiastic and experienced bee keepers with a special interest in electronics!

The group organises beekeeping courses, hosts regular bee-keeping meetings, and is particularly interested in studying bees in ‘instrumented hives’.

The IHP hopes to unravel some of the intracacies of bees, such as the sounds and comb vibrations (particularly as pre-swarm indicators), how comb structure varies in feral or near-feral situations, how to control varroa mites with a biotech rather than a bio-chemical approach.

The IHP maintains colonies and facilities in special apiaries in North Devon and Tyne & Wear. Some of the colonies are housed in bee houses, with the flagship cabin (BeeLab One) capable of housing dozens of special hives together with recording and analysis equipment. The group has growing links with researchers studying eusocial insects, entomology and evolutionary biology. Their two key advisors are:

Dr Peter McGregor, Cornwall College (previously Copenhagen University) – senior scientific advisor
Dr Seirian Sumner, Institute of Zoology, London – entomology advisor

If you’re interested to know more, check out the Instrumented Hive Project website!

Otter Cottage gets solar hot water

Ian has put the solar hot water panels onto Otter cottage, the last of our self catering accommodation to get them. These ones should really cook – being on a south facing roof. All we need now is the sunshine. Poor Ian must have wondered whether it was all worth it as he worked alternately on the roof with rain dripping down his neck and in the loft with tar dust falling in his hair!

We rushed it through because guests who had booked Beech and Nuthatch lodges also wanted the cottage – a birthday party get together.

The system came from Navitron again. Ian says they’ve made some improvements. The new pumping station was much easier to fit than the old one and the clips on the actual tubes were better too.

See our other posts on installing solar:
Energy monitoring put to good use
DIY tips for installing solar panels
Energy saving switches for the lodges

Buying local brings us local benefits

Once again we’re seeing the value of buying local. Ian is working on the floor for the new eco lodge. The first step was to get rid of the old floor and non-structural block walls. We were going to break up the concrete and re-use it in gabions to build a bank and reinforce the front of the building (waste not want not!). But Martin Bragg, our local (and reliable … and well-priced…) digger driver had a better idea – scrape up a temporary bund, build the bank with the recycled concrete, then cover over with earth. Thanks Martin, that saved a few pounds on difficult-to-fill wire gabions, gave us the structure we needed, and created a much better feature. Digger reusing construction waste to create a bund outside Balebarn ecolodge

Next task was to source the aggregate for the floor. The first lot came from Jewsons in Okehampton (11 miles), but it arrived in a huge delivery truck that buckled the edge of the concrete drive and barely manoeuvred through the gate. So when we realised a local builders merchant, AMP building supplies, was based at Winkleigh’s old WWII airfield, that seemed much more sensible. Phil turned up in a much smaller vehicle, and instead of having to set up a business account, with credit references etc, he just said ‘I’ll leave the tab open if you’ll be wanting some more’.

And once that was done, we needed some custom-made steel ‘shoes’ to keep the existing wooden posts inside the building from penetrating the damp course (see picture). Sounds complicated. But luckily, Chris Hodgson’s engineering workshop in nearby Hollocombe was more than willing to help, even tidying up Ian’s sketched drawings before they went for fabrication.

It’s surprising what’s available on your doorstep when you look! It’s good for us, and it’s good for the local economy too – these are the people we meet ‘down the pub’ and in the village, and that make Winkleigh a thriving community.

Impressive U values for the eco lodge floor

Ian has finished calculating the thermal insulation value (the U value) for the floor of the new eco lodge. Well, it’s not quite finished yet, as the picture shows, but here’s the plan.

The U value measures the overall ability of a wall/roof/floor to prevent heat loss. It’s measured in Watts per square metre per degree Kelvin (W/m2.k) and takes into account all the thermal conductivity (k values) of the components of the structure, as well as other factors that affect how heat is lost from the building. Until recently, building regulations required floors to have a U value of 0.7 or below. That’s now been brought down to 0.22 W/m2.k. So how do we fare?

The floor will be high-proportion recycled aggregate, then 150mm insulation (Kingspan, for it’s exceptional insulation value, which we think outweighs it’s only light-green manufacturing process – well they have been trying at least), then another 150mm of concrete made of 70% ash cement and recycled aggregate. Because it’s above the insulation, this layer becomes part of the thermal mass of the building, acting as a heat store to help regulate temperature. On top of that we’ll be putting down larch floor boards sourced locally (8 miles) from Mike Moser’s oak woodland restoration project.

Overall, that will give us a U value of 0.11 W/m2.k – twice as good as the 2010 building regulations.

