Wildlife & Management Log 2020

This is the archive of Wheatland Farm’s conservation management diary for 2020. It will grow as we maintain the main page as a rolling 12 month record. Older years can be found here: 2019, 2018,   2017/16.

December 2020 at Wheatland Farm

23 December – bulbs are shooting up along the driveway and on the banks, both daffodils and snowdrops we think. Already, the natural world is anticipating the end of winter, though sometimes if feels like it has just begun. A very wet day, with the driveway running with water.

22 December: a woodpecker flew into a window at the farmhouse. After a few moments of being dazed, it flew off again. We are making little models of dragonflies to attach with suction pads to the glass to make it more obvious.

21 December, shortest day. Plenty of birds at the feeders, including willow/marsh tit.

19 December – heard 2 barn owls from two different directions, so it seems they are about. They can’t both have been Tony and Sally’s captive birds.

15 December: more work on the willows near Balebarn Lodge, including prepping some of the thicker branches for firewood for the lodge fire pit. Thin cuttings are being stacked at the far side of the Evie Avenue, where they can rot down slowly and provide an over wintering habitat for invertebrates.

14 December – no Alex to day as we had a family funeral to attend.

7 December: Scrub bashing on Popehouse Moor with Alex. Using new mulching strimmer blade to tackle bramble encroachment. Also started pollarding the willows near Balebarn Lodge. While doing this, had a close view of a warbler. But it’s December! Looked like a chiffchaff / willow warbler.

4 December: Red admiral butterfly again on the wing.

2 December: ‘Path rescue’ weeding behind the lodges

1 December A red admiral butterfly was fluttering around Nuthatch Eco Lodge in the sunshine. At Balebarn Eco Lodge, a pretty gold crest was searching out insects among the willow. Mash/willow tits, woodpeckers and nuthatches are still frequent visitors to the bird feeders, and gold finches are enjoying the ‘gone over’ lemon balm plants, as well as the teasels and the niger seed feeder. Our favourite blackbird, probably a young of the year, given a slightly speckled patch in its breast, looks hopefully for mealworms every time we go to the back door. At dusk, starlings jabber from the tree tops, then drop like stones into the reeds at the wildlife pond.

November 2020 at Wheatland Farm

28 November Ian and Alex dug the ditch along the southern edge of the field where the eco lodges are.

27 November. Started managing the willow behind Balebarn Eco Lodge. These are routinely cut, partly to keep them well clear of the wires, partly so they bush up.

26 November. Bramble bashing around the old mower shed, which is being refurbished. Started burning the cuttings.

23 November. A land management day – burning the brambles previously cut on Popehouse Moor and along the track to the west of the lodge field. Large flock of fieldfares, maybe about 100, flying over Popehouse Moor. Ian reported that plenty were using the apple trees between the lodges. Did some more willow coppicing between the lodges, so they don’t get too shut off from the sun. Next spring the willow will grow back, but wont overshadow the slower growing beech and oak saplings so much.

21 November Kingfisher at the fishing pond by Otter Cottage, and then flying over the wildlife pond towards Popehouse Moor.

20 November – finally got around to recording the 2020 Wheatland Farm Bat Survey online. No new species, but at least nine different species have been recorded at Wheatland Farm over the past 4 years.

17 November – a marsh or willow tit is now a frequent visitor to the Wheatland farmhouse bird feeders. It doesn’t stay long, so is hard to photograph. Other species commonly on the feeders are coal tit, blue tit, great tit, nuthatch (that’s why we have a Nuthatch Lodge!), with chaffinch sparrow and blackbird busy on the ground. Great spotted woodpecker also comes frequently. Having mentally noted that we don’t see the heron much any more, one took off from near the pond at dusk.

16 November – another day tackling brambles and soft rush on Popehouse Moor, same area on southern edge. Found two potential old summer dormice nests in the higher brambles – we left them just in case they are still occupied. One was fairly small (pictured, and about the size of a smallish orange), the other more grapefruit size.

Dormouse nest found at Wheatland Farm, Devon

12 November – annual cut to control brambles beneath the trees between Nuthatch and Beech Lodges, continuing where Alex left off. Talking on the phone with Dave from the Wild Otter Trust near Ashreigny who has had trouble with the Eggesford Hunt hounds running out of control across his land. Volunteers who happened to be on hand had to shield rescue otters in their housing. Not sure of the exact date, but what is the hunt doing out and about during lockdown anyway?

