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Home » Zoology Jottings: Fifties Weekends at Romney Marsh. The Medics, Zoologists and a Spycatcher in Search of Marsh Frogs

Zoology Jottings: Fifties Weekends at Romney Marsh. The Medics, Zoologists and a Spycatcher in Search of Marsh Frogs


When ‘Amo’ was in expansive mode the dialog at tea time was large ranging, from what he was writing to the folks (largely outdated colleagues on the Royal Veterinary Faculty) he loathed. One afternoon within the early Nineteen Seventies he described how within the early Fifties he and a celebration had been to go to Romney Marsh annually to see and listen to the launched Marsh Frogs. I keep in mind that he talked about among the individuals who have been with him (Leo Harrison Matthews was one), that they have been from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the British Herpetological Society (BHS) and that I had later learn concerning the journeys and the individuals who went on them. However the place had I learn it and who have been his different companions?

By likelihood I used to be trying by means of an outdated Bulletin of the BHS after I got here throughout an article by John Francis Deryk Frazer (1916-2008) describing the actions of the BHS within the early years. He wrote:

Presently, events of members used to go to see the Edible Frogs at Ham gravel pits and the Marsh Frogs in Romney Marsh. One specific group which contained Malcolm Smith, Max Knight, Jack Lester and Dr. (later Professor) E.C. Amoroso, used to have an annual journey to the Marsh to see how the frogs have been getting on, which as far as I can collect was a glorified pub crawl wherein Marsh Frogs have been included.

Whether or not this was the entire group I have no idea however Frazer’s recollection is improper in a single element. Amo was already Professor of Physiology on the RVC. All of the trippers have been well-known within the scientific and herpetological world:

Malcolm Arthur Smith (1875-1958), previously doctor to the royal family of Siam had been retired since 1925 however labored in London on the Pure Historical past Museum; he wrote the amount on British amphibians and reptiles for the New Naturalist sequence in 1951 and was founding president of the BHS.

Charles Henry Maxwell Knight OBE (1887-1968) was nonetheless working for the Safety Service MI5 but in addition turning into established as a naturalist and broadcaster.

John ‘Jack’ Withers Lester (1908-1956) was Curator of Reptiles at London Zoo and chief of the televised ‘Zoo Quest’ expeditions filmed for the BBC. In an obituary, Matthews wrote:

For a number of years after 1950 he and a gaggle of mates together with the late F.J.F. Barrington made one or two week-end journeys to Romney Marsh to review and acquire the Marsh Frog Rana ridibunda, a gathering that turned recognized facetiously because the ‘‘Ribi Bund”. Even on these  comparatively tame expeditions Jack’s splendid qualities have been conspicuous—his persistence and tenacity, his ability to find and capturing the quarry, his equanimity on falling headlong right into a marsh ditch within the small hours of a frosty March morning, and his good companionship on eventually reaching the cosy inn parlour to debate the restoratives not noted in opposition to our return.

Leonard Harrison Matthews FRS (1901-1986) was Scientific Director of ZSL from 1951.

Amo was after all Emmanuel Ciprian Amoroso, CBE, FRCS, FRCOG, FRCP, FRCPath, FRS (1901–1982).

The reader will word {that a} new identify has now appeared along with these recalled by Deryk Frazer:

Frederick James Fitzmaurice ‘Snorker’ Barrington (1884-1956) was a surgeon at College Faculty Hospital. Sir Charles Lovatt Evans, the physiologist, in an obituary wrote:

He was broadly learn in lots of instructions, however particularly within the organic sciences; pure historical past was his pastime, and he was usually to be seen on Sunday mornings on the Zoological Gardens with which he turned intimately acquainted. A lot of his spare time was occupied with analysis work, for which he had the items of penetrating statement, guide dexterity, and infinite persistence. He was working within the laboratories of the Royal Veterinary Faculty on the time of his demise. His work on the neurological management of micturition, printed in a sequence of papers from 1914 to 193, was excellent, and, though it didn’t at first obtain the popularity it deserved, it has stood the check of time. [Barrington is known for the eponymous structure in the brainstem, Barrington’s nucleus or the Pontine Micturition Centre.]