Scrub bashing on Popehouse Moor SSSI

[Maggie] We’ve taken a huge stride forward in habitat management this year. But now it’s time to finish the job by tidying up! We’ve been burning brash from our ‘scrub bashing’.

We have a lot of really overgrown hedgerows on the farm, and in Popehouse Moor SSSI the willows have ‘fall off’ the Devon banks, and branches have taken root in what should really be grassland. Too much willow isn’t good for wet grassland – it sucks the water from the ground, transpiring it through leaves, drying out the soil.

If you’ve been on a guided tour here, you may not agree with botanist Mary Breeds, who last year told us the site would be better wetter, but we’ve taken her advice and cut back some of the invasion.

My Dad started it over Christmas – with just a bow saw. Inspired by the potential that small difference made, we had 2 days chainsaw work done. That’s by no means all of it, and we don’t want to hit it all too hard in one go. But it has revealed some of the old hedge boundaries, and will significantly increase the grassland area.

Now we have to get the branches off the ground before the spring comes. If the birds start nesting there we won’t be able to shift them. And the boughs will set root in the wet ground again, making the problem worse than ever.

So it’s been bonfire time…

And for anyone who’s thinking ‘what a waste’, we’ve saved what we could, as you can see in the wood pile. Our trouble is getting it off the moor and back up to the house where we can burn it. There’s no vehicle access and the ground is boggy.

Log by log then? Lots more excuses to go down to this special place!

Energy monitoring put to good use

Energy monitoring has helped us make a surprising but sustainable business decision. We’re no longer rushing to change the shower in Beech lodge over to the solar hot water system as there is no energy saving case for it. Let me explain.

Since last summer I’ve been following the energy consumption of our lodges and cottage pretty closely. I take meter reading after most bookings, and work out the energy use per night and also per guest night for each holiday.

Two of the lodges have all their hot water on solar systems with immersion top up (they sleep 4-6 people). Larger Beech Lodge sleeps 6-8 and has solar hot water for its bath and basins (with immersion top up), but not for its shower, which is on-demand electic. Otter cottage is different – and I’ll come back to that!

After we finished the solar installation, we meant to change the shower in Beech Lodge over to solar hot water in the autumn, but held off, worrying that the winter sun in Devon wouldn’t be anything like enough to provide hot water for a potential 8 showers a day, and that the immersion heater would be slow to keep up too – especially as we have a timer switch limiting the immersion heaters to two hours on at a time.

And now, the energy monitoring confirms that this was a good choice, and in fact has persuaded us not to change it at all for the time being. Look at this graph of energy use per night for all 4 of our holiday accommodation units.

energy use per night 2010 Beech Lodge, the brown squares, is pretty much indistinguishable from the other lodges in its energy use per night, even though it sleeps the most people (up to 8). In fact, Otter cottage consistently uses more energy than any of the lodges, even in the summer, even though it only sleeps 4.

energy use per guestnight 2010 And when you look at the energy use per guest per night, you see that even in summer, when most of the energy use will be for water, rather than heating, Beech Lodge with its electric shower (blue diamond now) is no worse than the other lodges. And in the winter, it’s arguably better.

That’s probably because more people are sharing the winter heating component in the larger lodge. And that’s probably also part of the reason that Otter Cottage energy use per guest night soars in the winter. The cottage attracts more couples than families, and its conventional stone construction makes it harder to heat.

There are some other excuses. Otter cottage electricity supply runs the shared washing machine and also an always-on pump. Nevertheless, having now seen Otter Cottage’s rising winter consumption we’ll be looking for ways to reduce it. Solar hot water, planned for this spring, would probably be good here – it would run the bath and basin (and probably the shower too as there are fewer guests to service).

And we have some other ideas for making the space heating more efficient – but that’s for another post.

Christmas and New Year waste

[Maggie] This post is a big thank you to everyone who stayed at our eco lodges and cottage over Christmas and New Year. We asked you to recycle and you certainly did!
Totted up, a total of 146 people nights over the two week holiday period (that figure includes us) produced just 13kg of kerbside waste – and at least 43kg of recycling. I say at least, because that doesn’t include the cardboard and paper yet to be taken to the recycling centre, or any estimate of food waste going into the green cones – and I know you were using them.
So at a time when people often falter on their green intentions, you’ve really made a difference, cutting what might otherwise have gone to landfill by well over 75%, and probably somewhere between 80 and 90%.

Thank you so much. Sorting the rubbish can be one of the more disheartening jobs for accommodation providers trying to be green – but not this time, and that was an extra Christmas present for me!

Recycled office paper

We buy recycled paper for our Devon eco business, just not much of it! I’ve bought a ream of recycled copier paper. Not big news, you’d think…

…Except that I can’t remember when we last bought paper, so this time I thought I’d make a note of it and see how long it lasts.

