Experience the magic of nature walks at dusk in the Sussex countryside

Going for a walk has been known to help improve a person’s mental wellbeing, being in nature and getting some fresh air.

Mental health charity Mind says that ‘spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing’.

But what about taking a walk at night?

Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild which runs of a number of different programmes including night walks.

Evening walk at RSPB Picture: Andy Hay

He said: “At night I find you discover a different side to the land, a calmer, quieter side, someone wrote ‘the night smells different’.

“And there are not many places you can go to be away from the lights and the busy-ness - it’s a magical experience.”

“We were introduced to them by Caroline Whiteman and have offered them for a few years - they have always been incredibly popular, a real opportunity to walk at night in a way that helps people feel safe to do it.

“With changing lockdown rules, we had to cancel our scheduled walks, but I understand more people have been walking at night as a way to explore and connect with their local nature in a different way.”

Nigel School of the Wild

Through School of the Wild Nigel and his team lead groups on a walk through the countryside at night - in silence and without torches.

With the South Downs on our doorstep there are a number of places you enjoy a nighttime walk, either as part of an organised group or a walk of your own.

The National Trust recommends a visit to Black Down, which is situated on the highest point of the South Downs which makes it great for star gazing.

On its website it says: “During the summer months Nightjars can be heard on the open heath, while Pippestrelle bats roost in the hill’s Beech Hanger. A variety of rare species are now returning to the area, following the restoration of the heathland.”

Wakehurst Kew at night Picture: Jim Holden (c)

The walk starts at Tennyson’s Lane car park, it describes the paths as fairly level once at the car park. Footpaths are generally wide, clear and level, but be aware that paths can be very uneven, with tree stumps and old stone digging pits and it says to be aware of cattle grazing.

We asked you where your favourite places to go for a walk, here is what you said…

Marnie Bond said: “Often walked up Kingley Vale in the dark with just a touch, you can hear owls and assorts of wildlife moving about in the woods. Personally I think it’s the best time to go, winter walks up there are even better.”

Adam Koronka said: “Bignor, Kingley Vale, Duncton Hill to Graffham, Eartham wood to Slindon Folly - all wonderful, peaceful and safe.”

Alan Barber said: “Best time of the day just to sit, watch and listen, also great excuse to get out with the camera.”

Caitlin Meldrum Lavallee said: “I went to the forest in the valley in Newhaven with one of my friends and to be honest it was actually really nice it was calming, it was relaxing, it helped destress the pair of us looking up at the stars pointing out which ones were the satellites and all that.”

Mark A. Gammons added: “Swanbourne Lake in Arundel is good as it just gets dark. Loads of bats around.”

Alison Overbury said: “Bat walk at RSPB Pulborough.”

Pre-Covid and during the summer months RSPB Pulborough Brooks hosts bat walks.

Anna Allum, visitor experience manager at Pulborough Brooks, said: “Sussex is the bat capital of the UK and here at RSPB Pulborough Brooks we have recorded 10 of the 18 bat species.

“We use bat detecting equipment that translates the inaudible echolocation to an audible form from which we identify the species.”

At night is it the perfect time to discover different animals from the day.

At Wakehurst they also hold bat walks at night.

Steve Cook, Wakehurst ranger, said: “We rarely open Wakehurst at night so our bat walks form a great opportunity to experience the spectacular woodlands after hours, whilst discovering some of the incredible wildlife they support.

“We have recorded 11 different bat species here over the years, with over 90 Common Pipistrelle females habitually using our roosts to have their babies, “pups”. There’s nothing quite like seeing bats in their natural habitat and we’re very fortunate that we can share this with our visitors in the heart of Sussex.”

If you go walking in the autumn deer are often grazing at dusk, redwings, fieldfares, songthrushes and blackbirds come from Scandinavia and Iceland to feed on autumn berries, and often travel at night, so with good eyes you might well be able to pick some out on your walk.

Things you’re likely to spot on a winter night include foxes, owls and possibly hedgehogs looking for food. If it has been snowing, you can sometimes see tracks in the snow which will give you an idea what you might see on your walk.

Spring is a good time for spotting baby badgers leaving their setts. If you live in the countryside you might see pheasants in the dusk and bats start to emerge from hibernation. Even in cities, you should still be able to hear the signs of new life, like chicks tweeting.

In the summer, you should keep a look out for moths and bats darting about overhead. Bats fly in crazy loops and are brilliant to watch in low light.

The light nights of summer mean that you’ll have to wait until a lot later for it to get dark, but dusk is often a great time for a walk as although the animals who are active in the daytime are going to sleep, it’s also the time that nocturnal animals such as hedgehogs and foxes are waking up and coming out.

You might see and hear crickets, foxes, tawny, short-eared, barn or little owls, rabbits and hedgehogs. If you live in southern England you might hear a nightingale during the summer months as they visit the UK at this time of year.

Nigel’s advice for those that want to go for a walk at night is: “Walk slowly. Your innate night vision kicks in quite quickly - trust that, you can see more in the dark than you think (and using a torch blasts that away).

“If you’re walking on your own or in a small group of friends, it’s better to walk a route that you know well - so you know the way and can avoid places where there might be trip hazards. It can get very dark.

He added: “Pay attention to the moon cycle - a clear night around the full moon will be much lighter and can be magical.”