The cricket ticklers return to the crease to save a species

Gareth Brede

Tuesday 1 May 2018

Field Cricket

  • The RSPB and Natural England are aiming to bring field crickets back from the brink of extinction at the RSPB’s Farnham Heath and Pulborough Brooks Reserves, thanks to funding from the National Lottery for the Back from the Brink project
  • One of the UK’s rarest and most threatened species, field cricket populations dropped to just 100 individuals at a single location in the 1980s
  • Using tried and tested techniques, conservationists are catching young field crickets as part of a translocation project that will see a new colony established in West Sussex and extend an existing colony in Surrey, which will be vital for the future of the species

With temperatures rising young field crickets are starting to emerge from their burrows, creating the perfect conditions for the RSPB’s cricket tickling specialists to get back out in the field to help save the species from extinction.

Once a much-loved soundtrack to a summer evening, the chirping of field crickets was heard in many heaths and grasslands in south-east England. However the UK’s population of field crickets declined to fewer than 100 by the 1980s, all found at only in one location. Although is on the road to recovery field crickets are still officially classed as Vulnerable and one of the UK’s most threatened and protected species.

This month, as part of the Back from the Brink project, licenced conservationists from the RSPB, aided by trained volunteers, have been tickling young field crickets, known as ‘nymphs’ as part of the vital work to preserve what has become one of England’s rarest and most vulnerable species.

At this time of year young field crickets, known as nymphs, are starting to emerge after hatching underground. Using a technique known as ‘tickling’, licenced conservationists can entice a nymph to leave its burrow.

The nymphs can then be carefully transported from an established colony to a specially selected area that will hopefully lead to another new colony being formed. Creating new populations is vital as it reduces the risk of losing the entire species to a single catastrophic event such as fire. 

This technique has already been successful, with a colony of around 300 having been established in just five years from twelve field crickets released into an area of RSPB’s Farnham Heath Reserve. 

Last year specially licensed conservationists from the RSPB moved a small number field crickets to help them colonise a second location at the RSPB’s Farnham Heath Reserve in Surrey. This year, that colony will be boosted with a further release. In addition, at RSPB’s Pulborough Brooks reserve in West Sussex, field crickets will be taken under licence from a nearby site and released to an area of restored heathland there, following concentrated effort to recreate suitable conditions for them.

Jane Sears, the RSPB’s senior reserves ecologist said: “There is something quite evocative about the soft chirping of a cricket on a warm summer’s evening.  Unfortunately with field crickets on the verge of extinction we almost lost their song. However, there is hope and we have seen promising signs that the species can be brought back from the brink.

“There are threats to the species in the UK, which is why we need more colonies. So a disaster in one area will not risk the entire species. But we have seen how, with the right conditions, the species can thrive. The next steps will be to create more suitable habitats and begin to link these so field cricket populations are not just expanding through managed introductions but start to move naturally between sites.”

The current project follows 25 years of hard work funded by Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme, and is now being continued thanks to funding from the players of the National Lottery and People’s Postcode Lottery through the Back from the Brink project

James Harding-Morris, Back from the Brink’s communications manager said: “I am delighted that Back from the Brink has helped make the continuation of this vital field cricket work possible. As well restoring habitat and creating new populations, we are also involving and engaging the next generation in its conservation which is just as important for securing the future of this fascinating beast in the UK.”

The creation and restoration of lowland heathland will also benefit woodlarks, sand lizards, grass snakes, and several other threatened species. The bare open ground will support mining bees which are important pollinators of crops.

Visit our pages to find out more about the RSPB’s work to help the field cricket recover.   

For more information on the Back from the Brink project visit their website.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

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