10 November Maggie tackling long grass beneath trees near Beech Lodge, where snowdrops should flower in February. Cut back some of the aspen and alder, to favour hazel and oak saplings, and pollarded some of the willow, so we keep relatively young and low growth here. A late bumble bee was resting on the woodwork at Beech Lodge – probably a buff tailed bumble bee, but rather small for a Queen, so could have been a late worker.

9 November Ian and Alex working on Popehouse Moor, bramble and scrub bashing near the southern border. Ian found an interesting ‘honeycomb’ type structure. We asked on the Devon Hedge group, but no-one had a definitive answer. Could perhaps have been feral bees, but it was rather dry and papery, not waxy.

7 November, again dry, so tackling southern boundary of lodge field with brush cutter, where brambles are encroaching. Spared the wild cherry that are springing up. Also cut the section near the swings and slides where common blue often enjoy birdsfoot trefoil, as the grass here is really beginning to go a bit rank, to the detriment of wildflowers. RH shooting near Popehouse Moor southern boundary. We went to check no-one was coming on to the SSSI (more worried about people associated with the hunt than RH, who said he was shooting to scare rooks, but stopped after we turned up).

6 November – weather relatively dry so mowing. using the brush cutter mower to tackle some patches of grass that have been left several years in the Lodge field. Where there are creeping thistle, we pull those first, then cut, but cut high.

5 November – sweeping up oak and beech leaves from the driveway, but using them as a mulch below the willow trees by Balebarn Eco Lodge. Over time, we hope they will help supress the nettles underneath the trees. Lovely still evening – watching the wildlife pond for a few minutes at dusk confirmed at least 50 starlings roosting in the reeds (possibly many more. In places the reeds look quite pushed over when you walk past). A party of long tailed tits hurried across the field, and a marsh/willow tit was in the withy.

3 November Grey wagtail searching for insects around the Wheatland farmhouse pond and courtyard.

2 November, cleared brambles along the lodge path with Alex, taking care to spare little saplings. Doing it now means they still have a few leaves, and we can see what we’re cutting. Weather has turned much wetter, and the ground is showing much more wear and tear from footfall now.

October 2020 at Wheatland Farm

29 October, 2 hour guided walk with guests at Otter Cottage – there’s always lots to talk about.

28 October Started enquiries about using ponies for grazing (in addition to cows) with Dartmoor and Exmoor pony contacts.

26 October – driveway maintenance work with Alex – scything back any remaining patches of long grass, and ‘edging’ the roadway so it drains better during the wetter winter weather. Ian has been working on die back infected Ash trees along the lodge path, taking down branches that look like they could fall over the path. Already, we have lost quite a few trees and this wooded area is opening up in places. However, there are also young cherry trees, field maples and sycamores coming up, so we hope they will go some way to replacing the ash.

25 October a common darter (female) and a southern hawker dragonfly busy at the main wildlife pond below Balebarn Lodge in the afternoon sunshine.

23 October – a busy day just before the start of the October Half Term here at Wheatland Farm. We swept up leaves from the car park and driveway, using them under the trees near Balebarn Lodge (see note for 12 October). In the evening, the cows went home to Higher Punchardon Farm.

20 October – brush cutter mowing rush patches on Lower Newland Moor

19 October: Conservation management work with Alex: today cutting back alder and willow around the pond, taking the big mower to a very overgrown grassy area to the northwest of the main pond, mowing our walking paths and taking the hedge trimmer to some of the encroaching bramble below the main pond. We want to open the walkway back up here – so people can explore and see comma butterflies and sometimes golden ringed dragonflies resting on the bramble – rich bank below the pond without having to fight their way through tangled briars.

Ian and Alex at the pond, cutting back birch and alder, October 2020

12 October Welcome to Alex, our new land manager employee, who will be with us one day a week for a few months. Today we cut back willow hedgerow on the western side of the lodge field, freeing up trees we want to encourage and pushing back others that are encroaching, well in advance of next year’s bird nesting season. We also pulled up nettles under the trees near Balebarn Lodge, as this is where we tend to put swept up leaves, now autumn is fully under way. The area use to be a manure heap / bit of a rubbish dump before our time at Wheatland Farm, so trees have been the only viable use really. We’re hoping putting autumn leaves there will act almost as a ‘decorative mulch’, delaying the nettle growth until shade from the tree leaves helps shade them out in the spring. Of course, we’re never going to be rid of nettles (wouldn’t want to be either), so this is an annual management task.

