Latest News

New generator

Lightning strikes!

Posted in Hydro on Wednesday 30th November 2016 at 12:26pm

Just over a week ago we had a terrific thunder storm, short lived but destructive. I managed to disconnect all my communication equipment phones, computer, printer/scanner, tv etc after the first bump of thunder. Just as well because just a few minutes later about 11pm an almighty clap of thunder followed very rapidly by a powerful strike of lightening caused havoc around and about. We didn’t come away unscathed. Our deep freeze “died”, the hydro’s screener battery charger had a similar fate but the major damage was done to our big generator in the powerhouse. The smoke that poured out of it was a bit of a giveaway! Miles being ever resourceful had taken out the damaged one and fitted the replacement (which he keeps on the shelf all 530 kilos) and we were up and generating again within 48 hours!

Autumn colours

Autumn colours

Posted in General on Sunday 30th October 2016 at 11:27am

This autumn has come later than usual for us. We have had little rain during the summer and early autumn and as yet no real rain clouds in sight. The down side of this is that the rivers are still very low but the up side is that the cows are still able to be out in the fields. The ride out with the hay in the mornings to feed them allows us to see the autumn colours in the trees and there is some typical low hill cloud or mist in the mornings before the sun burns it off. The tree colours are changing every day and Corndon Tor comes and goes into the mist in our ever-changing view.

Straw 2016

Thinking towards winter

Posted in Farm on Friday 26th August 2016 at 11:49am

The corn harvest is continuing apace up country in the arable areas of the south of England. This is where our straw comes from to bed our cattle down during the winter months. We bring it in as soon as possible after harvest to avoid any of the straw getting wet in the outside stacks that are awaiting lorries to transport them to cattle country. Miles brings ours in as he is a relief driver for the local H&M Retallick haulage firm. We can only get the lorry close to the buildings at Old Walls when the fields are dry enough to drive the lorry and drag on. This year has not been a problem as we have had very little rain and on a nice sunny day it becomes a family day. You can see the lorry and drag in the field next to our buildings with North Tor on Spitchwick Common in the background.

Weir maintenance

Weir maintenance

Posted in Hydro on Thursday 28th July 2016 at 11:03am

During the last couple of months, we have had surprisingly little rain – real rain, Dartmoor rain. Yes, we have had drizzle, mizzle and the odd thunder shower that lasted maybe half an hour but none of our real prolonged heavy rain that we are used to. In the summer months it can be of benefit to us as it is this year. The river is so low that we have been able to channel all the river water through big 4-inch syphon pipes and two pumps to dry up the area around our weir. We have been able to do some major maintenance work safely, for us and the river creatures, on the weir. This is the first major work on the weir since its construction in 1995.

Fawn 2016

Silage hold up!

Posted in Farm on Monday 27th June 2016 at 10:04am

We expect to cut, wilt and bale our 1st silage crop of the year in June. This year we were on track but had a temporary hold up due to a fawn. Our lovely long cutting grass is the perfect place for Row deer to hide their fawns. We suspected that this may have happened as we watch out for our resident doe and had spied her a couple of times in Lower Mills Close before we went to cut it. Miles managed to spot the fawn before he cut the headland and was able to move it into the long grass in the middle of the field in the hope that when he came back to cut the centre of the field the hind would have moved the fawn to another safer field, which indeed was the case. Mean while we were able to take the photo with my had in shot to show how small these animals are and how difficult to spot when mowing.

King of the castle calves

King of the Castle

Posted in Farm on Thursday 5th May 2016 at 12:26pm

When the sun shines even the calves want to play traditional games but cannot decide who really is “The King of the Castle”.

Dartmoor Society Award plate

Our latest award

Posted in General on Sunday 24th April 2016 at 10:03am

Yesterday we joined The Dartmoor Society for their AGM. They describe their society as “An independent voice for those who find Dartmoor a source of livelihood or inspiration”. With this in mind we were thrilled to be presented with the 2016 Dartmoor Society Award. They have taken a keen interest in the development and maturing of our hydro-electric scheme from the beginning. The award is a huge honour, thank you!

Hedgetrimming

2 whole days dry!

Posted in Farm on Wednesday 17th February 2016 at 7:18am

What a frantic couple of days Miles and Luke have had. We have just experienced 2 whole days of dry weather this winter. This enabled urgent tractor work to be undertaken on the farms between dawn and dusk and every other daylight minute, even meals were taken in shifts to keep the tractors moving before the rain came again. Dung which has been accumulating during the winter from scraping out the feed channels in the cattle sheds was finally loaded up in the muck spreader and spread lightly on the fields which will be used for growing grass for the silage crop in June. This is a good natural source of nutrients. The other important job was hedge trimming. Under our HLS we are severely restricted on when we can trim hedges – only during January and February. This has proved particularly difficult over the last few flood ridden years as you cannot take the tractors on sodden soil – it damages the soil structure which has long term productivity issues. Roll on the spring!

