The Secret Campsite is fortunate to be located in a dark sky reserve in the South Downs, and has little light pollution. We encourage all our campers to use head torches and not festoon their tents with fairy lights. This makes the Secret Campsites star gazing opportunities much richer and more accessible for everyone on site.
Astronomical Society visit
We have recently met with The Seven Sisters Astronomical Society, headed up by Derrick Elliott. Derrick and his team have visited the Secret Campsite with their professional telescopes at some recent key star gazing and astronomical dates this summer.
Perseid meteor shower
Derrick and other members, Alex and Paul, visited The Secret Campsite on the 12 August.
This visit was timed to watch the Perseid meteor shower that arrives every August, and is a major part of the astronomical calendar. The Perseids are among the best and most visible of the year’s meteor showers. This is due to their high hourly rate and bright meteors. It’s caused by the Earth moving through the trail that’s left behind, by the comet Swift-Tuttle, in July and August each year.
Derrick arrived at 8.30 pm to lovely clear skies, and assembled his 10 inch Skywatcher Dobsonian Telescope and Alex set his 70mm Meade Telescope.
By 9.00pm it was still light and we were all viewing a beautiful crescent Moon, that was slowly setting in the West. We had a steady stream of campers viewing the Moon until it disappeared behind the trees. At about 10.15pm Saturn was visible, closely followed by Jupiter and it’s four Moons.
The rings of Saturn were visible through both Telescopes as were the four Moons of Jupiter. We then started seeing the Perseids meteor shower zipping across the now dark skies. Albireo was visible, the double star, which is also one of the brightest in the system.
By 11.00pm most of the campers had retired to their tents, which was a pity because the stars were really coming out in our local galaxy the Milky Way and it looked fantastic.
This was the Seven Sisters Astronomical Society first public event in nearly a year and a half, and it was great that they were able to share their knowledge of the nights skies.
The Seven Sisters Astronomical Society returned again last weekend, the August Bank Holiday.
This time, the campers were lucky enough to view Jupiter and its four moons, Saturn, a Ring Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy and even a bright meteor going right through the summer triangle.
In the words of chairman Derrick Elliott “Awesome”!
We hope to run more stargazing and astronomy viewings here at the Secret Campsite, so keep your eyes peeled for future announcements via our Facebook page.
We are so gutted to have to cancel the 2020 Festival. Unfortunately for obvious reasons it can’t take place. But we will definitely run it in 2021.
In the interim, we have been welcoming new wildlife here to the campsite. Clearing out an old poly tunnel to make way for a new wildlife area, we met a VERY large grass snake. Our eldest daughter showed her true wildlife colours and positively jumped out of her skin. The grass snake in question has now moved into a new space. But where?
The Nightingales came to serenade us in May, then the Cuckoo. We still can’t catch him on video. He’s got wise to us and keeps quiet whenever we down tools to capture the sound. We had a sudden arrival of a Goldcrest. He flew into the reception window, but after some TLC and a quick recuperation, headed off again. This time we had a camera ready.
Walking into Lewes yesterday, alongside the beautiful River Ouse we saw a Red Kite. Our neighbours at The Sussex Christmas Barn had spotted one earlier in the week too. With a deeply forked tail, and wingspan of almost 2 metres the Red Kite is deeply impressive. He was too far away to get a decent photo unfortunately.
The grass and newly planted trees are growing fast over in the meadow. The wild rabbits have taken up residence on Juneberry pitch. Our first campers of the season booked onto that pitch may need to be super assertive and explain social distancing to them!
We are very excited for the start of the 2020 season. And very disappointed that we can’t run the Festival. Here’s a link to last years Festival where you can see exactly what was spotted! We look forward to holding it here again next summer.
The Secret Campsite is really pleased to be able to offer all our campers the opportunity to make a donation to The Sussex Wildlife Trust when they book online.
It is entirely optional, but this £3 donation at point of checkout, will help support the valuable work of The Sussex Wildlife Trust.
