Birds around the Secret Campsite

Today i was treated to an inspiring visit  from local bird expert, Charlie Peverett of Birdsong Academy. We were discussing small groups of business people spending time in nature and the encounters that they might experience in and around the secret campsite.

Our tour started by looking around the campsite and identifying great spaces for birds and followed by a quick look at The Hide our covered camp fire area, designed for post trip refreshments around a campfire.

We have landscaped the site to provide a mixture of habitats and ground cover. This mosaic of plants ensure we get a great variety of birds, including Green Woodpeckers, and Goldfinches. The central part of the campooing meadow is kept open and is grazed, each year, by the visiting flock of Shetland and Jacob sheep.

sheep to manage the wildlife in the camping meadow

There was a couple of Buzzards circling overhead so in fear of our lives we decided to head off down the dismantled railway track.

As we left the site we were treated to a few individual Redwings, visiting from Scandinavia and the odd one of our resident Thrushes. The railway is managed by UK Power Networks and they have a great habitat management regime which creates a variety of pockets of varies pants and is also the hot spot for the spring time singing of our visiting Nightingales. At this time of year there are none around. Currently they will be living it up in africa.

We left the railway track and headed into the beautiful Knowlands wood. Knowlands is managed under a coppicing plan and the benefits of this approach are immediately obvious with a huge range of different heights in the understory.

This provides an immensely divers range of plants and we were quickly hearing Bullfinches, Wrens, Jays, Nuthatches and were treated to a disorganised mob of mixed small birds flying past. This group contained Long Tailed Tits, and a number of other birds darting from branch to branch in search of some food.

Venturing onto one of the rides that Knowlands is famous for, we got an uninterrupted view of the clear blue sky with birds criss crossing overhead. With very little wind we were also treated to the songs of a number of birds, which is when Charlies knowledge comes into its own.

We left the woods and walked back along the railway track spotting 3 goldcrests, each of which alerted us to their presence with their distinctive call well in advance of us spotting them.

Back in the meadow we had a fly by from a small group of Goldfinches who are resident in the camping meadow where they feast on the abundant thistle seeds and mixed ground vegetation.

Charlies knowledge and enthusiasm for all things wildlife permeated the conversation throughout the morning when we discussed Black storks, Beavers, Fallow deer and Lynx.

We plan to run some mid week bird walks, aimed at business teams.

It will provide a fascinating introduction into the sites, sounds and lives of a wide range of our native birds.

It will also provide a chance for work colleagues to connect with each other in a unique environment away from the usual distraction of the office.

For a seasonal sign off I was treated to a hop by, from one of our resident Robins, as i walked back to the house for a very late lunch.

Sheep graze the Secret Campsite meadow

sheep to manage the wildlife in the camping meadow

Creating a campisite that is filled with wildlife requires a lot of help from nature.

To enable more delicate plants to flourish, along with the animals they encourage, we need to graze the camping meadow through the winter. This grazing stops more invasive species such as nettles, grass and docks from dominating.

camping meadow at the secret campsite

Wild little sheep

To achieve a habitat that is ideal for a range of plants we use a small flock of wild sheep borrowed from a friend Owena. Owena’s Shetland sheep leave their farm, near Lewes, in November. They get to spend the winter at the Secret Campsite, for free.

In exchange we get some expert pasture management and a habitat filled with wildlife.

sheep feeding in the camping meadoiw

What a great swap

Hard grazing the meadow

Hard grazing the camping areas, removes most of the tougher vegetation. This gives the smaller plants the opportunity to get established in the spring.

But, there is an amusing hazard.

Bramble leaves are delicious, and also great for wildlife. In their quest to eat these leaves the sheep often get tangled up in the brambles. Each morning when I walk over to the camping meadow to check them, 1 or 2 of the little sheep need freeing from the clutches of the brambles. It’s the downside to using small sheep. They’re to puny to free themselves.

But it makes for a very amusing site. The meadow is filled with little brown, black and cream sheep, walking around disguised as hairbrushes. 

It's definitely worthwhile

I’m not sure that the wildlife we share the campsite with appreciates the inconvenience to the sheep. But, it helps for moments in the summer when campers get to see a glow worm, a lizard or a marbled white. 

Marbled white in the camping meadow

Marbled White in the camping meadow photo Colin Gibbs

Having such a diverse grassland space is great for all sorts of wildlife. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see one of the bats from Knowlands Wood hunting moths over the flower filled camping meadow, as the sun sets.

Outjoyment with Summer time camping

Bluebells at the Secret Campsite

At The Secret Campsite, we’ve always talked about connecting people with nature and were thrilled to read this article about Outjoyment. Spring time camping is just around the corner, so now is a great time to mention it, as the sap starts to rise.

A major research study, commissioned by the camping and caravaning club was undertaken by a team of reasearchers at Liverpools John Moores University and Sheffield Hallam University.

This confirms how camping in the great outdoors improves peoples well being and health. Some stats include;

Pitching a tent at the Secret Campsite

Findings

• 97% of campers say happiness is their top motivator for going camping while 48% of campers reported feeling happy almost every day, compared with 35% of non campers
• More connected to nature: 93% go camping to enjoy being in nature – the second highest motivator after happiness, and they score highly on measures of nature connection
• Enjoying better well-being: 93% of campers value camping for the benefits it gives to their health and well-being – an increase on the 85% of our Real Richness Report in 2011
• Flourishing: 44% are flourishing (have optimal mental health) compared with 31% of non campers. This increases for those who camp more often
• Less stressed: 88% of campers are motivated to go camping to take time out of everyday life and have higher levels of psychological well-being than non campers.

The Secret Campsite

We firmly believe its critical to have a connection to nature. This is really important for your wellbeing. At the Secret Campsite we try to make sure that you are as close to nature as possible and strive to keep the site peaceful to enable as many glimpses of nature as we can.

Deer in the meadow at the Secret Campsite

Nature here

Watch out for the glowworms in July, the butterflies in June, the adders in April and May. Listen to the dawn chorus and the Nightingales from March to May. Smell the flowers and the rain. Touch the grass. Count the stars. We are re-opening on Friday 24 March for Spring camping. Hope to see you soon!

 

Star Count and our Dark Skies

On Sunday night at 8:45pm, I set off over to the campsite armed with flask of tea, to take part in the CPRE’s (Council for the Protection of Rural England’s) star count. Luckily, it was a clear night, crisp and perfect for my investigations.

Why have a star count?

The aim of star count is to count how many stars are visible within an easily identified constellation, with Orions belt at it’s centre.

Its a simple and fun half an hour that anyone can do, from anywhere in the UK running from the 17-24th February.

The reason for star count is to help measure light pollution levels around the country. The more light pollution the less stars you are able to see.

How many did we see?

My half an hour in the currently deserted camping meadow, was accompanied by a huge array of sounds from around the campsite. We had Tawny and Little owls hooting from the surrounding oaks and hornbeams. Better still there were numerous call from foxes patrolling their territory. These are great night time sounds. But the mind starts racing when you hear heavy movement from within the neighbouring bushes. What could it be, hedghogs? badgers? an escaped wild boar? Or perhaps just a rabbit.

The odd dog barked in the distance. A few aeroplane’s red and white lights blinked high up in the sky as they passed silently overhead. We even had the odd shooting star. It’s amazing what the night sky offers when you stop to look.

Once my eyes had acclimatised to the dark, which takes about 20 minutes or so, the stars start to appear. Even some very faint ones. I stared hard to see how many stars I could identify. Under 10 is considered to be bad light pollution, whereas over 30 is a brilliant. A very dark sky.

We managed to spot 16 in the permitted area. This means we are in a good location for stargazing and can consider ourselves to have quite good dark skies. But, there is always room for improvement. The local culprits are the Amex stadium in Falmer, the nearby town of Lewes and my daughter with the torch, wondering what I was doing wandering around in the pitch black.

Solar flare at the Secret Campsite
Solar Flares courtesy Seven Sisters Astronomical Society

Seeing the universe at the Secret Campsite

The Secret Campsite is pretty lucky. Most of our guests are interested in the peace and tranquility and the wildlife habitat we have created. This comes into its own at night with a clear sky, the sound of a nightingale and clean crisp air.

We are surrounded by tall, ancient woodland which helps to reduce the impact of any local lights. We are also located in a sparsely populated part of Sussex, with no main roads nearby. So its a great place to enjoy the stars.

Its because of this that we are often visited by the Seven Sisters Astronomical Society. who host viewing evenings during the camping season where anyone can look at the stars and the galaxies. They even do solar viewings during the day where you can see sun spots and flares, but you need special equipment for this, so don’t try it at home, you’ll lose you eyesight.

More on them in another post but here’s a photo of one of their telescopes.

Telescopes at the Secret Campsite with the Seven Sisters Astronomical Society
Star gazing with Seven Sisters Astronomical Society

Prices for 2023 season

Our new prices for 2023 will come into play from 17th February, so if you get your booking in before this date you can benefit from last years prices. It wont save you much but every little helps.

What isn’t changing is the huge variety of wildlife we have encouraged into our quiet, corner of Sussex. In April and May we’ll be surrounded by Nightingales and other migrant birds such as the swallows and swifts returning from winters spent in Africa. The Cuckoos will start shouting around the same time. In later June the glow worms start to display there beautiful light for any passing males and the dragonflies dart around the pond eating any straying insects, not quick enough to escape.

The skies are still dark, the surrounding woodlands are still peaceful and this year we hope to complete our new Wash House. It’s the new space for showers, toilets and washing up.

We are working with the fantastic team at Local Works with the aim to reuse as much material as possible. Ben, Loretta, and Shaun are a huge inspiration and have a growing library of credits, clients and successes. We are looking forward to being another one.

Watch this space and we’ll tell you more as the structure starts to appear.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch at the Secret Campsite

It’s that time again

Every year the Big Garden Birdwatch helps the RSPB to monitor how garden birds are faring. It helps the RSPB to build a picture of how our UK birds are coping with the challenges of the nature and climate crisis. Sadly the UK has lost over 38 million birds over the last 50 years and The UK red List for Birds keeps track of 245 species , with birds listed as “Red” deemed most at risk. You can view the link here

And the timer starts now..

We sharpen our pencils, encourage the neighbouring cats to take a hike and sit down with a cup of tea. And start counting all the birds in the garden.

What did we see?

To cut to the chase we saw one of the following Great Tit, Robin, Crow. However we saw 2 x Blackbirds, 2 x Magpies, 2 x Sparrows.

Birds aplenty

By now we were getting pretty good at this twitching thing. We were visited by 3 x Rooks, 4 x Starlings, and 14 x Pigeons. 2022 vs 2023 numbers?

Sadly we saw no Goldfinch’s, Great Spotted Woodpecker, or a Heron unlike last year. But we did see a Goldcrest today over by the Tree Tent! The other good news is that last summer we were visited by a flock of Nightingales here on the old railway track and most definitely we heard the cuckoo in Spring. It was very persistent. Please continue to let us know what you have heard when you are staying here.

Birds at the Secret Campsite

We see many varieties of birds here at the campsite. We have put up some bespoke accommodation for them including swift houses, sparrow hotels, swallow cups, robin nests and a starling box. All of these have been occupied at different times, but not always by the target species. Many were purchased from the RSPB shop.

We love participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch and have inked it in the diary for next year already.

Secret Coronation Bank Holiday weekend

It’s recently been confirmed that we will have another Bank Holiday this coming May to celebrate the Kings coronation. The news is not actually a secret but, the first I heard of it was when a regular camper booked a trip and mentioned the coronation.

This is good news if you need an excuse to plan another camping trip in May and we’ll be looking forward to welcoming everyone here. But, if you need to watch on a big screen you’re coming to the wrong place.

Wildlife at the campsite

The weekend for the Bank Holiday is 5-8th May and its a great time to hear the nightingales that sing along the old railway track that runs through the Secret Campsite. A walk along the dismantled railway track as it becomes dark takes on a new dimension. You’ll be accompanied at different points by the sounds of marsh frogs, tawny owls, and foxes, as well as the beautiful song of this drab little bird.

Sam Lee, the world famous folk singer, will be running his singing with nightingales walks. They are an amazing way to enjoy meeting new people, savoring delicious food and hearing the competitive melodyd of these increasingly rare bird.

The game

But, back to the coronation, which got us thinking about the different types of wildlife with a regal suffix or prefix.

Its a fun game to play if you are on a very long car journey with access to the internet as a judge for the opportunistic submissions. Dont forget in ternational rules state that it must be a recognised animal.

Here are our list of potential winners:

Kingfisher, King Cobra, Queen Bee, Purple Emperor, Duke of Burgundy, King Penguin,

Ones we wouldn’t allow:

Coronation chicken, Princes tuna, King of the Jungle, Turkey crown,

So if you are heading our way and need something to keep the family entertained in the back of the car…..

Snow falls at the campsite

Its that time of year here when the campsite is empty, apart from the permanent residents. Last weekend we had a big snowfall and its stayed freezing all week so the sheep have needed extra food, their normal grass diet has been buried. Augustus our Shetland ram is particularly friendly as he knows i have food for him whenever i appear.

The trees all look very beautiful with frost on their twigs and you can see right into the surrounding woods where the deer lurk out of the cold winds.

The only downside to the beautiful, clear skies and crisp fresh air, is that all the water freezes. So each morning my first duty is to thaw out buckets of water for all the creatures we share the campsite with.

But it pays off in the long run.

Join the Secret Campsite Team

Campers arrive at the Secret Campsite Sussex

Are you looking for a busy outdoor job working with campers at our beautiful campsite in East Sussex?

We’re looking for someone to welcome and look after guests during 2023. It’s a 2-3 day a week job during term time with scope for more days during the school holidays.

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 in a peaceful, well maintained space. The campsite is set in 8 acres with 18 large and spacious pitches and 3 unusual shelters for guests to stay in. We wrote a book about our approach to camping, The Escapees Handbook

Our approach has proved increasingly popular and we are looking for a cheerful, reliable individual with a can-do, welcoming personality and a sense of responsibility, to join our team for the 2023 season and maybe longer.

Camping meadow at the Secret Campsite
Camping meadow at the Secret Campsite

The job:

  • Managing reception.
  • Liaising with customers by phone, email and in person.
  • Cleaning our facilities, toilets, showers and washing up areas.
  • Serving customers in our little cafe/shop.

Hours:

  • 7 hours / day from Friday to Sunday
  • 2.5-3 days / week during term time, from April-October
  • Significant extra days available during school holidays
  • Start April 2023

What will you earn

  • £10.90-£12 depending on experience

You will be

  • Friendly, helpful and positive.
  • Organised and enjoy working with people.
  • Keen on working outside. 
  • Happy with some physical work, and always with a smile.
  • Competent with technology.
  • Presentable with a great phone manner.
  • You must be aged over 18 years of age.

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

To apply please get in touch explaining why you would be a great person for this role.

We look forward to hearing from you before the end of January.

Tree Tent, toad, tent and coffees at Secret Campsite Sussex.
Scenes from the Secret Campsite

Big Butterfly Count at the Secret Campsite

Big Butterfly Count 2022 at the Secret Campsite Lewes

The Big Butterfly Count (BBC) is a UK-wide survey aimed at helping the Butterfly Conservation Society to assess the health of the environment simply by counting the amount and types of butterflies (and some day flying moths) we see. 

This year it starts on Friday 15 July and runs until Sunday 7 August. We want our campers to join in!

Silver Fritillary at the Secret Campsite, photographed by James Pearson.
Silver Washed Fritillary at the Secret Campsite – James Pearson

How to join in?

Come to Reception where we will give you a printed sheet to fill in.

Then choose a place to spot butterflies and moths. We can give you some suggestions here. perhaps the camping meadow or along the old railway track? Watch for 15 minutes. Then record what species you see.

You will need to avoid counting the same butterfly multiple times, so you need to be sharp eyed with your spotting!

Then return your completed form to reception. We will submit your counts on behalf of The Secret Campsite, Sussex.

You can see how your own data is contributing to conservation and science here

Top 5 UK Butterflies

According to the Butterfly Conservation Society, the top 5 Butterflies in 2021 were: Small White, Large White, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Red Admiral. 

Images of the top 5 butterflies in the UK, including Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Large White
Top 5 UK Butterflies- come see them at the Secret Campsite

Butterflies at the Secret Campsite

Here at the Secret Campsite we are home to many butterflies. Our most frequently spotted butterflies are the Marbled White, Brimstone and Skipper. 

Marbled White butterfly, taken by Colin Gibbs from the Butterfly Conservation Sussex branch
Marbled White at the Secret Campsite

In 2020 the Sussex Butterfly Conservation visited the Secret Campsite and they sighted Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Marbled White and the Purple Hairstreak

What will you spot?

Here are some top tips from BBC Wildlife Magazine including; watch the forecast as most butterflies fly only on sunny calm days or on overcast days over 20°C. Move slowly so that your shadow doesn’t fall on them. More tips here

Do get involved! Come and ask for a sheet at Reception and we will tell you the best spots for you to watch and count! 

Good luck!