Bucket calves

Baby calves

Posted in Farm on Tuesday 19th January 2016 at 11:58am

To keep our herd productive and invigorated we have to replace some of our “old girls” from time to time. We have found that the best way is to buy baby calves and bucket rear them ourselves. This enables us to buy the right cross breed, for us that is Hereford Friesian cross, who turn into great mothers and cope well with our wet, windy and cold climate at 1000ft. This autumn we bought 3 and the corresponding number of old cows will be fattened and sold during the summer months. Rearing the calves on our farm also gives them the chance to develop immunity to the bugs and bacteria on our farm. They adjust to the mineral and trace element levels present in our soils, and therefore grass, before they become mothers themselves for the first time at about two and a half years old.

Waterleat Lodge

Flood 6 Water Water Everywhere ...

Posted in Farm on Thursday 31st December 2015 at 6:51pm

Once again we have experienced the power of nature with the quantity of rain dropped on Dartmoor in a very short space of time. We watched the garden flood in just 30 minutes and a lake appear in one of our cutting fields. Our daughter’s garden disappeared under water too. As the rain flowed off the road, across our field through a hedge into Olands garden, down past the chicken coop, down again across our lawn and into the woods, it is hard to see how much more as farmers we can do as the Environment Agency and politicians are suggesting.

River between Garden Field and Waterleat

Flood 5

Posted in Farm on Thursday 31st December 2015 at 6:49pm

Garden Field chicken house

Flood 4

Posted in Farm on Thursday 31st December 2015 at 6:48pm

Olands Garden

Flood 3

Posted in Farm on Thursday 31st December 2015 at 6:48pm

Lake in Bottom cloe

Flood 2

Posted in Farm on Thursday 31st December 2015 at 6:46pm

Bottom close flood

Flood 1

Posted in Farm on Thursday 31st December 2015 at 6:45pm

Autumn leaves in leat

Autumn leaves

Posted in Hydro on Friday 6th November 2015 at 12:22pm

The new screener controls have been put through there paces over the last few days while autumn leaves are blown off the trees in vast quantities. Our leaf mould pile is growing daily and will provide some good soil conditioning compost for the fields in a couple of years and all for free!  

Sceener cabinet

Screener upgrade

Posted in Hydro on Friday 30th October 2015 at 8:56pm

After such a difficult year for the family with loosing Miles’s mum and Gail having breast cancer at last Miles has had time to get back to upgrading the screener controls. He has built a brand new home for all the switches, circuit board, batteries and pipes needed to operate the automatic screener efficiently. It is primarily created of concrete which is flood proof so if ever the conditions get so bad the leat overflowed at the forebay the electrics will be safe – with the climate changing you never know when the next flood warning is coming. Grand-dad also had time to show the grandchildren how it all worked.

Chickens

New additions

Posted in Farm on Sunday 27th September 2015 at 8:27pm

To help our self sufficiency along we have added a couple of chickens to our livestock list. They have such quirky characters and entertain us each evening while they have their hour of freedom in the garden. We have too many foxes about to allow them unrestricted freedom and plenty of cover in the woodland for the predators to wait their opportunity. With just the two of us at home it serves us very well with enough deep yellow yolked eggs each week to bake a big sponge, have some boiled eggs in our lunch time salads and enough left over for an omelette supper each week. Sorted!

Garden Field fungi

Wild flora

Posted in Farm on Monday 31st August 2015 at 6:49pm

As the autumn advances and the days become cooler and damper it gives the opportunity for new growth. In one of our “species rich” fields, that Natural England identified, we have an old tree stump decorated with a colony of fungi. This field is treated according to our Higher Level Stewardship prescriptions – no fertilizer what so ever, no lime, no spraying, no harrowing and much more. For the reduction in farm production in this field we get compensated through our HLS and the unusual flora benefits.

Buildings track

Time to continue the building

Posted in Farm on Sunday 26th July 2015 at 4:04pm

At last the urgency of calving and silage harvest is over and we can organise our time as we see fit rather than the cows or the grass dictating what we do and when! Obviously we still need to be mindful of what the elements can throw at us, like today with heavy rain and gusting winds. Luckily a few days ago the weather was fair and the ground dry enough to do some more work on our farm buildings which needed a track to the straw barn dug out to give a gentle curve around the building as well as a safe gradient. Miles has efficiently dealt with the topsoil, subsoil and the ever present Dartmoor granite. All that has been dug out has been gainfully used around the farm in other places. For example the subsoil then topsoil has been used on other fields to level out areas to enable then to be machine friendly or to increase the depth of topsoil where it is thin. Recycle, re-use as ever is our motto.

