Reviewing 2023 at Wheatland Farm’s Eco Lodges

2023 at Wheatland Farm’s Devon eco lodges seems to have flashed by. Where did it go? We’ve been looking at the pictures, and pulling together a slide show of some of the wildlife we saw around the lodges as we continue rewilding the farm, and some of the changes we’ve made.

Here’s some of the best bits – with a bit more description below the slide show.

  • Snow and ice at the Wheatland Farm wildlife pond.
  • Thousands of people on Dartmoor protesting against new wild camping laws
  • Ian balances on the trellis to get building materials in through Otter Cottage upstairs window
  • Ian stands in front of a half built veranda
  • A boot in a clamp tied with blue rope
  • Turbine and patches of rushes at Wheatland Farm, Devon
  • Maggie wearing helmet and visor for strimming
  • Ian cuts phragmites from the pond
  • Primroses in flower at Wheatland Farm
  • A bike on a repair stand at Wheatland Farm
  • A bird's nest in an old cable reel at Wheatland Farm
  • Teenagers approach the finish line in the Ten Tors challenge
  • Nuthatch eco lodge surrounded by May's greenery
  • A hedgehog in someone's gloved hand
  • Ian trims the ivy-clad wall at Otter Cottage
  • A dug up floor inside a house
  • Beech Lodge at Wheatland Farm, with early summer meadow flowers
  • Marbled white butterfly on a person's hand
  • Funeral group carrying a coffin
  • A hedgehog being held
  • Two women with cameras in grassland
  • A large moth caterpillar on someone's finger
  • Moth caterpillar on a bramble leaf
  • A woman swimming in a river pool
  • A baby common lizard
  • Peacock butterfly resting on folded laundry at Wheatland Farm
  • Two young people exploring the rocks at Watern Tor on Dartmoor
  • Autumn light coming through the trees at Honeysuckle Lodge
  • Standing in the pond, pulling bull rush

Life kept us busy. There were some beautiful mornings with frosty Devon starts. No, we weren’t brave enough to take up wild swimming on days like this! But the birds use the pond all winter. The reeds are a favourite roosting spot for pied wagtails and sometimes starlings.

Snow and ice at the Wheatland Farm wildlife pond.
In winter 2023 we had some winter days and cold starts

January also saw us joining thousands of like-minded outdoor type people to protest the removal of wild camping rights on Dartmoor. Unbelievably, a judge ruled that wild camping was not an outdoor recreational activity, and therefore unlike walking, bird watching, forest bathing or whatever, it wasn’t covered under the bylaws that allow recreation on Dartmoor. The argument was that the rights people had been enjoying for decades had somehow never actually existed. Thankfully this dangerous decision was overturned at appeal later in the year. We truly hope the next government will make access to the countryside a more established right for all.

Thousands of people on Dartmoor protesting against new wild camping laws
We joined the huge January protest on Dartmoor against the removal of wild camping rights.

When the days are short and sunshine is a little harder to come by, there’s still rewilding land work to do, but also upgrades to make to the lodges. In February we put a new shower in Otter Cottage bathroom. We had to get the panelling sheets in through the cottage window, so we took the opportunity to replace the double glazing with an upgrade while we were about it. That will help keep us on track with energy management.

Ian balances on the trellis to get building materials in through Otter Cottage upstairs window
In February we revamped the bathroom at Otter Cottage, and had to get the wall sheets in through the upstairs window.

Ian also replaced and reshaped the veranda decking at Nuthatch eco lodge, giving it a curved front edge and allowing us to draw the little oak tree right into the structure. It is really remarkable what a difference this made. It worked so well we plan to round the front of Beech eco lodge veranda early in 2024. Beech Lodge also has a baby oak tree that will be incorporated, joining Nuthatch Lodge and also Honeysuckle Lodge in having trees growing through the decking. It seems tree houses are all the rage at present. We don’t like to call our eco lodges tree houses, because it sounds like false pretenses. But to be honest they are more like treehouses than several we’ve been to visit recently!

