Batman beware: The big bat walk at London Wetlands Centre

Last night, we walked through the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes, London at night, with real life, actual bats fluttering around our heads. Just how cool is that?

I told you we’d gone bat-crazy this week, and our hysteria reaches its peak this afternoon when we head to the flicks (does anyone else still call it that?) to see Dark Knight Rises. But last night’s exceptionally family-friendly bat-flavour treat was the perfect way to prepare for Christian Bale’s Batman and co….

The 2012 season of bat walks hosted by the London Wetlands Centre lifted off last night to coincide with the relase of Dark Knight Rises and the United Nations’ Year of the Bat. I’ve been wanting to go on the walk for ages (unsurprisingly, given my love of Gothic literature and vampire fiction, in which bats play a starring role), but patiently waited for El to be old enough; the walks are best for kids aged eight and over.

This, my friends, is a Pipistrelle bat – we saw plenty of these teeny tiny little critters during our walk (photo: R J Brookes/Bat Conservation Trust)

The walks run every Thursday until September 20th (apart from Friday August 17th) and it is seriously good fun. It starts with a talk on bats in the on-site theatre and then you head out to the lagoons in small groups at dusk, armed with a bat detector. I haven’t been so excited since riding the log flume in the dark at Legoland.

Arriving at the London Wetlands Centre – not sure who is most excited, me or the boys (and I got to wear my Hunters again; I’m getting so much use out of them this summer)

Before last night, I had no idea how many varieties of bat live in the UK (we saw and heard four different flavours during the walk), I’d never heard of a “megabat” and was stunned to find out that vampire bats may be key in saving/extending the lives of stroke patients.

Inspired by Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Delle, there are signs that the Bat House is attracting attention from the reserve’s noctural residents (photo: Paula Pearce)

Last night certainly got me acquainted with the little fellas, and having them fly so close to us in such a beautiful location was dead special. If you’re looking for a family treat with older kids over the summer, you just have to try this (it’s only £10 per person).

Some kids might find the talk a little draining (grown ups won’t), and it is a late finish (we left at 11pm), but there’s also a kid-centric Children’s Night Safari (for ages seven and over) on August 10th and 17th 2012 with campfire story telling, twilight pond dipping and bat hunting – coooool.

The London Wetlands Centre is an oasis for nature lovers in South West London; it’s in Barnes, a stone’s throw from Richmond, Kew and Wimbledon
A rather large insect perches above the visitor centre
We set off on our big bat walk at dusk; the Wetlands Centre looks particularly beautiful at this time, and the site is only open for bat hunters during the evening event (photo: Martin Senior)
El gets to grips with his bat detector: This little gadget enables you to hear the bats using their “echolocation” to hunt and communicate
Using our detector we heard soprano pipistrelles (they are bats not gangstas, innit), noctules, a Daubenton’s bat and a Leisler’s bat. It is true, I’ve turned into a bat geek (beek?)

With thanks to the London Wetland Centre.

Written by Johanna Payton