We just don’t use it much – the prompt this time was needing to refresh the welcome information in the lodges and cottage.

We used to buy office supplies from Viking, but got so fed up with endless catalogues we asked them to take us off their mailing list. The last thing we bought from them was a replacement printer I think – delivered to the farm house door. A fat brochure was delived to the door separately the next day by courier. The paperwork was delivered to the door separately the day after that by the postman. And we’d partly done it to save driving to a shop!

This recycled paper came from a local high street retailer, though I’ve seen it in the big supper markets too. At least it’s getting easier to buy recycled products now.

I’ll add a comment on this post when the paper runs out. Sweepstake anyone?

Cutting landfill by 75 per cent

[Maggie] Since September, when I started monitoring our rubbish, our recycling has cut what would otherwise go to landfill by 75 per cent…

…it could be higher, but I don’t want to over-egg things. For those that need convincing about green stats (and why not), here’s how I work that out.

From the beginning of September to date (13 December) we’ve put out 132kg of residual waste for 895 ‘people nights’ (that includes us). Our kerbside recycling for that period was 126.5kg (weighed each week on the bathroom scales).

So far, that means we cut our landfill by about 48 per cent.

As well as what the council collect, we’ve taken cardboard (32kg), paper (49kg), mixed food plastic (12kg) to the recycling centre, as well as other waste they separate and recycle there (metal items, electrical items, batteries guests separate from their general waste etc – 36.5kg in total).

That means we’ve reduced what goes direct to the tip by about 65 per cent.

But we also encourage guests to put all their food waste into the biodigesters, as we do (well, we compost mostly, but the digesters can even cope with left overs like pizza).

That’s harder to gauge, but we’ll try…

If you’re interested in UK food waste statistics, a new report (November 2009) makes very interesting reading.

The average UK household of 2.4 people throws away 330kg of food/drink a year, or just over 6kg a week. An average household of 4+ throws away 480kg a year.

About 9.6 per cent of that is disposed of down the drain.

So for arguments sake, and ignoring what goes down the drain, the average household throws out about 298kg of food waste a year, or 0.82kg per household per night.

Our guests are usually groups of more than 2.4! Often families, very rarely singles. But for argument’s sake and so as not to be greedy, let’s stick with the average and also assume guests only compost half the UK average – and the other half still ends up in the bin.

And for ourselves, since we’re careful about food, I’ll assume we compost/biodigest the average for a 2.4 household (6kg a week), not the figure for the 4 person household we actually are. That brings our estimated food kept out of landfill to 157.3 kg to date – and that’s a conservative estimate.

So, in total, that’s 413kg recycled and 132.5 to landfill – a 75.7 per cent reduction.

Still a lot though – even better would be to bring the overall amount down further. 545kg is a lot of waste, even if some can be re-used. It always makes me think of times before bin collections when rubbish had to be disposed of at home (usually down the privy). We’d be digging a lot of new out houses… When I get a chance I read My Zero Waste – a blog by the Green family who aim to have the bin emptied just once this year. Inspiring!

Seeing a Gaia 133 wind turbine in action

Gaia 133 wind turbine Last Thursday (26th Nov) we went to see a Gaia 133 11kW wind turbine in action.

Gaia 133 wind turbine I haven’t had time to blog about it before – too busy making a tractor cake and getting other things sorted for Euan’s third birthday celebrations.

It was an open day at Helland Barton, in Cornwall, organised by wind turbine makers, Segen. The Gaia 133 is the model we’re looking at for the farm and I particularly wanted to hear it. Guests come to our self catering accommodation for the peace and quiet, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardise that.

Tony, one of our neighbours, came with us. How can I put it? The best site for the turbine is directly in his and Sally’s line of sight from their kitchen window, albeit a field away. And unlike us, they are not avid wind turbine supporters. (Fair enough Sally?! 🙂 ) They wouldn’t mind if it was somewhere else, but do mind seeing it in their view. So thanks for coming along to actually look at the thing.

Laurence, from Greenthinking (who did our wind turbine site survey) was there, and on chatting all agreed the next step for us was for him come back and look at other sitings – to advise on whether they are viable given any likely drop in generating efficiency.

Wind turbines are surprisingly polarising things. They’re still relatively new, and at the moment people either love them or hate them. So I feel this discussion process is worth sharing because it’ll be being played out all across the country, at various scales (eg the Glyndebourne opera house 70m turbine approved after much wrangling last year) and at various levels of animosity (I’m thinking of the Cumbrian school where even an existing tower – taller than the proposed 18m turbine – didn’t lessen entrenched opposition).

