One of Britain’s most endangered insects is set to have a new home in Litlington thanks to work by South East Water and environment organisations Natural England and Buglife.
The wart-biter cricket – which gets its name from the ancient Swedish medical practice of using them to eat skin warts – was once found across southern England. But their numbers have declined so dramatically, they are now found only in five locations, three in Sussex.
Thanks to a working group led by Natural England this rare species of cricket is set to be reintroduced into a carefully-created habitat around Deep Dean Water Treatment Works, in East Sussex. It has taken more than 20 years to make sure the site is suitable for the crickets.
The fussy creatures need a particular kind of habitat which includes bare ground, short turf and taller clumps of grass.
Wart-biter numbers have declined as a result of habitat destruction, loss of suitable grassland and unsuitable grazing regimes. They are considered to be endangered in the UK, and the threat they could die out remains.
But thanks to an intensive captive breeding programme by London Zoo and partnerships with environmental groups, landowners and farmers, the cricket now has a brighter future.
Emma Goddard, South East Water’s environmental manager, said, “To be able to release wart biter crickets at Deep Dean is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we are honoured to be able to play host to such a prestigious project.
“We have worked in partnership with other organisations and individuals over a long period of time to get to this point.
“We are all very pleased to be playing a part in saving the cricket from the very real prospect of extinction.”
South East Water’s Deep Dean site in Litlington was identified as a suitable place for the wart-biter to thrive because the land has been carefully managed for more than 100 years to protect water quality in the underground aquifer.
This means the land has been kept free from pesticides and chemicals, which also allows rare chalk grassland to flourish in the right conditions.
However, in the late 1980s it had become overgrown with brambles and scrub.
Emma added, “Wart-biters are impressive beasts and some can grow to nearly two inches in length.
“But they do have very specific habitat requirements which are not easily replicated, and without initiatives such as this one there is still a real chance they could die out.”
Dr Sarah Henshall, Buglife’s lead ecologist, said, “We will be carefully monitoring the population and habitat at Deep Dean to ensure the wart-biters thrive.”
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