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   Inside Out - South: Monday September 5, 2005

HIGHLIGHTS

Mole cricket
Back from the dead - the Mole Cricket lives!

Inside Out investigates the English village in dispute over a mobile home park, the ancient yews of Sussex, and the Mole Cricket rediscovered in Oxfordshire.


Village united

Inside Out investigates a quintessentially English village where wealthy residents have been stirred into direct action in defence of a local mobile home park.

Wealthy residents living in the Oxfordshire village are protecting their neighbours on a mobile home park from harassment and intimidation.

Mobile homes - subject of controversy in Oxfordshire

Sixty women from Blewbury are on call in case there are any problems at Ladycroft Mobile Home Park.

Whenever trouble breaks out, they walk down to the park to act as silent witnesses.

The park residents say they are being intimidated by site owner Maurice Sines, who wants to buy their homes so that he can redevelop the park.

Mr Sines, who has already bought and demolished almost half the homes, denies threatening the residents.

Return of the mole cricket

Presenter Chris Packham rediscovers a species long thought extinct.

Chris makes history for southern England when he discovers a breeding colony of a species thought to be extinct in Britain.

What’s more it happens on his birthday. As far as Chris is concerned, it’s the best birthday present ever.

In simple terms Mole Crickets Gryllotalpa, gryllotalpa, are spectacular insects.

However, few have enjoyed real life views in the UK as the animal has always been rare and sporadic in its appearances.

Thus, it is only infrequently encountered and necessarily specially protected (Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981).

In April 2005 an Oxfordshire man contacted presenter Chris Packham. The man had previously watched a programme where Chris had investigated a sighting but failed to find any animals.

"Reports of the Mole Cricket are always exciting and especially so when more than one is found."
Bryan Pinchen, English Nature

Exercising his lifelong curiosity for all things creeping and crawling, Chris investigated further on the off chance that the insect reported was still present and indeed a Mole Cricket.

After a cursory investigation of a large compost heap, an adult Mole Cricket was found!

Chris immediately took a tape of the cricket to Natural History Museum in London.

Dr George Beccaloni, Curator of Orthopteroid insects, was excited enough to visit the site the very same day.

Accompanied by Bryan Pinchen, co-ordinator of English Nature's Mole Cricket Working Group, they found a total of eight specimens - four male four female including one that was carrying a spermatophore.

George says, "'It was very exciting to see eight adult Mole Crickets in one small area because this is the first time in over 45 years that more than one has been found in the same place".

"We believe that most or all of the mole crickets found during this period were accidentally introduced into the country in potted plants and other goods.

MOLE CRICKETS

Key features:

Large, robust, and noisy.

Specialised in their adaptations to a subterranean lifestyle.

Highly distinctive. Characterised by large, powerful forelegs which are used for digging burrows.

The Crickets are covered in tiny hairs, giving them a velvety appearance.

Brown in colour.

Usually grow to a length of about 40 millimetres.

They live in burrows which they extend to form temporary feeding galleries.

Mostly feeds on plant roots.

"I could tell that one of the females had recently mated. If these individuals are not native this could be the first time that foreign Mole Crickets have attempted to breed in Britain.

"With 28 million specimens, the Natural History Museum has one of the world's most important entomology collections in the world.

But we have only 16 British mole cricket specimens, which shows how rare they are."

"However, most recent records can all be linked to originating from imported container grown garden trees and shrubs, or soil sourced from Europe.

"Being a subterranean insect with a requirement for moist, well-drained soil and a source of food in the form of, amongst other things, roots, container grown plants provide and ideal short term habitat for the species.

"It raises the question of whether the Mole Cricket has ever really been native, or has only ever been present as a result of importation."

Five other Mole Crickets have been found in Britain this year, all however are known to have come in as singletons on imported plants.

Current thinking on the Oxfordshire animals is that the eggs or small larvae may have been imported in soil accompanying the transport of live worms as this is the business of the man in whose gardens they were found.

Under licence Bryan took some of the crickets found to Bristol Zoo which run the native breeding programme.

Note - It is important to stress that should anyone suspect that they have found a Mole Cricket, they do not willingly disturb it or its habitat themselves.

These animals are specially protected and consequently any sighting should be reported to Bryan Pinchen via the Natural History Museum.

The South's prehistoric landscapes

Kingley Vale
Prehistoric journey - Kingley Vale and its ancient yew forest

Inside Out begins a journey through southern England’s prehistoric landscapes with a visit to Europe’s finest yew forest at Kingley Vale in Sussex.

Legend has it that Kings are buried in the nearby bronze age burial mounds and that the ghost of Tennyson, who often visited the ancient yew trees, still wanders through the woods.

Over the next few weeks the programme will be visiting places such as The Ridgeway, Danebury Hillfort and Avebury.

 
See also ...

Inside Out: South
Badgers
Red Kites
Wild Boar

On the rest of Inside Out
Water Voles
Romany gypsies

On bbc.co.uk
bbc.co.uk/nature

On the rest of the web
Ancient Yew Group
English Nature
Natural History Museum

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