Wildlife and Management Log

Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges

Seen some good  wildlife? Tell us or tweet us @WheatlandFarm, with a pic if possible! Remember, what gets noted depends a lot on where people are – so have a good wander around the farm at all times of the day (and night?).

This page also acts as the Wheatland Farm management diary Lots of the stories have more info and pictures in the Buzz section of the Wheatland Farm website.

We keep this page as a rolling archive, looking back over the past 12 months at Wheatland Farm’s Devon eco lodges. Older entries can be found here: 2020 partial archive, 2019, 2018 or 2017/2016

January at Wheatland Farm

10 January, cutting willow below the power lines near Balebarn Lodge. A little sun broke through in the afternoon, and a robin was fossicking for insects in the stirred up leaves. Around 3.20 the starlings started to arrive in small flocks. Earlier in the day the fields were alive with the chatter of feeding birds, probably a flock of mixed thrushes but coudld also have been starlings.

9 January It has been wet for days, but today spirits are lifted by the sound of a Great Tit singing ‘teacher teacher teacher’. Somebody knows the year has turned

8 January large flock of noisy thrushes temporarily using the trees at the northern edge of the farmhouse garden.

December at Wheatland Farm

Woodpecker and nuthatch are frequent at the bird feeders. A few individual flowers are still out – ox eye daisies.

November at Wheatland Farm

30 November goldcrests more visible now the leaves are mostly down. We generally see them where the lodge path joins the main drive, close to the scots pines – a tree that they like.

29 November Red admiral butterfly in some autumn sunshine.

27 November Marsh/willow tits are still frequent visitors at the farmhouse bird feeders.

26 November: clearing fallen leaves from the lodge car park including giving the tarmac a good brushing, so we don’t lose this important asset to accumulated organic matter. Here we pile the leaves to the north of Honeysuckle Lodge, rather than moving them any distance.

24 November: Clearing leaves from the driveway and around the sheds. The beech leaves by Beech Lodge look gorgeously golden orange, but soon they’ll rot and mulch, making them so much harder to remove. We sweep them up and cart them to the young trees near Balebarn Lodge, where we use them as a nettle suppressing mulch.

23 November: the timber cladding for the shed repair has been collected from Mike Moser’s woodland restoration project.

17 November: Managing the leaves! A week on and it’s time to get out there with the rake again.

10 November: still nettle pulling and raking leaves

7 November – pulling nettles from under the trees near Balebarn Eco Lodge so we can mulch with fallen leaves. That way all the bugs and beasties on the leaves still get to live on, and we get a bit more weed suppression. It’s going to take many years to get rid of all the nettles though, as this was an old manure heap in years gone by. A Red Admiral butterfly was enjoying the sunshine and flowering shrubs. Bats are still flying.

6 November Guests staying at Balebarn Lodge report seeing the king fisher at the fishing pond last week – they didn’t give an exact date. Starlings are starting to use the reeds at the main wildlife pond as a roost. We get our own tiny murmuration at dusk, then suddenly they all drop like stones into the reeds.

October at Wheatland Farm

30 October sparrowhawk

Frequent sightings of marsh/willow tits at the feeders throughout October. The nuthatches and woodpeckers are busy too.

13 October – interesting caterpillar spotted when patch mowing.

6 October migrant hawker, southern hawker and common darter dragonflies are at the pond. Still seeing swallows on the Devon lanes, if not at the farm.

3 October masses of red admiral butterflies on the fallen apples. The moorhens like them too.

September at Wheatland Farm

September is mowing month – the time when it feels like summer still but you know wetter ground will be with us soon. We take the brush cutter mower out and tackle patches of rough grassland, brambles developing along hedge lines (in the turbine field) etc. This year we did a late mow of the rush patches in the turbine field just before the cows left for Higher Punchardon Farm. It will be interesting to see how well that holds the rushes in check. Southern hawkers are lighting up the pond margins with their colourful flying, and towards the end of the month, the migrant hawkers started being seen too.

August at Wheatland Farm

16 Raking up grass from the lodge field mowed patches, including the gradually reducing circle in front of Beech Lodge. Mowing the paths.

14 August Common blue butterflies seen, a male at the wildlife pond below Balebarn Lodge and a female in the farmhouse garden.

12 August beautiful demoiselle at the wildlife pond bramble bank, plus southern hawkers, emperors, azure, common, golden ringed, blue tail, emerald damsels/dragons at the wildlife pond

8 August common blue butterfly male at the wildlife pond

6 August Mowing patches in the main lodge field – leaving the cuttings for a few days where there are lots of yellow rattle seed heads. Tackling some of the patches that haven’t been cut for a year or so.

