Author Michael Blencowe
Community Wildlife Officer
A while back I was invited to visit a local campsite. The Secret Campsite (it’s not that secret, it’s got its own website) is hidden away in the countryside north of Lewes. The manager, Tim Bullen, is as excited about wildlife as he is about camping and the site is being managed very much with wildlife in mind.
With such a variety of great wildlife around the campsite Tim and I decided to arrange an evening of wildlife and camping and on July 10th a crowd of campers gathered, sitting on straw bales in the barn, as I gave an illustrated talk about some of the bats, moths and other wildife we may see on the campsite after dark.
With darkness setting in we fired up the moth trap and then headed out on a dusk stroll. We soon saw our first glow-worms – with one lucky young lady winning the prize lolly (an actual lolly, not money) for the first sighting.
Bats started to become active and we stood on the bridge over the old Lewes-East Grinstead train line listening to pipistrelles and serotines with our bat detectors. As the owls started to wake up we headed back to the bright moth trap where scorched wings, flames and blotched emeralds were starting to arrive.
Like all the best camping expeditions the evening ended with stories around the campfire.
In the morning we were awoken by the sizzling of bacon as Tim undertook some industrial scale catering. Then back to the barn for a talk about butterflies and in particular the purple emperor. Despite this elusive rarity not being seen in this area for many years I was still confident that we could find one. (One attendee, Gerry Thomson, described me as a lepidoptomist). To aid our search I was hoping to use the emperor’s love for disgusting salty things to lure him down. Armed with some stinky Indonesian shrimp paste and a huge rancid pig’s liver we headed back out. These tempting treats sadly did not entice the Emperor - although the children seemed to enjoy watching a grown man wrestling with offal.
In the moth trap we found many more moth species. The crowd was thrilled by the poplar hawkmoth, the elephant hawkmoth, the burnished brass, the buff-tip and lots more. I was thrilled by the tiny scarce forest tubic Esperia oliviella – it hasn’t been recorded near Lewes since 1859!
After the moth trap we released the moths and headed out around the campsite finding slow-worms, grass snakes and marbled white butterflies. We were joined by Nick Lear, the neighbouring farmer, who has recently won an award for his work combining farming with conservation. Nick kindly led us on a tour of his wonderful farm and woodland - where we saw orchids, dragonflies and some of the first silver-washed fritillaries and white admirals of 2013.
A big thank you to Tim and Nick and to the other 50 people who came along and made this such a great event. Let's do it again in 2014!