The Trust acts to “protect the wildlife and the natural environment across Sussex. We create opportunities for people of all ages to learn about nature and connect with it. We inspire people through events, publications and courses to care for nature. We conduct research that supports the conservation of nature in Sussex”
For those that have come to The Secret Wildlife Festival and met with Michael Blencowe and his amazing team, you will have experienced the passion and dedication that they show in their work.
Michael and his team have opened up many of our eyes to the moths and butterflies here at the campsite, introduced us to the art of being patient when hunting the elusive Purple Emperor (embarrassingly I admit that I never actually saw it) and even managed to source a wolf here at the 2019 Festival.
Some of the Trusts other brilliant Sussex wide initiatives include, The Reintroduction of Beavers at Knepp Estate in West Sussex, the Discover Rye Harbour project, Summer Holiday Clubs for school kids, and #30DaysWild. We think they rock!
Please do support them when you make an online camping booking.
The tickets will be live for booking from Tuesday at 1:00pm. So, put down that gourmet sandwich, or the recently foraged wild garlic pesto pitta and head over to the website. We only have 18 pitches available for the weekend and it is filled with a wide range of exciting activities.
Weekend events include: Moth Trapping, Woodland walks, glow worm hunts, Butterfly and bug nets. Each evening we set mammal traps, hedgehog tunnels and prime the camera for sometrail camera footage. The trail camers is positioned at different parts of Knowlands Wood to see who we share the space with.
Doors to the Secret Cinema are thrown open on Sunday morning when we get to see what the camers have picked up.
You can read what happened at last years festival here.
Saturday evening is the bring your own barbecue where festival goers get to discuss the days activities. You can do this as you cook some sausages or vegetarian options on the campsite barbecue. Its a popular spot for the first drink of the day.
Although the weekend is filled with a wide range of activities and events, you dont have to join everything. The more relaxed amongst you can pick and chose the talks and walks you want to attend. You can then spend time relaxing around a campfire to the sites and sounds of nature.
We have minimal light pollution at the Secret Campsite and this enables a fantastic star show on clear nights. So, as the children attempt to drop off, you can pick out the space station flying overhead.
Want to join us?
You can sign up here to go on our mailing list and be pre-warned for when tickets go on sale each year. It also allows you to be sent any late availability that we have when campers cancel their trips at the last minute. As if anyone would?
The weekend is hosted by Michael Blencowe and his amazing team of experts from the Trust. To date we have raised in excess of £18,000 to support their work around Sussex.
Tickets for the festival are Adults £84, Children 3-16 £42, Under 3’s £15.
We have just confirmed the date for this years Secret Wildlife Festival. The festival is in its eight consecutive year and is run in conjunction with Sussex Wildlife Trust. To date, we have raised in excess of £18,000 for the Trust. This money helps to fund the Trust’s work to preserve and conserve the threatened fauna and flora of Sussex.
This year the festival will run over the weekend of 26-28th June. Sign up here to be notified of the date that tickets will go on sale.
As ever, the festival will be hosted by the inimitable Michael Blencowe from Sussex Wildlife Trust. Michael will be accompanied by a team of expert volunteers who add immense colour to the weekends activities. You might have a questions on species identification or, where to locate your mammal trap for the best results. Fear not, someone will be on hand to help.
The weekend is filled with a wide range of wildlife focused events and talks. Our activities typically include, bat walks, butterfly hunts, moth trapping, mammal traps and trail camera footage. The footage we collect is used to create a film for the Secret Cinema on Sunday morning.
Our team of enthusiasts also lead forest walks, reptile searches, forest school activities, hedgehog tunnels and even a pitch black,glow worm adventure search.
These events take place throughout the day and are led by one of the experts from the Trust.
What else goes on
On Saturday evening, if the weather is kind to us, we light a communal barbeque. Our impromptu cooker is a great place to enjoy and share the highlights from the days activities. Everyone at the festival is welcome to cook whatever they have brought along with them, vegan or carivore. Perhaps even the odd marshmallow.