Image result for goosander

Wildlife on the river

Posted in Hydro on Sunday 10th May 2015 at 9:46pm

We have just seen the beautiful little dipper flying out from under the powerhouse on a fishing trip, obviously nesting again under the floor above the white water that leaves the turbines. Look up and the heron will not be far away on the river patiently waiting for his next meal. Observe from a distance and watch the pair of goosanders scim the surface of the river until they see a fish and then efficiently dive for their quarry.  Walk along by the water in the moonlight and catch a glimpse of the otters once again fishing the West Webburn after a lengthy absence. With all this hunting going on providing nourishment for the natural wildlife it is clear we have an abundance of fish this spring in the river. Something we and our EA contact can verify when we recently, on three occasions, counted over a hundred salmon and sea trout smolts in our leat just before we released them down our “fish pipe” to continue their journey to the sea.

Sad news

Posted in General on Thursday 30th April 2015 at 8:48pm

Miles’s family has been living and farming Old Walls for nearly 70 years. This month we have had to say goodbye to the last of the second generation of Fursdon’s – Miles’s mother has just recently died. It leaves us as the oldest generation now but we know that there are another two generations already in residence which is heart warming for us. Our job now is to continue doing our best in our guardianship of the land to leave it in a better state for our descendants to take it on in the future. RIP Liz.

Winter scene

Winter jobs

Posted in Farm on Wednesday 31st December 2014 at 6:57pm

The obvious jobs are the daily task of feeding silage to the cows, scraping the yards of slurry, spreading new straw on the cattle beds and breaking ice on the water troughs. During this time we also check the cattle over to make sure they are healthy with no foot problems from being on concrete floors or eye problems like silage eye. In January we will treat all the adult cattle for liver fluke and later with a mineral supplement bolus to counter the low levels of copper, cobalt and selenium and various other trace elements on our farm. Towards the end of winter we will wean the cows to give them a rest before they calve again in spring. With the short amount of daylight to work in outside and long dark nights it is time to start the workshop jobs in earnest; servicing all the machines in our new workshop, mending and creating new pieces of kit to make our work easier or more efficient. When the weather and soil conditions are right the tractors are fired up for dung spreading or hedge trimming (we are only allowed to cut hedges between 1st Jan and 28 Feb). This is just a small sample of what needs to be done and I haven’t even mentioned the office work. This time of year is often referred to as the quiet time of year – I have yet to work out why!

Autumn leaves

Autumn harvest

Posted in Hydro on Thursday 27th November 2014 at 12:59pm

This is the time of year when we start to harvest the beginnings of our wonderful soil conditioner – leaf mould. As the autumn colours arrive so does the inevitable fall of leaves from the trees. Many of these end up in the rivers especially after heavy rainfall having been washed off paths and roads into the waterways. As we have 10ml screening at the end of our leat we collect a massive amount of leaves each autumn. We are about three quarters of the way through the fall of leaves this year with most ash, cherry, beech and hazel trees already bare. Another couple of good frosts will see most of the remaining leaves fall, mostly oak. We pile up the leaves and let them rot down over the next year. Next September we turn the pile of partially rotted leaves just before we start collecting again. After two years of composting down we have the most wonderful leaf mould soil conditioner which benefits our farm fields. Natural recycling at its best!

Bracket fungus

Fungi

Posted in General on Saturday 25th October 2014 at 2:59pm

This 8-9 inch bracket fungi was growing in our wood on a piece of deadwood. It is amazing how it launches itself out of the birch bark. A quote from http://www.first-nature.com/fungi/piptoporus-betulinus.php “This large polypore develops from a small white spherical swelling on the side of dead or living birch trees. Barbers used to 'strop' or sharpen their cut-throat razors on tough, leathery strips cut from the surfaces of these polypores, and so they became known as the Razor Strop Fungus.” A history lesson all of its own.

Cink turbine

Maintenance time

Posted in Hydro on Sunday 31st August 2014 at 12:20pm

In 1996 we fitted our Cink turbine and it has successfully been working to produce electricity ever since. Apart from everyday maintenance e.g. greasing and one bearing replacement it has never let us down. During this summer the rivers have been very low so we decided to finally take the turbine out and have a look at how it had faired. The picture shows the farm tractor slowly edging it out of the power house after we first removed the side wall completely.

Transition piece and draft tube

Maintenance time

Posted in Hydro on Sunday 31st August 2014 at 12:19pm

This picture shows the hole left by removing the turbine. The draft tube can be seen below where the water flows back to the river after it has been through the turbine and the pipe suspended above is the transition piece which turns the round pipe into a rectangular pipe which fits the turbine inlet that you can see on the photo of the turbine above. We have since taken out the transition piece as it is much easier to clean it up and repaint it in the workshop.

