Our fifth Young Person’s New Forest Wildlife Camp took place on 21-23 Oct 2022 at Cameron’s Cottage, nestled deep within RSPB Franchises Lodge nature reserve in the northern New Forest. We (Wild New Forest) co-ordinate the camps, supported by our sponsors at the Cameron Bespolka Trust and our RSPB hosts. We were delighted to welcome a full house of 19 young wildlife enthusiasts between the ages of 12 and 19, including several new faces. As always, a strong support team of family and friends helped ensure the weekend ran smoothly. This blog provides an illustrated overview of some of the weekend’s activities and some of the many wildlife highlights.
The obligatory group photo for the autumn 2022 New Forest Wildlife Camp!
Friday 21 Oct
After a quick dinner and an icebreaker quiz, we headed straight out into the forest under the cover of darkness to search for nocturnal wildlife. Several Fallow Deer were glimpsed, and a roaring buck in the distance indicating that the rutting period was in full swing. Despite the damp conditions, we were able to find and discuss a good variety of fungi and various invertebrates, including some giant Leopard Slugs.
Marcus showing the key features of the False Deathcap fungus
Pipe Club fungus
Yellowleg Bonnet fungus
Saturday 22 Oct
An early start to check the moth traps produced Brambling and Hawfinch overhead and a nice variety of autumnal moths, including Tawny Pinion and the lichen-camouflaged Merveille du Jour and Lichen Button Acleris literana. We then spent the morning exploring Franchises Lodge nature reserve, and hearing about reserve management from RSPB residential volunteer Sonja Bottomer. A check beneath several corrugated sheets on an area of damp meadow produced a Common Toad and a family of Field Voles, and we then paused for lunch by the main lake.
Photographing Green Elf Cup fungus
An obliging Common Toad was popular with the photographers
The now traditional mini-bioblitz saw an inevitable focus on fungi, but other popular highlights included Palmate Newt, a Common Lizard, and Dog Vomit Slime Mould. The winning team recorded around 160 species during the permitted hour, highlighting the diversity of flora, fauna, and fungi in that small part of the reserve.
This Palmate Newt was a popular find
Andrew Colenutt ringing a Great Tit at Cameron's Cottage
In the afternoon we returned to the cottage for a brief rest, before the group split and headed out for bird ringing, mammal camera trapping, or yet more fungi finding (with the latter producing the wonderfully named Orange Peel, Red-belted Polypore, Upright Coral, and nationally scarce Pink Disco). A hearty dinner was then followed by another nocturnal jaunt, which bizarrely produced a Common Toad five feet off the ground on a fallen tree!
A full house for dinner!
Toasted marshmallows around the camp fire
Common Toad up a tree!
Sunday 23 Oct
Another night of moth trapping produced Large Wainscot and a few other common woodland species, as well as the recently colonised Golden-brown Fern Moth Musotima nutidalis. Early rain meant a delayed departure, so Marcus usefully filled the time by providing an excellent slide show on the New Forest Pine Marten Project.
Checking the moth traps in the morning
Indoor games kept the attendees entertained while we waited for the rain to clear
Marcus also provided an impromptu talk on the New Forest Pine Marten Project
Once the rain had cleared, we headed out to the open forest, and were met with blue skies and distant views of Stonechats and Dartford Warblers, as well as a couple of nationally scarce heathland spiders (Rhysodromus histrio and Uloborus walckenaerius). We were accompanied on the walk by Andy Page (Head of Wildlife Management at Forestry England) who was able to share his wealth of experience of forest management.
A snack break on a hillside overlooking a block of woodland produced three Goshawks silhouetted against the sky as they drifted over the treetops, while back at ground level the attendees were treated to the subtle delights of the internationally scarce Nail Fungus on a degraded pile of pony poo. A flurry of more charismatic fungi after lunch included a brief search for the tiny but beautiful Holly Parachute - with so many keen pairs of eyes it took less than a minute for the first to be located, with another cluster following soon after. A probable Lion Shield, a tier of giant Southern Brackets, and some fine Parasols also helped to keep the budding fungi photographers happy.
Photographing tiny Holly Parachutes and mighty Southern Bracket fungi
On the long walk back to the cottage there were ominous clouds looming on the western horizon, but the weather gods were in our favour and we arrived back at the cottage without incident and in good time for a final clear-up and a de-brief session. However, as the parents started arriving for the scheduled pick-up at 1600 hrs an impressive thunderstorm broke overhead and torrential rain ensued for several minutes!
As always, we are incredibly grateful to our sponsor and partner, the Cameron Bespolka Trust, our hosts at RSPB Franchises Lodge, and to everyone that helped in various ways during the weekend, particularly Sonja Bottomer, Andrew Colenutt, Ali Dennis, Andy Page, Jane Pownall and Christine Sams. The feedback from attendees has been very positive, and it’s really encouraging to hear that after the camp they set up a WhatsApp group to keep sharing their wildlife sightings and stories. A few examples of (anonymised) feedback are provided below, together with a sample of some of the excellent images produced by the attendees.
“Thank you so much for last weekend. I had the best time! Thank you for sharing your expertise on fungi with me, I really was fascinated. The people on the camp were wonderful, I have made some great friends and we are all keeping in touch on WhatsApp. It's fair to say that everyone misses being at the Cottage together! Overall, thank you for bringing us all together and teaching us so much. I'll definitely remember that weekend for a long time!”
“I just wanted to say a massive thank you to you and everyone else who organised and helped out at this weekend's WNF camp. X has been telling me about all the different species they saw, and you even now have him interested in fungi. It has been such a great opportunity for him to learn more about what he loves and to meet fellow like-minded people. Please pass on our warmest thanks to everyone involved.”
“I wanted to thank you so much for running the Wildlife Camp a couple of weeks ago - I had a great time and am now a keen fungi spotter - even if I can’t identify a lot! Also, I enjoyed the bird ringing. I also enjoyed meeting some new people who are into wildlife.”
“Just to say a big thank you, to you, Marcus and everyone that helped make the wildlife camp such a great weekend for all the kids. X had a wonderful time yet again!”
“Well done for organising another fantastic camp. X is waxing lyrical about fungi! I know all the young people really appreciate your and Marcus's time and knowledge sharing.”
“Many thanks for leading a superb weekend adventure. It was a joy to be amidst such professionals in the field and the blend of personalities seemed to work really well.”
Leopard Slug by Amy Squire
Ringed Blue Tit ready for release by Samuel Blyth-Skyrme
Common Frog by Harry Williams
Searching for woodland wildlife by Andrew Colenutt
Nail Fungus by Amy Squire
Andy Page talking about woodland management by Izzy Fry
Holly Parachute by Emily Hunt
Porcelain Fungus by Emily Hunt
Parasol by Thibaut Herve
Dislodged Southern Bracket by Izzy Fry
Finally, we are grateful to Emily Hunt for compiling the following four collages, which nicely capture the spirit of the wildlife camp!