Lone frog leaps into survival fight

BRITAIN'S RAREST native animal has been found, just as it was on the verge of going extinct. Improbable as it may sound, the last British pool frog in this country is now being guarded in a suburban London garden.

An emergency breeding programme is being set up to save the species, whose known population is down to the one lone male. English Nature, the Government's wildlife agency, is joining with Anglian Water to breed the animal with other pool frogs from Scandinavia, which are closely related. It is hoped that this will eventually allow a reintroduction programme to take place in the Fens of East Anglia.

Found over much of Europe, the pool frog, Rana lessonae, is most readily distinguished from Britain's common frog, Rana temporaria, by its noise - it blows out its cheeks to make a sound louder than a quacking duck. The common frog has non-inflatable cheeks and makes little noise, even if provoked. The pool frog also has a cream stripe down the length of its brown back, and enjoys basking in the sun, while common frogs have no stripe and prefer to hide in the grass.

It has been known in two sites in England - Cambridgeshire and Norfolk - but until recently it was thought to be a 19th-century introduction from the Continent, like the edible frog Rana esculenta which can also be found in some parts of the South, and was largely ignored by naturalists.

Research in the Nineties, however, has revealed that East Anglia's tiny population of pool frogs are very likely native - they have been there since time immemorial - and are thus our rarest vertebrate animals. But their population has been devastated by the constant draining of the Fens since the 17th century.

Now Anglian Water is providing pounds 30,000 to help English Nature confirm their uniqueness with studies of their DNA, a further survey to establish if any remain in the wild and a breeding and reintroduction programme. "Without urgent action the loss of this animal is inevitable," said Stephen Bolt, Anglian Water's head of environmental affairs.

Having died out in Cambridgeshire in the 1880s, the pool frog's last remaining known site was a series of Norfolk ponds on a common near Thetford. Enthusiasts concerned for the animal's future collected three there in 1992 to try and breed them. All were males, so two were released and one was kept. But there has been no sign of any further frogs in the wild.

The surviving male - they can live to be nearly 20 - is being looked after by a biology teacher and amphibian enthusiast, Charles Snell, who in a 1994 paper in the journal British Wildlife first made the case for the pool frog being a native British species. He keeps the frog in a large enclosure in a suburban garden whose location he is not keen to disclose in case of theft by other frog breeders. "There are some fanatics out there," he said.

Next spring he hopes it will breed with female pool frogs from Sweden, which are genetically quite close to the British species, to enable a reintroduction programme to begin. "The Norwegian pool frogs are even closer, but they are very rare," he said.

Mr Snell is now carrying out some of the DNA research in the laboratories of Greenwich University. "This is an overlooked species which is probably our rarest native vertebrate," he said.

Anglian Water has three sites earmarked for possible reintroduction of the frog.

Small species

BRITAIN IS not blessed with amphibians - frogs, toads and newts, those animals related to fish which live largely on land but need water to breed.

Compared to the dozens of species found across the Channel, we have hitherto had only six regarded as native.

There are three newts - the common newt, the palmate newt and the rare and strictly protected great crested newt. There are just two toads, the common toad and the rare and protected natterjack toad, and a single frog, the common frog. The pool frog will be the seventh native British amphibian - if it can successfully be reintroduced.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all