11 October – dragonfly count still finding a few southern hawkers and common darters. A grey wagtail has been hanging around the farmhouse.

7 October – mowing more circles in the rush on Lower Popehouse Moor, autumn mowing in the lodge field.

6 October – fighting back brambles around the woodshed.

September 2020 at Wheatland Farm

28 September, visit from Catherine Burgess, our Natural England advisor. She is happy with progress as we approach the end of our HLS agreement, and we talked about renewal options. However, it’s possible we might not renew, as we would like some more ponds, and even if we did apply for funding under Countryside Stewardship, it would be almost a full year before we could get started.

27 September. Mower to Winkleigh community trees project.

26 September Hummingbird hawkmoth flew out of the polytunnel as we opened it. Cut a couple more rush patches on Lower Newland Moor.

21 September – scything rushes and burning them (small pile) on Popehouse Moor. Structural mowing in the lodge field and the pond field below Balebarn Lodge. We started cutting into the ‘verges’ along the paths, cut a bit more of the bird’s foot trefoil patch, and some of the high growth of angelica, sparing the blackthorn and oak saplings. Common blue butterfly enjoying the sunshine at the wildlife pond, along with a second small copper butterfly for this season. A good day for damsel and dragonflies. Southern Hawker, migrant hawker, common darter, common blue damselflies all at the pond. Cut the labyrinth (hayterette). Kestrel flying over the fields.

16 September. Scything rushes on Popehouse Moor – continuing with the big patch towards Roger’s end. Ian chainsawing scrub encroaching along the turbine walk. Mowed the house side of the orchard and part of the driveway.

14 September Mowing the orchard, including most of the longer grass. Guests in Balebarn eco lodge say a Marsh or Willow tit came to their feeder.

13 September mowing routine patches in the field below Balebarn Lodge – the grass section below the pond, which we will keep ‘cut long’ year round until the nettles and thistles are back under control. Also did some of this year’s long growth. Small copper butterfly – only sightings this year to date. Seen twice in the day, so possibly the same one. Dragonfly count found 7 species – dragonflies: golden ringed, migrant hawker, southern hakwer, common darter. Damselflies: common blue, emerald, and one blue tailed (at a distance).

12 September Holly Blue butterfly on the ivy at Otter Cottage

10 September Bramble bashing and rush scything / burning on Popehouse Moor, Roger’s end. 40-50 swallows on the wires.

8 September – bramble and rush cutting on Popehouse Moor. Ian walked 13km behind the brush cutter mower. Cut back brambles encroaching near the entrance, along some of the woodland fringe between the turbine field and Popehouse Moor, and along the southern boundary at the western end. Started tackling the huge thickets here too.

7 September – scythe vegetation around the drainage dip where Beech Lodge hot tub water drains. The phragmites are starting to establish well here.

6 September – started mowing ‘spots’ in the turbine field (the cows are on Popehouse Moor, topping up the grazing there.

3 September structural mowing

2 September – structural mowing in the field below Balebarn Lodge starts. Migrant Hawker dragonflies are at the pond now.

1 September – we started an autumn programme of ‘structural mowing’. September is the month when the ground is still relatively dry, and the weather warm enough for grass to re-grow. We started by cutting bands into the patches of long grass, using the big brush cutter mower. This way, we manage the visual impact, so not everything looks trashed all the time. Each week, we cut a bit more.

August 2020 at Wheatland Farm

28 August – again pulling thistles.

27 August Pulling thistles from patches of long grass that will be mown later.

26 August start mowing into the summer meadow patch in front of Beech Lodge. Huge caterpillar on willowherb in front of Balebarn Lodge – hawk moth? Still masses of butterflies on Popehouse Moor – red admirals, gate keeper, speckled wood, green veined whites, painted ladies, small tortoiseshell. Bee walk.

17 August. Cutting some of the hemlock water dropwort on Popehouse Moor, and moving the electric fence. There are usually common darters at the pond. Pigeons below Euan’s tree house are nearly ready to fledge.

14 August, mowing in the pond field below Balebarn Lodge, and starting to cut back some high growth.

13 August – took mower to Winkleigh Community Trees and cut the grass. Huge downpour in afternoon.

11 August Mowing in the orchard

10 August – Bat detector installed by the wildlife pond below Balebarn Lodge. It will be there for 3 nights, then will have its recordings analysed as part of the Devon Wildlife Trust’s county wide survey.