PV at Old Walls

PV

Posted in General on Thursday 31st July 2014 at 10:01am

As with all farming and renewable energy systems we are very reliant on what nature throws our way. We have always been strong advocates of run of the river hydro power schemes as its production parallels the human need for energy. Think about when you use most energy in your homes – the winter, with the heating on, hot meals and soaks in a hot bath on cold winter days. Contrast that with the summer when the heating is off and windows open, salads or BBQs for meals and cool showers at the end of the day. Our hydro scheme produces the most power in the winter and the least in the summer due to the rivers running high in winter and low in summer following the natural rainfall pattern. To complement this we have added a 10kW PV system to our renewable energy range by installing 40 PV panels on our farm buildings. It, in contrast to the hydro production, produces most electricity during the summer months from sunshine thereby levelling out our production low spot in the summer. This is important for us as the summer is the time when we do our maintenance on the leat, intake tank, spillway and forebay tank which necessitates powering down the hydro turbines but with the new PV we can still be self sufficient in electricity.

Dartmoor Ponies

The Dartmoor Pony year

Posted in Farm on Wednesday 21st May 2014 at 11:26am

As well as the work we do with the cattle we also keep Dartmoor ponies. The Dartmoor pony year is dominated by checking the ponies on the open common daily. We drift the ponies off in the autumn over 2 days with all the other commoners, sort them out and bring ours home to wean their foals and worm the mares if necessary. If any of the mares are looking in poor condition they stay on the farm until they are well enough to return to the common. The foals are kept on the farm until we can find a buyer for them, they are used as conservation grazers, they are old enough to return to the common as part of our herd or as a last resort we sell them to the zoo for lion meat. If we are keeping them we have them chipped, inspected and passported as heritage Dartmoor ponies. The colts are gelded by the vet when they are about a year old. With our stallion we maintain a herd of 28 on Spitchwick Common.

White mole

Future planning

Posted in Farm on Tuesday 1st April 2014 at 11:13am

We are at the time of year when we have to start thinking about the future and all the things we need to prepare for. Uppermost in our minds at the moment is the field work. We need to harrow and roll all the fields we are laying up to cut for silage and hay later in the summer. This has to be done when the ground is moist enough to roll flat but dry enough not to leave tractor wheel ruts so when we come to cut the grass we keep soil out of the grass mixture to be made into big bale silage. One of the many pests we have to deal with are moles. They love the moist soil beneath grass as it contains so many worms but the mole hills they leave behind can contaminate our grass silage and one mole hill can rot one big bale of silage. The answer is to catch the moles in the spring thus eliminating the mole hills. This year we have been successful with our catching programme but also surprised by catching, for the first time, a white mole. Rare but not unheard of.

Floods

Floods again

Posted in General on Friday 3rd January 2014 at 3:24pm

Like everyone this autumn and winter we have had to cope with the wet and windy weather at home. We feel we have one advantage where we live when it’s such heavy rain in a concentrated time – we live on the side of a hill! Although noisy, dramatic and it leaves the lawn in a real mess the excess water rushes past us from the field, down the track, divides up across the lawn to lap up against the house but continues past us into the woodland at speed. On the farm we have had to bring the cows into winter housing as they were poaching up the fields too much and the hydro electric scheme has to be constantly monitored to ensure the leat doesn’t become overwhelmed by excess water. The lowered sluice gate at the intake does a grand job at sending most of the water on down the river, the spillway does the rest by keeping the leat’s water level as constant as possible but with the massive floods we have been getting it is a constant concern that the mighty power of the West Webburn is kept under surveillance.

Old Walls building

Replacement farm buildings

Posted in Farm on Monday 30th December 2013 at 7:29pm

A well earned rest and cuppa for Miles and Luke who have spent many many hours over the last couple of years building our new 5 bay barn. This has replaced our range of 1940’s buildings which were really on their “last legs” and not fit for purpose anymore. At last the barn is weather proof with roof, block wall bases and boarding or Yorkshire boarding for the walls. We had to have help laying the 30 cubic meters of ready mixed concrete and for the electrical fixtures but this like all our projects is truly home built with the families hard graft. It will be a joy to use this winter and many more to come!

High water - weir

The rivers are full again

Posted in Hydro on Thursday 31st October 2013 at 6:42pm

What a difference a few weeks makes. Not only is the leat full but we are back on full power with water to spare. The fish wheel is back in place, in the tail race, to protect the adult salmon and sea trout as they progress up the West Webburn to their spawning grounds. The automatic screener at the end of the leat is on over time with the autumn leaves beginning to fall from the trees in their thousands every time we get a “good blow”. We have certainly had our fair share this last week with the storm named St Jude passing over us. We have had no major structural damage, a large branch falling on the garage put a dent in its roof and several other limbs have broken off trees but caused no serious harm.