So, for the debate, – these are my views, and I’ve already declared where I stand…

As soon as we drove into Cornwall, there were turbines everywhere. Wow! I’m thinking – They’ve gone to town on turbines. They’re really ahead of Devon – is it public opinion or planning policy that suddenly changes over the border?

We went past some wind farms. From a distance I thought they must be pretty big structures compared to what we wanted. They were sturdy things with robust towers. But when we got closer they didn’t seem so tall. Oh dear! I mean I like them, but they did look fairly ‘dominant’ in the landscape. How did they compare to the 18m Gaia we were thinking about? So it was a considerable relief, when we got closer, to spot the Gaia in the landscape and get a ‘Oh – is that it?’ feeling.

The Gaia is slender, and much more elegant than the turbines we’d passed. I didn’t think it looked at all out of place (yes, I know I would say that).

And the noise? When we got there it was a breezy day. Maybe force 3? We walked up a muddy track towards the turbine and I heard an almost-whistling noise. Oh dear again… but no – it was the noise of rain water flowing through a channel under a cattle grid. It wasn’t until we were in the field that you could hear the turbine above the normal background noise of the hedgerow trees in the wind. Yes, stand near it and you can hear it. But it wasn’t noisy. I didn’t find it offensive even right up close. We walked around it, took a few video clips for the blog (and Sally, who couldn’t come), and paced out 100m to see what it might sound (and look) like from Tony’s house – although it’s not necessarily the same I know…

And I know that just because I would be happy to look at it out of my window (enjoy actually), that doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same. So we will see if it can be put elsewhere.

One idea would be to put it much closer to our own house (fair suggestion) in the corner of the top paddock where our sheep are. And having seen it I think that would be fine, even though it’s probably half the distance from the nearest dwelling (ours this time!). But the house itself may be the problem, and it’s why this site wasn’t really considered first time around. Laurence says the turbulence a structure generates affects air flow for roughly twice the height and 20 times the length of that structure. So would the turbine be in the ‘shadow’ of the house? Hopefully he can give us more detail soon.

And if there is no viable alternative site?

I don’t know. I want Euan to be able to make his kids a tractor birthday cake in a world not entirely wrecked by climate change. I believe that’s a fight worth joining and one that demands action on all our parts. So I truly hope we can find a solution.

Meanwhile, here’s the clip. And it sounds louder on the tape than it did standing there (and of course there’s noise from the wind and the fairly-oldfashioned camcorder). But if you’re thinking about one of these but have concerns I really recommend going to see it for yourself.

Rainwater harvesting in recycled industrial containers

[Maggie] 2000 litres of lime and ginger body lotion, 1000 litres of tri enzyme rejuvenating mask and 1000 litres of Japanese camelia oil – supplies for our self catering welcome packs? Not quite… They are four 1000 litre industrial storage cubes we’ll be re-using in the new eco lodge to store rain water off the roof. Because of the legislation about drinking water quality in the accommodation we’ll probably only be able to use rain water for flushing the loos, unless we get into energy intensive treatment sytems. But we’ll see. Maybe a clearly labled tap in the kitchen and or bathroom?

The cubes have come from a local company, Barnstaple-based Devon Pallet Recycling. They cost of £48 each. A new one might have cost us up to £600. So thanks are due to our friend Paul for the tip. And good on Devon Pallet Recycling for turning waste into a marketable resource.

The cubes will need a bit of a rinse. Ian reckons there may be a litre or so of the lime and ginger left in one. If I get body lotion in my stocking in a recycled plastic bottle I’ll not know whether to be apalled or impressed.

Probably appalled actually – lime and ginger isn’t really me.

Saving 80 per cent of our laundry energy or just ‘a fart in a teapot’?

[Maggie] Should I be congratulating myself on cutting my laundry energy by nearly 80%? Or is it, as Ian memorably called it, just a fart in a teapot?

…I did 27 washes for the business in October. I use a machine that can take a 9kg load and I always do a full wash. I usually wash at 40 degrees (tried 30, but it doesn’t get things clean enough with my eco – friendly washing powder), sometimes at 30 and sometimes at 60 degrees for really dirty stuff – teatowels etc.

We have a tumble dryer. I try hard not to turn it on, and when I do its heat is reused in the house because it’s a condensing model. I managed to keep it off all October (actually it was only on 3 times between April and the end of October). But if I had used it, data I’ve just collected (November) suggest it would have used about 2.87 kWh per load.

If I’d washed everything at 40 deg and tumble dried the lot it would have used about 98.4 kWh. Instead, my smart monitor on the machine reads 18.4 kWh for October.

So should I be congratulating myself on cutting my laundry energy by nearly 80%? Or is it, as Ian memorably called it, just a fart in a teapot?