At other times over the weekend campers are welcome to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the campsite, whilst younger members of their party explore the site, looking for lizards and grasshoppers. Our camping pitches have their own firepit, where you can relax around a campfire, cook breakfast, or perhaps just enjoy a cold beer or a glass of elderflower presse, if you’ve bought some with you.
You can also enjoy hot and cold drinks from The Secret Teapot which is locted at reception.
Who’s it for
The Secret Wildlife Festival is aimed at wildlife enthusiasts and their families. I’m amazed every year how knowledgable the younger campers are on such a wide range of animals and plants. We also get some expert Mums and Dads attending who are keen to encounter some of our rarer native species.
A few years ago we saw a Purple Emperor. Well, to be fair it was Michael and some of the hawk eyed amongst us.
In other years we’ve had appearances from Adders, Bats, Great Crested Newts, Dragonflies, Glow worms, Cinnabar moths and Privet Hawk moths.
In 2016, we captured brilliant footage of the badgers residing near the site and last year we found evidence of Dormice living alongside the campsite.
Who knows what this year has in store?
The Secret Wildlife Festival is a great way to get closer to our amazing wildlife, but its also a chance to escape your busy lives and relax for a couple of days amongst like minded campers, enthusiasts and experts.
Camping is also a great way to connect with the people close to you, as the sun sets and the stars start to appear in the ink black sky.
Find out when tickets go on sale
Sign up here to join our Festival mailing list and be the first to hear when the tickets go on sale. Our festival tickets sell out incredibly fast and like Glastonbury, it’s all sold first come first served. So make sure you are at the front of the queue.
I love this part of citizens science and every year I get really excited to sit down for an hour. All i need to do is observe which of our feathered friends elects to pay s a visit. Big Garden Bird watch is the RSPBs annual plea for us to record the birds that visit our gardens.
We chose to carry out our survey of the local birds on Monday 27th February at 1:45, for one hour.
I made a bowl of soup and some toast then sat by the kitchen window with a copy of a bird book, a pair of binoculars and bags of enthusiasm.
Where we surveyed
Our house is next door to the secret campsite and we’re surrounded by woodland. Woodland is a great habitat for a wide range of species. It’s the perimeter of any space, the edges, where exciting things happen, so we get a good mixture of bird.
The first bird to arrive got me really excited, a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. I actually saw 2 of them. The bird recording process is to make a note of the most of any species you see at any one time. It isnt to frantically note everytime you see a bird. That would drive you cuckoo.
Disappointingly we weren’t treated to our regular visitors, a small flock of Long tailed tits. Nor did the pair of collared doves that often pay us a visit bother to show up aand make us look more exciting.
We also dint get t see this charming little wren who was photographed at the campsite in the summer. This was a shame as we do have a little gang of them in the garden, and its a great photo.
What is really great about the survey is that it encourges peopl to stop being busy for a few moments. Once we all slow down for a few minutes we start to see things.
In turn, this has the effect of connecting us with things that otherwise go unnoticed.
This years Secret Wildlife Festival, run in conjunction with Sussex Wildlife Trust was bathed in sunshine from the moment we started, until the last campers had departed on Sunday afternoon. At times, it was so hot here you could have fried an egg on the barbecue.
The searing heat ensured that campers retreated to the Pells Pool in Lewes or the beach at Seaford, during the afternoon siesta. These two spots are great for a quick dip, either in the sea, or the beautiful spring fed waters of the outdoor lido in Lewes.
But now to the festival of wildlife and camping….
Bell tent by Max Mudie
After the introductory welcome on Friday evening, we set off round the site looking under the reptile refugia for snakes, lizards and slow worms.
Initially, none showed themelves to the gathered throng of wildlife enthusiasts. But, as the weekend wore on campers were treated to sightings of common lizards, slow worms and the large and very beautiful grass snakes that we share the campsite with.
Grass snake by Sarah Knight
Setting the Traps
Next up, the hedghog tunnels were baited with a cheap brand of hot dogs (a particular favourite of the humble hog from the hedge). This was followed by inserting ink pads at either end. These ink pads capture the footprints of any greedy diners, as they enter and leave the brand new hedgerow restaurant.
mammal footprints by Hannah Wilkins
Finally, all of the children baited the mammal traps with hay, apples, mealworms and some graminae food. We then set off to position each trap in locations where our small mammal friends are like to hang out. Great spots are along grassland edges and near ditches and hedges. Then its cross your fingers and hope for some luck.