Empty leat

Leat maintenance

Posted in Hydro on Wednesday 11th September 2013 at 11:26am

Following this very dry summer we have made good use of the low river levels to do as much leat maintenance as possible while minimising the loss of potential electricity generation. 

The first, entertaining but time consuming, job to be done before we can work on an empty leat is to collect all the brown trout that usually live in our leat and pop them back into the river. This is a game of speed and skill like big kids fishing in the stream with big fishing nets! To do this we lower the water level so we can work with waders on to hand net the fish and transport them in buckets of clean water to the river. Once the leat is fish free we can pump out all the pools of water to work on a dry bed. We deal with any leaks that may have occurred in the bank, hand pull all the weed that has started to grow in the bottom of the leat and trim the vegetation along the top edge of the banks. We work as quickly and efficiently as we can to reduce the days it is empty and this year to ensure the leat is full of water for our next guided walk tonight!

Summer trees and leat

Hazy days of summer

Posted in General on Friday 6th September 2013 at 10:19am

For the first time since Miles was born at Old Walls he has seen otters in the West Webburn. The first sighting was two otters playing in the river near our tail race and the second time a single otter swimming and diving in our leat. Yet another protected species we have inhabiting our hdyro system and farm. They join the dormice which live in the wood and have an arboreal link of hazel across our leat to use, the Greater Horseshoe bats that use the river system and our leat to help them navigate while filling up on insects in our oak woodland and the Marsh Fritillary butterflies that nectar in our conservation field which was created by the leat dividing one big field which has now become part grazing, part woodland and part conservation grazing.

Hedgerow fruit

Food for free

Posted in Farm on Wednesday 14th August 2013 at 12:09pm

What a difference in the weather and for us a huge difference is what we can do and when we can harvest. One of the joys of walking around the farm in the summer months has always been the wonderful surprises of the hedgerows. This year I have already picked a glorious crop of gooseberries, wild strawberries, sloes and raspberries. I am now looking forward to the blackberry crop which is looking good for jam, wine and good old fashioned crumble for pudding. We will also benefit from elderberries for jam, rosehips for syrup, crab apples for jelly sauce and hazelnuts to crunch later in the year. Money cannot buy the joy of harvesting food for free!

Pay day

Posted in Farm on Saturday 27th July 2013 at 7:39pm

Payday comes but once a year for us from the cattle. Each year we calve our cows in spring and the cows suckle their calves for 10 months – hence the name Suckler cows. These calves are then weaned and when winter finishes, which was very late this year, they go into the fields to eat nutritious young spring grass. When they are 15 or 16 months old and are looking really healthy having lost their shaggy winter coats and are growing well we take them to Newton Abbot Market and sell them for other farmers to fatten them. It is an exciting day but also nerve wracking as the price we receive will depend on who is looking for cattle that day and what price they are willing to pay at the auction.

Bluebells and Early Purple orchids

Flora of spring

Posted in General on Thursday 30th May 2013 at 4:23pm

An explosion of colour has at last come to the woodland and leat walk. We have a profusion of blue bells under the oak canopy. In places they are mixed with other colours, white of the wild garlic, purple of the early purple orchids, pinks of the red campion, yellow of buttercups, a variety of greens from ferns and mosses to mention just a few of the more well know plants. It makes the walk beside the leat a real joy as well as part of our work. The leaf canopy of the oaks, ash, hazel and beech are slowly reducing the view of the sky about 3 weeks behind our neighbouring areas of Bovey Tracey and Ashburton.

Visitor Comments

Posted in Hydro on Wednesday 1st May 2013 at 4:19pm

Some quotes from a recent visit to our hydro power scheme from a local amenity group:

“Carol and I were amazed at your hard work and enterprise on you hydro-power scheme!”

“Really great, very interesting and inspiring.”

“I must really congratulate you on your engineering achievements…”

“We all enjoyed your very informative descriptions and walk through your delightful location.”

Cow and calf at Old Walls 2013

Sunshine!

Posted in Farm on Wednesday 24th April 2013 at 3:32pm

What a joy having a few hours of sunshine is, it lifts the spirit and work pace! The lack of sunshine last summer has had a lasting effect on our cows. We would normally expect to be 75% through calving by now but we have only had 25% of our cows calve so far this spring. Having checked the feed, mineral supplements and health of our cattle I pondered what could be the cause of so many cows calving late. Sunshine is the answer or lack thereof! Last year when the bull came to visit it rained for the first 4 weeks he was with our cows, he and they huddled under hedges to shelter from the worst effects of the heavy downpours with never a thought to “getting together” to mate and make this years crop of calves arrive on time! Time will tell if my projection is right, that we will be busier than usual with calving cows the first week in May (2013) following a glorious week of sunshine in late July last year (2012) – 9 months ago!

