The importance of grasshoppers in the Sid Valley

Beautiful purple Field Grass Hopper. Picture by Beryl Ladd. Ref exe 0120 purple field grass hopper

Beautiful purple Field Grass Hopper. Picture by Beryl Ladd. Ref exe 0120 purple field grass hopper - Credit: Archant

Volunteers from the Sid Vale Association, along with members of the Sidmouth Biodiversity Group met on the Knapp for a training session on how to identify grasshoppers and improve their habitat.

Two species were found, the meadow grasshopper and the field grasshopper.

Why grasshoppers, you might ask? Well, along with other large insects such as butterflies and bees, their presence tells us that where they live is also suitable for many other invertebrates and wildlife in general.

They are all used by Natural England, the government conservation body, as important indicators of the state of the environment. Unfortunately the trend is a decline in numbers but with a few species spreading north.

Grasshoppers are poor fliers and therefore slow to disperse if an area becomes unsuitable through damage.

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They feed on a variety of plants, not just grasses, and complete their life cycle in six months while staying in the same piece of grassland.

Excessive grazing or cutting that continually keeps the grass short is not suitable and they need a grassy area left to grow tall for most of the summer.

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One of our participants described how he had left an area of his lawn unmown and it had quickly been colonised by grasshoppers.

He had even been able to watch a female laying its egg pod, so it was definitely hoping for a permanent home.

An ideal situation would be a meadow cut late or a pasture lightly grazed throughout the summer, preferably on a south facing slope, as they do like their sun.

Their presence is likely to indicate a very old/ancient meadow eg Peaslands Knapp nature reserve.

Churchyards that have some areas left uncut can also be like ancient meadows. Unfortunately, grasslands managed in these ways are now scarce.

The SVA own amenity land that is suitable for grasshoppers and other insects and are looking at ways to encourage them.

Much of their land has other uses and may have too much shade from trees or is too heavily walked.

However, there are places where a modification in management practices can provide areas where our grandchildren will still be fascinated by these quirky, chirruping, jumping insects.

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