8 August Mowing in the lodge field – we’ll be mowing the ‘late lawns’ right through until the end of August. In some places we’re beginning to cut back this summer’s main growth, leaving a strip alongside the path, then cutting a section back from that, so we don’t have too much ‘cropped field’ look at any one time, and the grass will have a chance to recover and stay long (but not completely long and flopped) over the winter.

4 August, cutting hemlock water dropwort on Popehouse Moor. Here’s what it looked like before we got going (original photo 27 July)

1 August, ugly cute pigeon chicks!

July 2020 at Wheatland Farm

30 July – First southern hawker dragonfly of the year seen at the wildlife pond. Kingfisher seen at Otter Cottage. Mowed the orchard, both sides of the driveway, and the turbine pathway, tackling bramles threatening to get established along the fence line.

29 Extending the electric fencing for the cows, to keep them way from hemlock water dropwort areas. Mowing in the eco lodge field.

27 July mowing in the field below Balebarn Eco Lodge.

23 July – just for the record, Popehouse Moor is looking lovely with Betony and hawkbits.

22 July Water stick insect found while pond dipping with eco lodge guests. We also found a holly blue (not that common a butterfly here), and there was a four spot chaser still at the pond. Here’s a picture of the pond, for reference.

20 July first southern hawker of the year at the wildlife pond.

19 July First common darter of the year spotted – actually 2 at the wildlife pond. And just for the record, pics from the wild flower area in the old farmhouse garden – with chicory and birds foot trefoil.

16 July Gatekeeper butterfly – first of the summer seen here at Wheatland Farm.

15 July. Mowing orchard, both sides of the drive, with the brushcutter mower.

14 July Mowing turbine path, path around the trees at the side of Lower Newland Moor, and nettles/brambles near Honeysuckle lodge.

13 July – patch mowing in the field below Balebarn Eco Lodge with the brush cutter. The little alder blackthorn that suffered nibble damage may be putting out a fresh shoot from the base, and has put out berries on the stressed main stem. Once again, plenty of small tortoise shell butterflies – it’s a good year for them. Just beginning to see some birdsfoot trefoil plants amidst the grass in the patches near the chestnut tree.

12 July – dragonfly count. Emerald dragonfly, 2 blue tail, lots of azure and common damselflies, 6-20 emperors (at least 1 egg laying), and a golden ringed dragonfly, plus one brief glimpse of a chaser type dragonfly. Patch mowing in the lodge field – the main southern ‘late lawn’ and the bit near Beech Eco Lodge hot tub pond.

9 July Hand weeding around Balebarn Eco Lodge, in the parking spaces.

8 July trimming overhanging branches along the lodge path.

5 July Planted out ‘hand reared’ phragmites – some in the trough in the farmyard barn, some in the lodge field corner field. The cut stems planted earlier in the year all died in the dry weather. Today’s plants are the ones raised from cuttings kept in a bucket of water last summer until they put out roots. Cut more stems and set them to soak.

3 July. Path mowing in the lodge field

June 2020 at Wheatland Farm

27 June Bee walk with Kim – but found only white/buff bumblebees and one red tailed bumblebee. Perhaps it was a bit late in the afternoon.

25 June. We found a hummingbird hawkmoth in the Wheatland Farm polytunnel.

23 June First emerald damselfly of the season has emerged at the wildlife pond.

21 June. Silver washed fritillary spotted near the wildlife pond.

20 June. Cows returned to Wheatland Farm, starting their summer grazing in Lower Newland Moor

19 June Chain sawing overhanging branches along the turbine walk and repairing fence posts for cow arrival, expected tomorrow. Oxeye daisies are in full bloom in the new wildflower area by the farmhouse.

18 June checking some recently spotted moths, including speckled yellow, silver ground carpet, smoky wainscot.

17 June trimming ivy from top of Otter Cottage wall to keep it out of the roof.

16 June golden ringed dragonfly at the pond. First ringlets seen. Brambles below the pond are literally humming with insect life, including a fresh looking red admiral and a pretty small tortoiseshell.

14 June Mowed the far side of the orchard, leaving patches where there is white clover or where yellow rattle have yet to set seed. On Popehouse Moor a black cap got quite cross with Maggie – presumably it was nesting nearby. A single heath spotted orchid has self sown on the bank at the far end of the pond. This is the first we’ve seen outside Popehouse Moor.

13 June: Mowed farmhouse side of the orchard. The wild strawberries are harvestable!

12 June – a largely wet day. Finished building stone gabions in the lodge field for the hand washing station. Our #30DaysWild was to sign up to a virtual mass lobby on 30th June.

