Ever wondered where the last population of Field Crickets in the UK lived? The answer is Coates Common, a privately owned site in West Sussex. After years of work to build up numbers, this became the source population for Field Cricket reintroductions, including the recent one to Pulborough Brooks.
If it wasn’t for the commitment of the landowner, Sir Sebastian Anstruther, we would be mourning the loss of yet another British species today.
This is his tale…

In 1956 my father bought Lord’s Piece and Coates Common as part of the Barlavington Estate. He took down all the “Keep Out” notices and was happy to see local people walking there, enjoying the countryside and the magnificent views of the South Downs.

Like other landowners, encouraged by the Government, he also planted lots of trees – Britain needed timber.
In West Sussex over 90% of heathlands were lost, but somehow a little insect, the Field Cricket Gryllus campestris clung on: the last place in Great Britain where it survived.

The Field Cricket was rediscovered when I was a child in the 1970’s.
I remember the vicar bringing one over to our house in a jam-jar so we could hear it chirruping. Not long after that the Field Cricket was recognised as endangered in the UK, but not much was done to help it survive.

Then in the 1990’s a Government grant scheme was introduced. Working with Natural England and London Zoo, and inspired by Mike Edwards (a local entomologist and teacher), we began to recreate the Lord’s Piece heathlands to save the Field Cricket.

It was one of the first and biggest heathland restoration projects in England. We bulldozed off the bracken to reveal the sandy soil beneath and allow the heather to regrow… Then we put a fence round the whole site!
There were gates (we weren’t trying to keep people out), to keep the animals in. We needed them back on Lord’s Piece, for the first time in 50 years, to graze down the plants and tree seedlings, creating the tussocky grassland with bare sandy patches which the Field Cricket required.
But understandably people were shocked and angry.

We’d profoundly changed the look of a place people loved; we’d enclosed an area which, though always private, was open before. Since then we’ve spent tens of thousands of pounds of public and private money, we’ve made many, many mistakes and we’re still making them. Has it been worth it?

I believe so. Nature may be valued for its own sake, but it must be valued for our sake. Our natural environment is not just a leisure destination, it’s the very stuff of our own being. Without it we wouldn’t be here; and we won’t be here in the future if we don’t look after it now.

It seems to me prudent therefore to act as though looking after the environment, and the individual creatures in it, does matter. We should at least start from that assumption.
And if in the end we are wrong (and we’ll never know), if the poor old Field Cricket is just one more little brown job that died out anyway – I believe the attention, the effort and the little bit of giving of ourselves will have enriched us, made us a little wiser and even perhaps a little more compassionate.

Because, after all – all that we do, we do to ourselves.


Sebastian Anstruther

Barlavington Estate



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7 thoughts on “The Landowners Tale

  1. Could I just I record that the vicar who first found and identified the ground cricket at Coates Common was the Rev. John Dagger.

  2. A heartfelt thank you for this effort. This work, and projects like it, will last for all time. I have been following the fortunes of this fiesty little beast ever since I was a child. It is one of my list of indicator species for the health of mixed habitat almost all of which are in decline.

  3. I came across the chirruping marvel quite by accident on a hot spring afternoon in nearby Burton Mill Pond heathland and what a treat it has been discovering the source of that exotic and atmospheric sound, great work.

  4. I just want to say thank you, it’s one of my favourite spots in the South Downs National Park and thanks to your wonderful work, I can sit on the top of the common looking over to Bignor Hill listening to the chirruping Crickets on a summers evening. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be

  5. What an inspiring article. Thank you. It really chirped me up. I am now going to look into the field cricket and refresh my knowledge of grasshoppers and crickets as I’ve seen a few around this wet summer we are experiencing.

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