Ian stands in front of a half built veranda
And Ian replaced and reshaped Nuthatch Lodge veranda, re-using the old timbers in the balustrade.

Ian re-used the old decking for the slats in the new balustrade, and took what was left over to make a better privacy screen for Otter Cottage garden. And of course we’ve carried on re-using repurposing and fixing other things in 2023. It’s what we do. OK, it’s not the only thing we do, and we buy new things when we need them, but we always tell ourselves (and guests) that the easiest fastest and most reliable route to sustainability is simply to use less – and fix what you can. That includes boots….as well as washing machines, BBQs, furniture etc etc.

A boot in a clamp tied with blue rope
Ian helped people mend things. Of course he did!

By March the winter rain was giving way to warmer days, and at Wheatland we were racing against the coming spring to get land management work done before bird nesting made disturbance impossible. We spent days ‘bramble bashing’ on Popehouse Moor, and took the mulching blade strimmer to rush patches in the Turbine Field. Left to take over, these exclude all the wild flowers. We’ve tried hard to move away from weed wiping with herbicides. We tried it once, with the help of the Devon Wildlife Trust, and it worked, but not for long enough, and not even with conservation grazing to back it up. We can’t keep using poisons – so we patch mow and strim instead so we get a patchwork of habitats. It’s all part or our long term rewilding programme at Wheatland Farm – light touch management.

And once the winter roosts had dispersed, we took the hedge trimmer to the reed bed at the big wildlife pond below Balebarn Lodge. That didn’t hold the phragmites back for long either, but it did help to keep more open water. It’s amazing to think all those reeds (and all that wildlife habitat) came from just a few home-grown plug plants given to us by a local Environment Agency river warden (thank you Jim!).

Ian cuts phragmites from the pond
By April the winter roosts had gone, so we cut some of last year’s reedbed growth

Spring flowers followed, like these primroses which show up in a carpet on Popehouse Moor SSSI each March and April. We always walk down there to enjoy this quintessentially Devon spectacle.

Primroses in flower at Wheatland Farm
Then spring was on us and the sunshine too

Meanwhile, Ian has kept his workshop going, with a stream of reclaimed bikes for kids to use when they holiday at the lodges. This one came to us from a Devon-based friend, despite it’s fabulous Jamaican-style colours!

A bike on a repair stand at Wheatland Farm
Ian’s workshop was kept busy with bikes and air powered rocket building

And as ever, we’re rewilding at every opportunity. A bird – probably a wren – made a nest in a hanging reel of cable. It’s possible it was just one of a number of potential nests built to impress the female, but we take care not to disturb anyway. We often have company in the workshop and farm outbuildings, with robins, swallows and wagtails nesting.

A bird's nest in an old cable reel at Wheatland Farm
And sometimes he had company. We found this nest in a cable reel suspended from the roof.

In very early May Euan took part in the Dartmoor Ten Tors army challenge – trekking to 10 different Dartmoor tors over a 45 mile route spread across two days, while carrying full kit. It’s an annual event and has been part of our lives for a good few years now. 2024 will be the last entry for us though, as Euan attempts the final 55 mile challenge.

Teenagers approach the finish line in the Ten Tors challenge
Euan joined a couple of thousand other young people in the Dartmoor Ten Tors challenge…so tired, so happy.

Meanwhile, greening just explodes in May, and the lodges look at their loveliest this month and into June. That deck at Nuthatch Lodge looked spectacular!

Nuthatch eco lodge surrounded by May's greenery
By mid May the work on Nuthatch Lodge had paid off

With the hedgerows in their full Devon glory, we welcomed the first of two rescue hedgehogs that a local charity had fed back up to full strength over the colder months. The other one joined us later, in July.

