Field crickets are so rare most of us have heard them sing only on films and TV shows.
But they were once so widespread their chirping was a much-loved soundtrack to a typical summer evening. Their singing gives many of us that same, strangely nostalgic feeling as steam trains, record players and black-and-white movies.
Changes in the way land is managed and habitat loss during the last century saw the UK’s population of field crickets plummet and by the 1980s there were less than 100 field crickets left in the UK, all at one location.
Conservationists were determined to prevent field crickets becoming a relic of the past and after 25 years of hard work funded by Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme, the charismatic critters are now found in eight locations across Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire.
Although they are on the road to recovery field crickets are still officially classed as Vulnerable and one of the UK’s most threatened and protected species.
The latest effort to save our field crickets from extinction is the National Lottery funded Back from the Brink project which started in April 2017 and aimed to establish a new colony at the RSPB’s Pulborough Brooks reserve in West Sussex as well as a second colony at the conservation charity’s Farnham Heath reserve in Surrey.
Government lockdown restrictions meant the RSPB had to abandon plans for a last bid to translocate field crickets to restored on both reserves to help bolster new populations of the threatened species.
Janes Sears, RSPB senior ecologist said “it was with a heavy heart” the charity cancelled its final chance to boost the colonies’ chances of survival “unsure of how our previous attempts to create new breeding sites had fared”.
She said: "There is something quite evocative about the soft chirping a cricket on a warm summer's evening. Unfortunately, with field crickets on the verge of extinction we almost lost their song."
But when wardens carrying out fire and livestock checks at the reserves heard field crickets singing at the release sites, RSPBs ecologists’ disappointment turned to delight as they realised it was the first proof of successful breeding.
With an annual lifecycle, any crickets heard calling this year must be the offspring of those released in previous years. It is only because the RSPB couldn’t translocate more field crickets this year scientists could confirm the previous translocations are working.
This means for the first time the RSPB is able to confirm the project a success, with the start of a new breeding population at Pulborough Brooks and an extended population at Farnham Heath.
Conservationists need a special licence to move young field crickets, known as nymphs, to a newly restored habitat, using a technique known as 'tickling' to entice a nympth to leave its burrow.
Twelve nympths, six of each sex are located each time, to ensure there are no lonely hearts.
Jane added: “The news that our new colonies are doing well has given us hope the species can be brought back from the brink. We have seen how, with the right conditions, the species can thrive.”
2020 marks the last year of the Back from the Brink programme but the RSPB will continue to monitor crickets as part of legacy work.
To learn more about RSPB work to protect this species visit the Back from the Brink website here and follow @NatureBftB.
Last Updated: Wednesday 1 July 2020