3 August small copper butterflies in the lodge field.

2 August Common darters emerging at the wildlife pond, elephant hawk moth caterpillar at Balebarn Lodge. Cutting the grass bank at Balebarn Lodge and mowing patches in the meadow below the lodge.

July at Wheatland Farm

30 July managing back the willow hedge at balebarn lodge and cutting down and clearing the ox eye daisies from the farmyard.

21 July cutting some more hemlock water dropwort on Popehouse Moor. We’ve left it a bit late again, with our busy summer for UK holidays. There are masses of butterflies everywhere – whites, ringlets, small skippers, meadow brown, a few commas etc. Golden ringed dragonflies are being seen fairly frequently at the woodland fringe this year.

20 July Patch mowing in the field below Balebarn Eco Lodge – cutting strips into the long grass that is now going brown, so we don’t end up with a whole field of dead grass in September. It is notable that the patches we kept mown last year, but let grow this year, are now full of birdsfoot trefoil.

19 July sparrowhawk in the orchard, barn owl screeching at night. Guests in Balebarn Lodge last week reported watching a barn owl hunt the field. Common Darters are emerging at the wildlife pond. Cutting long grass along the Wheatland Farm driveway.

14 July guests in Honeysuckle Lodge are enjoying watching a young fox cub that comes right to the lodge lawn. Patch mowing on Lower Newland Moor with the big mower. The recent dry weather means it’s possible to try to cut the wetter patches.

6 July we are seeing young robins flying around the farmhouse patio now.

5 July Ian mowing paths. Added some ox eye daisy seeds to the rough grass outside Honeysuckle Lodge. The forecast rain will wash them down, hopefully.

4 July Guests are still reporting seeing barn owls hunting over the lodge field.

2 July goldfinches have a nest with nestlings in the young aspen just outside the bunk room at Beech Lodge.

1 July patch mowing in the field below Balebarn Eco Lodge, especially below the wildlife pond.

June at Wheatland Farm

29 June tree bumble bees still using their nest at Beech Lodge

28 June Ian tackled the ivy wall at Otter Cottage, stopping it going into the roof space.

27 June sycamore trees are developing seeds. We’re patch mowing.

25 June Guests leaving from Honeysuckle Lodge say they watched a couple of barn owls quartering the lodge field earlier in the week.

23 June Some patch mowing, while the sun is out. Maggie did some more scything of hemlock water dropwort on Popehouse Moor. It’s always a question – tackle the dense stands to ‘reclaim’ some of the more diverse flora, or concentrate on the edges, and the odd pioneer plant, so it doesn’t spread further? We think the later, first. We are a bit earlier than last year… but perhaps not early enough. Our #30DaysWild was hovering sparrows at the feeder. The chiff chaff nest has been pulled out – but it was empty a few days ago so the young probably fledged. Badger? Fox?

22 June The moorhens on the wildlife pond have a new brood. Golden ringed dragonflies are hawking over the meadows, and emperors and four spots are at the pond. Our #30DaysWild post was reflecting on this year’s butterflies at Wheatland Farm (well, so far, at least).

21 June – the longest day, but a bit of a damp one.

20 June Poppies are in bloom, along with the usual oxeye daisies.

19 June Patch mowing in the eco lodge field – and seeing toads leave the cut areas. They generally don’t seem to get caught by the mower blades.

18 June A guest leaving Otter Cottage says there are lots of baby froglets and or toad-lets leaving the wildlife pond. So this year’s exodus has begun! A male great spotted woodpecker brought its chick to the feeders at the Wheatland Farmhouse.

17 June The robin that tried to nest in Ian’s workshop, and then again right by our back door, has live young in a nest built into the cob where the hairy footed flower bees breed. But since it’s not their peak time of year we think everyone can rub along.

15 June Painted ladies are around – but these aren’t quite the first we’ve seen this year. But talking of firsts, we found a scarce chaser at Wheatland Farm – the first recorded sighting in North Devon, according to the Devon Dragonfly Recorder. There was also a golden ringed dragonfly hawking over Lower Newland Moor – Wheatland Farm’s turbine field. The potential chiff chaff nest is now empty.

14 June We’ve been using the drone to check out the rush mown patches in the Wheatland Farm turbine field, and see how the cows grazing is going.

13 June Found a cucumber spider on some stonework near the eco lodges.

11 June The cows returned to Wheatland Farm for their summer grazing – loaned from Higher Punchardon Farm. This year there are 8 young animals.

