After what seems like months of uninterrupted rain, the sun is slowly beginning to show itself once more in Cambridge. And what better way to bask in its glow than moseying down the Cam in a punt?
Riding high on the success of their weekly Friday night bat safaris, Scudamore’s have again teamed up with the Wildlife Trust to deliver another fantastic water tour, this time focusing on the beautiful and diverse ecosystem of the upper river between their Boatyard on Mill Lane and the famous Grantchester Meadows. We met up with the staff at Scudamore’s and Iain Webb (Cambridge City Greenways Project Officer) to preview the tour and get to know the wildlife of Cambridge in more detail.
We all piled into one of the comfortable punts and quickly became grateful for the thick tartan blankets that were provided. After cocooning ourselves we set off, Iain sitting at the stem and immediately communicating his expertise and enthusiasm. From a potted history of the mayflies we saw skimming the water to the trials of clearing unwanted fauna from the river banks, he was a delightful and informative guide.
Everyone on the punt was astonished by just how many examples of wildlife there were. No sooner had Iain pointed out a faraway chiff-chaff than he would exclaim and point excitedly to something in the opposite direction. His knowledge of everything wildlife-related was impressive; he was able to recognise two or three overlapping bird calls and his endless patience and joy when discussing the species were infectious.
Highlights included seeing enormous herons balancing precariously on the treetops overhead, seemingly defying gravity, whilst on the river a family of wild geese swooped onto the water right in front of the punt. Iain pointed out tree species and explained the ancient art of coppicing, and we got up close to the river banks and looked for otter tracks. Things got very 'natural' as we passed a man enjoying all the river had to offer at Newnham Riverbank Club, but it was not all jovial; Iain pointed out the dangers that the surrounding wildlife faces from both man-made and natural factors. His team obviously make a real impact through their work and most of it is voluntary; it made us think about how we could contribute more to the surrounding countryside to ensure our environment retains its beauty.
The tour was relaxed and focussed. It was fascinating to suddenly see the river through fresh eyes - what we commonly refer to as 'plants' were suddenly revealed to be seven or eight different varieties all competing and jostling for space and light. Tales of declining species are worrying and being so close to the wildlife makes the situation seem much more immediate; there is a mussel out there that the Wildlife trust now classes as 'depressed'- who would have known?
The tours run for just four Sundays during the high season – 10th June, 8th July, 12th August and 2nd September and last for around four hours, including a stop at Grantchester where you can picnic. For anyone who wants to learn more about the nature of the river and its importance in the general landscape, or just have a lazy afternoon surrounded by birdsong, the smell of summer and the sound of the water lapping against the punt, this tour is a must. Plus, 50% of all proceeds from ticket sales go to the Wildlife Trust, so you'll know that you're helping the insects, birds and plants before you even set off.