AN elusive New Forest creature with a high-pitched song has been named as one of the most endangered animals in the country.
The New Forest cicada has not even been seen since 2000, and there are fears it may already be extinct.
But a dedicated team of environmentalists set up to hunt for the cicadas say they believe they still live in some areas of the New Forest.
The Species Recovery Trust, an online project looking at the UK’s most endangered animals, has revealed that more than 400 species – including the great auk, orange-spotted emerald dragonfly and the wildcat – have become extinct in the country in the past 200 years.
And the trust says the New Forest cicada is one of the ten animals most likely to follow them in disappearing from the UK altogether.
The last sighting of a cicada 14 years ago was unconfirmed, and the trust says change in habitat and weather pattern has led to a decline in numbers.
The New Forest Cicada Project was set up to track the insects down, and, as reported in the Forest Journal last year, its members set up a special phone app so members of the public can help track them down.
They say they will head back to the remotest areas of the forest this summer in a bid to find them.
If they are successful, a captive breeding programme may be set up to boost the insects’ numbers.
One of the team, University of Southampton lecturer Alex Rogers, said: “It hasn’t been observed for the past 20 years, but it hasn’t been seen for long stretches in the past too, such as the 1940s or 1960s.
“It’s not at the previous sites it’s been seen at, but it may have just moved somewhere else and the New Forest is such a large area that it’s very hard to detect them.
“It could be there – it’s just a case of finding it.”
Davide Zilli, a PHD student at the university, said: “We have been working hard to improve the app.
“We had about 2,000 people downloading it last year and we think that if it’s sunny it could be a good summer to find them this year.”
n The New Forest cicada is the only cicada remaining in the UK, although it is still widespread across the rest of Europe.
The insect was first officially recorded in 1812, although experts believe it may have lived here since the Ice Age.
During May to July it sings a distinctive song which is so high-pitched that it is inaudible to most humans, especially those over the age of 40.
Their favoured habitat is in and around clearings in the forest, with bracken a particular favourite hiding place for females.
The insects only sing when it is sunny, so detecting them when it is cloudy or raining is nearly impossible.