10 June small tortoiseshell and green veined white butterflies in the lodge field – we are doing some patch mowing so not everything goes over all at once, but mowing at this time of year is always a tough decision. We try to spare individual flowers that have not yet seeded (some cuckoo pint) but also know that the reason we have such a fabulous meadow is that it gets mown in patches….

9 June Flame carpet moth at Balebarn Eco Lodge – resting and camouflaged against the concrete.

8 June: we’re pleased to have found 22 southern marsh orchids in a patch on Popehouse Moor SSSI. But we also note there are young willows growing there, which will need cutting back. It’s also dragonfly time again at Wheatland Farm – we saw the first emperor dragonfly at the pond and also the four spot chasers and broad bodied chasers.

7 June Yellow flag irises at the pond just beginning to go over, and finally damselflies are emerging.

6 June Longhorned beetle climbing up a glass window

5 June a nest on Popehouse Moor, low down in tussocky grass, is probably a chiff chaff nest

4 June . Found a white ermine moth in a bathroom at the Lodges, and Barrie started an out of the window species list for #30dayswild

3 June Large red damselflies have emerged at the Wheatland Farm wildlife pond

1 June Hawthorn is in full bloom – a bit later than some years.

May at Wheatland Farm

31 May large red damselflies at the pond.

28 May great spotted woodpeckers are frequently at the feeders

23 May It’s a wet day and there’s a very bedraggled robin in the kitchen

19 May poplar hawk moth

18 May Green carpet moth seen on the driveway. Not rare, but pretty. Fresh looking too. Mowed the turbine walk and pulled nettles around the dragonfly. One azure damselfly (female) at the pond but nothing else. Transplanted some ox eye daisies from the polytunnel into the grass below the wildlife pond, where they should thrive even with mowing.

17 May Patch mowing in the lodge field and the pond field. We will bring some new patches into more regular mowing this spring, as when they get really tussocky we lose the diversity and the aesthetic appeal. It’s always hard to decide what to cut, especially balancing cutting now when spring flowers are showing against knowing that if we only have spring grassland there will be few flowers later in the year. Some where birdsfoot trefoil is showing strongly we will continue to cut because it does well in grazed pasture, and can be allowed to flower later.

15 May Kingfisher at the fishing pond. Three newly emergent damselflies at the wildlife pond (azure).

13 May Sadly, the robin’s nest by the back door has failed, and the robin is looking bedraggled. Something must have got it, possibly a stoat or cat.

4 May The marsh/willow tit coming to the feeder is probably a marsh tit, as we finally got some pictures and you can see the white spot on the beak.

10 May plenty of orange tip butterflies now flying.

2 May There is a robin’s nest in the ivy at Otter Cottage

April at Wheatland Farm

29 April Marsh / Willow tit at the feeders.

28 April Marsh / Willow tit at the feeders. There are baby moorhens on both of the big ponds.

26 April Brimstone seen flying – the first for this year actually at Wheatland Farm. Here’s what the cut phragmites patch looks like a few weeks on – it’s certainly bouncing back. The tall reeds at the back are what we left on this western side of the main wildlife pond. We plan to cut it next winter, and maybe some on the other side of the pond too, depending on what’s using the growth as a winter roost.

25 April. We think we’ve found Himalayan Balsam on Popehouse Moor, by the stream. Only a single plant, and we’ll be pulling it out and keeping a close eye on the situation.

We disturbed a deer on Popehouse Moor, or rather it appeared to be returning for its evening accommodation from neighbouring farmland, since it was late in the day. There is a clear ‘smews’ from the oak on Wheatland Farm’s southern boundary to the stream area, near where we put up a deer in the morning recently.

24 April, when cleaning Nuthatch Lodge a Large Red Damselfly flew up from its basking place near the front door – third seen this year. Interesting that it was away from the ponds. The Robin in the workshop now seems to be feeding young, but we haven’t actually looked for fear of disturbance. We just keep dolling out the mealworms, but softened in water now.

20 April Large Red Damselfly in the Lodge field. We used the new drone to take some images of the mowing patches in the turbine field, for reference.

19 April: Working with Alex strimming some loose bramble on Popehouse Moor, but checking carefully for nests first – did find a dunnock nest in one patch so left well alone.

17 April – first Damselfly of the year spotted – a Large Red Damselfly seen near the little scrapes in the pond below Balebarn Lodge. Speckled wood butterflies are flying too. Patch mowed the field below Balebarn Lodge, and Ian did the paths. Took the big mower and topped the rushes in the last 3 circles in the turbine field, making the most of the dry spell we’ve been having.

