Guest blog By Tim Bullen
This year Secret Wildlife Festival, run in conjunction with Sussex Wildlife Trust at The Secret Campsite near Lewes, 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.
Slow Worms by Max Mudie
Initially, none showed themselves 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 hedgehog 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 gramineae 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 choosing a good location is a critical part of the exercise. The Secret Campsite is really well populated with a wide range of habitats. 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 Pipistrelle 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 our of the list from the two nights trappings.
Moth species we trapped overnight
Buff-tip 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, 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 Uunderwing, 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 dissecting 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 couldn't stand 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 Pipistrelles 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 waterproof 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 venturing out 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. 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.
The walk was peppered with lots of species including Purple Hairstreaks, White Admirals, Silver washed fritillaries, a solitary Slow Worm, Garden Warblers, a Badger sett,
White Admiral by Max Mudie
Throughout the weekend we were watched over by the secret campsites 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 Sussex Wildlife Trust ran the festival beautifully and this year the event has raised £2,582 for which everyone involved should 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.