11 June. A kingfisher, a juvenile we think, sat for a while near the back door. Euan, who filmed it on his phone, didn’t think it had hit the glass, but we’re not sure what else it would have been doing there… It flew off ok when it saw Euan moving.

10 June, more patch mowing in the morning, before rain set in. Mowed the turbine walk and part of the path past the woven willows – the brush cutter just about fits over the little bridge.

9 June Much of the day patch mowing in the field below Balebarn Eco Lodge.

8 June. Nuthatches have fledged and seem to be in the trees as a family party along the lodge path. Blue tits have left the gate post. For #30DaysWild we were enjoying hawkbit, which has sprung into flower in the parched grass near the fishing pond.

7 June blogged about pheasants for #30DaysWild. There has been a male and 3 females in the lodge field recently, but then a big patch of feathers appeared. It wasn’t us that ate it!

6 June Brimstone larvae are eating through a young alder buckthorn outside Beech Lodge. But when I went back for a better photo, they had all gone – a bird must have found them. Other young plants still have caterpillars though.

5 June. At the pond, 3 or 4 small tortoise shell butterflies were fluttering along the wildflower bank – it’s notable as some years we hardly see 3 or 4 all year. Ian is installing an outside sink in the lodge field. We will be filling gabions with rocks so we provide a bit more habitat heterogeneity at the same time.

4 June: Blue tits in the gatepost by the farmhouse are nearly ready to fly.

3 June, finally a wet day. The met office say the recent dry spell is the biggest shift in rainfall compared to the wet winter since 1862.

2 June. Ditching near Balebarn Eco Lodge. There are many dragonflies and damsels at the pond now – 5 or 6 emperors and 4 or 5 four spot chasers plus lots of damsels. The emperors are egg laying. Hand weeded the concrete in front of Balebarn.

1 June. Continued cutting the bank at Balebarn Lodge. #30DaysWild started with our Southern Marsh Orchids

May 2020 at Wheatland Farm

31 May Bee walk to day. Started scything the bank at Balebarn Lodge. Skippers are suddenly quite numerous.

30 May A hedgehog came snuffling around the patio by the farmhouse at about 10pm.

29 May First large skippers are out and about.

25 May Emperor dragonflies at the pond, and also four spot chasers (both firsts for the year). Broad bodied chasers also on the wing, a beautiful demoiselle up by the house, plenty of azure damselflies, a few common damselflies, large red damselflies, and a single blue tailed damselfly. Watered the vetch seedlings. We are seeing burnet moths now, and still plenty of butterflies.

24 May. A very yellow butterfly seen fleetingly near the wildlife pond – too yellow for a brimstone, but isn’t it a bit early for a clouded yellow? The blackbirds above the door at Beech Lodge have fledged, thankfully. Cut phragmites and plonked it in a bucket – we’re hoping it will put out roots as the dry weather has put a lot of stress on the cuttings we planted, and they may not take.

22nd May, unknown dragonfly dipped down to the pond – probably an emperor – but we didn’t see it for long enough to be sure. Ian finished the new pontoons at the wildlife pond and noticed clouds of red creatures in the water. Not sure what they were.

21 May mowing patches in the lodge field (and later at the community trees in Winkleigh. Broad bodied chaser at the wildlife pond below Balebarn Lodge

20 May Ian working on pontoons at the pond.

17 Dragonfly at the pond – not sure which kind as seen too briefly. Thrush chicks getting big now.

13 May planted vetch seedlings into mole hills in the field below Balebarn – grown from seeds collected from local hedgerows. But with this prolonged dry spell, we’re not sure how well they will take.

12 May mowing the orchard on both sides of the driveway.

10 May Large red damselflies at the pond in greater numbers now – and 2 demoiselles, though we’re not entirely sure which species.

9 May, a bat was flying by the wildlife pond mid afternoon – unusual

8 May Azure damselflies now at the pond. and about 6-20 large red damselflies.

7 May mow Otter garden. No dragons or damsels at the pond today. Mowed the labyrinth

6 May Ian mowed paths, Maggie collected molehills. Cut and replanted 2 batches of phragmities, moving them from the wildlife pond to the corner of the lodge field. But if it remains dry they may struggle to root. The moorhen has chicks.

4 May 1 back pack of spot spraying for creeping thistle.

1 May path mowing

April 2020 at Wheatland Farm

30th April – it rained!!

