Suburban Safari: Bat Walk   

Suburban Safari: Bat Walk   

by Katie Isham.

Time for a proper safari, with wild animals, expert guidance and big camouflaged jeeps. Well, two out of three at least. We’ll keep to our trusty feet for this mild adventure. 

In the dip of the valley of Station Road, amongst the suburbs of Sholing is an institution that many locals will view fondly: Sholing Valleys Study Centre. 

Attached to the sprawling green oasis of Miller’s Pond Local Nature Reserve, this squat building is so much more than it looks on the outside. It’s the gateway to education and integration into our local green spaces. Miller’s Pond sits around the midpoint of the mighty Shoreburs Greenway, a nature highway running from Bursledon down to the shore. Therefore, it’s fitting that the Study Centre lies at the heart of this green thread through our lives. 

Many activities are offered here such as wild art, nature writing and volunteering. But there’s one activity that takes place when the light is fading: na na na na na na na na BAT WALK! 

It’s not an everyday (night) occurrence. I was lucky enough to join in with one a few weeks ago and there’ll be another in the summer. But it’s worth the wait. There’s something extraordinarily exciting about joining up with a group of random people all equally excited to traipse through some parkland to witness very small mammals flying about in the half light. 

Meet the team at the aforementioned Study Centre. Mill about sharing enthusiastic hopes and past sightings with your fellow intrepid explorers. All sorts of people are keen on the bat walk: old, young, casual fans and long-term badge-wearing bat followers alike. Colouring and craft will keep the wee ones entertained and ensure we all know what a bat looks like to spot them. 

Introductions by the Study Centre staff and a short talk (with panto-style interactions and props) occurs about Miller’s Pond. Even if you’ve spent many dog walks here, there’ll be something to learn about the local history. 

And then we met the Bat Man! A Hampshire Bat Group representative named Surender, he was an older gent adorned in an appropriate array of khakis, accessorised with essential equipment who took great pride in imitating the call of several species of bat we might hear. The knowledge and passion here is a beautiful thing. 

And then the safari begins… 

It’s follow the leader across the big field. Another pause to distribute bat detectors and torches and to fill minds with bat info. 

As a group, we embarked on hill climbs and through perilous undergrowth (sticking to paths). More pauses to ask and answer questions about nature generally and bats specifically. The anticipation grew as the light dimmed. Skirting around the meadow, we drew closer to the pond often frequented by the creatures of the night. 

Everyone adopted a hushed concentration, staring at the treeline against the inky twilight sky and white knuckles grasping detectors. 

A pigeon stumbled from a branch and I gasped. 

A call from a crow and I jumped in expectation. 

It’s amazing how invested you become in identifying these rare beasts. (Although there are 17 species of bat in the UK don’t you know?) 

I needed to see the bats. I wasn’t leaving until I’d seen at least one of the blighters. 

As we were collectively holding our breath at the edge of the pond, staring into the increasing gloom, I started to lose hope. 

And then, a whisper came that some of our party had spotted one at the edge of the meadow. 

We ditched our posts at the pond and dashed back inland. And there he was. Darting between the silhouetted treetops. The Geiger-counter clacking of the detectors intensified as he swooped closer. I pointed. A lot. 

And then there were more. It was like someone had taken the clingfilm off the buffet and they were diving in. Bats everywhere. Swooping and soaring. Darting and diving. Blink and you miss ‘em. There was even more pointing. And laughing. 

There is a child-like delight gleaned from being part of the spectacle of nature. Being a witness to these mythical creatures flying around our pond and whooshing past our ears (or into the side of your head if you were one particularly tall safari-goer). 

I could’ve stayed there all night watching in wonder, but the buffet was drying up, the bats were disappearing and the bat biscuits were calling. Time to head back to the centre for a debrief. But not before stealing a last look skywards for a final magical sighting. 

I’m a grown woman but every time a bat divebombed for another tasty insect, I pointed and yelped “There!” with a smile plastered on my face. This safari will gift you the joy of nature in our local green spaces as well as the actual animals. 


Cost: The walk is free but donations are welcome in the charity pots when you return to the welcoming glow of the Study Centre. With biscuits and hot chocolate offered to warm everyone up after, it’s certainly worth parting with a few quid. 

Accessibility: The paths around the nature reserve are woodland based. There are some gravel tracks and softer paths through grassland. This particular route crosses the big field and skirts around the meadow. Climbing a hill via a steep path or steps is necessary at one point. Sholing sits in the east of the city; the number 19 passes by Miller’s Pond and Sholing train station is a few minutes or so away, as the bat flies. 

Facilities: The Study Centre is the meeting point and has a small car park or parking on the road outside. It’s easily accessible by public transport. The wonderful team at Sholing Valleys will provide shared bat detectors and offer toilets on site. There’s also a treasure trove of books to browse whilst gathering or debriefing. And bat crafts for small safari folk. And did I mention the bat biscuits? 

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