Woodland around the campsite in winter

Initially, it seems to have gone very quiet here on the campsite and in the surrounding woodland. The trees are bare, we hear no insects buzzing, there are no bats flying. Amphibians and reptiles are nowhere to be seen.

However, despite the appearance of dormancy, if we pay attention, we realise that nature still seems to be quite busy!
A couple of weeks back, while waiting for the kettle to boil, we were admiring the blue tits in their thick winter feathers on the bird feeders.

Suddenly, we noticed some movement in the grasses behind. Watching very closely, we caught a glimpse of a very majestic looking roe buck. He was confidently sauntering through the grassland. We quickly hurried others to come and see, and were soon treated to an amazing view. The large deer was nibbling vegetation and grooming itself, before slowly moving away and disappearing into its surroundings.

An amazing sight! None of us were quick or stealthy enough to capture a good photograph, so you will have to take our word for it!

We seem to have the best wildlife sightings while the kettle is boiling. I suppose it forces us to slow down and pause the busy-ness that so many of us are guilty of!

Over recent weeks, although the weather has been very wet, we have seen a wide variety of birds. A greater spotted woodpeckers swooping past, hovering kestrels on the lookout for their next meal, masses of coal tits, colourful charms of goldfinches. But, now that the vegetation has died back, we regularly see green woodpeckers too.

We haven’t seen all of this wildlife because we make tea all day (though we are very big fans of a cuppa!). We’ve seen it because we slowed down and switched off.

I suppose it is proof that choosing to do absolutely nothing, even for a short while, can lead to really fantastic experiences!

Forage and Harvest

Foraged blackberries at the campsite

Summer seems to have quickly turned into deep Autumn. Worse still, Winter feels very much as though it’s looming just around the corner. As the days get cooler its easy to yearn for the warmer and brighter days of the Summer months. But, we’re doing our best to revel in the darkness of this time of year and all of the magic it brings! 

Harvesting nature and the garden

We are celebrating the end of harvest season and the tremendous abundance that the hot Summer and October rains have brought. We’ve been gifted a bag full of fat chestnuts, we’ve dried masses of mushrooms and frozen bucket loads of hedgerow berries. We have stacked the firewood and bought the pumpkins and squash in, just before the frost, dotting them around the house for decoration. They look mystical.

We have a local expert Jane, who turns this produce into fantastic pesto, sauces and pickles as well as cordial and oils and next year we hope to be stocking some of her bounty.

During November we pick the last of the apples while dodging those that spontaneously fall from the tree. Eventually we all lose our battle against gravity! We will be using our gathered foods to make all sorts of delicious concoctions to enjoy through Winter. Rosehip syrup, apple crumble, pumpkin soup, blackberry cheesecake, penny bun risotto, elderberry syrup are all on the list.

hanging apples at the secret campsite

But, of course, a few boozy treats such as cider, sloe gin and pine vodka too!

Who is moving around?

The harvest season may be nearly over as the first frosts arrive but, there is still plenty to see whilst we are out and about.

Keep your eyes peeled for the last of the active creatures who will soon hibernate for the Winter – or ‘brumate’ if they’re reptiles.

The hardiest butterfly and moth species are still active, including Peacock, Red Admiral, and Small Tortoiseshells. Not forgetting the aptly named November Moth. If you don’t spot any of those, there are always the beautifully coloured Autumn leaves to enjoy.

Peacock butterfly at the secet campsite

The other treat at this time of year are the numerous bonfire nights taking place, especially here in Sussex. Make sure you chse out any hibernating hedgehogs before lighting the fire. Its also that time to light a log fire in the evening and read a good book. Try Wonderland by Stephen Moss and Brett Westwood it will inspire you to get out and encounter nature.

Here’s to a cosy Winter!

Tawny Owls fill the woods with hoots

The Secret Campsite is surrounded by beautiful and lovingly managed woodland, in particular Knowlands Wood. Knowlands is managed as a private nature reserve by owner Nick Lear and his family. Lots of native creatures spill out of Knowlands on a daily basis and campers get the chance to encounter them.

During our mini summer getaway, for a night in the Tree Tent we were thrilled to hear the familiar ‘twit twoo’ of Tawny Owls. They were calling all around the campsite. There were so many calling points, it felt like the whole of sussex was filled with owls.

What’s that sound?

Did you know that the classic call is actually more of a ‘kewick’ from the female and ‘hoohoo’ of the male? You may be able to hear the separate calls in this sound clip. These elusive creatures most likely hunt in the woodland which surrounds the campsite, a habitat that their short wings and silent flight are well adapted to.

