By Emma Chaplin
We haven't had the best of luck with weather in terms of visiting The Secret Campsite in Barcombe. It was unbearably hot last summer when the St Nicholas Centre group visited. And this time we had quite a lot of rain.
But Eleanor of St Nicks and the group (which was the usual Wednesday allotment group, plus some previous St Nicks allotment attendees) said they were happy to wear raincoats and come anyway, and neither Tim, who runs The Secret Campsite, nor our (Sussex) Wildlife friend Michael Blencowe, wanted to let rain stop play, so we decided to make the best of it. Tim and Michael know each other of old.
First of all, we all gathered in the reception building of The Secret Campsite where Tim greeted us, and Michael jokingly mentioned what we wouldn't be able to spot on this visit. Butterflies in particular. But what we could do was look under the snake boards to see who might be sheltering.
So we put up our hoods and headed out. Michael was sporting an excellent, waterproof poncho he told us he'd won in a raffle.
He explained that The Secret Campsite is well known for its wildlife. They have a Wildlife Festival every year. They have bat boxes, for example, and a pond. We began by looking up at various bird boxes tucked under eaves. Then we walked further into the campsite to find and carefully lift each of the snake boards (boards which warm up when it's sunny, which snakes and other creatures like to hide under).
First of all we spotted several wood mice scampering off, and saw their nest surrounded by cracked acorns they'd been eating. We saw a friendly toad (which Michael picked up carefully to show us). In total, we saw five slow worms and a common shrew. A lot more than we expected.
We walked into the woods for a brief look at the bluebells. We noticed the the fire point on the way, which has a dampener in case camp fires get a bit fierce, then buckets of water and fire extinguishers. Plus there's a alarm bell you turn by hand, that a few members of the group had a turn on (there weren't any campers to scare!).
We had a look up at a tree tent, Michael and Miles had a little kick about with a football until everyone caught up, and finally we went back to the main building for elderflower cordial and biscuits. Plus a look at an animal skull and some handy pictures of animals that you might see at the campsite. For fun, Michael wrote the names of all the members into the tree-named plots on the empty camp plan, with some sketches of creatures we'd seen.
It was great, despite the rain, and it was lovely of Michael to come along to talk to us, and for Tim to host.