It takes an awful lot longer to line dry things than to load the tumble dryer – eye on the weather, out, back in, out again, wearing a path to the line… And in financial terms I’ve saved only about £8.00 (our daytime tarrif is about 10p per kWh) and am likely to save less than £100 over the year. If I’d spent the time earning money rather than trying to save energy we’d probably have been better off.

My point is that nobody is going to go green for the cash savings – it’s just too much hard work. I can do it (and will continue to, on principle) because I’m at home most of the day and it’s relatively easy to take advantage of good weather etc.

But it’s not going to get us out of the climate change hole we’ve dug ourselves. It goes back to the arguement about spurious big number multipliers – a lot of small changes still only add up to a small change and we need something much bigger. It’s another depressing thought I’m afraid.

Meanwhile, I’m still on the trail to find the big energy guzzlers in our house…

Helping fund raise for the community centre

Another use for the recycled AA van – collecting furniture for a 50:50 auction in aid of the community centre…

After long battles, Winkleigh has persuaded the council to ‘give’ it the community centre, previously earmarked for development. But now the money needs to be raised to do repairs and maintenance. Ian helps out on the fund raising committee, and the hedgelaying demonstration we held recently was in aid of the centre. This time we’ve been out collecting contributions to the 50:50 auction and shifting tables for the event back and forth from the sports centre. The van is so versatile. Seats in, you can drive 6 kids to school. Seats out, you can load it right up.

Buying recycled goods

support recycling - buy recycled products! [Maggie] It may seem obvious, but if we want to be able to recycle our rubbish we’d better buy it back again…

support recycling - buy recycled products! …otherwise there’ll be no market. It makes sense intrinsically, but I have to admit I’ve only recently really taken it on board. Of course, we’ve long bought recycled toilet and kitchen paper. And charity shops provide our replacement teapots etc. But that has been more about not cutting down trees and reducing waste rather than closing the recycling loop.

So in future, I’ll be looking out for products made from recycled materials as a matter of priciple. Yes, I bought these from Tesco. Some might question my principles there… But at least the labling was clear – they’re made in the UK from recycled farm plastic. And today I almost got conned into buying ‘recyclable’ bags in Lidl. On the shelf it said Recycle rubbish bags. Bad English? An eco instruction? More like a fiddle. On closer inspection, the bags were made from recyclable, not recycled, plastic. Well, most of it is if you have the right facilities – but who recycles their bin bag?! Certainly not the council after they’ve collected it. Green wash I call it.

Advice on sustainable building

We’ve had an inspiring visit from Rob Buckley, of the Dorset Centre for Rural Skills…

…This is it, this is the very start of our new Eco lodge! We have the planning permission, now we have to rise to the challenge of creating truly sustainable holiday accommodation. And one of our first steps has been to listen to what Rob as to say – afterall, he is ‘mr straw bale south west’.

We’ve met him a few times over the last couple of years – at an open day at the Dorset Centre for Rural Skills, at a sustainable building show in Exeter etc, and he has offered to talk us through some of the basics. So we’ve swept the straw out of the barn, tidied the wood store, and thought through some ideas.

He’s suggested modifying the overall design, keeping more of the ‘barniness’, reusing what would have been building waste within the structure, and making better use of the interior space. But most importantly, he’s talked Ian through the stages of the build, and shared his knowledge of techniques and materials. There’s nothing like experience!

Hedges for wildlife

Today we hosted a ‘hedges for wildlife’ event – in aid of the Winkleigh community centre…

…But we were just the hosts. Many thanks to Tom Hynes, of the North Devon Coast and Countryside Service, who provided the expertise, and Maire Claude, Margery and Claire who did the catering.

About 20 people turned up – not crowds. But it made a good number at the hedge where Tom demonstrated how to steep hazel, cutting through the uprights and bending them over, but leaving a hinge to living wood to sustain next year’s growth and fastening the whole thing with a crook.

So that’s a start on the long hedge at the southern end of the nature reserve, There’s so much left to do though. By the time we’ve done all our hedges they’ll all be overgrown again…

DIY solar air heater update

DIY solar air heater at our Devon eco lodges
We found a computer fan for the DIY solar air heater

DIY solar air heater at our Devon eco lodges…thanks to Gareth and his computer shop in Barnstaple (01271 327627). Gareth doesn’t like chucking stuff away any more than we do, and kindly gave us two fans. He repairs computers and sells reburbished ones – so maybe we’ll be back to see him later. IT can be destinctly ungreen sometimes and the big suppliers aren’t always great at their recycling.

Ian fitted the fan into some spare drain pipe, put the pipe and a back board on the contraption, mounted a 12v solar trickle charger we used to top up the electric fencing onto the front, and stood it facing the evening sun.