I often look upwards during dusk/dawn woodland wanders, they may be perched right above you. A good sign is an area under a tree with lots of droppings underneath a branch. They seem to be quite habitual.

barn owl pellet
It’s actually a barn owl pellet, but you get the gist

At this time of year we often hear large numbers of tawny owls hooting around the campsite. This is apparently because this summers young are trying to establish territories in the area. They are rather similar to human children, in that they take a while to move away from the location where they grew up.

Unlike us humans, perhaps, Tawny Owl parents are keen to chase their offspring away once their rearing work is completed. This continuous calling that we hear throughout the night is the result of all parties trying to assert their claim to a patch of the beautiful sussex woodland where they can live, eat and breed.

Tawny owls are excellent predators and they feed mainly on insects, rodents, small birds, frogs and worms. Not quite the diet that I lie in bed feeling envious of. But, it obviously works well for them, judging from the noise they make around the campsite. You might want to bring some ear plugs.

Whats happening above ground around the campsite

Its really easy to spend the day with your head down dealing with things infront of you. Its very invigorating to take a break from this and start to look upwards and forwards. Sometimes this is where all of the fun can be had


By day we’re peering up into the crowns of trees. The sheer abundance of fruits, seeds and nuts hanging from the trees is a sure sign that Autumn is well and truly here.

The leaves are now beginning to fall and foraging is all of a sudden high on our list of seasonal hobbies. We’re lucky enough to have a wide variety of fruit trees dotted around the campsite. Their branches are currently heavy with all sorts of sweet offerings. The wild plums of the Bullace tree are a particular favourite. They are delicious when quickly stewed with some sugar or honey. Feel free to sample a few if you’re staying with us, its different to the everyday plum, richer and more velvety. There are lots of exciting recies to try using unusual native shrubs and trees.

Migrating birds

During the day time you might get distracted from the fruits and nuts by large gatherings of migrating birds. Many of the summers UK breeding birds have left our shores by now. But, some late departures are still feeding up before the long journeys ahead of them. We’ve seen masses of House Martins foraging recently. Soon they’ll be making their way on the long flight to Africa. House Martins are an Amber status bird in the UK

At the opposite end of the scale, Waxwings will soon be arriving from Scandinavia. The UK’s Winter population is estimated to be around 10,000 birds. This can fluctuate markedly, depending on the availability of berries on the continent. So, if its a bad crop in Sweden, we’re hoping that our berry laden hedges and trees will attract these colourful and charismatic birds. It may just be a passing glimpse, but if you see one, its worth it.

Overwintering birds

If the locals are more your thing, murmurations are now in full flow. Take a quick trip down to the coast at Brighton around dusk, where you will see flocks of starlings coming in to roost on the old West pier. Some of these starlings will just have arrived from the east. We caught these photos during an impressive display last week.

Starling murmuration above sussex
The stars

Looking higher up still further, by night we cast our eyes towards the stars. Last month many of our camping visitors settled down with a hot chocolate by the campfire and watched the impressive display of the bright, Perseids meteor shower.

This month we are keeping our eyes peeled for more meteors, this time from the Draconoid shower. Although it is known as a sleepier meteor shower, we’re hoping that we may still catch glimmers during its peak on October 8th. Our fingers are very tightly crossed!”

Why not pay us a visit and if its chilly outside book a stay in the tree tent or the gridshell and enjoy the wildlife without having to much stuff to put up and take down.

Dormouse moves in next to the campsite

We have some exciting news!

In the last two weeks of September we spotted a Hazel dormouse, just outside the campsite! Michael and Katherine, who are ecologists from the Ecology Consultancy Bakerwell Ltd and are based at The Secret Campsite, had the lucky encounter during one of their lunchbreaks.

Sadly, we didn’t manage to catch a photo of the dormouse. The sighting was unexpected and dormice move very quickly. But Katherine was so inspired she produced a felt version she had made earlier, which was very Blue Peter

Felt hazel dormouseat the secret campsite

However, they did find its tightly woven nest and they managed to get a photograph of that. Please note you need to be a qualified and licenced expert to handle dormice. They are an endangered species.

Dormice nests looks rather like our Tree Tent, which is hanging in the trees near where the nests were found. The main difference is size, and they are a different colour to the Tree tent which is green. The Tree Tent also has lights inside which is unnecessary for the nocturnal dormouse. What do you think? You can read more Tree Tent information here

dormouse nest found near the secret campsite
Like a Tree Tent?

The ecologists from Bakerwell have set up lots of monitoring points around the campsite to see what they are up to. Fingers crossed, we can report back with lots of dormouse pictures, once we have managed to spot them with a camera in hand!