Waterleat Lodge heathers

Some of the signs of spring

Posted in General on Wednesday 24th April 2013 at 3:24pm

Whilst on my early morning check of the calving cows just before the sun peeps over our horizon the countryside seems to be wide awake and buzzing with life. Every morning since the 20th April the cuckoo has been calling in the valley, the rest of the bird’s busy singing in the dawn. The chickens are telling everyone they have laid an egg and the calves are all stirring to have their first drink of milk. On the next door farm the lambs are frantically bleating for the ewes amongst the flock and the distant rumble of the West Webburn is the constant background refrain. The urge to stop and soak up the atmosphere is strong and only wins out after I’ve checked to see if any calves are being born. It’s then that you notice the tiny shoots of grass valiantly coming through, the catkins, the blackthorn flowers beginning to emerge, the celandines in the banks, the subtle change of colour to the bare trees where their buds are developing and giving the appearance of a red brown hue and the huge show of colour in the garden heathers. Nature is a powerful thing, always balancing herself through the seasons.

Salmon are thriving

Salmon are thriving

Posted in Hydro on Sunday 31st March 2013 at 10:48pm

It’s good to see evidence that salmon are thriving on our river, theWest Webburn. A previous article I wrote told the story of the salmon smolts travelling successfully past our hydro scheme to continue their journey to the sea. During this winter we found a dead Kelt upstream of our system which measured 33” long. It is very pleasing to know that these magnificent creatures have managed to complete their journey fromDartmouth, despite the fishing lines. This is clear proof that they are reaching their chosen destination and are able to spawn successfully in the upper reaches of theWest Webburn.

Webburn full

Truly awesome renewable energy!

Posted in Hydro on Friday 1st February 2013 at 5:53pm

Just like everyone else we have been dealing with the excess of water everywhere – on the farm, around our home and yes even with the hydro electric scheme. For the latter we have been monitoring, very closely, the high water levels in the run off periods after the very heavy downpours. The effect on the river is very fast and it can easily catch you out and over top the leat bank if we don’t manually restrict the flood waters with our sluice gate at the intake. The power house end can still be excessively high as you can see from the picture. The tail race is underwater on the downstream side and the arch way beneath the powerhouse is full - compare it to the picture on the About Us page.

Deer at Forebay

Winter visitors

Posted in General on Sunday 27th January 2013 at 4:02pm

From floods to blizzard we are no different from anyone else, nor is the wildlife. They have to deal with the consequences too. Food is harder to find when snow covers the ground and the wildlife becomes braver. We often have fleeting glimpses of deer in our wood but as the photo shows they loose some of their shyness when needs must. Hard for them, but a joy for us to watch.

Cherry tree in floods

Paperwork deadlines in the rain!

Posted in Farm on Monday 31st December 2012 at 12:23pm

As I watch the Cherry tree divert the flood waters around it in our garden I have to wonder if it will survive this constant soaking of its roots or drown! The farm fields are not much better with pools and small lakes appearing after heavy rain where grass should be. Much time is being spent by farmers around the country filling in their Soil Protection Review, deadline 31-12-12, to satisfy the powers that be that we are aware of waterlogged soils and are able to show how we will treat them!  We have to identify each field by its number, describe its soil type, the use of the land, soil issues eg run off carrying lots of silt, do a risk assessment on the soil and identify measures to be taken if the soil has issues - that's just to mention a few of the items to be addressed. This is just one of the many forms, assessments, surveys and registers we have to keep for the government.

Beware looking up on ladders!

Posted in General on Saturday 29th December 2012 at 2:59pm

It’s good to be back on the net again. Many of my duties changed over the last few weeks after Miles’s had an accident, broke his wrist, dislocated a finger took a blow to the chin which broke a tooth and misaligned his jaw plus lots of scraps and bruises. I found myself back on the farm while he recovered managing to cover the stock work with the help of Luke, our son. While waiting at A&E it became obvious to us that blacking out and falling like a rag doll off a ladder, whilst looking up, (the ladder stayed in place!) is relatively common and a well known reason, to the medical profession, for this sort of accident. The big artery at the base of the skull gets squeezed and restricts the blood flow to the brain hence the black out. Having attended several sessions with the H&S folk why is it that the section on “safe use of ladders” has never flagged up this fact?

