Just a tickle could be the key to finding a future for field crickets

Gareth Brede

Thursday 27 April 2017

• The RSPB and Natural England are aiming to bring field crickets back from the brink of extinction with a new project at RSPB's Farnham Heath Reserve, thanks to funding from the National Lottery
• 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, which will be vital for the future of the species
• Through habitat restoration and creation, similar translocation projects have already been successful in creating five new colonies across Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire, with a colony of around 300 becoming established from only twelve individuals, within five years, at Farnham Heath

This month conservationists from the RSPB have been tickling young field crickets, known as 'nymphs' as part of efforts to bring one of England's rarest and most vulnerable species back from the brink of extinction.

Once a familiar soundtrack to a summer evening, the chirping of field crickets was heard in many heaths and grasslands in south-east England. However during the last century changes in land management and loss of natural habitat reduced the UK's population of field crickets fell to fewer than 100 by the 1980s, all found at only in one location in West Sussex.

Following 25 years of hard work funded by Natural England's Species Recovery Programme, field crickets are now found in six locations across Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. Although the species is on the road to recovery it is still officially classed as Vulnerable and one of the UK's most threatened and protected species. Thanks to funding support from the National Lottery for the Back From The Brink project the vital conservation work for field crickets is continuing.

Specially licensed conservationists from the RSPB are moving a small number field crickets to help them colonise a second location at the RSPB's Farnham Heath Reserve in Surrey. At this time of year, young field crickets, known as nymphs, are starting to emerge after hatching underground. Using a technique known as 'tickling', conservationists can entice a nymph to leave its burrow.

The nymphs can then be transported to a newly restored habitat that it is hoped will lead to another new colony being established. This technique has already been successful, with a colony of around 300 having been established in just five years from twelve field crickets released onto another area of RSPB's Farnham Heath Reserve. This has become one of the largest populations in England.

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 creation and restoration of lowland heathland will also benefit woodlarks, sand lizards, grass snakes, and several other threatened species.
To find out more about the RSPB's work to help the field cricket recover visit: www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-projects/details/302739-field-cricket-reintroduction

For more information on the Back From The Brink project visit: www.naturebackfromthebrink.org

Tagged with: Country: England Country: UK Topic: Birds and wildlife Topic: Conservation Topic: Habitat conservation Topic: Species conservation