Wheatland Farm’s Devon Wildlife

Wheatland Farm is a conservation project – we manage the 21 acres of Devon countryside around your holiday accommodation for its wildlife, and your stay makes that possible. There will be something to see all year round – here are some of the prettiest bits.

  • Fledgling robin perched on a wall
  • blackbird chicks in the nest
  • Nuthatch feeding a chick

We have five ponds, including one for fishing and a much larger wildlife pond where you’re welcome to pond dip. The meadows in front of the lodges are managed for barn owls, which often hunt there at dawn and dusk, and for butterflies. Lower Newland Moor, the field with our wind turbine, is managed for wildflowers in concert with Popehouse Moor, our Site of Special Scientific Interest, and both are grazed by cows in summer. The small orchard, behind the farmhouse, has traditional Devon apple varieties. We have dormice, three species of native orchids (and our 2009 count of 192 flowering plants has now risen above 200) at least 9 species of bats, hares, tree pipits, willow tits, nesting nuthatches, and many butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. In winter the fields are alive with flocks of migrating thrushes. In early summer the grass is hopping with baby frogs and toads. We’d be delighted to take guests staying at Wheatland Farm on a nature walk, or you can go exploring on your own.

Here are some images of damsel and dragonflies at Wheatland Farm – these are summer pictures of course.

Popehouse Moor, SSSI

Seven acres of the farm, on Popehouse Moor, are formally designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, marking them out as amongst the country’s very best wildlife and geological sites. Natural England (the government agency responsible for conserving the UK’s wildlife) calls Popehouse Moor ‘one of the best examples of the Culm grasslands of north Devon and north-east Cornwall‘. Anyone staying at the accommodation can explore Popehouse Moor – or just ask us for a tour (free). If you’re not staying in our holiday accommodation but would still like to look around, please get in touch and we’ll try to take you on a guided walk too.

Part of the reason Popehouse moor is so special is simply that there’s not much of this habitat left. Devon and Cornwall have lost 92 per cent of their culm grassland since 1900. A staggering 62 per cent of sites and 48 per cent of the total area disappeared between 1984 and 1991, much of it falling foul of modern farming or land reclamation.

Culm grassland is pasture dominated by purple moor grass, Molinia caerulea, and rushes, especially sharp-flowered rush Juncus acutiflorus. Some of the plant communities on Popehouse moor have a very restricted distribution across the country, and several rare and locally important plants grow here, including Wavy St Johns-Wort, Hypericum undulatum.

At various times of the year, you’re likely to find greater bird’s-foot trefoil, meadow thistle, marsh thistle, devil’s-bit scabious (the main food plant for the larvae of the rare marsh fritillary butterfly), ragged robin, saw-wort, lousewort, bog pimpernel, sneezewort (once thought to help clear stuffy heads!), cuckoo-flower and wild angelica, and an abundance of heath spotted orchid and southern marsh orchid.

Where it gets boggy, sphagnum moss thrives alongside delicate marsh violets, the lacy-fringed flower spires of bog bean.

The pasture also supports some important animals and insects (Interested in flies??! Here’s a survey page from 2019). The Marsh fritillary, a spectacular butterfly with wings reminiscent of stained glass windows, has bred here in the past (and perhaps with a county wide nature recovery programme we might see it again??). It flies from mid May to mid July. This butterfly is listed as a priority species in the UK’s biodiversity action plan, and is on Annex II of the European Union’s Habitats Directive. It is part of the reason why protecting culm grassland is so important.

This secluded oasis is bordered on one side by a stream, where otter sometimes venture in the winter months (and have sometimes even taken fish from our fishing pond)!

Back in July 2009 we had a plant survey done, which found 192 species of flowering plants (and which didn’t explore the wet woodland). In 2019 the same botany group returned and bumped the total to over 200. We had a management agreement with Natural England under the Higher Level Environmental Stewardship (HLS) scheme which ran from 2011 until 2021. If you’re interested in the technical stuff you can read Popehouse Moor’s formal citation here.

Ongoing conservation work at Wheatland Farm

All our 21 acres at Wheatland Farm are managed for wildlife in one way or another. So there is always something going on. Sometimes it can look destructive or untidy, but there will be a good reason for it.