Charlotte Griffiths heads out on the Cam for a Bat Safari with Scudamore’s and the Wildlife Trust
I am sat in a punt, wearing multiple layers of clothing, holding a bat detector. I’ve been invited on 2019’s first outing for the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust’s hugely popular Bat Safari punting experience, and though the day’s weather has been more than a little inclement, a small but extremely excited band of bat enthusiasts have gathered for a late-night trip upriver under the guidance of the trust’s Iain Webb. Iain came up with the original concept to share expertise and bat appreciation with a wider audience, and as the punt pushes off from Scudamore’s upper dock, Iain realises that this outing is his hundredth; we break into a small round of appreciative applause.
The mobile phone-sized bat detectors that we’re clutching pick up ultrasonic calls made by the bats and convert them into sounds that we can hear, filling the night with clicks, claps and beats, which Iain immediately makes sense of, introducing us to the bats flitting through the air above our heads. We share laminated cards that reveal more details of the shadowy flickers that blur across the evening sky. As the punt makes its way upstream toward Grantchester, expertly guided past low-hanging willow branches and half-submerged trees, we encounter several different species of bat, each making clearly distinct calls as they feast on flying insects. Occasionally, Iain shines bursts from a powerful torch in front of our punt’s path, freeze-framing swooping bats as they home in on their prey, or spotlighting surprised late-night waterbirds making their way across the river’s gentle current.
The safari is afloat for around ninety minutes of fascinating after-dark bat action, sharing facts and figures, and learning how best to support our threatened bat populations. I learn two brand new words – ‘gaffing’ and ‘gleaning’ – which describe how bats pluck insects from the air – and after asking if there is anything we can do as individuals to help out these airborne mammals, Iain smilingly passed out an information-packed handout on how best to create a bat-friendly environment.
Gliding silently on the river after dark while learning about the nocturnal residents of our city is a truly spellbinding evening that deserves its reputation as one of the most interesting experiences to be had in Cambridge – it will leave you with a newfound appreciation for bats and an immediate desire to go bat punting again as swiftly as possible. As punt operators Scudamore’s and the Trust split ticket sales 50:50 (which last year resulted in more than £10,000 being raised for the Trust), the more people who head to the river for this unique take on our city and its wildlife, the better…
Bat Safari punts will be running every Friday evening through to 21 September, with extra punts on Saturdays during July and August. To book a space on the next Bat Safari punt, head to scudamores.com/bat-safari-punting