General Articles

Blackberries

Wild berry season

Posted in General on Monday 13th August 2018 at 10:04am

This very hot dry weather seems to have affected the wild berries. We have already started to pick our blackberries from the hedgerow, a favourite pastime with the grandchildren, and the rowan berries are ripening fast. I have spotted elderberries, hips and haws all still green but looking like there will be a good crop in the future. The welcome rain we have had at last in the middle of August has given all the berries the boost they need to bulk up and the sun has made them oh so sweet. Pies, crumbles, jams and plain simple stewed fruit are all on the menu. Enjoy nature’s bounty!

Cuckoo flower

Signs of Spring

Posted in General on Monday 30th April 2018 at 2:21pm

Right on schedule the cuckoo came calling on 21st April into the West Webburn valley. Both of us heard it while we were out with the cows in the early morning. Unlike other years we have not heard it again, a sign of the times, due to declining numbers. We do have other indications of the spring arriving despite our unpredictable weather. The Cuckoo flower or Lady’s Smock – Latin name: Cardamine pratensis -  is blowing around in the breeze all along the leat path. The early purple orchid is sprouting lush spotted leaves, the bluebells are just starting to flower and the Stitchwort is fairly abundant now. Add in the weeds and we have yellow dandelion, white Stitchwort, blue Bluebells and soon the purple of the orchids to add to the mix of green grasses and leaves emerging all over the woodland. Nature’s colour palette.

Old oak tree

Farewell old oak

Posted in General on Wednesday 24th January 2018 at 12:17pm

Following 5 named storms in late 2017 we have already had Eleanor, Fionn, David and we are now experiencing Georgina’s forceful winds and rain in 2018. The rain we like – it keeps the turbines spinning but the wind has been so destructive. In accordance with Natural England’s preference under our HLS we have left ivy to climb into our trees but the result is as you see in the picture. Given wet ground and high winds the big oak tree covered in ivy could not stand the pressure of the constant battering of the high winds and lost its battle to stay upright. Some of you may remember the old oak tree beside the leat as when we built the hydro electric scheme 23 years ago we deliberately wiggled around this old, old oak tree. Alas NE with the aid of nature has brought her down despite our best efforts to keep her!

granite roller

Farm recycling

Posted in General on Thursday 30th November 2017 at 9:26pm

We have had a stone mantel aging under the woodland canopy for the last year to mellow the glaring whiteness of the newly carved granite. Anyone who farmed in the 1960’s or before would fondly remember granite rollers that were used each spring in the fields preparing the grass for cutting later in the year. One broken roller has been recycled to become part of our fireplace surround. We had it cut in half and set on small granite blocks holding up our nicely mellowed mantel piece. Sorted.

Hail and snow

Hail & snow in spring

Posted in General on Wednesday 26th April 2017 at 9:05am

Once again the seasons are getting mixed up with high temperatures first followed by hail and snow on the 26th April! We have had very little rainfall since the end of March which is unusual for Dartmoor. The river flow is falling everyday but the excessive amount of sun has been enjoyed by our cows as they were able to go out into dry fields, although they are still returning to top up their feed with silage from the sheds. We also benefit from our solar panels coming into action much earlier in the year than normal. The wild flowers have been abundant especially the wild violets. We have also noticed an abundance of bees on our heather and orange tipped butterflies who are enjoying the wild Cuckoo Flowers – supposedly called this as they flower around the time the cuckoo’s start to call. This year that is correct as I heard my first cuckoo call on the 24th April at 6am whilst checking our calving cows.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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!

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.

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.