Mammal traps by Hannah Wilkins
Following this we headed off into the neighbouring woodland to set up the trail cameras.
The aim of the cameras is to see what nocturnal activity goes on around the edges of the campsite. Michael and Ryan baited the area with some delicious looking tripe and a handful of biscuits. The aim is to lure any passing animals into the filming zone.
Last of all is the annual highlight the Moth Trap
We set up the moth trap to lure in the flying section of our local residents, the moths, but hopefully not the bats. This trap is always keenly anticipated so chosing a good location is a critical part of the exercise. The Secret Campsite is really well populated with a wide range of hbitats. Most of these are perfect for a wide range of moths. We have lots of grassland meadow, brambles and scrub as well as large areas where the trees are starting to become well established. This area then blends into the surrounding ancient woodland.
Friday evening walk
Finally, we set off on a short walk along the dismantled railway and around the campsite to look for bats and glow worms. We weren’t disappointed following the appearance of a couple of Pippistrelle bats and just as we were heading back to our tents, a number of glow worms showed themselves, in the lavish luxury of the shower block drains. Not the best location to attract one of your flying mates, but maybe it works if you are a beetle.
After a good nights sleep and some beautifully cooked bacon rolls outside reception we set to work. First up was the mammal traps. We need to release any captured creatures before the sun gets to hot, so at 8 am we opened up our cache of voles, mice, slugs, ants and the odd shrew but no giraffe this year which was a relief to us all.
Mammal footprints by Max Mudie
There was shock and disappointment when we discovered that some mice had broken into the hedgehog tunnel. Once in they had enjoyed some of the hot dogs. However sadly the majority of the bait had been consumed by one of the local cats. Humbug was identified as the prime suspect in the crime. He would have been an easy arrest for the nature police if they had been called in to investigate rather than wasting time on a scream that had been overheard on the campsite under cover of the night.
The Moth traps from both days produced some beautiful examples. Rather than a daily list I have combined the haul and here is just part of the list from the 2 nights trappings.
Moth species we trapped overnight
Moth or Birch twigs by Max Mudie
Privet hawk moths, Swallowtail moth, Brimstones, Common emerald, Rosy footman, Peppered moth, Buff tips, Cinnabar, Clouded border, Shears, Green oak tortrix, Marbled minor, Small magpie, Ribber ware, Eyed hawk moth,
Privet Hawk Moth by Max Mudie
Elephant Hawk Moth by Hannah Wilkins
Poplar hawk moth, Heart and dart, Dark arches, Scorched wing, White point, Large yellow underwing, Snout, Lappet, Willow beauty, Elephant hawk moth, Buff arches, July Highflier, Buff ermine, Blood vein, Pale prominent, Pebble prominent
Buff Tip moth by Max Mudie
Large Emerald by Max Mudie
During the baking hot weather the HQ tent was filled with campers disecting owl pellets, making badges from wood and plant dyes, creating kites and a host of other activities based around nature and the natural world. Nikki, Ryan, Jess, Kim, James, Tom, Lois and the rest of the team were patient and expert in making sure everyone left with something memorable and not too many cut fingers.
Those who could bare the sunshine stayed around the campsite and relaxed in shade by their pitches. But others retreated to open water at Barcombe Mills and the coast for some wild swimming.
During the afternoon, exploratory walks around the camping meadow were scattered with lots of opportunities to see the flush of Marbled Whites and Purple hairstreaks amongst others.
Purple Hairstreak by Max Mudie
Marbled Whites recently started to appear all over the site and these were joined by some grass snakes under the reptile boards near the compost toilets.
As the sun dropped we had a very sociable, bring your own barbecue outside reception.
After everyone had finished eating we set up the mammal and moth traps for the Sunday morning inspection. Following this we went out on a very successful walk along the dismantled railway track and into the woods for more trail camera preparation.
