A spot of rain did nothing to dampen anyone’s spirits at Rye Meads Big Wild Sleepout. The evening was filled with arts and crafts, pond dipping, mini-beasting, a late night walking safari, bat detection, marshmallow roasting and even a bit of campfire singsong. When asked to pick a personal highlight one young guest claimed “I liked everything!” It may have involved more sleeping under the rain than the stars but his years Big Wild Sleepout was no wash out.

Armed with wellies and raincoats, visitors arrived around 5:30pm ready to set up camp. New to 2017 was the choice to sleep out in a tent or a campervan. One family was torn between the two, due to the rather wet forecast, but in the end the two young members convinced Dad that a night in a tent was all part of the adventure.

The first activity was an arts and crafts session in the visitor centre. It gave everyone a chance to meet and create some cool fox masks or twiggy clay hedgehogs or both! Outside the rain was holding off and the BBQ was warming up for a feast of hotdogs, burgers and falafels.

With food in our tummies, it was time to set off on a night time walk around the reserve – an exclusive experience for our Sleep Out guests. One group set off for pond dipping and the other to do some log rolling for mini beasts. The damp weather provided the perfect conditions for spotting worms and other log dwelling invertebrates.

The pond habitat proved to be just as busy. The guests filled their nets and bowls with water louse, water boatman, pond snails, mayfly nymphs and a few fish. One couple had an impressive dragonfly nymph which under the torchlight looked like a creature from another planet.

After a quick trip to the Draper Hide, to watch the coots, swans and gadwalls settle down for the night, it was time to begin our walking safari in search for nocturnal animals. The star species of the night were the pipistrelle soprano bats. We could just about make them out, whizzing and zipping around the dusky sky. Luckily we had some bat detectors which converted their echolocation ultrasound into audible frequencies – in simpler terms we could hear them chatting to us! As well as the bats we managed to see the glare of a fox’s eyes with the torch light and a friendly little toad.

The last activity of the evening was a communal gathering around the campfire to roast marshmallows great and small and share our experiences of the evening. After a nature themed sing song, it was definitely time for bed.

A rather turbulent night gave way to a gloriously sunny morning. The young guests came in to breakfast wide eyed and bushy tailed, their parents heading straight for the coffee. As we were all chomping on croissants and bananas the birds were also digging in to their breakfast. We visited the bird feeders and saw many blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, robins and a cheeky long tailed rodent.

The final group activity was looking in our moth trap which was put out during the night. Gathered in a tight circle we witnessed many species of colourful moths including common and dingy footmen, light emerald and webbed wainscot.

To top off a wonderfully Wild Sleepout, five of Rye Meads kestrels flew over head, squawking a hearty farewell to our guests.

Thank you to everyone who joined us on this memorable, if not slightly soggy Big Wild Sleepout. It was great to see people of all ages coming together and getting excited about nature. Bring on next year! 

Written by Leanna Jones - Learning Support and Events Assistant volunteer

Photos James Hamilton