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.

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

Secret Wildlife Festival tickets on sale from 2nd February

butteffly hunting in sussex
Tickets for this year Secret Wildlife Festival will go on sale at 08:00 on Friday 2nd February 2024

But you'll have to be quick

Tickets for the event normally sell out fast. There are only 21 camping and glamping pitches available for the weekend. So make sure youre ready and waiting at 8 with fingers poised over the mouse and payment card at hand.

The festival takes place from 3:00pm on Friday 28th June until 12:00PM on Sunday 30th June and is hosted by Michael Blencowe and his team of experts. Tickets include access to all activities over the weekend

Tickets for this years festival cost:

£104 for adults

£52 for 3-16 yrear olds

£26 for under 3’s

opening the moth trap

Post pandemic, this is the first time we’ve hosted the festrival since 2019. You can buy a maximum of 2 pitches for the event. Read more about the 2019 wildlife festival.

What happens during the festival

Expect Moth traps, Bush craft, Trail cameras, Mammal traps, Butterfly hunts, Bat walks and Glow worm explorations. There will be an uplifting  Dawn chorus walk for the the light sleepres amongst you. There’s a bring your own food, barbecue on the Saturday evening. Drinks and light refreshments are on sale throughout the weekend from The Secret Teapot, our on site, take away cafe.

Bushcraft at the secret wildlife festival

This year we will be joined by a team of astronomers from Seven Sisters Astronomy Society. They will be looking at the moon, stars and even the sun, (if the weather is kind). It’s an amazing opportunity to gaze out at the enormity of the universe from the comfort of the campsite. Derrick, Paul and their colleagues will happily answer all questions, however technical.

Read more about this years plans in our recent blog post.

Refunds and Returns

Please note that we do not offer refunds for tickets. This is, in part, a fund raising event for Sussex Wildlife Trust

If you are unlucky and not able to get tickets this year, please just email us to go onto a waiting list. If this happens we will contact people, in the order that they signed up for returns. It does occasionally happen

Good luck securing your tickets and we look forward to meeting you

Return of the Secret Wildlife Festival 2024

Secret Wildlife festival at the secret campsite

Hold the front page…. Fanfare of birdsong and a flypast from a kaleidoscope of Marbled Whites

At last, The Secret Wildlife Festival returns to The Secret Campsite after a 4 year Covid related break. The Festival started in 2013 and was an annual event until the Pandemic struck and we had to cancel the 2019 event. But, it’s returning, with even more wonders from the natural world.

opening mammal traps at the secret wildlife festival
Opening the mammal traps

Now that the world has calmed down a little, we are delighted to get the Festival up and running again. So, this summer we are looking forward to welcoming children and families back to the Secret Campsite for a weekend with our favourite wildlife experts. Its a chance to immerse yourselves in the native fauna and flora that we share this beautiful part of Sussex with.

Who is running the festival?

The festival will be hosted by the inimitable Michael Blencowe and his team of wildlife experts.

Host Michael Blencowe

Expect amazing facts, unusual sightings and heaps of laughter as we spend a weekend looking, smelling, hearing, tasting and touching the natural world.

bushcraft at the secret wildlife festival
Bushcraft activities for all ages
Damsel fly at the secret wildlife festival
Pond dipping at the secret wildlife festival
Pond dipping for newts and dragonfly larvae

What will you see?

With luck, you’ll see snakes, glow worms, butterflies, hedgehogs, moths, bats, newts, and a huge array of birds. All against a backdrop of other wildlife enthusiasts.

hawk moth at the secret campsite
dissected owl pellet at the secret campsite
Contents of a Barn Owl pellet
what we saw at the secret wildlife festival

Our team of wildlife experts will lay on a wide range of activities to try and find all tese creatures. This will include:

  • Moth traps
  • Trail cameras
  • Woodland walks
  • Forest school activities
  • Mammal traps
  • Bat walks
  • Butterfly hunts
  • Dawn chorus walks
  • Secret Cinema
  • Forest school
  • Communal barbecues
  • and more…..

Better still, this year we will be joined by a team of astronomers. Derrick and Paul will be viewing the moon and stars and answering super galactic questions with their usual patience and enthusiasm. If the weather behaves we may even get to look at sun spots and sun flares on our very own local star.

the moon from the secret campsite
the moon through a telescope

We have fantastic dark skies at the campsite, which makes for an amazing star show on clear nights

On Saturday evening we fire up the campsite barbecue. It’s a popular and very sociable, bring your own supper event. Festival goers can cook with others whilst they discuss and compare the days excitement and sightings.

Although the weekend is filled with a wide range of activities and events, you don’t have to join everything. The more relaxed amongst you will pick and chose the talks, walks and activities you want to attend.

You can spend time relaxing and chatting around a campfire whilst enjoying the sites and sounds of nature.

Previous festivals

Have a look at previous festivals to see what happens over the weekend.

butterfly hunt at the secret wildlife festival
slow worms at the secret campsite

When is The Secret Wildlife Festival

This year’s festival will he held over the weekend of 28-30th June so make sure you save these dates in your diary.

How do I buy tickets?

 Sign up to our wildlife events list and be one of the first to know when tickets go on sale.

When do tickets go on sale?

Tickets go on sale in February. Tickets always sell out super fast. We only have 20 pitches available for the weekend and the festival is filled with a wide range of exciting activities. It’s a perfect weekend for the wildlife fans in your family. It’s also an opportunity to meet other enthusiasts as well as experts who have the time and knowledge to answer your question, however small.

What will it cost?

Tickets for this years wildlife festival include 2 nights camping and entry to all events.

Adults £104,

Children 3-16 £52,

Under 3’s £26.

All under 16’s get a free Lick -a-lix lolly on arrival. Photo ID will be required! haha

We all look forward to meeting you. That includes the Adders, Glow worms, Bats, Voles, Hedgehogs, Elephant Hawk Moths, White Admirals and even the lowly Red Kite.

adders matimng at the secret campsite