28 April – a blackbird has 4 eggs in a nest right above the door to Beech Lodge. We can’t disturb it – maybe they will make it to fledge before lockdown lifts.

26 April. A song thrush is sitting on eggs in the woodshed.

24 April. We picked up the branches Ian cut from the willows along the western side of the lodge field and burnt the brash.

23 April. Just 15 wagtails on the wires at dusk now. We burnt the bonfire pile on Lower Newland Moor, checking carefully for reptiles and burning bit by bit to keep the footprint small. It’s good to get it done before the grazing season.

22 April. First dragonfly/damselfly of the year spotted at Wheatland Farm – a large red damsel at the small scrapes in the field below Balebarn. Interestingly, it was 11 May before we saw this species in 2019. Also several lovely moths on the timber cladding at Balebarn. Plenty of butterflies around too – saw orange tip, peacock, brimstone, red admiral and a small white today. And in the polytunnel there are usually at least 3 species of bumblebee at any one time. Common carder, red tailed, early, buff tailed are all common.

20 April. Lots of patch mowing today.

18 April. Ian saw a Holly Blue butterfly in the lodge field – last year we saw one on the 9th April, but they are not that common at Wheatland Farm.

16 April. Spot spraying creeping thistle and curled dock with grazon. Not a pleasant job, but if we don’t, they quickly get out of control – a legacy of previous over grazing and mismanagement. Some areas we will simply mow repeatedly, but some need a bit more active management. Plenty of butterflies around – peacocks, whites, and of course plenty of orange tips now. The lady’s smock is in flower in the lodge field – their larval food plant. Here’s a post from a previous April.

15 April. Sadly, yet more ash needs to come down along the lodge path, because of ash die back. We are fostering tree seedlings that spring up in the gaps. Ian did some chainsaw work today while the lodges remain covid-empty.

13 April. Ian cut back the grey alder that has started forming a line of trees alongside the wildlife pond below Balebarn Lodge. Ponds always want to return to woodland! We have put the trimmings on the brash pile by the pond side – good habitat for overwintering creatures and especially reptiles. Mowed the far side of the orchard with the brush cutter mower.

12 April. Took the scythe to brambles encroaching from the trees between the lodges, and also behind the little pond that takes the Beech Lodge Hot Tub water.

11 April. Speckled wood, green veined white, tree bumble bee are all new species for the year. Did a bee walk. Ian cleared brash from around the lodges.

10 April Collected molehills to use to grow tomatoes! Wood anemone I planted out earlier are now flowering – and the clusters appear to be thriving.

8 April Pollarding willows near the swings and slide in the lodge field- and using the stems to make a hurdle fence in our garden.

7 April Cutting rushes fringing the wildlife pond below Balebarn Lodge with the scythe, then burning them on the recently cleared bramble patch.

6 April. Raven croaking overhead. Mowed some of the established patches and cut back some of the willows near Balebarn Hot Tub. With no guests any time soon, it’s a chance to take them down a bit and get more light to the red willow we want to encourage behind.

5 April – Swallows first seen here at Wheatland Farm, 2020. Also, a black cap is singing in the willow trees, and by the pond up to 4 peacock butterflies were to be seen tussling mid air together, and a brimstone flitted by. A walk around the farm found the primroses on Popehouse Moor in full bloom. Here’s a pic of the patch, for reference.

3 April Mowed labyrinth – hope to grow some birdsfoot trefoil in the gaps where we’ve taken out thistles.

2 April Phragmites are just showing new growth. Used grazon to spot spray some docks in the Lodge field and below Balebarn. Cleared bramble from the new wildflower area near the polytunnel – it encroaches fast. Chicory and birdsfoot trefoil are already showing here, as is yarrow and of course plenty of ox eye daisy.

1 April – a garden bumblebee seen at the polytunnel. Planted out several tufts of wood anemone – grown from local (Hollocombe) seed and found in a neglected tub when clearing out behind the polytunnel. These are now in the woodland fringe between Lower Newland Moor and the Lodge field, on both sides of the gate.

Also planted out last year’s devils bit scabious plants, grown from local seed. These have gone to the late lawn in front of Beech Lodge and into a patch below Balebarn Lodge.

Mowed patches of soft rush on Lower Newland Moor, where it is starting to dominate again. If we do nothing we’ll be back to the situation where we needed the Devon Wildlife Trust to come and help us weed wipe. So used the brushcutter to mow ‘spots’. We have not cut into the really densely rushy and very wet bit where birds might nest, but have picked areas where tussocks seem to be taking hold where they weren’t before. We have tried to record the position, though not entirely sure how accurate these readings are:

Rush Spots Lower Newland Moor

Found a small tortoiseshell butterfly on the wing in this field. Also used the brush cutter on the patch below the wildlife pond – need to reduce docks and thistles here, and stop bramble advancing.

