Disappointment turned to delight when RSPB scientists realised lockdown rules may have halted plans to help bolster precious field cricket populations, but they proved previous attempts to safeguard this endangered species were a success.
Although most of us are familiar with the chirping of a field cricket, they are so rare in the UK many people will have learnt what they sound like from films and have never heard them in the wild.
Government restrictions meant this year conservation charity RSPB had to abandon plans to translocate field crickets to newly restored habitat on two RSPB reserves; part of the National Lottery funded Back from the Brink programme (due to end in 2020) to protect some of the UK’s most threatened species from extinction.
But when wardens carrying out fire and livestock checks at RSPB Pulborough Brooks and Farnham Health reserves this month heard field crickets singing at the release sites, RSPBs ecologists realised it was the first proof of successful breeding. With an annual life-cycle, any crickets heard calling this year must be the offspring of ones released in previous years. It is only because the charity couldn’t translocate more field crickets this year scientists could confirm the previous translocations are working.
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.
Once a much-loved soundtrack to a summer evening, the chirping of field crickets was heard in many heath and grasslands in south-east England. However, changes in land management and habitat loss during the last century saw the UK’s population of field crickets declined to fewer than 100 by the 1980s, all found at only one location. 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.