Small bale hay

Hay and silage harvest complete

Posted in Farm on Saturday 25th August 2012 at 12:39pm

With the rain falling yet again it is with a thankful heart that we can at last say our harvest is over. The last of the big bale silage was wrapped this morning before the heavens opened. We have managed to make enough silage for the winter period and have some small bale hay which gives us some flexibility when feeding small groups of cattle in the autumn, the odd sick animal or if we get caught with snow this winter we can carry a small bale on our backs to stranded animals. Big bales are easily moved as long as you can use a tractor not always the case in heavy snow or very icy conditions!

Fish wheel in tailrace

Summer generation

Posted in Hydro on Saturday 25th August 2012 at 12:29pm

What a different year this has been for generating electricity. We have rarely had to use our small turbine as the river has hardly ever dropped to what is normally consider summer flow levels since March’s heat-wave! Apart from generating all that renewable energy the flow levels have obviously had an effect on the river’s inhabitants. We have already put our fish wheel in to guide the adult salmon past us as they travel up to the head waters to spawn. The beginning of August is really early for this stretch of river to have salmon and sea trout running, but they are there, and going past us safely in the heavy fast flowing river water.

Silage bales ready for wrapping

Silage and showers

Posted in Farm on Monday 2nd July 2012 at 12:28pm

What a month June has been, busy, busy, busy! We have been trying to dodge the rain and showers to make some silage for the cows winter fodder and conducting tours for WWT in between. We are about a month late with our harvest and the feed value of the crop slowly drops as the days go past, while the crop continues to bulk up. The lower feeding value needs to be reviewed as the winter goes along to make sure we are not under feeding our cows nutritionally while still “filling their tums” with the bulk. Our cows are still milking during the winter suckling their calves, so the nutrition needs to be correct or health problems start manifesting themselves. We work a family system with silage with Miles cutting and big baling, anyone who’s spare turns and strolls the grass, our son helps out bringing the bales in and Gail wraps the bales in the black cling film leaving Miles to stack then in our clamp ready for winter use. Intense long days but we are steadily winning against the weather!

What a lot of walks!

Posted in General on Sunday 1st July 2012 at 4:41pm

WWT has been in demand through June with 6 walks in one week alone. We have catered for the whole of our local primary school, Widecombe in the Moor, over three days and three walks ranging from 11 years old to 4 years old. A comment from the head teacher “It was ‘learning outside the classroom’ as it is supposed to be done!”

Other groups included a scout group, some of them using what they learnt towards scout badges, a French group ‘Transition France’ interested in our sustainability and an interest group from Bovey Tracey who questioned us about, hydro power, sustainability re energy, Dartmoor Ponies etc, conservation, farming and many other things. All the walks were engaging for us and judging by their comments for them too.

Bluebells

Bluebells and birds

Posted in General on Sunday 27th May 2012 at 5:33pm

The bluebells are carpeting the woodland floor but as a very amateur photographer I do not seem to be able to do justice to the magnificent display in the woodland – if you want to experience the wonderful colour and fragrance of the native bluebells on a warm sunny day you will have to visit us! The ferns are dominating the edge of the leat now having speedily unfurled their fronds over the last week and combined with the explosion of other foliage on the leat banks we are now seeing lots of insect life including damselflies with their electric blue bodies. Our lone cuckoo is still calling occasionally after it’s late arrival – first heard on April 30th ten days later than usual. Our other woodland birds are doing their best to make up for this by heralding the dawn very enthusiastically each day – we do not need an alarm clock!

Cattle grazing Bottom close

Jobs for the spring

Posted in Farm on Wednesday 23rd May 2012 at 11:15am

The timely arrival of the rain followed by some warmer weather has enabled our grass to get growing at a rate that allowed us to put all our cattle out onto the pastures. The cattle barns are being mucked out and the silage fields left un-grazed for the grass crop to grow on until there is enough tonnage of grass to cut it and turn it into our big bale silage – for next winters fed rations. It is clear that the cattle are contented now with the sun on their backs and the calves well fed, it’s time for a well earned rest. Corndon Tor makes a wonderful back drop! Some of the other jobs for the spring include, disbudding and castrating the calves, protecting the cows from flies with a pour-on fly repellent, clean out the cattle sheds and spread the dung, spot spray the injurious weeds e.g. docks, nettles, thistles and ragwort (this is part of the cross compliance rules we have to meet) and catch up on the paper work applying for cattle passports etc. One worrying job for this week is our cattle’s TB test.

