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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map