12 April song thrush seen carrying nesting material, and George says he thinks a tree creeper is nesting in the old wood shed. Ian and Maggie cleared some broken floating bullrush from Wheatland Farm’s main wildlife pond.

11 April Raven calling over the lodge field.

10 April, first swallows seen over the farmyard at Wheatland Farm – so time for the annual celebration cake!

8 April. The workshop robin appears to have started brooding – we think there are 6 eggs now.

4th April – bee walk with Kim and Euan. Section 1, a buff tailed queen. 2. red tailed queen, 3. 1 unknown (flying) and a red tailed queen 4. 1 unknown flying 5. unknown flying, buff tailed flying, 2 white tailed bumblebees on willow. In this section we also saw the first orange tip butterfly of the year and a common lizard. 6. 2 red tailed bumbles 3 buff tailed queens. 7. 1 unknown. 8. 1 buff tailed queen and an early bumble bee – quite a haul overall.

2 April – first red admiral butterfly of the year near the lodges, and the chiff chaffs are singing. There are swallows in Devon, but not yet at the farm.

March at Wheatland Farm

29 March. Cut a patch of phragmites at the wildlife pond, using the hedge trimmer and scythe. These are the ones the starlings partially flattened. We cut some underwater, and some at ground height. But there are plenty left on both sides of the pond. Some of the reeds cut from the water had roots at nodes, and these we took to the corner pond in the lodge field, where last year we got a few started. If the new ones take too, it will accelerate the project. A chiff chaff was singing by the pond – first of the year.

21 March – there’s a heron at the fishing pond by Otter Cottage.

20 March – putting dormice boxes up at the Winkleigh Community tree project and doing a bit of burning of cut bramble.

15 March. Alex here, repairing the fence around the turbine and fixing the pedestrian gate at the fishing pond. Replaced sleepers on the bridge at the lodge field pond

12 March path weeding and hooking reeds out of the wildlife pond.

8 March Alex here working on some hedge management and brash burning, then helped Ian and Andrew Roberts raise the new barn roof. Working on weeding the lodge path.

7 March. Mowing at the community trees in Winkleigh.

6 March. Cutting rush patches in the turbine field – all but 3 of the circles that were too wet still. Treated the lodge path moss with algon – basically vinegar and not harmful to wildlife.

1 March Ian put up the kestrel box he made from offcuts. Maggie took the brush cutter and topped the labyrinth – we will re mow it this year. Also did a first cut of the late lawns in front of Balebarn Lodge. This mower cuts high anyway, so just takes off the top of the long grass at this time of year. Cut a patch that had been left tall over winter (lots of figwort stems) and also cut the low nutrient section on the northern edge of the main wildlife pond. Brambles are taking hold here, and that’s not what we want.

February at Wheatland Farm

28 February Heron seen twice at the ponds today.

25 February. Another bright and sunny day. We did more clearing on the wildflower patch near Wheatland Farmhouse, and burnt arisings in the orchard. Much wood had piled up here – so we had a big fire to tidy the excess, but left the old lichen covered apple tree cuttings as they looked like a biodiverse habitat for invertebrates an small mammals. We cut some young invasive damson saplings down, but left the standing deadwood they surrounded (originally a birch, we think). Also cut down birch shoots that were springing up around a previously felled tree – but left the stump for fungi and insects. Slightly surprised to see a tree bumble bee on the snow drops – usually it’s buff tailed bumble bees only at this time of year. We took brambles out of the old fruit cage (no longer caged…) but left the logan berries, raspberries and straggling black currant and gooseberry plants. Even if we don’t get around to using them much they provide good food sources for blackbirds and other garden birds in high summer when the ground can be very hard to probe for worms.

Tree bumblee bee on snowdrops, February 2021 at Wheatland Farm’s Devon Eco Lodges

23 February. Windy but no rain. It was windy enough to dry the grass sufficiently for the brush cutter mower, so Maggie did a first cut in the lodge field, cutting the ‘late lawn’ on the southern edge and the patches near Beech Lodge. We will probably move the path that leads through the eco lodge field again this year, so Ian’s mowing effectively strips nutrients from a strip of grassland.

22 February. Finally, a sunny day here at Wheatland Farm in Devon! We knew it would be a good day for seeing the first bumble bee of the year, and sure enough, not just one buff tailed queen out and about, but three. Maggie started clearing the old vegetation from the wildflower patch near the Wheatland Farmhouse. Ian and Alex put up a new fence around the sewage tank beyond the car park.

9 February. Burning brash – in the field below Balebarn Lodge where we did some pollarding and coppicing a few weeks ago. Also by the replacement shed, where we were also able to pull up the arisings from yesterdays work at Otter Cottage. In principle, we try to deal with cuttings close to where we take them.

