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.

night time at the Secret Campsite Lewes
Night skies and stars by the barn area.

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.

Awesome

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.

Starburst at the Secret Campsite – photo Paul Foster

Butterflies, glow worms and dragonflies at the Secret Campsite

Peacock butterfly at the secret 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.

Glow worms!

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

Broad bodied chaser dragonfly by Kathryn Killner

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!

Autumn at The Secret Campsite

Sheep at the Secret Campsite Lewes

The sheep arrive

This season went by in a flash and now we are deep into November. A particular highlight is the new sheep coming to graze off the camping meadow. They arrive and tread warily out of the trailer. Then hesitate but upon hearing the rattle of a bucket, will charge straight into their new home for the next month or so. Sometimes the new sheep headbutt our 2 sheep. I do find this painful to watch, but once the pecking order is established it becomes more harmonious!

Sloe Gin

Generation Distillers Sloe Gin
Sloes foraged from The Secret Campsite

The meadow is currently the source of sloes and rosehips. Our friends at Generation Distillers, located in nearby Chailey, have created a wonderful sloe gin using The Secret Campsite sloes. Check it out next season. Perfect for enjoying around the camp fire. In the interim we can assure you that it is delicious. And we will endeavour to not drink it all!

Foraging

Hedgewitch foraged cordials
Locally foraged cordials from Hedgewitch

Our forager in residence, Jane Hedgewitch, has been harvesting the rosehips in the meadow too. Jane has a long history of rootling in the hedgerows and makes fantastic cordials, extracts and preserves that she sells here and often at Lewes Friday Food Market too. This summer we enjoyed (and stocked) her delicious Wild Cherry Blossom Cordial. You can read a bit more about Jane in a feature by Muddy Stilettoes Sussex here.

We are currently working on lots of exciting new projects at the Secret Campsite and hope to reveal more in our next newsletter. You can sign up for it here

Young Spotters Snaps

Our Young Spotters Snaps competition is a bit of a punt. Will anyone enter! We meet many enthusiastic young people who enthuse about their wildlife spots during their camping trip. I sometimes get to see their photos and on occasion, I feature them on our Instagram or our Facebook page.

Local photography talent!

James Pearson contacted me as he was keen to come and take photos at The Secret Campsite. He has sent in some great photos. I featured many in a previous blog post here. James has actually unknowingly prompted this competition to be set up!

Silver Fritillary by James Pearson

How to enter our competition

We would like to invite all young photographers under age of 16 years to send in their wildlife photos.These photos must be of wildlife here at The Secret Campsite. Sussex teems with wildlife. So you may have some taken wonderful photos of butterflies, birds, bees, snakes, slow worms? Who knows? Surprise us!

The winning photo will receive a £20 Book Voucher. It will certainly feature on our website and probably on our Instagram and Facebook pages.

The winning photo entrant will be notified by phone at the end of the 2020 camping season. Do send your entries to info@30ninenet.co.uk along with your name and age. Lastly please confirm that we can use your photos on our social platforms.

Our local wildlife residents?

We love it when children camp here and get to see new things. A great example of this, is when we run the Secret Wildlife Festival. I always see wildlife that I don’t recognise. And I love it when the children tell me what it is.

The Secret Wildlife Festival 2019

This weeks spots?

Earlier this week, 3 small campers aged between 4 to 9 years told me their wildlife spots. Rabbits (lots), glowworms, snakes and butterfly and a toad. Humbug the cat, definitely doesn’t qualify for this competition!

Great places to spot wildlife here, are in the camping meadow, the old railway track and Knowlands Woods. Glow worms are best seen in long grasses around 9-10 pm. Get spotting and snapping!

Butterflies at The Secret Campsite

We are positively teeming with butterflies here at the Secret Campsite. Sussex attracts them in swathes or flights as they are collectively known. Other collective terms include a shimmer, a swarm or best of all, a rabble!

White Admiral James Pearson

Young wildlife photographer

James Pearson, a young lad from Lewes with a passion for photographing wildlife has been frequently visiting us. Arriving with his camera, he disappears into the meadow and Knowlands Woods for hours. James sent over his latest butterfly photos and we love them.

Purple Hairstreak James Pearson

Sightings with Sussex Butterfly Conservation

We met the Sussex Butterfly Conservation Society who camped here earlier this month. Follow the link and scroll to 06 July 2020 where you can see and read about their sightings here. Butterflies they saw include Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Marbled White and Purple Hairstreak.

Marbled White at the Secret Campsite
Marbled White Colin Gibbs

Michael Blencowe’s Butterfly book

If you have attended the annual Secret Wildlife Festival, then you will definitely have met with Michael Blencowe from The Sussex Wildlife Trust. Here’s an unashamed plug for his book “The Butterflies of Sussex”. Currently out of stock but keep your eyes peeled for his next book entitled “Gone” due April 2021.

The Secret Wildlife Festival

Our Secret Wildlife Festival is a moth and butterfly spotting bonanza. Moths spotted include the Elephant Hawk, Privet Hawk, Lappet, and Snout. Butterflies include the Purple Hairstreak, Marbled White. We always hunt the Purple Emperor , that’s sometimes spotted in Sussex. We try our hardest to attract it, tactically employing foul smelling dog food, and other rank materials. Finally we were victorious in 2019. Sadly I didn’t have my camera to hand…

We absolutely love seeing all your photographs taken here of the wildlife here at The Secret Campsite. The camping meadow, the old railway track and Knowlands Woods are great places to go and spot lots of different wildlife. Please keep sending them in!

