11 September 2008

Year of the Frog - a big leap forward

Froglife is holding a special evening of talks at Edinburgh Zoo, celebrating Year of the Frog by saluting those working hard in the field of amphibian conservation in Scotland.

This unique event gives you a chance to hear the story of some of these hard-working fieldworkers, scientists, landscape-shapers, and campaigners who will be continuing the fight for amphibians long after Year of the Frog 2008 ends.

The evening event will take place on Friday 14th November 2008, and includes a reception with light refreshments.

Please spread the word - we'd love you to join us.

For more information: www.froglife.org/year_of_the_frog_event.htm

Health-checks for the nation’s frogs

Conservation charities the Froglife and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) are calling for the public to look out for and report cases of sick and dead frogs – and other amphibians like toads and newts – in an attempt to expand vital research into the state of the nation’s amphibians.

The UK’s amphibians are being affected by two significant diseases, ranavirus and the chytrid fungus. Ranavirus kills thousands of frogs, toads and newts in the UK each year and the chytrid fungus, implicated in extinctions of amphibian species around the world, has recently been identified in the UK.

Scientists remain unsure of the extent to which amphibian populations are being affected and what the implications for the UK’s frogs, toads and newts may be. Dr Andrew Cunningham, senior ZSL scientist, commented, “Amphibians are being devastated by disease on a global scale but we have only an extremely limited picture of what is going on in our own backyard. Reports of outbreaks across the UK are absolutely vital for ZSL’s continuing research and, in the long term, to ensure the survival of our extraordinary amphibians.”

“There is a whole range of reasons why dead amphibians turn up in gardens and many of these are completely normal events. However, during the humid summer months we hear numerous reports of unusual frog deaths in gardens.” said Daniel Piec, Froglife’s Head of Conservation. “We are appealing to the public for information on new cases so that we can paint a better picture of the damage these amphibian diseases are inflicting.”

Both diseases are harmless to humans, but in amphibians result in a variety of symptoms that could include lethargy, thinness or unexplained mass-deaths of adults or juvenile amphibians. Internal bleeding and open skin sores have also been reported. Members of the public who have come across unusual amphibian deaths in their gardens are urged to submit their information on the Froglife website: www.froglife.org. This information will then be used by ZSL in its research on diseases affecting UK amphibians.

Find out more: www.froglife.org/disease

Don't forget: if you have healthy amphibians in your garden we still want to hear from you - fill in our Frogwatch online survey form and provide us with crucial control data we need for our research on frog disease: www.froglife.org/disease

Froglife gets snappy

Froglife is putting together a new guide to wildlife ponds as an update to its hugely successful 'Pond Heaven' booklet.

We are offering the public an opportunity to contribute to this new booklet by submitting photos of their ponds and pond wildlife.

Entrants have a chance of winning one of five Froglife photography awards. Budding photographers are being urged to get snapping - the competition is only running for one month (closing date 12th September 2008).

Get snap-happy: see full details and an online live gallery at www.froglife.org/photo_competition

Low-down on adders

In the aftermath of a recent adder bite incident, Froglife and The Herpetological Conservation Trust – both charities representing the UK’s amphibians and reptiles- commiserate with ten-year-old victim, Mollie Hawker, and offer some advice to prevent recurrence of a similar event.

Froglife’s Head of Conservation Daniel Piec said, “In our increasingly urbanised society people rarely encounter wild snakes. It comes as a surprise to some of us to learn that we have snakes living in the UK, but there are, in fact, three species. Although still uncommon events, the warm months of the summer are when most snake encounters occur – but these need not create unnecessary alarm”.

The snake most likely to be seen is the grass snake, because it sometimes visits gardens. Harmless to pets, grass snakes may frequent garden ponds during the summer, in search of their prey, frogs, toads and newts. Legless lizards, slow-worms, are often mistaken for snakes and can also be found in gardens in some parts of the country. They, too, are harmless.

Our only venomous snake is the adder. While adder bite should always be taken seriously, the likelihood of being bitten should be kept in proportion and an unnecessary fear of snakes should not spoil our enjoyment of the outdoors.

John Baker, Widespread Species Officer for the Herpetological Conservation Trust, said, “Adders tend to be found in wild places, such as heathland, downs, moorland and woodland rides rather than in our gardens. They are usually confined to specific areas locally – the countryside is certainly not crawling with adders. Even in ‘adder territory’, the chances of an encounter are slim. But there are precautions you can take to minimise these even further.”

“Keeping to paths reduces the chance of taking an adder by surprise, and stout footwear, such as walking boots are a sensible protective measure.”

He added: “The adder is not an aggressive animal – it does not seek out humans, and quite the opposite will do its best to avoid them. If you do come across a snake, then the best advice is to leave it alone. Most adder bites occur through people picking up the snake!”

If anyone is unfortunate enough to be bitten, then the advice is simple – the casualty should be immobilised, but taken to hospital where a proper medical assessment and any necessary treatment can be given. Although often painful, adder bite is rarely fatal - the last human death in Britain was over thirty years ago. Medical treatment of adder bite is very effective.

And what about the third native snake? The smooth snake, is such a rare and secretive beast, found only on heathlands in southern England, that there is almost no chance of meeting one.

Froglife’s Daniel Piec concludes: “With a bit of understanding, the risk posed by the adder virtually disappears and the unlikely event of a snake encounter should be a positive highlight of the outdoor experience, rather than something to worry about”.

For further information - including tips on identifying adders and advice on adder bites- visit: www.froglife.org/advice.htm

Froglife has cross words for child safety leaflet

Froglife has expressed serious concern over a crossword puzzle given to a number of schools and youth groups in the UK as part of Child Safety Week.

The organisation says that one question on the offending document has potentially set back the urban wildlife conservation movement by encouraging people to remove ponds, to alleviate fears of young people drowning.

‘4 Across: It’s best to fill this in, if you have young children and one of these in your garden (4)’ the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) crossword clue says.

Froglife say that the children’s leaflet should have highlighted that alternatives to pond removal exist, such as fencing off ponds or adding mesh coverings, as is suggested elsewhere on the CAPT website.

“To see a recommendation that ponds be filled in, without any mention of methods to make ponds safe, lacks any sort of understanding of the value of ponds for people, wildlife and education and sets back the hard work of many wildlife organisations.” said Froglife’s Education Officer Sam Taylor, who commended the otherwise excellent work of CAPT.

In terms of education ponds are of enormous importance. Under supervision, children can see real life examples of many of the things they learn in the classroom: ecosystems, foodchains, biodiversity and identification. Plus potential pond-dippers develop a confidence in the wider world, and an appreciation and respect for local nature, Froglife say.

“In many urban areas ponds offer young people a chance to encounter local nature up-close, and for many people this may represent the only opportunity they have for this form of learning.” said Sam Taylor.

Ponds have important value for wildlife in urban areas – allowing populations of amphibians to thrive, as well as providing crucial places for dragonflies and other pond invertebrates. They also provide stepping stones for other species to come into urban areas – such as grass snakes, birds and even bats.

Urban ponds also help buffer the disappearance of natural ponds in the wild - the number of ponds in the UK countryside was estimated to have declined by over a third from the 1940s to the 1980s*.

“There are, of course, dangers associated with ponds, but it’s important to stress everywhere possible that safety measures exist that can eliminate this risk.” added Mrs Taylor.

Froglife recommend three steps to make your pond safe until children are older and more aware of the dangers surrounding water:

1. Do not allow unsupervised play near garden ponds.
2. Fence off a pond, with a strong 1.1metre high fence with lockable gate.
3. Invest in a metal grating to cover the pond – easily installable brand products exist for this purpose.