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Could our frogs be in trouble?

Outdoor Living

GRISLY FIND John Shelley came across this female frog, who was ready to spawn before she met this rather nasty end.


Country Sights and sounds
John Shelley

I’ve been lying awake late into these warm spring nights, listening to the world outside come alive in the dark. An incessant shuffling comes and goes like the waves of the sea. It is there then is almost not. It ebbs and flows and seems to stop, but is never really silent, for there are many things on the move.
The sound of light rain on the trees is calming. Yet bursting through that gentle backdrop comes a sudden explosion as old Broc comes face to face with a busy wood mouse and leaps at the chance of a snack. Then it is back to turning leaves to find the beetles that live and work beneath.
From far away come the calls of the vixen, her voice piercing the otherwise comforting blanket of sound. A musical splashing reaches my ears as something stirs on the lake, then the loudly protesting voice of the mallard drake is accompanied by the whirring noise of flight. Too soon it is morning once more, with the first light streaming through the window before I am ready.
This particular morning is bright and welcoming. I note the depth of colour in the birch wood while waiting for coffee to brew, and struggle to put a name on the rich chestnut hue that appears before bud-burst. It seems so long ago the world was green. I long for the moment I can step outside my 5k circle, even though the world beyond it is little different from the one within.
And then, breakfast in hand, I go to look for frogs.
Each February, on those mild, damp nights that often occur in at this time of year, these amphibious animals migrate from their winter woodland homes to their traditional spawning grounds. Of course they will be quick to colonise any body of water they find along the way, and occasionally we find clumps of frogspawn in shallow puddles where there can be no future. By and large, though, frogs will return to the place of their birth to breed.
Our garden pond acquired a breeding population soon after it was filled, that has, over the years, become a noisy nocturnal chorus of several dozen calling males. It is they that arrive home first, and it has been their crooning that I hope to hear each night. This year, 2021, for the first time in nearly 20 years, they have failed to appear.
I suppose old Broc wouldn’t turn his nose up at a froggy supper, but he would hardly account for the missing multitude. There are other predators as well; otters and herons feed well during frog season, as does the hooded crow, which rather horribly takes just the liver while the frog is still alive. Perhaps the greatest killers of all are ourselves as we speed along country lanes with no thought for the little creatures crushed by the wheels of our car.
Wet nights facilitate the migrations of the frog tribe. Perhaps you have seen them yourself.  The swish of windscreen wipers allows a glimpse into darkness where frogs make their way from one place to another. Heavy rain obliterates our view for half the time and we have no way of knowing how many tiny corpses we leave behind. A walk along the same route the next morning would tell a sorry tale. Today I take a familiar trail through woodland to rough pasture beyond, calling in at likely spawning sites along the way and finding nothing. There is one shallow, weed-filled corner of the lake where I have often seen frogspawn and tadpoles, but again this is devoid of life.
With my mind on other things I turn toward home and find the animal in the picture. As you can imagine, it was dead. Apart from that rather obvious detail, it is a female ripe for spawning, her body swollen with its load of eggs and very nasty looking wounds to two legs.
I took little notice at the time, and certainly didn’t link this discovery to those absent amphibians of my own. Only later did I take a closer look at the picture and decide to do a bit of research.
There are a couple of diseases that produce similar symptoms. One is the potentially catastrophic Chytrid fungal disease, which has been found in Britain but is presently unrecorded here. If you find frogs similarly afflicted, leave them where they are and inform the National Parks and Wildlife people.