Cuckoo starts calling near the campsite

Cuckoo home near the secret campsite

I woke this morning at around 7am to hear a cuckoo calling from across the fields. He was confidently announcing his arrival to Sussex after a long flight from Africa. He was showing off from a patch of woodland that adjoins the campsite.

Not good news for everyone

Whilst this is a fantastic sound for us humans, it might be a little more disappointing if you’re a meadow pipit or a dunnock whose nests get raided.

The female cuckoo spots a vulnerable nest by watching the movements of certain birds as they travel to and from their twiggy home.

She then waits for the coast to clear, alights on the target nest and quickly lays her egg. Once the egg is laid she removes one of the resident birds eggs, pushing it over the side and flies off to find another unfortunate bird.

Little Cuckoos

Cuckoo chicks hatch within 12 days and once large enough they will eject all other occupants of the nest, both chicks and unhatched eggs.

The adopted parents continue to feed the chicks which grow very quickly. Cuckoo chicks will often grow to be larger than their new hard working parents.

This lazy parenting allows cuckoos to leave our shores much earlier than most other migrants and they head back to Africa in June, with the young birds following later in the summer once they have built up reserves for the flight.

How to hear the cuckoo

The cuckoos will be calling around the campsite until mid to late May and you can hear them from all parts of the site. If you’re really lucky you may even get to see one. They look a bit like a hawk.

Dawn Chorus walk from the campsite

dawn chorus walk starts at the secret campsite

This morning I got up at 4:30am to light a small campfire in The Hide in preparation for our first dawn chorus walk at the Secret Campsite, hosted by Charlie Peverett.

Birdsong Academy

Charlie is a bird expert and runs Birdsong Academy  where you can learn more about the lives and songs of our native avian friends.

Lighting the fire and putting the kettle on

It was pitch black when i started lighting the little campfire. But, the light started to appear over the neighbouring woods as the guests arrived at reception for their early morning cuppa.

dawn chorus walk briefing

Many of the attendees had stayed the night over in the camping meadow, which made for a much easier start to their day.

When do the birds start singing

We located to The Hide where Charlie explained the birds we might hear and which birds are the first to start singing. The singing is their way of asserting a territorial claim and luring a mate into their space. But singing comes at a risk. You reveal your location to any would be predators lurking in the area

Apparently, its all down to  eye size, which of the birds start singing first.

The bigger the birds eyes, the more chance of it spotting a predatory owl or sparrowhawk hunting in the murky dawn light. Its really important to get as much warning as possible and bigger eyes collect more light which really helps.

Walking the old railway track listening for birds

We started off listening and identifying bird song as we sat around the fire. What a fantastic start to be hearing a Nightingale a few metres away in some scrub. We heard Wrens, Tawny owls, a Song Thrush and then set off to the camping meadow, where we listened to Coal Tits, Jays, and thrushes singing from the woods.

From the camping meadow we walked out onto the old railway and heard more Nightingales, just feet away and we were lucky to see a small Muntjac deer crossing the path a few metres in front..

As the day evolves, singing starts to become a secondary priority replaced by feeding. As a result, the cacophony of noise starts to die down. A chance to get back to sleep, if you’re camping.

Post dawn chorus walk Fika at the secret campsite

The Swedish art of Fika

Once the walk was over we returned to the revitalised campfire and enjoyed Fika. This Swedish custom involves time spent enjoying coffee and pastries. In our case these were delicious cinnamon buns, made by Maria Greenwood, from The Hubbery cafe. You can order pastries for your very own Fika, from Maria, for collection on Fridays.

We chatted around the fire as we enjoyed the pastries and coffee and put together a list of over 26 birds that we had heard.

It was a fantastic walk and a few of the guests nipped off for some wild swimming to round off their Scandinavian Gokotta experience in the Sussex countryside.

Gokotta is a Swedish word that describes the joy of rising early to experience the stillness of the air and the beauty of nature, particularly Birdsong.

Here goes with our haul as diligently recorded by Charlie: Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Wren, Song Thrush, Nightingale, Dunnock, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Woodpigeon, Raven, Jay, Magpie, Blackcap, Robin, Chiff Chaff, Goldcrest, Mistle Thrush, Carrion Crow, Tawny Owl, Pheasant, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Greylag, Chaffinch, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Stock Dove.