This busy walk gave everyone the chance to listen out for owls and bats using the wildlife trusts bat detectors.
This time we heard Common pippistrelles as well as a Soprano pipistrelle and there were heaps of glow worms around the campsite. These were accompanied with the quiet hoots from the tawny and little owls that reside in the woods surrounding the campsite. Occasionally they fly through, but it is usually to dark to see them.
During the afternoon Terry had found one of our Great Crested Newts in the pond alongside Pond pitch and a few people had seen a few Roe deer as they ventured onto the old railway track.
A couple of late camping arrivals opted for a refreshing tent free camping trip. With just a water proof sheet and some light blankets for shelter, Hannah and Monica both looked pretty relaxed about their night under the stars.
As everyone settled down at their pitches all that could be seen and heard was the ribbons of smoke rising from the campfires and the peaceful sound of owls and other nocturnal creatures venturingout from their homes whilst we all sat and chatted quietly around the campfires across the campsite.
Highlight of this mornings activity was the appearance of the first wolf we have seen at the campsite since we opened.
This one complete with an apron and bonnet ensured a last minute victory for the Blencowe team in the annual mammal trapping competition. Much to the disappointment of “Team Ryan’s” hard earned points. Of particular note was the shrew captured in one of his teams mammal traps from Saturday night.
Mouse by Hannah Wilkins
Finally, we went for a long walk along the dismantled railway line and through Knowlands woods. Knowlands is a beautiful and brilliantly managed piece of ancient and coppiced woodland that borders the secret Campsite.
We are very lucky to enjoy and share lots of wildlife and the great work that the owner Nick Lear puts in, in order to create space for nature.
Butterfly hunting by Max Mudie
The walk was peppered with lots of species including Purple Hairstreaks, White Admirals, Silver washed fritillaries, a solitary slow worm, garden warblers and a badgers sett,
White admiral by Max Mudie
Throughout the weekend we were watched over by the Secret Campsite’s very own receptionist, the Pied Wagtail. This jaunty ever present member of our team hops about the arrival area outside reception, making sure everything is in order.
As always the Wildlife Trust ran the festival beautifully and this year the event has raised £2,582 for which everyone involved shoud be very proud.
Thanks to everyone for working, volunteering and coming along. Nature is better for your interest and lots more people connected with it as a result of the hard work. Brilliant
It all starts to get very exciting here, the night before the wildlife festival that we run in conjunction with Sussex Wildlife Trust.
This years timetable has a great range of activities for the family including some wildlife hunts and walks, some bushcraft activities and lots of opportunities for the campers to connect with our local wildlife.
As if to welcome everyone to the Secret Campsite we have had a burst of activity from the Marbled Whites who have suddenly begun to appear in large numbers around the camping areas.
This years festival had 180 applications for the 18 pitches that we have at the secret campsite so we had to draw names out of the hat. This says so much for how keen people are to connect with our amazing natural world.
Next year we may need to run some more of them with the wildlife trust and see if we can raise even more money for their wonderful work to protect our native species. Hurrah.
Here goes with the list and timings of the planned activities
Secret Wildlife Festival Schedule 2019
All events start at the Festival HQ (the big white tent)
19:30 Introduction to the weekend
19:45 Early evening wildlife walk (& Setting up the Hedgehog Tunnels and Trail Cameras)
21:00 Setting the Small Mammal Traps
21:25 Fire up the Moth Trap!
21:30 Searching for Bats & Glow worms.
22:30 Campfires back at your tent
08:00 Open up the Small Mammal Traps
09:15 Check the Hedgehog Tunnels
09:30 Moth Trap Opening
10:30 Bushcraft activities at the camp or Wildlife Walk along the Railway Line
15:00-16:00 Bushcraft activities at the camp
18:00-19:00 Big BBQ available for you to cook your own food
20:30 Set the Small Mammal Traps
20:55 Fire up the Moth Trap!
