The hunt for the New Forest Cicada

Wednesday 17th July 2013

Buglife is leading a hunt for the elusive New Forest Cicada. Thanks to funding administered by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the New Forest HLS Scheme Buglife experts and volunteers will join forces with wildlife sound recorders and Southampton University. For the first time old fashioned entomological survey methods, high-tech sound recording equipment and a smartphone app will be used to search for the insect.

The New Forest is an internationally important place for wildlife, managed largely by the Forestry Commission and is home to the New Forest Cicada. The UK’s only species of Cicada likes sunny south-facing forest clearings with nearby large trees. During May to July it sings with a very characteristic high-pitched song, which is at the limits of human hearing, and is particularly difficult for most adults to hear. Sightings of the cicada within the New Forest date back to 1812, but the last confirmed sighting was in the early 1990’s. The Cicada has always been hard to find as it spends much of its life underground as a nymph, taking up to 8 years to mature and hatch. Once hatched the Cicada is often high up in the trees out of sight- that is why detecting it singing is one the most effective methods of finding it.

Dr Sarah Henshall, Buglife’s Lead Ecologist said “The hunt has started and the weather is perfect- the Cicada only sings on warm days with little wind. We are optimistic that undiscovered populations of Cicada survive in the New Forest- it is a large area with plenty of suitable undisturbed habitat. Using a combination of search methods and engaging with the public we hope to maximise our chances of finding this wonderful insect”

Jay Doyle, South England District Ecologist said “The Forestry Commission is pleased to be working with Buglife on behalf of the New Forest HLS Scheme partners in order to obtain a better understanding of this flagship species and its distribution across the forest.”

The development of the smartphone app provides a great opportunity for visitors to the New Forest to get involved and help out with the hunt. David Zilli, the Southampton PhD student who developed the app said “Modern smartphones have extremely sensitive microphones and enough computing power to automatically detect and recognise the song of the New Forest cicada. We are launching the smartphone app at the New Forest BioBlitz on the 7th June and we’ll be encouraging people to use the app when conditions are warm and still. We’ll be able to use the reports from the app to compile a map of areas that have already been searched, in order to focus the efforts of Buglife’s experts who are searching for the Cicada”

Dr Sarah Henshall added “We are encourage people to use the app along paths, tracks and clearing such as picnic areas as these often provide ideal habitat for the Cicada”

Visit our project webpages for more information on our New Forest Cicada Project.

The app is available for both iPhone and Android smartphones and is available on the iTunes and Google Play app stores by searching for ‘Cicada Hunt’. More information about the cicada and the app can be found on the project’s website.