Our next Gokotta event is on the 10th May and you can book tickets with Birdsong Academy and make it easy on yourself by booking a nights camoping the night before. We start at 5:00am

Bluebells flowering around the campsite

a bluebell at the secret campsite

Its that time of year when the woods around the Secret Campsite are filled with huge drifts of Bluebells.

Despite this years terrible wet weather, bang on time at the start of April, we started to see these beautiful little flowers emerge.

Isn’t nature amazing?

It starts with one or two on the woodland edges and as the days lengthen and the weather warms, gradually the woodland floor is carpeted with a beautiful blue haze.

A little about this beautiful plant

Bluebells Hyacinthoides non scripta has a plethora of common names including English harebells, Cuckoos boots and Witches thimbles. 

Bluebells provide an early food source for a wide range of creatures. Not may other plants are flowering at this time of year. So woodland butterflies, bees and hoverflies flock to these beautiful spaces to recharge. The air is alive with the buzz and hum of insects.

One of the main reasons for the bluebells flowering early, is to make use of the light that soon disappears as the tree canopy closes over, shutting out the suns rays.

Come and camp next to these beautiful bluebells

A few of our pitches at the campsite look directly into the surrounding woodland where you are treated to this beautiful bluebell display for a few weeks from April through to May.

Request a pitch with a view when you book a camping pitch and we’ll do our best to share the beauty of our local bluebells in the woods with you

bluebells seen from wild service pitch at the secret campsite

Nightingales touch down in sussex

double rainbow over the secret campsite

News was spreading around the village that the Nightingales had returned to our little village of Barcombe in East Sussex. Its a long flight from their winter territories in Africa, before they touch down and set up camp near the Secret Campsite.

So, its a great moment when they arrive and start singing. Its hugely loved, annual performances, during April and May.

The village is abuzz with talk of how many have been heard and where their territories are along the dismantled railway track that links the campsite to the village.

First night walk of the year

So, on Thursday evening when the sun had fully set, I ventured out along the railway track to listen.

Luck was in. I was immediately welcomed by a beautiful song from deep within a dense patch of blackthorn at the edge of the campsite. A male was treating me to the long, hugely varied series of melodies. You need to leave any self importance back at home. This enchanting song is not aimed at us. Its target is any passing females freshly arrived from Africa.

I walked halfway to the village and heard 2 more. A feast of sound. In the coming weeks the track will be filled with more males establishing their territories.

Other Nightingale lovers

We are also lucky to have amazing folk singer Sam Lee based in the area. Sam and his team host their Singing with Nightingales events which include a walk and tour of the area accompanied with delicious food and drinks around a campfire.

Nightingales included with your camping trip

But if you fancy a more peaceful nightingale experience you can book to stay with us at The Secret Campsite and enjoy ad hoc ambles along the track, as and when it takes your fancy.

Alternatively, you can tuck yourself up in bed and listen to the nightingales singing though the night accompanied by the odd Tawny owl or a Fox.

If you’re really lucky, you may even get the Marsh Frog backing chorus as the singing season gets into full flow.

Nightingales are dowdy little birds, but they pack a bug punch when it comes to attracting their mates.

Barcombe’s growing flock of nightingales go one step further, attracting lots of people, keen to reconnect with nature and the beautiful songs that they sing.

Tree Tent gets a new canvas cover

New canvas cover on the Tree Tent

The original Tree Tent went up here at The Secret Campsite in 2013. It was the first one in England. Since then its had a couple of makeovers. The first was a new frame and the second a new canvas after the original cotton one started to leak.

Upgrading the canvas

Last week the Tree Tent team, led by Jason Thawley, who used to be based at The Secret Campsite, came over to install the new cover.

The old green cover was looking very natural, covered in lichen but, was beginning to leak at the seams. So we installed a new canvas.

and smartening up the interior

Whilst they were here Will and Jodie upgraded the 3 single beds and added in extra windows, to make a 360 degree view of the campsite, fields and surrounding woods.

