The sound of leather on willow, the gentle clink of teacups against saucers and the soothing ‘harp’ of field crickets... This archetypal soundtrack of rural England was almost lost forever in the 1980s, when there were less than 100 field crickets to be found in the whole country.
This beautiful black and gold invertebrate was once abundant in the South of England. Today, its high-pitched and rare chirrup is a sound heard only at a few locations; making it one of the UK’s rarest invertebrates. Without intervention, the likelihood of the species going extinct was extremely high, which is why the RSPB and partners are working hard to increase their numbers.
Species: Field cricket
Latin name: Gryllus campestris
Lives: Semi-dry to dry grassland and heath
UK population: Farnham Heath’s population is estimated to grown to about 300, making it one of the largest UK colonies.
Conservation status: Fully protected under Schedule 5 of the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and classed as ‘endangered’.
Establishing new colonies
As field crickets can’t fly, they don’t travel far from their burrows. To make sure the species could survive environmental or climatic disaster like a heathland wildfire, it’s important they form more colonies. They need specific grassy-heath habitats. Translocation is the most promising way to protect them against extinction. A previous translocation of 12 crickets to RSPB Farnham Heath in Surrey yielded an increase to 300 individuals in five years!
In April 2018, RSPB Marketing Officer Emma Lacy was whisked from her desk to find out first-hand how we’re saving this amazing species:
I joined a dozen or so volunteers on a mission to find and relocate field crickets; led by species expert and licence holder, Mike Edwards.
Mike explained the site’s importance and why its precise location should stay secret. We walked to the colony, and were instructed on cricket-catching. My ears perked up. Tickling! We were going to “tickle” them out of their burrows. What that really means is finding a long blade of grass and a promising burrow. You insert the grass down the burrow and wait for the tug of a cricket climbing up it. This can only be done under the watchful eye of a license holder. Our goal was to collect 12 pairs, so identifying the gender of each was vital. A male has two prongs at its posterior and a female has three – one of which is an ovipositor for egg laying.
The challenge was on, and I was responsible for collecting one-sixth of the new colony! Much larger than I had anticipated, a juvenile cricket is around two centimetres (about an inch) in length.
Heading to RSPB Pulborough Brooks nature reserve in Sussex, the newly prepared reception site was evidence of the habitat management undertaken to ensure this operation will succeed. Several volunteers helped the six pairs settle in to banks of sandy heathland soil. Having placed them carefully on the ground, we watched with trepidation as they chose their preferred location to dig their burrows, amid high hopes the new population will thrive.
Back at Farnham Heath, one colony of field crickets were doing particularly well. Our aim here was to set up a new colony, close to but separated from this earlier and now established population. I watched my released field cricket find its way around its new, yet familiar, sandy heathland setting. Any trepidation I’d held for my fragile charge evaporated as he left my hand and scrambled into grassy cover. I hope he’ll find a mate this summer and that their first season together at this new location will mark the beginning of the long walk back from the brink of extinction for this fascinating creature.
Early signs of success
The ‘harping’ of several males at Pulborough Brooks was heard not long after their move. The monitoring at Farnham Heath has shown at peak that the original donor site had 97 calling males and the new site Emma helped populate had just two.
By creating the perfect habitat for field crickets, we’re also helping…
● Common lizard
● Grass snake
● Slow worm
● Silver studded blue butterfly
● Hornet robberfly
Back from the Brink
Back from the Brink is a Heritage Lottery Funded project run in collaboration with Natural England and Rethink Nature. The aim is to bring some of nature’s most at risk species back from the brink of extinction.
Help us to protect England’s rare species and bring them Back from the Brink. Find out more at www.naturebftb.org.uk
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654