Jane is a naturalist, photographer and nature writer living in Dorset. Her work has appeared in books, anthologies and blogs for charities such as The Wildlife Trusts and the International Bee Research Association. When she’s not exploring Dorset’s lanes and countryside she can be found lying on her stomach watching insects in her garden. Jane is currently studying for an MA in Travel and Nature Writing at Bath Spa University and can be found: www.janevadams.com and on Twitter @WildlifeStuff Jane’s previous Guest Blogs here can be found here.
Over the past twelve months, have you noticed the changes in the seasons more than in previous years? On the 23rd of March 2020, as we entered the unfamiliar world of lockdown for the first time, did you find yourself noticing the catkins more as you took your ‘daily exercise’, were the bluebells smellier than you had remembered when you walked in the woods in April, and did the unhurried buzz of a bumblebee make you look up from the book you were reading, as warm summer days ambled into autumn? The last year has been hell in so many ways, but maybe one of the positives to come out of lockdown has been a reconnection with, and renewed appreciation for, nature?
Before Christmas, as the days chilled and the nights started arriving too early, I could feel my own reconnection started to wane. Shielding with my ‘clinically vulnerable’ husband, the more I stayed indoors the less attached to the outside I felt. In the kitchen, watching the birds peck seed from the feeder, it was as if I was a goldfish in a bowl; I could see out, but I couldn’t hear, touch or smell the world outside.
Then I received a Facebook memory post. If you’re on Facebook you’ve probably received one, they remind you about a post from years ago, normally something you’d rather have forgotten. Most of the time I scroll past them, but today I didn’t.
Important Announcement: I have mating frogs in the garden pond. Small things make me very happy. January 27th, 2012
Adding a wildlife pond to our garden was one of the first things we did after our move here in 2004. An enthusiastic team of Wildlife Trust trainees descended on the garden one spring morning, and dug, ate cake, lined, drank tea and filled a two by one metre pond with water.
Their hard work was much appreciated and wasn’t in vain, within a year dragonflies and damselflies had taken up residence and were laying eggs, flies and wasps were drinking from the shallows and mason bees were collecting wet mud to line their nests. The first newt arrived – a spotty male palmate with a painterly orange brush stroke down its tail – then one February evening I heard a strange noise as I was bringing in the bins.
Layers of deep croaks rippled across the grass from the direction of the pond, and as I crept towards the noise, watery eyes reflected light from the kitchen window and glowed orange in the semi-darkness. Frogs had arrived. That year it was twenty common frogs, the next thirty, the numbers increasing until a few years later fifty frogs were bundling into my tiny garden pond, and an amphibian orgy of legs and bodies filling what little water there was with eye-staring clumps of spawn.
As a species, we have been fascinated by frogs for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians had a frog-goddess, Heqet, who symbolized fertility, while Aesop, the Greek storyteller, wrote of a frog who tried to inflate itself to the size of an ox. In the New Testament, Revelation, frogs were thought of as being unclean, whereas they are transformative, and kissed in the well-known Frog Prince fairy tale. The frog-spirit, Ch’ing-Wa Sheng, symbolizes good fortune and healing in Chinese culture and more recently, Kermit the frog turns up as the straight man in The Muppet Show. It seems we can’t get enough of frogs. Ceramic frogs are collected and given as gifts, their faces adorn designs on children’s clothes, and cuddly frogs are given as soft toys.
Sadly, their symbolism seems to be stronger than our desire to protect them. In recent RSPB surveys (as part of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch) the number of sightings of frogs in gardens declined between 2014 and 2018 by 17%, with the main reason thought to be a lack of suitable habitat. Diseases, such as Ranavirus, may also be affecting UK populations.
What is clear is that we need to be doing more to help frogs if they are to keep their ‘common’ moniker. We need to dig more ponds – big or small. Leave suitable wild habitat in a corner of our gardens. Record them when we see them. Over the next couple of months, the citizen science survey, PondNet Spawn Survey, is a great place to start.
So, this week I’ve been out in the garden clearing the pond of leaves, optimistic for the reappearance of my garden frogs and getting my nature-fix. At a time when hope is in short supply, when we are all looking for something to look forward to, the sound of a croaking frog really can be a cause for celebration.