It worked a treat. Really impressively well. It was late afternoon, almost dappled shade, in mid October yet a hand to the end of the pipe detected a steady and surprisingly strong stream of warm air. Ian’s Dad says he has a pair of heat probes
hanging around from when he did energy saving consultancy work (back in the 80s!) so we hope to get some proper figures.

Next decision – how to weather proof it and where to put it…

Blog action day – climate change

You can make a difference – but switching off your phone charger won’t do it…

This year’s Blog action day is focussing on Climate Change – so here’s a couple of thoughts.

You know those stats about unplugging your phone, switching things off at the wall etc? Well the other day I figured out that if I unplugged the washing machine at the wall when not using it, it would save me ooooh… £1.65 a year, roughly (I’m monitoring our business energy use closely these days!).

Not a lot then. Not much hope of getting people across the country as a whole to take that sort of thing seriously either.

But how many homes are there in Britain with washing machines? Must be more than 10 million. Twenty million maybe? So £33 million pounds worth of electricity going on standby a year – and that’s just washing machines?

Hmmm. Maybe government should pass some laws about more efficient domestic appliances.

But if you think that’s a lot of money for little red lights in the country’s utility rooms, think about it a different way. The following is from Sustainable Energy without the hot air by respected academic David MacKay:

“The mobile phone charger averages around … 1W consumption, but if every one of the country’s 25 million mobile phones chargers were left plugged in and switched on they would consume enough electricity (219GWh) to power 66 000 homes for one year.”

66 000? Wow, what a lot of homes! Switch off the chargers! …… but 66 000 is just one quarter of one percent of 25 million. So… if you leave your mobile phone charger plugged in, it uses one quarter of one percent of your home’s electricity.
And if everyone does it?

If everyone leaves their mobile phone charger plugged in, those chargers will use one quarter of one percent of their homes’ electricity.

The “if-everyone” multiplying machine is a bad thing because it deflects people’s attention towards 25million minnows instead of 25million sharks.
The mantra “Little changes can make a big difference” is bunkum, when applied to climate change and power…. We all use power. So to achieve a “big difference” in total power consumption, you need almost everyone to make a “big” difference to their own power consumption.

Oh dear – that’s depressing. What to do then? Well, maybe a big change is tricky all at once, but you genuinely can make a difference.

Already turned down your thermostat by 1 degree? Cut down on those unnecessary journeys? Buying your kids good quality second hand toys?

biodigesters at Wheatland Farm Devon green holiday lodges Here’s another easy one, and you don’t even have to do without anything.

Eat your way to a better planet. Start by eating less energy intensive highly-processed and highly-packaged food-mile laden grub. The average Brit throws away 400g a day of packaging – mostly food packaging. The energy footprint of that is about 4 kWh/d/person.

And don’t throw food in the bin – give it away. Or freeze it, or serve it up differently with curry sauce, or whatever – as a last resort, compost it, or get yourself a cheap plastic biodigester that can take cooked food waste (some councils are subsidising them to around £10 a cone). You’ll save money.

And if everyone did it we’ll save on the lorry coming to take the rubbish, save on the landfill sites that have to be dug, save on the pest control, the …. Oh no, I’m getting carried away with the big number multipliers again.

Look – I reckon it’s pretty simply. We all have to make a BIG effort to USE LESS – of everything. That’s a good start at least.

And vote for a government that will help us collectively do the smaller things too.

An end to paper marketing

Devon Eco holidays - sustainable accommodation at our lodges and cottage
This month sees the last of our paper marketing…
We’ve dropped our last brochure and will be concentrating on web marketing from now on – it’s so much greener. We think our accommodation pages, our nature blog and our Devon days out ideas will convince you to come and stay in this wonderful part of Devon.

Devon Eco holidays - sustainable accommodation at our lodges and cottage

DIY solar air heater

painting the heat sink We’re experimenting with a solar air heater made from an old sun bed and some secondary glazing. OK, so it won’t do away with all our heating bills, but it could help in spring and autumn when it’s sunny but still chilly inside.

painting the heat sink We saw a commercial version of this earlier in the year at a eco-building event – but the price was high, around £1500 for a small unit.

Yet in principle the thing is so simple. You have a heat sink behind glass, an air intake at the bottom, and air out take at the top, and a solar powered computer fan to drive the circulation when it’s sunny.

Apparently they’ve been used for a while in Germany, often to air heat caravans or holiday homes that aren’t in frequent use.

So when Ian spotted the bulb-holding section of an old tanning bed down at the dump, he couldn’t resist. And when my parents had their house double glazed, I nabbed some of the old secondary glazing they had been using.

