Thousands of children and their families will be pitching tents, rolling out sleeping bags and gathering round campfires in Scotland and across the UK this weekend in the hope of getting closer to nature by spending a night out under the stars.
Intrepid campers are being encouraged to look out for creatures such as badgers, foxes, bats, owls and hedgehogs during their night in the outdoors as part of an annual UK-wide initiative organised by conservation charity RSPB.
More than 11,000 people of all ages are expected to take part in the latest Big Wild Sleepout, which is now celebrating its fifth year.
Conservationists say participants have a good chance of spotting a wide range of interesting animals since warm and dry weather throughout much of June and July has led to an eruption in sightings of nocturnal wildlife.
Budding naturalists don’t need to venture far into the wilderness – a back garden will do – and staying outside all night isn’t a requirement to appreciate nature’s nightlife.
“Whether you’re a child or just a big kid at heart, a night out under the stars is always exciting,” said Paul Birmingham, Big Wild Sleepout co-ordinator.
“And night-time provides some of the most exciting wildlife to explore. From hedgehogs and badgers snuffling around the lawn to bats and owls flying over head – gardens transform into another world after dark.
“Whether you’re a seasoned camper, occasional glamper or just fancy an evening exploring before returning to home comforts, there’s no better time to get together and take a closer look at the nocturnal nature in your outside space.
“You can take part anywhere – big, small, urban or rural – it’s free and we have loads of activities, hints and tips to help families make the most of their adventure.”
Intrepid wildlife-watchers can opt to join some of the organised activities on offer at RSPB Scotland reserves.
Big Wild Sleepout events are being held tomorrow night in Orkney, on the island of Egilsay, where the programme includes rock-pooling, marshmallow-toasting and a crash course on how to identify moths, and on Saturday night at Loch Leven, in Perth and Kinross, where participants can enjoy a night of wildlife walks, bushcraft activities, campfires and star-gazing.
Mr Birmingham added: “With the amount of time children and their families are spending outside in nature declining, experiences like the Big Wild Sleepout provide a perfect opportunity to get out and discover the wildlife that surrounds us all.
“The chance to take a step closer to the wonders of nature should be a part of every child’s life, and the RSPB Scotland Big Wild Sleepout is here to help every family start their own wild adventure.”
He said participants could also use the sleepout as a way of earning points towards the charity’s new online Wild Challenge awards scheme, created to encourage children and their families to go outdoors and get closer to the natural world.
By completing activities ranging from mini-beast safaris to creating a compost heap and planting to help wildlife, families can log their achievements on the website and collect rewards.