Over the past few years we’ve been welcoming a very special creature to the heathland at Pulborough Brooks...the field cricket.

Field cricket by Pete Hughes

This chunky cricket is a mixture of brown and black with striking yellow wing bases.  The fine veins on the wings resemble wrought-iron work and it is the modified veins on these wings that form the ‘harp’ that enables the male to make a melodious but penetrating chirp that he uses to attract a female.  His calls can be heard from up to a hundred yards away.

By 1990 only 3 known colonies of field cricket remained and the species was threatened by imminent extinction in the UK, so reintroduction schemes such as these help to ensure the species survival in England. The crickets have been re-located from a successful donor site, using a sophisticated technique – tickling! There are old stories of children enticing crickets from their burrows with a straw or small twig – wiggling it until the cricket would grab hold of the grass by its jaws and allow itself to be drawn out of its burrow.  We followed much the same method of ‘cricket tickling’ only we needed a special license to do so!

By creating patches of bare ground on the sunny south facing slopes we’re providing a great place for the field crickets to create their burrows. The male in particular is a rather splendid burrower – he can dig his in a mere 10 minutes.  He will then create a small hollow at the entrance to his burrow – a perfect sunbed in which to bask and gather his energy before putting on his musical performance to attract a lady-friend. If she is suitably impressed by his serenading, they will mate and the female will lay her eggs in the warm sand.

 Hear a field cricket: We’ve just started to hear them chirping again this season. I’ve heard them well from the bench half way down the heathland zig zags and looking west from the tumuli.

 ‘Heathland heroes’ is a series of blogs celebrating some of the fascinating creatures that we find on our wooded heathland. Lowland heathland is an incredibly rare habitat; less than 1% of England’s area is lowland heathland. Just 16% of the heathland that existed in the UK in 1800 is left, so what is left is incredibly precious.

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