It was a quick job. The Tree Tent now looks resplendent in grey with a green canopy and the smartened perspex dome to gaze skywards at night.

Last of all they added the sausage. This clever accessory stops rain being blown in at the junction between the perspex canopy and the canvas cover.

The light switch was given an upgrade and we were treated to a new doormat.

All ready for the new camping season

The Tree Tent still sleeps 3 adults on single beds and has wonderful views east over the woods and into the adjoining fields which will be filled with lambs in the spring.

During March and April we are happy to take single night stays in all of our Secret Shelters apart from the Easter weekend. Once the season is in full swing, there is a 2 night minimum stay.

The nightingales will be singing here in a couple of weeks time.

The Dawn Chorus with Birdsong Academy

Dawn Chorus walk
Dawn Chorus walk

Gokotta Dawn Chorus Experience

Enjoy the Swedish art of rising for the dawn chorus

Date Friday 12 April & 10th May

Time 0500- 09.00 am

Tickets priced at £40-£55 pp (plus optional camping) 

What does Gokotta mean

Gökotta is a Swedish word for the act of rising early and going outside into nature and birdsong. Our Sussex gökotta experience includes:

Step by step audio lessons on how to recognise five key woodland species by sound plus an introduction to the dawn chorus.

A walk through the local woodlands and hedgerows, where hopefully we will hear the Nightingale, several species of warbler and thrush, woodpeckers, owls, finches, tits, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Stock Dove and other woodland birds. Fingers crossed.

Delicious Swedish refreshments called Fika (sugary pastries) to be consumers around the fireside Question and Answer session.

Your host for the Gokotta dawn Chorus Experience is Charlie Peverett, founder of Birdsong Academy and author of Shriek of the Week

More on the event

We will go ahead unless there’s a weather warning in place, please note it will be muddy and damp and uneven underfoot. Sussex is Muddy! Children aged over 10 are welcome to attend. No dogs please.

Please bring wellies / sturdy walking shoes, warm and waterproof clothing plus a torch. It could be dark early on.

The cost is £55 per person, reduced to £50 if you can share a lift and /or camp the previous night, and £40 for Birdsong Academy course graduates & paying subscribers to Shriek of the Week.

If you would like to turn this event into a really wild night then simply book a night’s camping or treat yourself to a night in one of our 3 secret shelters, The Tree Tent, The Gridshell or the Okra. That way you can simply stroll out of bed having had some extra winks.

Please book your Dawn Chorus ticket here 

Please book your camping trip using the dates and booking button at the top of the page. Please book the night before the walk. 

Glow worm evening with Michael Blencowe

Glow Worm hunt at The Secret campsite

Join us for a very special nocturnal meadow and woodland walk, searching for Britain’s most magical creature.

Glow Worm hunt at The Secret campsite

When is it happening?

Dates Thursday 27th June.

Thursday 11th July.

Time 18.00-22.30 pm 

Tickets priced at £20 pp (plus optional camping for guests wanting to stay the night)

More about Glow Worms and the evening

The elusive glow worm is an amazing little creature and is a wondrous sight to see. But have you ever seen one? And what do you know about their lives? They are really rather special.

Glow worm at The Secret Campsite Max Mudie

The evening will start with a hot drink around the campfire. Michael Blencowe will give you an illustrated talk about the lights and loves of the little glow worm. He knows a great deal about them. The talk will be entertaining and educational.

As darkness falls, we will walk into the camoping meadow and our neighbouring woodlands. wOne there we will be looking for badgers, deer, owls and even the local hedgehog. Once it is dark, the glow worms will turn on their lights in an attempt to find a partner. This is a very special wildlife sight. 

Glow Worms at the campsite

Other useful information

Please bring wellies / sturdy walking shoes, warm and waterproof clothing plus a torch. The weather may be unpredictable.

If you would like to turn this event into a really wild night then simply book a night’s camping, or treat yourself to a night in one of our 3 secret shelters, The Tree Tent, The Gridshell or the Okra. That way you can simply creep into bed and carry on listening to the wildlife noises all night.

You can book camping pitches above but if you would like a night in one of the secret shelters please contact Reception, to see what is available.