Mowed the garden side of the orchard with the brush cutter, so keeping the grass long but in check.

March 2020 at Wheatland Farm

29 March pollarded some of the young trees near Beech Lodge, as with no guests looks don’t matter much right now. So we lowered some of the fast growing alder. Also took down some of the ‘goat willow’ now becoming rather large near Balebarn Lodge. Making them lower and bushier will keep them out of the overhead wires and help shade out unwanted nettles etc on the old manure pile.

28 March. A bumble bee survey (all within our own property, so no lock down flouted). Hairy footed flower bees are out and about. An early bumblebee and 3 buff tailed bumblebees plus one seen flying too high to identify. 2 snipe, one on Lower Newland Moor, one on Popehouse Moor. Cutting some patches in the pond field with the brush cutter – this time including the ‘left several years’ bits, especially where they are starting to go to bramble by the pond itself. Also, topping old stems and tree saplings in the wildflower strip alongside the pond, just to the north of the mown path.

27 March Tree creeper in the orchard. Burning the cut brambles on Popehouse Moor.

26 March. Marsh /Willow tit seen by the back door. Cut another bramble patch on Popehouse Moor – there is plenty of work there to do. At present, you can still see into the patches and be sure there are no nests. A frog hopped away as I was cutting, peacock and comma butterflies are around, and dark edged bee flies (could see the wing pattern in photos).

25 March bee fly nectaring on forget me not by the farmhouse, near the bank where the mining bees are numerous (up to 10 at a time). Not sure which species, as it didn’t hang around long enough to see close up.

24 March. Clearing up the previously cut brambles on Popehouse Moor, and burning them. Fire almost got out of hand. Peacock butterflies, a raven croaking chiff chaff calling.

21 March. Mowing patches in the field below Balebarn Lodge, for land management purposes as much as aesthetics, as cornonavirus means most guests are cancelling. But not the wildlife!

20 March. Finally, some of the grass is dry enough to mow with the brushcutter. We did the orchard patches, and the late lawns in the lodge field.

19 March. 5 new bird boxes put up around Wheatland Farm. More evidence of something eating frogs at the wildlife pond, but nothing notable on the camera.

18 March. Nuthatches are mudding up the opening hole of the nest box by Honeysuckle Lodge. Here’s a link to last year’s brood.

17 March. Planted 5 new whips of alder buckthorn, food plant of the brimstone butterfly – two between Beech Lodge and Nuthatch Lodge and 3 at the edge of the field below Balebarn Lodge.

16 March. First Chiff chaff heard singing – on Popehouse Moor. It was a beautiful sunny day, and a brimstone butterfly was flying near Beech Lodge. Another butterfly, with dark underwings, so perhaps a red admiral, was flitting about near Balebarn Lodge. Maggie was bramble bashing low growth on Popehouse Moor, near the entrance. Further along, long tailed tits were nesting in gorse. Maggie also beheaded a few thistles near the labyrinth, and a red tailed bumblebee queen flew up, perhaps disturbed from hibernation. Buff tailed bumblebee queens are becoming more routine sightings on sunny days. The corona virus is dominating the human headlines, but spring is unfurling oblivious to the disruption.

8 March more evidence of something eating frogs down at the pond. Wildlife cameraman Mark Smith says in Scotland otters dismember frogs… could we have an aquatic visitor? It’s a bit gruesome, but for the record, here’s what the carnage looks like.

7 March pruning back the copper beech in the old farmyard, so as to give the apple tree there more light. Two more bumblebees spotted. One was clearly a buff tailed bumblebee, the other appeared to have a black tail, so not sure what that was. Perhaps a trick of the light.

5 March parties of goldfinch still coming to the teasel heads.

3 March. Dry enough to mow with the brush cutter, so did parts of the orchard on both sides of the road. Buff tailed bumblebee queen nectaring on winter flowering honeysuckle near Beech Lodge. Still some wet days ahead.

February 2020 at Wheatland Farm

27 February buff tailed bumblebee queen flying in the sunshine.

26 February – something has been eating frogs at the pond – a good number (>10?) of ripped apart frogs in the shallows by the eastern reed bed.

