THERE has been a mass extinction event in our garden and we’re upset about it.
The Man-in-Charge, who discovered several small pale bodies floating at the edges of the pond, broke the news to me on Sunday as we set off on our weekend walk. “I think all the frogs are dead,” he said, sorrowfully, “the ice must have killed them.”
In the great scheme of things, the demise of our common garden frogs - now not-so-common - is a mere trifle. We have not been flooded out of our house, lost all our possessions in a landslide or become the victims of civil unrest.
Compared to these global events, currently casting a shadow across so many lives, the loss of our frogs counts for little.
But I cannot help feeling sad that these little creatures, whose annual struggle for survival has been closely observed by us for several years, will not be happily chirruping in our pond this spring, filling it with their spawn and leaving us with the beginnings of new life.
We are fond of our frogs and went to some considerable trouble a decade ago to re-line the pond and stock it with oxygenating plants.
Every winter we dredge out the bulk of the dead leaves, pop in a raft of barley straw (which, it is claimed, removes noxious pond gases) and wait for the frogs to appear.
We know that more than 100 frogs overwinter in our pond because when we replaced the liner we had to fish them out from the mud at the bottom. But when spawning time arrives any time from late January to mid February we’ve counted upwards of 300 on the surface of the pond. It appears that our garden, having the only sizeable water feature in the neighbourhood, is a sort of spring break resort for frogs.
In the run-up to the spawning season frogs are to be found hopping eagerly up our street, sometimes already paired off. On rainy evenings we have to be extremely careful indeed not to run them over as we pull onto our drive. Sadly, other residents of our cul-de-sac are not quite as cautious and on more than one occasion we have found a flattened frog in a pool of jellied eggs pressed into the tarmac.
But, mostly, we have enjoyed considerable success with our frog breeding programme - doing our bit to protect endangered amphibians - and each September the herbaceous borders are bejewelled with impossibly cute, iridescent, miniature frogs no bigger than the nail on my ring finger.
When the sub-zero temperatures before Christmas caused our pond to freeze over and become a glacier of ice two feet thick we assumed that the frogs would be safely tucked up in their mud beds, their metabolisms ticking over slowly in a state of near hibernation.
Then I read an article in a magazine about pond care in which it was stated that people who REALLY cared about their wildlife would be out putting pans of hot water on the ice to melt it, allowing oxygen in and noxious gases out. Otherwise, it warned, aquatic animals might be poisoned or ‘drowned.’
The Man pointed out that with temperatures at minus 9 deg C we’d be boiling a lot of pans and have to organise a 24-hour rota in order to keep the ice from forming again.
And so we did nothing and now the little bodies have started floating to the surface, which makes me feel guilty.
This weekend I plan to face up to the consequences of my inaction with a bout of pond spring cleaning. It may be too late to save the inhabitants of the pond but I live in hope that any new frogs on the block will find their way to our garden resort.
In the meantime I have been belatedly researching the genus Ranidae, of which there are 400 species worldwide, in my quest to be a better frog keeper.
I have discovered that frogs may be important in the quest for new antibiotics to fight off drug-resistant MRSA bacteria, which is just one of the more selfish reasons to protect them, along with their appetite for slugs.
Also, that frogs are in decline because of habitat loss, the use of insecticides and a virus that is decimating UK populations.
In captivity frogs can live up to 15 years but in the wild much less. In fact, only 1 in 1,000 eggs will ever become a fully-developed adult, which makes me wonder if we should consider helping them along next year - should any tadpoles escape the icy hand of death and hatch in our pond.
There are, I have found, many websites offering advice on the hand-rearing of frogs – and we have a spare fish tank.
What’s more The Girl will be leaving home later this year so I will need something to care for.