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Green grow the courgettes O

Environmental issues are at the heart of everything a Northumberland hotel offers its guests, as Alastair Gilmour discovers

Marigolds and basil share greenhouse space with tomato plants; natural deterrents to greenfly and whitefly. Edible violets and aliums not only look elegant in their large purple headgear but keep aphids off apple trees, while a family of ladybirds does the same to rows of strawberries. Nearby, an impressive wormery relentlessly produces liquid fertiliser from waste food. 


Battlesteads Hotel/Restaurant/Bar is one of the nation’s ‘greenest’ businesses

When Richard and Dee Slade took over Battlesteads Hotel in Wark, Northumberland, it was in Richard’s words, “a dump”. But their notion of building an eco-friendly, sustainable business had to start somewhere so they thought they might as well begin at the bottom.

When the pair arrived in 2005 from Magnesia Bank in North Shields (a pub built from a similarly low base into a national treasure renowned for beer quality, top-drawer food and live music) the notion of sustainability was little more than erecting bat boxes.

“We never used to worry about issues like climate change or putting chemicals down the drain,” said Richard. “At Battlesteads, though, we couldn’t get any more electricity; when five people were having showers at the same time all the power went.  

“We were told that we’d have to bring cables from a pylon to our own substation which would cost a fortune, so we started looking at renewables such as installing our own biomass boiler to produce environmentally-friendly power from woodland management schemes. We looked at insulation and cocooned the building which reduced heat loss; we brought in low-energy lighting – the whole conservatory dining room is lit by a total of 97 watts – and now LED lighting has halved our consumption again.”

While these are very important issues, a rural hospitality business has also got to make something special about who it is, to be creative and develop its USP. You’ve got to think “why should they come to this hotel/pub/inn?”. Battlesteads is now widely recognised as one of the most eco-friendly hotels in the country, having won numerous awards for sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint to just one fifth of the industry average. 

Water drained from the roof is pumped around hanging baskets to drip-feed plants. In the small timber-clad ‘powerstation’ behind the pub, cylinders, boilers, temperature gauges, pipes, flanges and tanks do what cylinders boilers, temperature gauges, pipes, flanges and tanks do to create 96% efficiency. 

Heat is also transferred underground to polytunnels, maintaining a constant 10°-12°C for producing crops virtually all-year round. Even waste beer is put to good use in slug traps (they love the taste, apparently, and drown blissfully in little bowls set out for them).

Battlesteads’ carbon footprint is independently assessed by Con-Serve and is used to measure the impact of green activities and choices, representing the sum of all emissions of CO2 induced by human activity. Its carbon footprint measures 4.3 while the national average is something like 31. It’s about the little bits adding up to the whole thing. 

Reconfiguring the kitchens has freed up space for head chef Eddie Shilton and his team to operate more efficiently. An external smoker has been installed, as has a mushroom farm cultivating shitakes and three different colours of oyster mushroom, all of which adds value to the Battlesteads offer. Locally-sourced hams hang up to cure in the smoke, along with wild trout and salmon.

Eddie Shilton said: “Visitors are able to see something like herring being smoked, so they’ll ask for kippers for breakfast – it’s added value again. We’re constantly developing networks of suppliers – all small, local producers making the likes of organic cheese and yogurts. 


Local beer on the bar doesn’t rack up many carbon miles, yet is still top-class


A smoker is an added attraction for food lovers at Battlesteads

“We suggested smoking the cheese we get from Birdoswald Cheese and now we smoke 40-50 kilos at a time which they sell into the market – a new outlet for a new product for both of us.

“It’s the basic necessity of small businesses to be sustainable, but you can’t produce something out of nothing. Markets are changing, people want something different.”

No space is wasted at Battlesteads Hotel. Everywhere you look are leeks, sprouts, lemongrass, broccoli, dill, coriander, parsley, garlic, lettuce and flowers. Trees surrounding the vegetable plots bear walnuts, hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts.

Kitchen waste is composted for conditioning the soil with trials constantly in progress to come up with the optimum mix of materials. Glass from the bar goes straight into a bottle crusher to produce a substance not unlike coarse sand – with a sparkle – which goes into walkways and tractor ruts. Eggshells are rendered down and placed around young plants to deter slugs; nothing comes out of a chemistry set. 

A spring-fed pond, attracting dragonflies and ducks, is supplemented by treated waste water pumped from the six accommodation lodges. Everything has to earn its keep – such as those 14 wormeries peeing out liquor from waste food which is perfect for adding to seed compost. This is sustainability writ large ­– everything here has green credentials, from energy production to waste disposal and food sourcing. Hotel produce comes from no further away than 25 miles – and a lot of it from barely 50 metres away, nurtured in the two-acre gardens where it’s all about biodiversity – butterfly and bee-friendly plants and the organic vegetable garden attract a lot of insects which means the wildlife population is sustainable.


Nature being nurtured in one of several polytunnels


Peace, tranquillity and harmony in the garden


Michelin-starred restaurants grow courgettes for their edible flowers, so why not give it a go?


Oyster mushrooms in varying shapes and colours are specially cultivated

The visitors’ wildlife log reveals buzzards, roe deer, greater spotted woodpeckers, ospreys on manoeuvres from nearby Kielder Forest and – pleasingly – four times as many entries for red squirrels than grey.

Richard Slade said: “We are proud to be the greenest hotel in Northumberland. Of the 173 hotels across the county, we were the first to install a carbon-neutral heating system and one of only two to hold a Gold Award from the Green Tourism Business Scheme.

“We take the responsibility associated with this accolade very seriously and act as green ambassadors to the hospitality industry, as well as the wider business community, offering advice and ideas on how to incorporate sustainability into businesses.”

Six accommodation lodges add to the hotel’s 17-ensuite bedrooms, constructed in Durham from sustainable wood and other materials that blend into the rural landscape, with under-floor heating fed from the biomass boiler and furnished and decorated using local services.

Sustainable development work in and around Northumberland National Park is about promoting ways of living and working that allow people to enjoy life, businesses to prosper and communities to thrive. At the same time, it is about enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the region and affording opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities.


Fancy a milky way? The Battlesteads observatory

The sky is not even the limit either; being located on the edge of the Northumberland Dark Sky, Battlesteads Dark Sky Observatory (a Milky Way Class Dark Sky Discovery Site) is a public astronomical observatory offering talks, activities and Astro courses to suit anyone from the casual stargazer to the professional astronomer.

Richard Slade said: “Our ethos is that it’s always better to work with the environment than to fight against it. Northumberland is one of the least spoiled areas of the country in terms of traffic impact, light pollution and urban sprawl. Let’s keep it that way!”

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