8 February Alex working with us. Replacing a fence in front of the fishing pond and clearing the bank behind Otter Cottage of brambles – with the scythe. Ian coppiced a willow here. Alex strimmed brambles from behind the scrapes in the field below Balebarn Eco Lodge. Cold weather is forecast.

7 February. Again pulling typha from the main wildlife pond here at Wheatland Farm.

6 February. First frogspawn of the year at Wheatland Farm!

1 February – pulling typha from the main wildlife pond. Two hares and a woodcock seen on Popehouse Moor. Maggie had gone to check out the close sound of mechanical machinery – it was Denzil working on a ditch further down the stream.

January at Wheatland Farm

31 January – a heron lifted off from the fishing pond by Otter Cottage as we trundled by with a barrow load of firewood. The nuthatches are shrilling from the trees – they think spring is nearly here.

27 January. Continued pulling bullrush. Hi Line came back to finish clearing under the power line. This included felling an ash in the lodge field. We don’t like to see them go, but if they come down on wires that’s serious, and close to the wires they are difficult to fell ourselves.

26 January Pulling bullrush from the main wildlife pond, below Balebarn Lodge, and dragging it away on a tarp for composting. It floats, so we hope some of the beasties that live amongst it vacate when they are disturbed, and before we finally haul it out of the water. In any event, to pond management would mean no pond in the long run. Went out to find Hi Line, the power company’s subcontractors, in the farm yard. Unexpected – they were supposed to give us a day of notice. They’d turned up, struggled to make sense of their instructions, so cut down the one tree left standing amidst the trees by Balebarn Lodge. Not a thought to wonder whether one had been left for a reason. Not a thought to knock the door and ask. Then they’d stopped for lunch. After their lunch (and yet another explanation by us of what needed doing, what needed taking care of etc) they left immediately to drive back to Bude. You’ve got to wonder.

25 January Alex and Ian have been taking down die back ash at the eastern edge of the lodge field. Perhaps we were lucky we’d pollarded these trees a few years back, as ash is so dangerous to climb when it has got die back. At least these weren’t too high. Working among the trees reminded us to roll out the old piece of culvert that’s been there – we hope to make a huge ‘bug hotel’ out of it. Not because bugs are particularly short of habitat at here, but partly to compensate for the ‘tidy up’ of the old mower shed, and partly as an educational / decorative feature for guests at the lodges. Lovely news – Wheatland Farm has been given a Pledge For Nature Award from the North Devon Biosphere organisation.

24 January – some snow, but just a dusting in this part of Devon. There’s more on the high grounds, but hardly enough for a snow ball here at Wheatland Farm .

18 January – Alex has been doing land work, strimming around the ‘secret pond’ and managing back the brambles at the top of the fishing pond. Maggie has been pulling bullrush from the fishing pond, leaving a central island where the moorhens can nest safely.

17 January. Kingfisher visited the fishing pond by Otter Cottage today – spotted as we cleared a path to the back corner in order to start pulling the bullrush on this side.

13 January. Pulling invasive bullrush from the fishing pond between Otter Cottage and Balebarn Eco Lodge. It is cold, deep and slippery. We use chest waders, but cold shock is a risk, as is the difficulty of climbing out with chest waders full of water, so a second person on the bank, or nearby, is an important safety precaution.

11 January. Day of work with Alex, mostly burning the arisings from last week’s coppicing.

7 January. Continued the winter task of pulling bullrush rom the fishing pond by Otter Cottage. They come up more easily in winter than in spring, even if the water is cold. Today we were breaking the ice to get in. The trick is to pull not yank, and get as much root up as possible.

5 January. The birds are still enjoying the feeders, including a marsh/willow tit that was hungry enough to feed while someone was only a few feet away. Wood peckers and nuthatches are still frequent visitors along with sparrows, tits, robins and Wheatland Farm’s tame blackbird.

4 January A heron was visiting the big wildlife pond. Winter work continues, including managing the withy bed in the field below Balebarn Lodge and pulling some typha from the fishing pond by Otter Cottage. It’s cold, but drier than previous days. The typha is already putting out new shoots from its rhizomes. Our aim is to leave an island of typha (bullrushes) in the middle of the pond where moorhens can nest, but clear more of the edges so when visitors return post lockdown birds are not nesting right by the bank where dogs might disturb them.

1 January. A hard frost in this part of Devon, with thick ice on the bird bath and minor ponds. The big ponds have also iced over, but it won’t last.

December 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 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 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 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 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 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