New Orchard - Old Walls

Orchard creation

Posted in Farm on Monday 7th May 2012 at 12:40pm

Under our Higher Level Stewardship on the farm we have planted a small new section of orchard which includes cider apple, plum and cherry trees. Our newly planted orchard is just showing signs that the trees have rooted in well with the cherry trees are already producing small leaves. The young apple trees have just been pruned to encourage them to bush out rather than shoot up, the stoned fruit trees will be pruned in the summer. All are now protected from our wild deer with suitable fencing around each tree, this also means we can graze the field around the new trees with our cattle and Dartmoor heritage ponies without worrying that the trees will be eaten!

Turbines fully open

Posted in Hydro on Wednesday 25th April 2012 at 5:18pm

We often loose out on one enterprise only to gain on another. The cows may still be in their winter housing but our hydro electric production has steadily risen to full power as the rain has continued to fall with surplus water tumbling over the weir and spillway at the intake. At the forebay I watch the screener being triggered regularly by the debris being carried in the storm water, and, as I sit at my computer writing this I spy the heron visiting in case he has the opportunity to take a fish or two. He leaves after a few minutes without his tea (our protection is obviously working) then I look up and see a majestic buzzard circling overhead. What an office to work from!

Cow and calf

Contented mother and daughter

Posted in Farm on Wednesday 25th April 2012 at 5:16pm

Evidence of one of the pleasures of farming – seeing a new born calf, just 12 hours old, safely cuddled up to its mum. We are still calving our cows inside due to the ferocious weather we have had over the last few days. The older calves born in the early part of the month are now going out by day into a lush grass field to “kick up their heels”; their mum’s are enjoying the sweet new season’s grass too.

Blackthorn and Hawthorn hedgerow

Hedgerows at Old Walls

Posted in General on Wednesday 11th April 2012 at 11:12am

Farming at 1000ft (300m) our season is shorter than our lowland friends and while we still have a wonderful display of daffodils with more still to bloom, “down the hill” they are seeing these delightful flowers die back. Our hedgerows are just the same with the delicate blackthorn flowers on their bare branches only now showing their best against the vivid green of the hawthorn leaves. The remainder of the hedgerow is looking much as it has all winter.

Rain at last

Posted in Hydro on Tuesday 10th April 2012 at 4:15pm

With our “hydro” hats on we were very pleased to see the rains come over the Easter weekend. The West Webburn was running at a low summer flow level until yesterday. Although most of the rain has been taken up by the very dry soils (good for our farming!) there was some surplus that made its way to the rivers. For about 12 hours the river was running at normal winter flows rates. However, it has settled back now and is producing electricity at about 18% production, still way below where we would expect it to be but better than before Monday’s rain. It also brought another wave of smolts down stream and we again left our fish pipe open all night. This morning they have all moved on beyond us on their journey to the sea.

Winter silage feeding

New life on the farm

Posted in Farm on Tuesday 10th April 2012 at 4:03pm

Despite the glorious weather we had through March we are still feeding our suckler cow’s winter rations. The grass has been slow to grow from lack of rain and warmth – although our days have been warm the nights have produced heavy frosts and have kept the soil temperature down. The cows have travelled back to the barns at Old Walls to be closer to home as they are due to calve through April and May. To date we have 4 new calves, all arrived without assistance and are doing well. With the change in the weather over the Easter weekend all the cattle were glad of some shelter from the howling winds and lashing rain.

Smolt migration

Posted in Hydro on Monday 26th March 2012 at 11:12am

Yet more evidence that the weather is behaving in a very unseasonable way – the smolts are running. Over the weekend we noticed salmon smolts in our leat and by Sunday morning they were in the forebay. This is the earliest we have seen them “run to the sea” since we built the hydro scheme. Maybe the migration is due to the warm weather or perhaps the summer river levels? Whatever the reason we had the fish pipe open for 24 hours and they have all successfully continued their journey past us. Let’s hope in 2 or more years time they will be back in the rivers to spawn and start the species life cycle again.

Early Purple Orchid

Spring has sprung!

Posted in General on Thursday 22nd March 2012 at 10:20am

Signs of spring are showing themselves everywhere but one of the plants I eagerly look for each year is the Early Purple Orchid with its distinctive spotted leaves. They are appearing along the leat side now.

The trees are slowly showing signs of the coming season too with buds just forming and catkins in abundance.

The dawn chorus is loud enough to be our alarm call at this time of year, the owls let us know they are busy too during the night and the wood pecker is very actively drilling into trees during the day - no doubt to find food or a suitable tree for nesting in.

Waterleat Walks & Talks website

January 2012 - New website launched

Posted in General on Monday 23rd January 2012 at 8:47am

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new website for 2012 and hope you like it. Please feel free to send us comments using our new enquiry form.

The new page about our farms contains information about Old Walls and Lowertown Farms and how they are run.

We also have an interactive map so you can zoom in and see exactly where we are and also get directions from your location.

The information about our site, free guided walks and talks and presentations has also been updated and expanded.