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Elmley Nature Reserve
Photograph: Rebecca Douglas PhotographyElmley Nature Reserve

Leave London to sleep overnight in a nature reserve

Isabelle Aron

Every night when I go to sleep, I dread being woken up by the sound of the screeching toddler in the flat above me. But tonight I can rest easy. I’m at Elmley National Nature Reserve – the only one in the country where you can stay the night – and nearly all of my neighbours here are birds.

Photograph: Rebecca Douglas Photography

The handful of people I do spot are much better equipped than me. They’ve got binoculars and are probably not wearing their mum’s old walking boots, but what I lack in knowledge I make up for in enthusiasm. When I spot a lapwing (I Googled it), I shout excitedly: ‘Look at that one! It’s got a feathery thing on its head!’

After exploring the bird hides, I retire to a cosy shepherd’s hut overlooking the nature reserve and attempt to light a fire to toast marshmallows. I struggle to even set the firelighters alight, but eventually it gets going and I sit back with a cup of tea. It’s ridiculously peaceful.

Soon it’s pitch black and I’m ready for an early night. As I get into bed I hear something weird. It sounds like a toy ray gun. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? I open the door to check – turns out it is a bird. Nature truly is wild. Reassured that it’s nothing sinister, I close my eyes and sleep like a baby.

Photograph: Rebecca Douglas Photography

Vanellus shepherd’s hut, Elmley National Nature Reserve, Isle of Sheppey, Kent. From £100 a night, sleeps two. Book here.

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