Ian has painted the corrugated metal of the tanning bed black and fitted the glass on the front. A vent at the bottom lets air in – and warmer air rises out of the top. We still need to find a fan – back down to the dump probably – and decide where it’s going to go. To heat a house of course you need to ‘plumb it in’ and that means holes through windows or doors, which isn’t something to do without thought. We might test it on the garage first! We’ll report back later.

Ian's solar air heater Meanwhile, a little web research throws up some similar designs:

More here about how to make a solar air heater from drink cans.

On the fantastic Instructables site there’s another design for a solar garage heater that circulates air from inside the garage through an external wall mounted heater (using metal fly screen, not beer cans)and back into the building.

Or if you just want something simpler to amuse yourself (or a science project for the kids) look at this page for a solar heater made from drinks cans that is hung in a window.

Checking dormouse boxes in Devon

Jan Whittington checking dormouse boxes
[Maggie] I’m working towards my dormouse handling licence, so we can join the national monitoring scheme.
I’ve done the theory part of the course, now for the practical: checking boxes with experienced Devon dormouse expert Janice Whittington. I won’t say where exactly as this woodland, though private, is bordered by a bridlepath. Unfortunately, many of Jan’s boxes, put up a good few years ago, have now gone – presumably vandalised, so she is no longer adding more. But we did find two occupied nests, and also, rather sadly, a dead dormouse. No clues as to why it died, but Jan will send it for analysis…
hazel dormouse

A guided walk around our nature reserve for the U3A

Early autumn flowers on Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest, Devon
[Maggie] On Friday I took a group from the Tiverton branch of the University of the Third Age around Popehouse Moor, our SSSI nature reserve.
Early autumn flowers on Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest, DevonInitially there were going to be twelve people, which is about as many as we can take at a time, but the pouring rain of the early morning slimmed that down to five.

Yet the weather was kind – clearing up to a sunny morning.

We don’t charge for walks and always offer free guided walks to guests at our eco lodges and cottage, but we do ask for a donation, to be passed on to the Devon Wildlife Trust, for outside groups.

So a big thank you to the U3A group, whose whip round generated £35, which I know the Trust will put to good use.

If anyone else would like to arrange a walk, please feel free to get in touch. There’s something to be seen all year round – though May is probably the highlight for flowers.

Buying a reconditioned phone

Ian has bought a refurbished / reconditioned phone. The scroll buttons on his old one finally wore out and he could no-longer read more than the first couple of lines of a message. So we had to change it.

The good-as-new ERI 200i came from Dextra solutions, ordered online and delivered to the door for £22.51 all in.

Ian’s old phone will go for recycling too – once we’ve managed to get all the numbers off it!

DIY tips for installing solar panels

Last January we finished putting solar hot water panels on our Devon eco lodges. Lots of people have asked about them, so here are a few tips for other DIY-ers

The panels mean Honeysuckle Nuthatch and Beech Lodges all their hot water from solar panels (with immersion top up). Honeysuckle and Nuthatch Lodges have a single west facing panel each. Our large Beech Lodge has two – one on each of the east and west facing slopes. The control system (all part of the kit) chooses which is producing the hottest water and switches the pump to that panel on.

The shower in Beech Lodge is still electric, but this will be switched in autumn 09. We also plan solar panels for Otter Cottage [update – done now]. The delay, though not ideal, also means we’ll have more time to gather comparative data – so we should be able to report back later on the economics and pay back times.

Meanwhile, we’ve been really impressed with how good the panels are. We ended up doing the installation ourselves (well, Ian did it and Maggie made the tea). We were eligible for a grant from Renewable Energy for Devon (RE4D), but we would have had to use one of their recognised installers, and that pushed the price up much higher than the grant was worth – so we went DIY. So to spread the word, here’s some of what we’ve learnt. If you’ve got other questions, gives Ian a ring or email us at

Ian’s tips

Evacuated tube solar collectors are said to be the most efficient at converting solar energy to heat water. Navitron came top in my list of suppliers for their no-nonsense approach and competitive prices, so I went with their kits.

I bought the Solarkit1 comprising a 20 tube solar collector, a 175l thermal store (hot water tank), the TDC3 controller, an expansion tank, the circulation pump and extras such as the anti-freeze, the filling pump and some valves.

Extras you will need to buy: This amounts to more than you first think. It is essentially the copper pipes to connect up the water in and out, the solar circuit and the expansion tank. You also need drain valves, immersion heater element and a blank cover for the alternative immersion heater hole.

However, when you try and squeeze this into an airing cupboard in a way that allows you to then get the tank in and cater for the possibility of one day taking it out again, you find you need a lot of copper elbows, compression fittings, reducers from 22mm to 15mm and so on.

