Britain's schoolchildren are being asked to join a scientific quest to find out why the nation's frogs and toads are in decline. They will be asked to gather accurate information on the time when spawn, then tadpoles and finally froglets appear in their local ponds - and urged not to fall in themselves.
''Children can provide useful data,'' said Dr Fred Slater of the National Amphibian Survey, which will be scrutinising their returns. ''There aren't many who don't know what frog spawn is.''
Frogwatch, launched by the environmentalist David Bellamy at Holland Park, in west London, yesterday, is being organised by Wildlife Watch - the young people's branch of the national network of County Wildlife Trusts. Information packs are available from BHS department stores; the chain is sponsoring the survey.
There is mounting evidence that amphibian species are in world-wide decline, but scientists do not know why. Among their hypotheses are the spread of new viruses, acid rain, habitat destruction and the absorption of harmful water pollutants such as pesticides through their thin skins, which they breathe through. The numbers of common frogs and common toads still run into millions but are falling fast.