The beginning of the end. One week to go folks until the end of the daily diary and one week to go until I get my first full day off in three months. Yay.
If you've stuck with me from the start, you've probably realised that I’m a huge fan of monster movies and they don’t come any better (or worse) than 1957's ‘Beginning of the End’.
Actually, if you watch the trailer (here) if reminds me of how I felt about the Covid pandemic 13 weeks ago.
It’s the usual story; overeager government scientists intent on increasing crop yield, inadvertently create giant irradiated grasshoppers the size of double-decker buses which set about destroying Chicago.
There are some similar creatures lurking around Sussex. OK they’re not going to come stomping on Sompting any day soon but they’re still mighty impressive.
I spent yesterday looking for grasshoppers and crickets around the garden. I've seen some young crickets on the bushes and trees in the last few weeks so I whipped out my fabulous collapsible beating tray.
It may look like a piece of cloth and two bits of wood...
...but a flick of the wrist and...ta-da
If I hold this under a tree or bush and give the tree a whack with a stick the insects fall onto the white material and allow me to have a nose at them. Except...they didn't. The trees and bushes were noticeably insect-free and there was certainly no crickets on it. So here's a photo of a young Dark Bush Cricket I took the other day.
There are about 35 species of crickets and grasshoppers (orthoptera) in Britain. Crickets differ from grasshoppers by having much longer, thread-like antennae and they ‘sing’ by rubbing their wings together (while grasshoppers rub their legs against their wings).
Roesel's Bush Cricket photo by Bob Eade
This song or stridulation is the male’s way of romancing a female – who, if interested, will reply. The biggest and loudest in Sussex is the Great Green Bush Cricket. Listen for them on the South Downs on warm September evenings – a loud, incessant rattle like a maraca player who's drank way too much coffee.
Great Green Bush Cricket photo by Derek Middleton
When I lead wildlife walk through the flower-rich meadows of Sussex Wildlife Trust's nature reserves, I'm always blown away by the wall of sound created by hundreds of crickets and grasshoppers. However, it is often apparent that not everyone can hear this orthopteran orchestra. The sad truth is that as we get older, our ears can’t tune in to the higher frequencies produced by these insects, and one by one, species by species, the grasshoppers and crickets fall silent.
I have a compilation CD of the chirps and buzzes of Britain’s crickets and grasshoppers – a sort of ‘Now That’s What I Call Stridulation’. When I play it now track 24 has gone. It was there a few years ago but now… silence. I’ve started to lose my crickets!
The beginning of the end.
Speckled Bush Cricket photo by Barry Yates
It isn’t just me who will be hearing less wildlife in the future. Our countryside is becoming quieter as crickets, bees and birds vanish. Over the decades, development and changes in agricultural practices have made large parts of England quieter. The ‘Silent Spring’ predicted by Rachel Carson in 1962 has seeped across every season. So, get out into the countryside and listen to the sounds of summer before they start to fade.
Here's a song by some other crickets that still hasn't faded away yet (here).