Please book your Glow Worm Hunt ticket here

Nature based events at the Secret Campsite

Bat Eveninmg at The Secret Campsite
Bat Eveninmg at The Secret Campsite

We have an exciting lineup of Nature based events for 2024. These are either one day/ one evening affairs or a weekend event. Sounds exciting? Read on!

Bat walks with Michael Blencowe

Dates 25th April, 5th and 12th September

Time 19.00- 21.30 pm

Tickets priced at £20 pp (plus optional camping) 

Join and learn all about the amazing world of bats before heading out to explore the woods looking (and listening) for bats.

What can you expect?

The evening will start around a campfire with a hot drink, and Michael Blencowe will talk about our local Sussex bats, their habits, their echolocation, and the different species that this part of Sussex is home to. We will also learn all about the strange tales of folklore that are attributable to bats. Michael has promised to not treat/ subject us to his rendition of Like a bat out of Hell.

Once the dusk falls, we will head into the nearby woodland with our bat detectors and tune into the bats world. They will be flying above and over our heads! The woods are home to many other animals including badgers, deer, owls and more. We will hopefully manage some encounters with these inhabitants too. We will be back at the fireside by 9.30 – 10 pm.

Please bring wellies / sturdy walking shoes, warm and waterproof clothing plus a torch.

If you would like to turn this event into a really wild night then simply book a night’s camping or treat yourself to a night in one of our 3 secret shelters, The Tree Tent, The Gridshell or the Okra. That way you can simply creep into bed and carry on listening to the wildlife noises all night. 

Please book your bat walk tickets here

Please book your camping ticket here 

Secret Wildlife Festival update

Mothe traps at the Secret wildlife festival

This years Secret Wildlife Festival has sold out apart from the Tree Tent, which is still available to book.

Gone in a day

There was a huge rush for tickets on Friday morning when festival tickets went on sale at 08:00. Sales were brisk with the last camping ticket selling in the afternoon.

If you are keen to join us for the weekend, The Tree Tent is still available. The festival runs from 28 – 30th June.

Michael Blencowe is running the wildlife festival at the secret campsite, which will include, dawn chorus walks, forest school activities, moth traps, trail cameras, astronomy and lots of opportunities to ask questions to the experts.

We look forward to meeting you in June

We’re recruiting a new warden for 2024

Bluebells in Knowlands Wood near the secret campsite
camping at the secret campsite sussex

It's a busy, outdoor job

We’re looking for a new warden to welcome and look after guests during the 2024 season. Initially, it’s a 2-3 day a week job during term time with scope for more days during the school holidays. For the right person, it’s also a great opportunity to learn how to run a campsite including day to day management and liaising with suppliers.

We’re a peaceful family campsite focused on nature and wildlife. Campers stay with us to relax and spend time with their family, or 1 or 2 friends. A few years ago, we wrote a book about our approach to camping, The Escapees Handbook The campsite is set in 8 acres with 18 large and spacious pitches along with 3 unusual shelters for guests to stay in.

Our wildlife friendly approach has proved increasingly popular. The new warden will be a cheerful, reliable individual, with a can-do, welcoming personality and a sense of responsibility. Join our team for the 2024 season and perhaps beyond.

The new warden's job

  • Managing reception
  • Liaising with customers in person, by phone and email
  • Cleaning our sustainably designed and built facilities, including toilets, showers and washing up areas and our shelters.
  • Serving customers in our small cafe/shop
  • Occassional help with our new business and nature project

Hours

  • 7 hours / day from Friday to Sunday between late March-October
  • 2-3 extra days per week during school holidays
  • Extra week days will be available during term, time as required
  • Start late March 2024

What you will earn

  • The Real Living wage £12-£13.15 depending on age and experience

Our new warden will be

  • Friendly, helpful and positive
  • Organised and enjoy working with people 
  • Keen to be outside, with some light physical work
  • Practical and competent with technology
  • Presentable with a great phone manner

If this sounds like you and you would like to know more, give us a call 01273 401 100 or send an email tim@thesecretcampsite.co.uk 

To apply to be our new warden, please send an email with your cv explaining why you would be a great person for this role and we look forward to hearing from you by 23rd February.

deer in the camping meadow at the secret campsite