21:00 Evening walk for Bats and Owls
21:45 Campfires back at your tent
08:00 Open up the Small Mammal Traps
09:30 Check the Hedgehog Tunnels
10:00 Moth Trap Opening
10:45 Secret Cinema: Watch the Trail Camera footage
11:00-12:30 Wildlife Walk in Knowlands Wood or Bushcraft activities at the camp
14:00 Pitches Clear Please & Sad farewells.
Michael and his brilliant team from Sussex Wildlife Trust make the event a runaway success and a great way to spend the weekend with a chance to see some of our much rarer species, many of which live alongside us at the Secret Campsite down in sunny Sussex by the sea.
We’ll be writing up ur report from the weekend for next week so watch this space.
Its that special time of the year down here at the secret campsite. We all look forward to it with baited breath, but never know the exact date. Its the day when our foreign friends, the nightingales return from their overseas travels to more balmy climes.
This year the campsite seems to have an abundance of these melodic birds according to a local birding and wildlife expert. Simon, who walks the wildlife filled, old railway track that runs through the campsite claims to have heard at least 5 male birds establishing their territory and singing through the night.
What nightingales like about the secret campsite
Nightingales prefer brambles and scrub vegetation as it offers them great protection from predators. This is good news for us as I am quite lazy and there is plenty of this sort of habitat in and around the campsite.
Just try and spot the nightingale singing in this tree
Can’t see him
Each year these shy, secretive and rather dowdy birds fly back from their winter holidays in other parts of the world, this 4000 mile trip back from Guinea in West Africa is pretty exhausting so Sussex is a welcomed spot to recover over the spring and summer. Nightingales or as the more professional amongst us know them as Luscinia megarhynchos are red status and protected under the wildlife and countryside act of 1981. Red status means they are in danger and there numbers have declined by 90% in the last 50 years which is miserable.
We often get quite a few people camping with us at the secret campsite when they are enjoying Sam Lees fantastic, singing with nightingales events. These lovely evenings run nearby in the beautiful Knowlands woodland which borders the campsite.
Hopefully we will get to meet you if you fancy hearing the nightingales in real life rather than the brilliant rspb rendition which is a poor substitute.
Either way, its worth having a think to see if there is anything you can do to help these wonderful summer visitors to mount a fightback
That’s right, it’s that time of year again when we all have a mad dash to get our Secret Wildlife Festival tickets and crash the website due to our enthusiasm. Not to fear, this year we’ve got a sophisticated two step registration process. So we can all relax and have a cuppa while we register our interest for the festival.
Registration closes on the 24th of February so make sure you get your details in soon
Step two – Wait to hear if you got lucky!
On the 25th February we’ll have a random draw from those who registered. If you’re one of the lucky ones, we’ll be touch with details on how to confirm
Secret Wildlife Festival 28th – 30th June 2019
This will be our seventh year of running the Secret Wildlife Festival. So far, we’ve raisedover £17,000 for the Sussex Wildlife Trust. We run the weekend in partnership with the Trust to give you and your families the chance to connect with wildlife and nature. It’s a full weekend packed with activities and fun that is sure to start your summer off right.
Since opening, The Secret Campsite Lewes has been dedicated to providing a space where wildlife and campers can flourish side by side. A place that allows campers to see, smell, hear and touch our native flora and fauna. A place to awake to the dawns chorus, see the stars at night and hear the toot of the owls as you drift off to sleep. We just love wildlife.
Our love of wildlife led us to the Sussex Wildlife Trust. This resulted in our fantastic festival that gets more and more popular each year. You’ll get the chance to spot glow worms, go on bug hunts, try out woodworking and even a spot of pond dipping. There are so many things to keep you intrigued that you’ll be buzzing to use your new found skills in the season ahead.
How much is a ticket?
2019 tickets cost £80 per adult and £40 per child aged 3-16. Under 3’s should make a £10 donation to Sussex Wildlife Trust on arrival to the festival.
This ticket includes camping for two nights at The Secret Campsite Lewes as well as the full program of activities.
Please note that we do allow more guests than usual on site for the festival so you may be sharing a pitch with another family. Pitches are very spacious.