Hop of Hope is Rewilding the Wetlands of Norfolk, England


Citizen keepers have sprung into action to help rare marsh grasshoppers — by inviting them into their homes.

Amy Stocking says she’s “never really been into insects,” but that hasn’t stopped her from raising hundreds of large marsh grasshoppers in her home. As a conservation enthusiast, Stocking couldn’t resist lending a helping hand when she read a newsletter seeking grasshopper keepers for a rewilding project called Hop of Hope. “I thought, ‘That sounds so cool,’ and I signed up.”   

Hop of Hope is a project of the Citizen Zoo, a London-based social enterprise working to restore natural habitats across the United Kingdom — often with the help of Citizen Keepers just like Stocking. 

Large marsh grasshopper.
Large marsh grasshopper. — Photo by Will Burdett

“The large marsh grasshopper is the UK’s largest and most handsome species of grasshopper, but is also one of our rarest,” says Ben Stockwell, Senior Urban Rewilding Officer at Citizen Zoo. 

As their name suggests, large marsh grasshoppers enjoy marshy conditions. Peat bogs and wet fens are perfect for the hefty hoppers, which can reach up to four centimeters in length. They used to thrive in the boggy areas around Norfolk, a coastal county about four hours northeast of London, but through a combination of climate change and human intervention, these richly biodiverse habitats are in decline. It’s bad news for the grasshoppers and for the environment at large. In addition to the diversity of plant and animal life they support, Stockwell says that bogs are “vital in efforts to fight climate breakdown” because they “sequester vast quantities of carbon from the atmosphere.” Boosting the population of large marsh grasshoppers in the bogs of Norfolk is part of an effort to give their marshy ecosystem a fighting chance. 

“We don’t like to think of them as being eaten, but they’re part of the ecosystem,” says Stocking. “The hoppers are a great food source for wasp spiders and birds; they can give quite a lot of protein to a small animal.”

Despite the grasshoppers’ likely fate as a meal, Stocking is among the fifteen to twenty Citizen Keepers who find it rewarding to raise and release them. It’s a summer project wherein each participating Keeper receives a small, circular dish packed with wet sand, which contains approximately ten marsh grasshopper egg pods. The Keeper places the dish in a cage fitted with a heat lamp that is turned on for twelve hours a day.  Then, it’s just a matter of being patient until up to 100 tiny hoppers hatch.

“Once we get the eggs under the heat, it takes a couple of days [for them] to start hatching,” Stocking explains. “From there, it takes about four to six weeks for them to develop into adults.” The process involves several rounds of molting,  when the hoppers shed their skin so they can keep growing. After the last round, the hoppers get their wings. “Up until that point, they’re just these little grasshoppers moving around,” Stocking chuckles, “but then, with that final molt, they get these magnificent wings that span the length of their bodies, and that’s when they get their colors and markings. That’s when they look like large marsh grasshoppers.” 

During those weeks of development, caring for the grasshoppers means making sure the heat lamp is on for half the day and providing a steady supply of fresh grass. Stocking says the hoppers do best with cocksfoot grass, which she collects while out walking. “It’s a sturdy grass, and you want to look for longer strands so the hoppers can climb up [it] to get closer to the heat.” To keep the grass upright, Stocking uses jam jars with a bit of water at the bottom and cotton balls around the rim to keep the growing grasshoppers from falling in. 

She’s been raising grasshoppers for two years now and says the tricky part is switching out the jars of grass. While hatching all 100 potential hoppers is unlikely — the most Stocking has had so far is sixty — opening the cage can quickly result in escapees. Stocking has honed her technique, finding that morning (before she turns on the heat lamp) is the best time to swap jars, because the grasshoppers are more sluggish when they’re cool. “It’s definitely an art form,” she says, “but you get better at it the more you do it. They keep you on your toes.”

“It’s such a beautiful habitat. It’s really lovely to be squelching along the bog, seeing the sorts of plants you wouldn’t see anywhere else. It’s quite cool to be there with the hoppers in their natural environment, seeing them go free after a month in the cage.”

— Amy Stocking, Citizen Keeper, Hop of Hope

When her hoppers have reached maturity and it’s time for release, Stocking transfers them into a travel carrier and boards a train to Norfolk. It’s a long day for her — four hours each way from her home in London — but she says it’s worth the effort. “It’s such a beautiful habitat. It’s really lovely to be squelching along the bog, seeing the sorts of plants you wouldn’t see anywhere else. It’s quite cool to be there with the hoppers in their natural environment, seeing them go free after a month in the cage.” 

Though it’s difficult to track and monitor insects with precision, regular bog surveys indicate an increased presence of the large marsh grasshopper. “They’re finding more and more hoppers, and they’re finding them near the release points,” says Stocking. “They're able to find evidence of eggs, which is evidence of breeding, so the program does seem to be working.” 

As far as not really being an insect aficionado goes, Stocking says that being a Citizen Keeper has helped change that. “I love wildlife, but I’d never really taken the time to appreciate the beauty or the design of insects, or consider their place in the ecosystem,” she says. “This project has definitely given me much more of an appreciation for insects. And the large marsh grasshoppers are so beautiful as adults; it’s amazing to see them molting, amazing just to watch them eat. It’s a lovely, really interesting thing to be a part of.” 

What You Can Do: You can help the large marsh grasshoppers from anywhere in the world by naming a grasshopper or making a donation to Citizen Zoo.

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Summer Rylander
Summer Rylander
Summer Rylander is a freelance travel journalist writing on food, culture, and conservation. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Reader’s Digest, Lonely Planet, Adventure.com, and more. She’s based in Nuremberg, Germany and you can find her at summerrylander.com.
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