Still in May, Otter Cottage got its annual ivy hair cut, and we watched in amazement as a swarm of feral bees decided to move into the loft space. They stayed there all year, too high to be any bother to the guests and too difficult to move on.

Ian trims the ivy-clad wall at Otter Cottage
By late May the Ivy needed its annual hair cut at Otter Cottage

Meanwhile, we were busy in our own house. Having been royally stung by our energy company, not so ‘Good Energy’, we worked hard to use all the renewable power we generate on site. For us this meant digging up the floor in our farmhouse kitchen to transform part of it into a huge storage heater. It took a long time, and was a huge challenge moving the old flag stones, but it has been very worthwhile. When we are generating but not actually using electricity for household appliances etc that power is now usually diverted into heating the house to a liveable long term temperature. Our energy export is now very low indeed, and we have far less need of the woodburning boiler in the winter. Since the turbine is most active in the winter months, when the lodges have fewer holiday makers, this makes good use of our renewable capacity.

A dug up floor inside a house
We spent a good few weeks with a hole in the kitchen floor while Ian built a huge underfloor heating and heat storage system to help us make better use of the renewable power we generate.

In June we were really pleased to see marbled white butterflies at Wheatland Farm again – they are not common with us but they are a grassland species and we hope they are getting more of a foothold as we rewild the meadows.

Marbled white butterfly on a person's hand
In June, marbled white butterflies made a welcome return

We said goodbye too – to Maggie’s Dad and longstanding conservationist, who did so much for us and for wildlife. His funeral was at a green burial site on the edge of Dartmoor. It was a difficult day, but made easier by being a truly personal event. We joined family, and just a few friends who came and kindly shared their memories of him, spanning back over the decades.

Funeral group carrying a coffin
On a rainy day we said goodbye to Maggie’s Dad at a natural burial site on the edge of Dartmoor

The green flush of early summer gave way to July days, with guests enjoying nature walks and family holidays.

Two women with cameras in grassland
In high summer we took guests for nature walks

We see all sorts of wildlife here at Wheatland Farm, but often the easiest to photograph are the small creatures – and the not so small!

We’ve been exploring beyond our own boundaries too. This swim spot is near Meldon Quarry. And the rocks are Watern Tor, on Dartmoor. One was a beautiful sunny day, the other was absolutely driving rain – but no less memorable an adventure!

Meanwhile, the daily work of running holiday accommodation continued – but always lightened by wildlife. We go up and down the steps to the laundry lines with load after load of sheets and duvets. This year every basket full was an opportunity to watch out for the baby lizards that basked on the top step….and often butterflies were to be seen resting on the drying washing.

Then, so quickly, the leaves began to turn golden again. This image is from the window of Honeysuckle Lodge, looking towards the setting sun.

Autumn light coming through the trees at Honeysuckle Lodge
As summer drifted into autumn we enjoyed the changes and found dormice nests

Finally, once the guests had mostly gone, we started on the bigger tasks , this time pulling several years’ worth of bull rush (typha) growth from the fish pond. It’s slow work, but oddly moreish. Maggie pulled up the plants and floated great rafts to the edge. Ian hoiked them all out with a crome. Interestingly, we found three old harvest mice nests in the rushes, well away from the bank. The findings made a useful addition to the Devon-wide harvest mouse survey and it’s good to know the bullrushes are home to these lovely rarely-seen creatures.

Standing in the pond, pulling bull rush
As the season wound down we started jobs like pulling the excess bull rushes from the fishing pond

We left a patch of old growth for the moorhens, but we know it will all rebound in the spring anyway. That’s the thing about our Wheatland Farm rewilding project – it’s always busy, it’s always changing.

Already we’re starting to hear the Nuthatches call among the winter trees – they know that spring is not far away even while we hunker down to resist the winter storms.

So on that note, we say Happy New Year to all our lovely guests and visitors to Wheatland Farm! We so look forward to welcoming you back to Devon as the year turns and warmer weather returns.