Thousands sleep out to help wildlife

A family huddles down in the dark on the Big Wild Sleepout. Photo: RSPB (www.rspb-images.com).
A family huddles down in the dark on the Big Wild Sleepout. Photo: RSPB (www.rspb-images.com).
Thousands of people are camping out this week as part of the RSPB's Big Wild Sleepout, which starts tonight.

Members of the public are spending a night under the stars from 16-22 June to discover which animals they share their environments with, and to try and raise money to protect them.

A number of celebrities have lent their voice to support the Big Wild Sleepout by recording a series of bedtime stories to help people nod off on their sleepout. Zoë Ball, Emilia Fox, Bill Oddie, Alison Steadman and RSPB President Miranda Krestovnikoff, are just some of the famous names who have recorded a tale from The RSPB’s Bumper Book of Wildlife Stories, which people will be able to listen to via the RSPB’s website.

While some people’s Big Wild Sleepout will entail a traditional tent in a garden, more adventurous campers will be building and sleeping in dens and shelters, or going au naturel with just a sleeping bag. Big Wild Sleepout events will also take place on and near RSPB reserves across the country all week.

Some of the more unusual sleep-outs include building an iron age roundhouse and then sleeping in it at an event on Aylesbeare Common in Devon, an opportunity to sleep among the wildlife on a farm in Peterborough, and in Sussex The Secret Campsite is offering people the chance to sleep up high in its Tree Tent, which is suspended mid-air between three sturdy oak trees on the edge of an ancient woodland. The Tree Tent was the first in England and has featured in George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces on Channel 4.

In Wales, for the first time in 3,000 years, human beings will sleep 200 m underground at the National Showcaves Centre for Wales near Swansea. Up to 15 children will be putting their fears aside to raise money for the RSPB by setting up camp underground, surrounded by a large lake and two 18 m-high waterfalls.

The RSPB is also encouraging families or groups of friends to camp out in their back garden to raise money and help save wildlife. The charity has produced a fundraising guide full of ideas about what to do and how you can raise money, such as den building, torchlight safaris, bug hunting and outdoor cooking. The person who raises the most for Big Wild Sleepout will be given a cool £500 worth of camping and RSPB goodies, courtesy of event supporter Blacks.

All of the money raised will go to help 'give nature a home', in the phrase that the RSPB is using to headline their campaigning this year – £20 could buy a nestbox for starlings, £30 could pay for a GPS tag to monitor where a seabird flies to find food and £60 could keep water voles 'plopping' as they dive into water.

Big Wild Sleepout organiser, Richard Bashford, said: “The thousands of people around the country taking part in this year’s Big Wild Sleepout are helping to make this the RSPB’s biggest-ever fundraising event. Whether it’s joining family and friends for a sponsored camp in your back garden, visiting an event at your local RSPB reserve, or taking part in one of the more unusual Sleepouts, everyone is doing their bit to help save the UK’s threatened wildlife – and hopefully having a lot of fun at the same time!”

There is still just about enough time to get involved yourself. For full details of all the Big Wild Sleepout events and to find out how you can get involved, visit rspb.org.uk/sleepout.