Plan it as best you can before starting or you will be up and down to the plumbers merchant (Screwfix is handy for next day delivery) throughout the job.

Getting started… I won’t repeat anything on the instructions – they are clear and easy to follow. These are just a few observations from my 3 installs that might make life easier.

When you get the Navitron kit (or any other)the most exciting part is the Solar collector or solar panel. By all means have a look at it, but remember that it is really the last thing to install and the easiest part.

So, out with the old and in with the new. The new is a ‘thermal store’ rather than a hot water tank. Basically, the tank is filled with water that stays in there. Cold water passes through a coil in the store and picks up heat from the tank, exiting as hot water. The 2 advantages of this are:

1 – you get mains pressure hot water
2 – the hot water from the taps never stands around in a tank, so there is no legionnaires risk. Mainly of relevance to us as a commercial establishment where steps have otherwise to be taken to avoid this problem.

With the airing cupboard empty I fitted the expansion vessel. This is needed because the fluid that runs around through the coil in the tank and up through the solar collector is pressurised. The pipe is the old hot water pipe that will be used again as it is already hooked up to taps round the lodge. All I need to do is fit it to the hot water outlet of the thermal store…

Assembling and fitting the solar collector :
1/ Do what you can on the ground. Make the frame up and be sure that it is square (measure the diagonals) before tightening up. It is important or the tubes will not lie straight and you will struggle to fit them at an angle – glass does not like being bent!
2/ Loosely fit all the jubilee clips to the bottom of the frame. Easier now than on the roof.
3/ Make sure all the rubber boots for the tubes have holes in the end. They often are not quite punched out in manufacturing, so poke a screwdriver through them or they will not slide onto the tubes properly. Wet the end of the tube to make it easier.
The frame is now ready to take up on the roof, and the tubes with boots on ready to be passed up.

Wind Turbine?

site survey for a wind turbine at our Devon eco lodges and cottage Wind – when the wind blows…. we could be generating our own energy…

site survey for a wind turbine at our Devon eco lodges and cottage We’re looking into a Gaia 11kw wind turbine for the big cow field. It’ll need planning permission of course – and wind. But the databases put us safely inside the ‘doable’ range of wind speeds. We reckon, very roughly, that we (and the business) use about 28,000 kWh a year, and that a 18m high (to the centre of the blades) turbine might produce about 31,000 kWh a year.

It wouldn’t get rid of our entire electricity bill though. Here’s how it works. You get paid 23p per kWh ‘feed in tarrif’ (from April 2010) whether or not you use the juice – but on a still day we’d still be drawing power from the National Grid, and paying for it.

At first I thought this meant there was no incentive for being frugal – just turn up the heating when it’s windy – which seemed a shame. But thinking about it, it would make us much more aware of our Energy use patterns, trying not to exceed our own generating capacity and therefore incurring a bill, especially as it’s not going to be windy all the time.

I know there are lots of voices against wind power, but we have to throw everything we’ve got at cutting our fossil energy use – renewables, energy efficiencey, maybe even nuclear though I hate the thought. Personally, I think they are very elegant, unlike pylons, which no-body ever seems to raise an eyebrow about.

I think David Attenborough had it right when he spoke at the public enquiry into a wind turbine for Glyndebourne opera house in Sussex last year: “there’s always a good reason for somebody else to do something else somewhere else.”

Well, we’ve had the full site survey (from Greenthinking, a Devon firm). Now we have to do the maths and think about taking the leap. It will be a big investment with an unknown pay-back time.

But I would love to have a wind turbine…

Himalayan Balsam bashing

Maggie has been Himalayan balsam bashing – not here though. Thankfully there’s none on the farm. But it’s in the nearby Halsdon Nature reserve, run by the Devon Wildlife Trust…

Today they had a volunteers’ day pulling the stuff up by the roots and loading it onto a tractor.

The trust have helped us a lot with advice about our culm grassland sssi, so we like to turn up and help them out sometimes too.

Himalayan Balsam is a pretty flower, also sometimes called ‘policeman’s helmet’ because of it’s shape. But it’s invasive and grows in vast stands over 6ft high that shade out everything else. It’s not native to Britain – it was introduced in 1839. It has explosive seeds that can shoot themselves up to 7m away, and it loves damp soil so it spreads along the banks of rivers.

Perhaps it’s saving grace is that it’s easy to pull up – it seems odd that such a giant plant can have such a feeble root system – but then if it falls over it just roots again from the leaf nodes.

So controlling it is an ongoing battle that has to be fought pretty much every year once the plant has got a foothold. Still, it was a beautiful day to be out there….

here are a few Himalayan Balsam links: