Artist in residence at The Secret Campsite

Artist in Residence at the Secret Campsite - Clara Wilkinson

Clara Wilkinson is our very first Artist In Residence. As a graduate of both Central St Martins and London Guildhall, her work is truly beautiful. 

Happy as a lark

Clara’s been hanging out here at the site, and can be vaguely seen in the distance somewhere. Perched on a deckchair, with a fistful of brushes, a smorgasbord of watercolours and a merry hat plonked on her head, she is as happy as a lark. 

Painting alongside the bugs and the grasses

As a painter who dwells on the South Coast, her work is nature inspired and very beautiful. Capturing the magentas, fire reds and verdant greens that are currently prolific around the campsite, Clara’s a hive of activity. 

The paintings are coming along at a steady rate and are much admired by the wildlife. Bugs are continually landing on them for  a recce. Stoically hanging off a leaf nearby, is a little snail who is about 1 metre from the paintbrush!

Snails getting up close

Sharing Nature

We are hosting the Artists Residency as a way of sharing the nature that we are surrounded by. Being based in the Sussex countryside means we are treated to the sight of wild flowers, insects, butterflies, owls, deer, starry nights, snakes, nightingales and glow worms on a continual basis, and we know how lucky we are! We are signed up to Get Nature Positive, a global campaign striving to protect and restore the natural world.

The old railway track

The Residency is an opportunity for someone to come and spend 5 days or so, down here, enjoying real camping or just visiting by day, and really getting away from it all.

Mental health and nature

Inspiration comes from many sources; conversations, music, nature, places etc and time away from our usual curtails can be immensely rewarding. As we all know, nature and our mental health is entwined. 

We found Clara kind of by accident, recommended by a friend, but we seem to have a few acquaintances in common. 

We have loved having Clara on site and whilst sad that her spell here has come to an end, she has promised to return and paint the bluebells in Knowlands Woods next spring… watch this space.

Wildlife at the Secret Campsite

As one half of Living Murals, Clara is awaiting publication of her first book, in October 2022. You can read more here and pre-order your copy here.

If you would like to come and have an Artists Residency here, then please do get in touch with Tim. 

Nature and our mental health

Our relationship with nature really does benefit our mental health. 

45% of people in the UK said that visiting green spaces helped them to cope throughout the pandemic. Source Mental Health Foundation

Trees around the Secret Campsite

This may be defined by how much we notice, think about and appreciate the natural world. This could be in the form of walking in green spaces or woodland, growing plants, swimming in the sea and even watching nature documentaries. 

We all know the term “fresh air and exercise” and how it’s long been heralded as being the key to feel better, mentally and physically. 


In recent years the shift has changed and now our degrees of “connectedness” to nature is a key component of our positive impact on mental health. 

We can develop ways to connect with nature. 

These may include activities that involve the senses and activities where we can feel emotions such as finding beauty in nature. 

High quality nature spaces are the golden ticket here. 

Spaces where there is lots of green, lots of natural sound or natural smells. So we can be immersed and enveloped in nature. Not glimpses, but a thorough dunking in nature. 

Fields around the Secret Campsite

Tune in to nature

“Tuning” into nature is different to being “in” nature. It’s far more beneficial from a mental and physical point of view. And people with a greater connection to nature are more likely to behave more positively towards the environment, wildlife and habitats.

So next time you are out in nature, try to deepen your connectedness. 

Sift your fingers through the soil. Touch the bark of the trees. 

Sit and watch and listen. What do you hear? Wind rustling? Birds overhead. Animals in the hedgerow? 

Now what can you smell? The waxy smell of bluebells, freshly cut grass? The salt of the sea? 

Imagine what you might taste? Can you forage some wild garlic? Berries or fruits? What are you sitting or lying on? Soft and squishy (best check!) or is it digging in and sharp? 

Bluebells around the Secret Campsite

Connectedness at the Secret Campsite

A connectedness with nature is something we enjoy here at the campsite. We have been talking about it for years. And we love sharing it with you.

We even won an award for our work with it.

We are signed up to the campaign to Get Nature Positive It makes us feel happy and complete.

Come and switch off. Watch the natural world go by. Listen to the Nightingales. Marvel at the butterflies. Smell the grass. 

We can pretty much guarantee that you will leave here having had some great little encounters with the natural world. And that’s a pretty special thing. 

Banded demoiselle at the Secret Campsite

Singing with Nightingales, close to the Secret Campsite

So beautiful

Last night we listened to the Nightingales sing. It was beautiful. We felt very privileged to hear them, amidst such quietening news that they will likely be extinct in around 40 years. Future generations will never hear them sing. 

We had joined up with the Nest Collective for an evening of folk singing, storytelling and nightingales. Our host, the internationally acclaimed Sam Lee, is a font of wonderful folk knowledge. His music was the sounds of old folk songs, with special mention to the Copper family, who have passed these songs down the generations. 

The Nest Collective pop up base


The lyrics were of nature; sweet honey, woodbine and ivy, forests, trees and of course the nightingales and the characteristics of these little birds. His storytelling describes the efforts of the male Nightingales to attract the females, through tactics including their wonderful song and their efforts to create and craft a nest for their future chicks. The females are choosy however and may not be impressed. She may prefer another’s company. And so the male nightingales sing.

They arrive here in Sussex, from early April and breed until June. Nightingales that are singing in June are those who are “unlucky in love” and haven’t yet found a mate. 


Sam was accompanied by Anna Phoebe, a renowned violinist whose beautiful music reverberated around the campfire and outside where we listened to the nightingales. Amazingly the Nightingales sang after Sam and Anna, they are known to be responsive to sound.

Campfire food and singing


It was a very special evening. Delicious food cooked and served around the campsite with new friends made and a lasting way to really appreciate and salute these mighty small nightingales. 

Knowlands Woods


This little part of Sussex is extraordinarily fortunate to “host” the nightingales.

We often scramble around the old railway track, next to the Secret Campsite, at this time of year trying to listen to the nightingales. Sometimes we get lucky and sometimes we just get cold. Last night we were very successful. It is very poignant as we reflect on today’s “Earth Day”, and how we can continue to support nature.

Big Garden Birdwatch

The Big Garden Bird Watch 2022

Birds over the Secret Campsite Lewes
Birds over the Secret Campsite

The Big Garden Birdwatch helps the RSPB monitor how garden birds are faring. The UK has lost 38 million birds from UK skies in the last 50 years. We need to do all we can to support our birdlife.

At the Secret Campsite we are treated to daily bird visits. Our office is fully equipped with bird houses. These residencies include swift houses, sparrow hotels, swallow cups, robin nests and a starling box. Many of these were purchased from the RSPB shop. All are fully occupied.

We settled down for our annual bird count. It is calculated by the number of any bird species visible at any one time. Accompanied by coffee and a curious dog who is fascinated by all things feathered. But fortunately she prefers Bonios. We sharpened our pencils and sat and waited…..

sparrow at the Secret Campsite
Sparrow score 3

I won’t go through each bird landing individually, but we scored the following. 

  1. Sparrows 3
  2. Goldfinch 2
  3. Blue tits 2
  4. Great Tits 2
  5. Robin 2
  6. Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 (very greedy – kept returning)
  7. Jay 1
  8. Thrush 1
  9. Magpie 2
  10. Heron 1
  11. Crow 1
Herons (not our image sadly!)
Heron score 1

It’s a very simple and enjoyable activity. And you quickly up the ante on your spotting too. I hadn’t realised that the Elaeagnus shrub was in effect the “common room” for the sparrows and gold finches. Or that the Heron looks so spectacular flying overhead (sadly we couldn’t manage a photo of the Heron but sourced this beautiful one instead) 

Try this link for other great birdwatching sites in East Sussex.

We were thrilled with our 2022 scores. You can compare them to last year’s score here.

“Save Our Bridge” the fight for wildlife in Barcombe

The “Save Our Bridge” campaign focusses on an old railway bridge in Barcombe, East Sussex. Church Road Bridge was constructed in the early 1880’s and spans the old Bluebell Railway Line. The line closed in 1958 and many of our campers still use the old railway track to walk up to Barcombe village.

Old track bed looking North from Barcombe Bridge. Photo credit Ian Cairns

Wildlife and walkers

The dismantled railway is an amazing green artery. It forms a section of the wildlife corridor running from the Ouse Valley through Knowlands Wood past The Secret Campsite and continuing to the Ashdown Forest. It is home to a multitude of wildlife including bats, badgers and hedgehogs. It provides a safe place for wildlife to move freely and cohabit. To nest, reproduce and raise their young.

There are moves afoot by National Highways to infill this old bridge with an estimated 1000 tons of concrete and aggregate. This would force the animals onto the roads and remove their safe passage with potentially fatal consequences. Infill would prohibit the passage of walkers. Lockdown’s have seen an increase in walkers accessing their local paths and appreciating nature on their doorstep with all its associated health benefits.

Putting a barrier that stops free passage of wildlife and the public is typical of societies “put nature last” approach. For a more heartening approach to Nature, visit Get Nature Positive campaign.

The history

The railway bridge forms part of the Historical Railways Estate managed by National Highways. An enforced pause on the entire programme of infilling historical railway assets was put in place, following a national backlash over another proposed infill in Great Musgrave, Cumbria.

But under emergency powers, if there’s deemed to be a threat to public safety then National Highways can, in the words of Lewes Councillor Zoe Nicholson “stealthily move ahead”.

Local campaigners asked 2 eminent engineers to evaluate National Highways plans for Church Road bridge. They concluded that there is no immediate risk that the structure will collapse, but that remedial work is required at an estimated cost of circa £70,000.

Local residents have formed a Facebook pressure group, “Planet Barcombe” and have been lobbying local MPs, and politicians to raise awareness of the cause. “Stealth measures” may be in place by National Highways but Barcombe residents are pulling their weight vociferously in support of the local wildlife.

Times are changing and people are waking up to this short term and selfish approach, Nature is becoming important again.

Want to know more?

You can follow more on Twitter @BarcombeBridge and on Facebook @planetbarcombe 

Plus use the hashtag #StopTheInfill . Sussex Bylines have written an interesting article here.

Do have a watch of Dr Burnside, a landscape ecologist, has made a video about Barcombe bridge and its importance as a corridor for wildlife.

Local campaigners! Do watch Dr Burnside’s video on YouTube

Get Nature Positive Campaign and The Secret Campsite

The Secret Campsite are proud signatories of Get Nature Positive.

This national campaign initiated by the Council for Sustainable Business with the help of Justin Francis founder of Responsible Travel is designed to address net zero and protect, manage and support nature. The campaign spells out the critical connection between human behaviour and the planet’s health.

Get Nature Positive aims to stabilise the climate which will create jobs, food security, improve health, promote education and rebuild economies. We love these goals and have joined.

As a tourism venue, we try to tread lightly on our land here at the Secret Campsite. The highest profit margins can be made from indulging visitors’ whims and wishes. We steer clear of these, instead opting for less impactful and ethically sourced products and services. Judging from our reviews this doesnt seem to compromise the type of trip people enjoy with us, but perhaps that is just our sort of customers?

Get Nature Positive highlights 7 key areas that tourist venues can tackle to clean up their act. We are working through the points and implementing further plans, where we need, to address an issue.

Here’s what we’re doing at the Secret Campsite in order to be more Nature+Positive


We manage the whole site as a place where nature can flourish and campers have the chance to see, smell, hear, touch  and even taste our native flora and fauna. We have installed numerous nest spaces for birds, bats, reptiles and mammals. These encourage breeding and overwintering throughout the site. The site has been planted with a wide range of locally suitable and native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. These can be used as a food source for a wide variety of creatures. Get some ideas from our Escapees Handbook which we published in 2015.

We do not allow pets anywehere on site. A loose dog can be very disruptive to ground nesting birds and reptiles.

To encourage an interest in our native flora we have a range of FSC worksheets freely available for campers to identify plants, and these spend a lot of time in the hands of inquisitive young campers.

Waste and Pollution

We purchase in bulk where possible. This means we can refill our liquid soaps, cleaning fluids, hand san and washing up liquid. We offer comprehensive onsite recycling facilities which are emptied by our local authority, Lewes. They are fully accountable for the way they process recycling and are hoping to achieve zero carbon by 2030.


This is a tricky one. Past efforts with food waste have been unsuccessful. The cost of a food waste facility is considerable, but we are investigating this with plans to commission collections or process the waste on site. Watch this space.


Only nature-friendly cleaning products are used. We occasionally use herbicides but only as a last resort to clear weeds from a couple of areas on site. Sunscreen isn’t yet sold on site, but we have just purchased a test bottle of environmental sunscreen. This will be freely available for campers to sample in reception. It may encourage people to make a switch.


We process all of our sewage waste through a treatment plant powered by the sun through our 19KW solar PV array. We will be installing a second treatment plant as part of the development work taking place at the barn.


The use of fairy lights on the exterior of campers tents is discouraged. Next season we will ask campers to switch them off at dusk. Light pollution is a problem for a range of species including bats and owls as well as a distraction for the flying male glow worm who can find the females if they are surrounded by man made lighting. We only have lights for specific purposes onsite. Our aim is to use lights that don’t “spill out” in our new building work and around the site. Light controls are utilised to manage timings and intensity.

We are located in a Dark Sky Area, and welcome The Seven Sisters Astronomical Society for complementary camping in exchange for campers being permitted to view the night sky view through their professional telescopes. Read more here.


We keep cars from accessing the camping meadows for safety reasons and to minimise disturbance to the wildlife, frogs and lizards are easily squashed. We do not allow music of any sort on our pitches and we avoid large groups of campers to keep human noise to a minimum.

By keeping dogs off site we reduce the early morning disturbance leaving campers free to enjoy the si=ounds of owls hooting, deer barking and the marsh frog chorus.

But, best of all it gives space for the Nightingales to let forth heir beautiful chorus throughout the night.


All our taps are on timers and are “press down” rather than “twist” taps. This minimises water wastage. It also makes commercial sense.

Water butts collect the rainwater which is then used for other purposes like filling the bird bath, watering the pot grown herbs, and pouring over hot campers.

All water runoff is channelled to one of our 2 on site ponds, home to Great Crested Newts, dragonflies, and adventurous grass snakes.

Food and Agriculture

We have planted a wide range of shrubs, trees and perennials that provide a number of edible uses for additions to salads, fruits and nuts. Alternatively, they are a source of food for our year round residents, the birds, mammals reptile, amphibians and insects

Energy Use

All hot water for showers and washing up is generated from a 19KW solar array on one of our barns. This was installed in 2012 by OVESCO, and upgraded in 2021. The system generates far in excess of our ht water needs and we have added on a new outlet recently, read below.


Onsite electric car charging facilities are available for campers. All you have to do is download the Pod Point app and away you go. We happily recharge phones and electric bikes for free, using our solar pv system. We are very proud to be part of the Community Energy project which is a pioneering campaign based in Barcombe!

Circular economy

Our small campsite shop favours local producers or products from businesses with responsible environmental policies. We sell barbecue meat boxes from a local free range farm as well as firewood and charcoal. Additionally, we sell local beers including Harveys and OWL plus Lickalix ice lollies.

Next year we expect to be stocking an extended range of products including some plant based suppliers and of course some ethically sourced marshmallows.

We support our local wildlife charity Sussex Wildlife Trust in a variety of ways including fundraising and optional online donations when booking camping trips.

The local pubs, farm shops and other visitor attractions are well publicised on site and through our website. Link here


Find out more about the Get Nature Positive campaign, we encourage you to have a read.

Tell us if there are areas that you think we can change or do better here at the Secret Campsite. We are always open to feedback.

Star gazing and astronomy at the Secret Campsite Lewes

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.

Albireo at the Secret Campsite Lewes
Albireo, the double star. The brightest star in the constellation! Photo Derrick Elliott

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.

Butterflies, glow worms and dragonflies at the Secret Campsite

Peacock butterfly at the secet campsite

Butterfly Counting

white Admiral at the Secret Campsite James Pearson
White Admiral by James Pearson

We are huge supporters of nature here at the Secret Campsite. This year we are participating with the Big Butterfly Count at the Secret Campsite. Run by the Butterfly Conservation this national citizen science project enables us to see the health of our environment simply by counting the number and types of butterflies.

Butterflies are vital parts of the eco system, as both pollinators and components of the food chain. Butterfly declines is seen as an early warning system for other wildlife losses, as they react very quickly to changes in the environment.

Launched in 2010, this is the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. In 2020 over 115,000 citizens participated with 142,249 counts of butterflies and day flying moths across the country.

So how are we doing here?

We have had so many adults and children keen to engage with the survey. We are busy handing out the Butterfly Counting sheets at campsite reception. Our most frequently spotted butterflies here, are the Marbled White, Brimstone and Skipper. We will send our completed sheets to the Big Butterfly Count once the survey finishes on the 8th August.

Glow worm spotting

At this time of year, the cry goes up, “I have spotted a glow worm” and then you see about 10! The best places to spot them at the Secret Campsite, is the orchard, top of the camping meadow and the old railway track.

Glow worms aren’t actually worms, instead they are actually small beetles, of about 1.5- 2 cm length. The males look like small beetles but the female has no wings and so looks similar to larvae. The female emits a distinctive bright green nightly glow, as she looks to attract a mate in the darkness of her grassland habitat.

Countryfile has some great facts about Glow worms including the fact that both male and females lack a mouth! The clock ticks as soon as they emerge from their pupa, as they have only one task to complete, which is reproduction. Once they have mated, the female turns out her light, and commits her remaining energy to laying her eggs and then dies.

Dragonfly watching

Our lovely onsite ecologists, Bakerwell, take the best dragonfly pictures. We always seem to miss them. This year Kathryn Killner, took this beautiful picture of a broad bodied chaser dragonfly. If you are interested in reading more, then The Sussex Wildlife Trust have a great article here

Please keep us updated on all the nature that you see when you are camping at the Secret Campsite! Plus email any photos that you are happy to share with us.

100 trees planted at The Secret Campsite

Planting trees at the Secret Campsite
Wheelbarrow with spade at the Secret Campsite

The spade is out, the plant order has arrived. It’s time for the next batch of trees to be planted at The Secret Campsite.

If you have been phoning today and not yet spoken yet to Tim, it’s because he is out of earshot. Doing one of his favourite things. Planting trees and digging holes.

What trees are being planted?

100 trees. The list includes 25 Cherry Plum, 10 Hazel, 5 Crab apple, 5 Pear, 5 Blackberry. Bird friendly hedge mix. 10 Hawthorn, 5 Privet. 5 Rose. Edible Hedging Mix. All of varying sizes plus 50 Bamboo Canes and spiral guards for each batch.

Where are they being planted?

We are planting them all over the campsite. Some are going into our new Wildlife Area. Located by the old (and now dismantled polytunnel) this area will provide a new home for the wildlife. We already know there’s adders and slow worms here. Once the trees are all planted we may rig up our trail camera and see which animals live here.

We are also planting more trees around the camping pitches to increase their screening.

Tree planting at the Secret Campsite

Why are we doing it?

In short our wildlife is really important. Planting trees provides shelter and protects bio-diversity. Trees clean our air and absorb carbon and regulate the climate. For a longer list read this from One Tree Planted.

At the Secret Campsite we strive to provide our campers with nature, peace and space. We call it real camping with nature. Screening the pitches off, is a great way to see lots of native trees and have privacy. Plus you get to meet the neighbours. The bird neighbours. Birds use the trees both as a source of food and a place to nest. There’s something wonderfully connected about watching the wildlife go about their business. We get lots of different birds here at The Secret Campsite and have participated with the Big Garden Birdwatch on a number of occasions. Read what we saw here.

Postscript to blog… Tim planted 80 trees today, and has one big splinter. More planting coming up tomorrow.

Big garden birdwatch at the Secret Campsite

Song thrush recorded for RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

11.30 am. The cats were shut away, the dog moved to another room and we sat down with a stopwatch and notepad. The annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch was underway.

The first arrivals

First up the Great Tit, followed by 3 Blue Tits. They kept pecking at the feeder and then darting back off to the nearby bushes. The Robin appeared. Despite their jolly friendly PR , they are aggressive and territorial. They kept the other birds away for a while whilst they had their fill. Once departed the Thrush flew in. Some dispute as to which thrush, but after consideration we decided it was the song thrush. A flurry of house sparrows appeared and kept us entertained as they pecked at the fat ball and the seeds.

Nearly an ambush

At this point the neighbours cat appeared and interrupted our flow. Once he was evicted we settled down again. All the while hoping for my personal favourite, the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. They are frequent visitors around the Secret Campsite, but were proving slow off the mark to get counted….

Thick and fast

12:15 saw more arrivals. In no particular order…a dunnock, a blackbird, 2 magpies, a rook and a crow. The wood pigeon was spotted in the veg patch, does that count? We thought it did. So we added him to the list. Tim’s favourite little Nuthatch, appeared and popped back and forth a few times. Followed by a Goldfinch. A male pheasant appeared, to the distraction of our spaniel, who quivered with excitement behind the glass. The pheasant remained oblivious.

Finale time

Finally at 12:28 we were greeted with 2 Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. They have a beautiful bright scarlet plumage and tend to hang out at the top of the walnut tree. As a pair they are spectacular. Sadly my camera didn’t do them justice so no great snaps. Instead I will leave that job to the Sussex Wildlife Trust They do a more superior job with photography than I managed on a Sunday morning.

We love carrying out the survey. It’s an opportunity to stop, sit down and watch the wildlife that otherwise often passes unnoticed. We have submitted the results of our spots and next year aim to get better photos!