Cool Camping Instagram “Takeover”

We were thrilled to be invited to “takeover” Cool Camping’s Instagram earlier this week. It represented a great opportunity for The Secret Campsite to tell our story, with a real “day at the campsite experience” theme. It was also a leap of faith for Cool Camping too. We have worked with them since we started, they reviewed us back in our early days and most probably you used their booking system when you booked your stay here.

So armed with their Instagram log ins, I sat down and thought how best to tell our story. In marketing terms we have lots of “content” and lots of lovely photos. But we wanted to show it as it is. So we whipped out the camera, combed our hair (still no hair appointments freed up yet after Lockdown) and did a lot of takes in the meadow.

Live filming

I pitied the lovely camper snoozing on his pitch as Tim did 10 takes, all identical, with each one faster to try and cram the required points into his 15 second clips. It was a comedy act of suddenly talking very fast for the last 5 seconds.

Real camping with nature at The Secret Campsite

Real camping

We featured an intro by Tim, explaining our story and how we transformed an old run down garden nursery into the Secret Campsite. This entailed renovating old buildings, planting a lot of trees to provide natural screening for campers and a wonderful wildlife habitat. And what we think “real camping with nature” actually is.

The Okra Dining Pod created at The Secret Campsite
The Okra Dining Pod

Our Secret Shelters

Then we ran some video interviews with Jason Thawley. He has designed all our Secret Shelters including The Tree Tent, The Gridshell and the Okra . We also featured a sneak peek of his new ” Okra dining pod” .This is aimed at the hospitality sector for socially distanced outdoor dining opportunities.

The Secret Wildlife Festival programme 2019

Secret Wildlife Festival

Tim introduced the Secret Wildlife Festival, our annual fundraising festival run in conjunction with The Sussex Wildlife Trust – sadly cancelled for 2020 but it will resurface for 2021. The Festival is a wonderful way to reconnect with Nature and Wildlife, the schedule is put together by the hugely informative Michael Blencowe and his colleagues at Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Scrub scrub!!

The COVID clean!

We filmed the COVID clean. This takes place 5 x per day, involving bleach solution, multiple buckets, gloves, and face masks. This is in addition to the normal daily deep clean. It’s really not very interesting to watch but filmed in Slo-Mo makes it visually far more amusing! Our last newsletter relayed our COVID policy which prompted lots of relieved comments so we understand how important this is.

Marbled White Butterfly at The Secret Campsite by Colin Gibbs
Marbled White by Colin Gibbs

Wildlife

We featured lots of wildlife photos, including butterflies, moths and grass snakes. We were delighted to welcome people from the Sussex Butterfly Society here last weekend. Colin took a beautiful photo of one of the many Marbled Whites who spend the summer here.

BBQ and campfires at the Secret Campsite

Campfires

Finally, we turned our attention to arguably the best part of any camping trip, the BBQ and campfires. Tim’s a dab hand at lighting campers fires, secretly, we do have a blowtorch here too, when all else fails.

We loved the opportunity to introduce The Secret Campsite to a new audience over at Cool Camping. We had the occasional technical drama which hopefully passed by unnoticed!

The Times guide to “50 Great Staycations”

The Times 50 Great Staycations

Well that is a great start to the 2020 camping season! We featured in “50 Great Staycations” in this weekends edition of The Times.

UK best places

The article outlined the pick of the best places for escaping the hordes within the UK. It featured beautiful sleepy Cornish towns, pine plantations in Northumberland, and lovely nature reserves in Suffolk.

East Sussex

East Sussex scored twice with the rather cool Belle Tout lighthouse set in beautiful Birling Gap and also with The Secret Campsite! There are a hatful of inspiring places to stay and some amazing places to visit around the area so we were surprised that East Sussex only had 2 entries!

See the full article here The paywall will preclude you reading it all for free but I have faithfully reproduced the article here. (Copyright The Times Newspapers)

Such a great start to the rather disrupted camping season! Thank you for including us.

Glow worms at The Secret Campsite

Glow worm at The Secret Campsite Max Mudie

Glow worms are rather magical. Their arrival at The Secret Campsite is always treated with excitement. Plus a raft of picture taking which is normally fruitless as they tend to be rather camera shy. Or perhaps we are just inept!

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

Both Countryfile and The Sussex Wildlife Trust have some great facts about Glow worms including the fact that both male and females lack a mouth. The clock ticks from the moment they emerge from their pupa as they have only one task to complete, which is reproduction. Once they have mated the female will turn out her light, and commit her remaining energy to laying her eggs and then die.

Over the years we have only managed to take two decent photos of them! At last years Secret Wildlife Festival, our wonderful photographer Max Mudie did get a couple of shots including this cover shot.

We do attract a fair number of them here at The Secret Campsite. Sussex seems to be a good place to spot them. They tend to appear from mid June until late July. Best places to spot them are in the long grasses! So look all around the Meadow and down on the Railway Track too. Best spotting times are between 9 pm – 10 pm.

Good luck with spotting them when you visit and please do come and tell us where you saw them!