The Big Wild Sleepout on the Eastern Moors
Q. What is the “Big Wild Sleepout” and how does it work on the Eastern Moors?
The Big Wild Sleepout (BWSO) is part of a national event headed by the RSPB, which has been running for five years and is hugely popular amongst families in particular. The aim of the BWSO is to give people an opportunity to experience nature close in a new and exciting way, whether in their own garden or on an organised event, such as the events that have been run on the Eastern Moors for the past 3 years. One of the most exciting parts of these events is that they take place on reserves and protected areas where camping is not permitted at any other time. All the events, including our own, are strictly assessed, monitored and run by staff who know the site and ecology well. The location for the Eastern Moors sleep out is on an area of low sensitivity, with activities and the fire (held in metal bowl) actually taking place off the SSSI in the grounds of Barbrook Cottage. We run activities for the families during the sleepout including evening nature walks, moth trapping, pellet dissection and educational activities to encourage their love of nature and help them learn more about this special place. Encouraging people, particularly children and young people, to connect with and learn about nature is integral to what we do and the future of wildlife conservation, people connect in many different ways and this is just one of the opportunities we offer families.
Q. Won’t events on your reserves disturb the wildlife?
A. The majority of our nature reserves are open to the public every day of the year, and minimising disturbance of wildlife is always forefront in our mind, which is why we carefully plan which areas of the reserve our visitors are allowed to visit. The same applies during Big Wild Sleepout; ensuring that the camping only takes place on areas of the reserve which are least sensitive from a conservation perspective.
The Eastern Moors event takes place on an area of low wildlife sensitivity with all activities and the fire taking place away from the SSSI.
Q. Why are you promoting fires on open moorlands?
We take moorland fires very seriously and run campaigns and education to inform people about the risks of fires and BBQs onsite. For this supervised event a fire held in a bowl is lit safely offsite, away from the SSSI moorland and managed at all times by experienced staff. We apologise if our advertising has misled in any way as to the nature of the event and will be reviewing how we promote this event.
Q. Why are you promoting wild camping on the Eastern Moors when this causes problems such as fires and litter?
We recognise that outdoor adventures are one of the many ways in which people, particular children, connect to nature and learn to love special places. However this has to be balanced with the primary need to protect the environment. We feel that running a supervised event offers the opportunity for people to enjoy these experiences without compromising protection of the environment or the experiences of other visitors.
We discussed how we would advertise the camp this year and for the previous years we have run it, as we wanted to be clear with the public that this is an organised, supervised event and a special opportunity – not an invitation for people to wild camp outside of the event. As the “Big Wild Sleepout” is a widely recognised brand and we used words such as “Exclusive” “One night only” and “learn from the Rangers” in our advertising, we thought we had made this clear. However if our advertising has led to any confusion we will look again at the design and wording of both the poster and website so that we can ensure no one is mislead by what we are advertising. We also put up signs during the event stating clearly that this is a staff-run event and camping on site is not permitted at other times.
We have no evidence to suggest that wild camping has increased as a result of the events we have run yearly or as a result of the wider BWSO. However we will continue to monitor this onsite and with adjacent landowners. We are aware that wild camping generally is becoming more popular, sometimes responsibly and sometimes less so, we are discussing how to go forward as part of the Sheffield Moors Partnership.
Q. Why do your event prices vary so much for families? You have to be very wealthy to take part at an RSPB reserve.
A. Big Wild Sleepout event prices vary due to differing event programmes at the various different reserves, and differences in costs for running the events. To be able to sleep under the stars, at one of our sites, is an out of the ordinary experience. However, it is expensive for the RSPB to be able to run events like these. We charge to at least cover our costs, and where possible make some money that will go directly back in to our conservation work, to keep these places special for nature and humans for years to come.
Q. Why am I not allowed to camp on the reserve or the Eastern Moors at other times of the year?
A BWSO event is run by RSPB staff who work in conservation every day and know their reserves and the wildlife on it. They are therefore qualified to understand how and where to camp on a reserve in a safe way for the wildlife that lives there. We have a no camping policy at other times of the year, to limit disruption to wildlife and reduce the risk of wildfires.
There is no right to “wild camp” permitted in the Open Access agreement which covers the Eastern Moors area of the Peak District. The Eastern Moors is looked after for people and wildlife, but at this point in time unmanaged wild camping and bushcraft activity could pose a risk to wildlife and the spirit of place. Camping is available at Ed Byrne, Stanage and numerous private sites across the Peak District.
Images from previous BWSO events on the Eastern Moors...