One of Cambridge's quirkiest tours is back for the summer as of next month – and offers the chance to try a Cambridge tradition with a twist.
From May until September bats and punting will go hand in hand in a series of twilight tours on Fridays and Saturdays.
Run by Scudamore's, the Bat Safari punting tours are led by experts from the Wildlife Trust who take visitors for an adventure at dusk towards Granchester Meadows.
The safari gives adventurers the rare chance to use a bat detector, which converts bats' sonar signals into audible frequencies.
In 2018, shared tours are scheduled to run from the Granta Place Boatyard each Friday night from May 11 to September 21 – and each Saturday during the summer holidays, from July 21 until September 1.
Nature-lovers will get to see the local bat population – usually Daubenton's bats – as they emerge from hibernation in May and follow their activities until their return to a snug hideout for winter.
The guide will outline the characteristics and habitats of bats likely to be encountered on the trip and will teach people how to use the specialist bat detectors so they can identify exactly which species of bat are flying close to the punt.
The tours are timed to start just before dusk when the bats usually come out.
What is it like to go on a bat punt safari?
Last May, I tried out Cambridge's punt trip with a twist.
Punting along the River Cam boasts some great views and memories – but none as good as a Bat Safari at sunset.
This city sightseeing tour with a difference offers the chance to get up close and personal to some much-loved river visitors.
All in the name of lighthearted journalism, I jumped at the chance to go along for a preview tour – and left the punt knowing more quirky facts about bats than I probably should do.
One of these, for example, is that bats help pollinate the agave plant, used to make tequila! Who knew?!
And as soon as I stepped onto the punt and saw the bat detector and torches I knew we were in line for a great trip.
The chauffeured tours, mine led by Iain Webb – the Wildlife Trust community conservation officer for Cambridgeshire – include the use of specialist electronic bat detectors that convert the bats' sonar signals into audible frequencies.
As our small group travelled along the river towards Grantchester, soprano pipistrelle bats flew inches from our heads as they darted in and out of the trees.
The detectors, which help you hear the bat's signals, are truly very clever and helped us to hear when they were flying above or beside the punt.
Iain told us that each click we heard on our detectors was a wing beat – and there can be up to 150 of them a minute.
And as it grew darker, Daubentons bats appeared and could be seen picking up insects just centimetres from the water.
As sunset along the River Cam goes, this was a pretty special one.
It wasn't just bats we saw along the river either – there were owls, herons, pheasants and swans galore.
And there were people who already knew all about the popular bat punt trips – on our return leg we spotted a group of friends walking along the river.
As we sat on the punt huddled in (very) comfy blankets, they asked if we were on the bat tour and suggested they might book one too.
But this trip was not just punting. It was punting with some awesome wildlife thrown in and all for a good cause.
Scudamore's donate 50 per cent of the ticket price to the Wildlife Trust, in a scheme which has now helped raise more than £21,000 for the charity.
There have been 75 bat punt tours to date, attracting 3,500 people in the last six years.
Facts about Cambridge's bat punt safari
Bats you're most likely to see and hear on the River Cam
- Soprano pipistrelle
- Daubentons bats (or water bats due to water skimming flight)
- Natterers bat
- Brown long-eared bat (less commonly)
- Babies – bat pups are born in June, and start to fly in tandem with their mothers in late July/August
Facts about bats – with thanks to the Wildlife Trust
- There are more than 1,300 species of bat globally
- Adult bats catch thousands of insects in a night – a tiny pipistrelle can eat up to 3,000 insects a night
- Long-nosed bats in Mexico pollinate agave tequilana – the plant that gives us Tequila – cheers!
- Bat echolocation can detect objects as fine as a single human hair
- Bats can live up to 30 years
- The largest bat in the world is a gold-crowned fruit bat, with a wingspan of up to 6ft
- The smallest bat in the world is the bumblebee bat – which is just 30mm
I know I won't be the last and will more than likely be heading out again on a punt in August when bats can be seen with their pups.
Wildlife lovers are in for a real treat on this trip – but remember to wrap up warm!
What else do I need to know?
The Wildlife Trust is also seeking volunteer guides on the tours – those interested should email [email protected]
For more information about the bat punt tours click here.
For departure times, or to make bookings, visit the Scudamore's website, or call 01223 359750.