14-24 February We were away. Several stormy days in our absence. But the thrushes are still singing in the dusk on our return.

8 February the crocuses have started flowering. We continue to pull typha from the fishing pond.

7 February Song thrushes in full song in the trees – spring is coming. Pulling Typha from the fishing pond. Guests leaving Honeysuckle Lodge told his they’d been thrilled to watch foxes just outside the lodge.

6 February – a sunny day, so we burnt the previously cut brambles on Popehouse Moor, far end. The actual bonfire was at SS6472609657 . Here are a couple of reference images.

After scrub clearing and bramble bashing, Popehouse Moor SSSI February 2020
After scrub clearing and bramble bashing, Popehouse Moor SSSI February 2020 – for comparison with ‘before’ image recorded below.

We also continued cutting the late lawns., doing several patches: the circle in front of Honeysuckle Lodge, the patch with the iron flowers between Honeysuckle and Nuthatch Lodges, and the section to the east of the lodge field, near Beech Lodge and the phragmites scrape.

4 February We used the new brush cutter to start restablishing our ‘late lawns’, which will be cut through the season until late summer. We hope to establish more birds foot trefoil and devil’s bit scabious here. The brush cutter has a high blade, so lots of grass is left, and just the straggly top trimmed back. Today we did the area in the field below Balebarn Lodge around the labyrinth. We also did some rough grassland management, restablishing the fire site for Balebarn Lodge, and clearing back near the phragmites scrapes in the pond field.

3 February Pulling Typha from the fishing pond by Otter Cottage. The intention is to return more open water, but to leave a central ‘island’ of typha for nesting moorhens – central in the hope that the water will provide some protection from dogs and foxes.

1 February – a spot of ongoing path weeding behind the lodges.

January 2020 at Wheatland Farm

28 January – weeding Otter Cottage flower bed – largely pulling out dead montbretia stems. Also weeded more of the lodge path.

27 January more work managing the bank beyond Otter Cottage, largely with a scythe to cut back encroaching brambles.

25 January More scrub bashing on Popehouse Moor, far end. Woodcock flew up from the woods near the entrance to the moor, and another from the fringe of the wood at the far end.

24 January. Used the brushcutter to mow the turbine walk – this is going to make ongoing maintenance much easier. Cut a trail patch of rushes around the turbine itself. It looks like this mower will make much lighter work of patch management.

21 January 2 woodcock on Popehouse Moor, and a flock of about 30+ fieldfares on Lower Newland Moor. We’re starting to cut brambles at the far end of Popehouse Moor – too wet to use any kind of machinery so it has to be with a scythe. For the record, here’s what it looked like as we got started. We knew this was a priority for this winter, but it was also recommended by the botanists from the Devonshire Association who visited Wheatland Farm last summer.

Today we also started clearing the bank of the fishing pond near Otter Cottage – where last year we found a mourning bee. This is something we do every year to keep brambles in check. Today we found what we think is a harvest mouse nest – we’ve found these around Wheatland Farm before too. We suppose it could also be a dormouse nest – but it didn’t seem quite big enough. Found about 40cm off the ground in bramble and rose, made using montbretia leaves. Definitely a woven nest, but also definitely empty.

We mowed the grass at Otter Cottage too. The smell of freshly mown grass….OK in its own way, but it’s not very January…

20 January a hare and 2 foxes seen on Popehouse Moor. We were burning the brambles cut back on 9th.

19 January tree creeper seen near Beech Lodge

18 January a snow drop is out by Beech Lodge, but most of them have not yet pushed through. A couple of daffodils are in flower by the pond next to Otter Cottage.

17 Winter clearing work by Balebarn Lodge, and in the undergrowth we found this enormous puff ball. We wish we’d seen it last year when it was fresh. The ‘size nine’ is for scale! The main task for the day was to cut the willow below the power lines. It’s always been the plan to keep these low.

Gigantic puff ball spotted January 2020 at Wheatland Farm, Devon

12 January planted an ‘Old Man’s Beard’ – a native clematis, at Honeysuckle Lodge.

11 January, still working on weeding the lodge path.

10 January burning some of the brambles we cut back from near the car park.

9 January cutting 2 patches of brambles on Popehouse Moor, towards the western end.

2 January: Cutting the red willow back on the wildlife pond island below Balebarn. Last year we left this too late, and a mallard was already nesting, meaning we couldn’t give the willow their ‘haircut’. We have used some of the willow in the lodge field, alongside the track at the western edge, where it will hopefully produce some winter colour in due course.