Howzat! Cricket 'ticklers' help threatened bugs back from the brink
Cricket "ticklers" are taking to the field to help bring a once-common species back from the brink of extinction, conservationists said.
Populations of field crickets dropped to just 100 individuals at a single location in the 1980s, and despite being on the road to recovery, they are still one of the UK's most threatened species.
Now the RSPB and conservation agency Natural England are aiming to help boost populations of the crickets, which were once the soundtracks to summer evenings.
Using a technique known as "tickling" with a blade of grass, experts are encouraging young field crickets or nymphs which are hatching underground and beginning to emerge, out from their burrows so they can be caught and moved to new areas.
The scheme allows youngsters from an established colony to be moved to a specially selected area where it is hoped a new colony will be formed.
Conservationists say that creating new populations is "vital" as it reduces the risk of losing the entire species to a single catastrophe such as a fire.
The translocation scheme is funded by the National Lottery as part of the "back from the brink" project to help 20 threatened UK species.
It will see a new colony established at Pulborough Brooks reserve in West Sussex.
And at Farnham Heath, Surrey, an existing colony will be extended to help ensure the future of the species.
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."
She added that the next steps would be to create more suitable habitats and begin to link them so field cricket populations do not just expand through managed introductions but start to move naturally between sites.