The Secret Campsite

A wet, wild & fun wildlife walk with Michael Blencowe at The Secret Campsite

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. 

Thanks all!

A visit to The Secret Campsite

Flourish have faced challengingly cold weather before, but we haven't had a day that was quite so scorchingly hot as the June day we went to The Secret Campsite.

We'd arranged a visit to meet Tim Bullen, the owner and manager of The Secret Campsite, which is based 'somewhere' in Barcombe. We'd thought about doing this because they do a great deal to encourage wildlife at the site, and are even about to hold their annual Wildlife Festival with our friend from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Michael Blencowe.

Sarah and (me) Emma arrived first, met Tim and had a quick look around. We really liked how it feels like you are miles from anywhere, and seeing all the trees that have been planted. We enjoyed looking at the tree house tent. 

Then the group arrived from St Nicks, and we had a chat with Eleanor about how hot it was and how careful we all thought we needed to be about making sure that nobody got overheated. 

Tim began by giving everyone some water to drink, then explained that the campsite is based on what used to be Chubbs Nursery, where they grew and sold plants. The campsite is a very friendly spot for wildlife, he said, and designed as a quiet place for humans to escape to as well. He told us that he did a landscape management course in order to learn how to manage the land and the wildlife where they have created the campsite.

Visitors who come to camp unload their cars and wheel their tents etc in wheelbarrows to the large meadow where the tent pitches are, rather than driving to them, to keep the place peaceful.

In terms of wildlife, Tim said they get a lot of slow worms, snakes (including adders), bats, butterflies, moths, birds including birds of prey such as red kites, tiny beautiful goldfinches (which love thistle seeds) and nightingales, which have an incredible song.

They sometimes set footprint traps to see what animals have visited overnight.

Sometimes you can see great crested newts and purple emperor butterflies, he told us. The butterflies like all the flowers that grow around the campsite and in the meadow.  They have a regular hedgehog visitor, and Tim told us that hedgehogs need holes in hedges to get around. 

Tim showed us one of their ponds, which was lovely, but then we decided it really was too hot to do any more walking. But Tim said we'd be welcome to come back in the autumn, when there will be lots of apples and other fruits ripe! Thanks Tim, it was really interesting to find out where the 'Secret' Campsite is :)