ONE of the joys of camping has always been the chance to get up close and personal with a world of wildlife lurking in the outdoors.
From birds of prey to creepy crawlies, sleeping outside offers an opportunity that is difficult to match when curled up in a nice warm bed.
From June 16-22, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) are holding their second Big Wild Sleepout, encouraging people to spend a night under the stars to find out which creatures they share their home with, and to raise money to protect them.
For one week, Gwent's wildlife will play host to a wide range of campers; adventurous ones who will be building and sleeping in dens and shelters, those sticking to the traditional tent, and some will just venture outdoors and sleep under the stars.
On top of that, campers can book a pitch at the RSPB-organised ‘sleepover’ at the Newport Wetlands National Nature Reserve on Saturday June 21, from 5pm.
If that doesn't appeal, the RSPB is encouraging people to camp in their back gardens, or for those not classing themselves as camping enthusiasts, they can sleep in their kitchen with the windows or doors open.
Suzanne Jones took part in the Sleepout with her family last year, and explains why she decided to participate.
"We enjoy camping and nature so saw it as an opportunity to do both. We found out about it at the Newport Wetlands Visitor Centre when we went there to visit," she said. "My son Anakin loved the whole experience, and still talks about it. He enjoyed doing the bat walk, and being at the Wetlands in his pyjamas was something he’ll never forget.’’
As well as raising money to help save Britain’s wildlife, there is a wide range of activities being organised by the RSPB, such as den building, torchlight safaris and bug hunting.
Dana Thomas, from RSPB Cymru, said: "Most people who take part will probably help give nature a home throughout the year by providing food, water and shelter.
"The Big Wild Sleepout is a chance to take part in the RSPB’s biggest fundraising event to help give nature a home. Join family or friends for a sponsored sleepout in your back garden or at an organised event. Put up a tent, make a shelter or sleep under the stars and discover a whole world of wildlife you can help to save."
By joining in with the Sleepout, campers can help fundraise money to help the RSPB protect bird species and the environment. The event is part of the charity’s ‘Giving Nature a Home’ campaign, which aims to tackle the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife.
Some of our best loved garden favourites are among the creatures shown to be in serious trouble, including starlings, hedgehogs and some butterflies.
During last year’s Sleepover, Suzanne’s family were able to see, and learn more about, the different animals currently threatened.
She said: "We did pond dipping, a bat walk and even though we didn’t see any bats, Anakin enjoyed hearing them on the monitor and still talks about the experience.
"We also did a dawn chorus walk and saw and heard lots of birds. It was a good opportunity to learn from the knowledgeable staff and use the specialist equipment."
The RSPB has also produced a free fundraising pack to help campers have a successful sleep out. The pack contains lots of fun ideas to make raising money really easy.
Campers can also set up their own Just Giving page online and encourage family and friends to sponsor them. Online sponsorship pages are easy to set up, and it is just as easy for people to donate to you.
All money raised from the Sleepover will help give nature a home. £20 can buy a nestbox for starlings, £30 can pay for a GPS tag to monitor where a seabird flies to find food, and £60 helps install predator protection fencing to safeguard water voles.
Lorraine Leicester, RSPB Newport Wetlands Visitor Centre Manager, said: "After last year’s successful Sleepout we’re doing it all over again. Whether you’re a camping guru or a beginner this is an opportunity you can’t miss.
"This is your chance to do something different with the children, to enjoy the outdoors, learn about night time wildlife and watch the starry skies whilst toasting marshmallows on an open campfire- what’s not to like!"
The Big Wild Sleepout is being sponsored by Blacks, the outdoor equipment specialist.
Ken Reeve, CEO of Blacks, said: "Encouraging people- young and old- to get outdoors and experience nature first-hand is something we’re really passionate about at Blacks. That’s why we’re supporting the Big Wild Sleepout for the second year running. I can’t wait to join in!"
Suzanne is equally enthusiastic about joining the Sleepout.
She said: "We’ve already booked again for this year. I’ve recommended it to my friends and shared this year’s event on my Facebook and Twitter, and a few people have shown an interest.’’
For more information, ideas on how to make the most of your Big Wild Sleepout, or to get hold of your free Sleepout fundraising pack, visit: www.rspb.org.uk/sleepout.
To get people started on their Big Wild Sleepout adventure, we've got an Ultimate Sleepout kit worth over £500 to give away. This includes the basics you'll need to spend a night in nature's home including a family tent, sleeping bags and family cookset supplied by Blacks and a selection of RSPB nature goodies. To be in with a chance of winning, just tell how much money needs to be raised to buy a nestbox for starlings: a) £20; b) £30; c) £60. Be quick, the competition is only open for a few days! Send your answer, name, address and contact details on a postcard to RSPB Competition, Editor’s PA, South Wales Argus, Cardiff Road, Newport, NP20 3QN or you can enter by text. Start your message with RSPB, leave a space and then send your answer, name and address to 80360. Messages cost 50p plus your normal operator text charge. Service provided by Newsquest Media Group. Terms and Conditions at www.southwalesargus.co.uk/competitions. Closing date: 11th June.