That pub looms massive once more and certainly matches the definition of ecology we propounded within the Sixties as the one helpful data to emerge from botany subject journeys: 

Ecology is the research of crops and animals in heat, dry climate and inside 100 yards of a public home.

For these unfamiliar with the British herpetofauna the non-native Marsh Frog (now Pelophylax ridibundus) was launched right into a backyard pond on Romney Marsh in February 1935 by Edward Percy Smith (1891-1968). That Smith, to not be confused with Malcolm Smith) wrote an account of their introduction within the Journal of Animal Ecology in 1939 whereas Malcolm Smith in his New Naturalist quantity supplied additional particulars. Within the Nineteen Thirties and, certainly, till the genetics of European water frogs was sorted out within the Sixties, Marsh Frogs have been usually referred to as Edible Frogs, and vice versa. Water frogs (Pelophylax) of no matter species have been imported to complement the various tens of hundreds of Frequent Frogs (Rana temporaria) caught in Britain annually for sophistication dissections and, when pithed, for sensible physiology courses. The twelve Marsh Frogs have been obtained from College Faculty London (UCL). Edward Smith states that that they had been stored in chilly storage and with out meals for 18 months. Malcolm Smith wrote that that they had simply arrived at UCL from Debreczen (Debrecen) in Hungary when Edward Smith obtained them.

On the time he put the  frogs in his pond Edward Percy Smith was an organization director and playwright, an occupation he continued into movies (The Brides of Dracula, 1960, for instance) and tv, often underneath the identify of Edward Percy. He was elected Member of Parliament for Ashford in Kent at a 1943 by-election and held the seat till 1950 when he stood down. He clearly received greater than he bargained for when spring arrived. ‘For weeks on finish’, he wrote, ‘no one may sleep on the pond facet of the home, and the frogs have been turning into a first-class nuisance’. In June two of the most important males had moved out of the backyard and right into a mere about half a mile away and commenced calling. By October all of the frogs have been within the mere. A yr later (1936) the mere was stuffed with younger Marsh Frogs and people have been discovered three miles away. By Could 1937 in what E.P. Smith described because the ‘Nice 12 months’ there was ‘an infinite quantity of spawn, and tadpoles and minute frogs have been to be seen in every single place’. Frogs have been seen as much as 14 miles away in each instructions.

Over time the unfold of the Marsh Frog has been effectively documented and I feel it should have been the big variety of frogs, their massive dimension, their fast growth in quantity and in vary in addition to the unimaginable noise that the males make within the breeding season that drew these distinguished scientists and naturalists to Romney Marsh within the early Fifties—in addition to the considered the native hostelry.

Monitoring the inhabitants and vary of the Marsh Frogs in southern England has after all continued because the vary has expanded northwards and different, presumably unrelated, colonies have been found. It didn’t go unnoticed that with such a small founder inhabitants a lack of genetic variety and subsequently the deleterious results of inbreeding may need been anticipated. Nevertheless, Inga Zeisset and Trevor Beebee discovered an analogous diploma of genetic variety within the Kent inhabitants to that in Hungary and simply as in different launched species all through the world whose populations boomed instantly there was no signal of a genetic bottleneck.

Two colleges of thought emerged on the introduction of non-native amphibians and reptiles. The primary was that the final Ice Age and the formation of the English Channel left the British Isles so impoverished in variety of species that species present in continental Europe bounded by the North Sea and the English Channel must be given a serving to hand to fill what have been presumed to be empty ecological niches. Deliberate launch was not concerned in lots of circumstances as a result of simply as with the Marsh Frog colonies of escaped animals turned established generally for a brief interval however others that persist to the current day. The view that we should always permit the presumed empty niches to be refilled nonetheless persists however launch has been unlawful since 1981. The alternative view invokes the precautionary precept: that each one non-native animals are doubtlessly invasive and damaging to the native fauna and flora. The latter group has the accommodationists and the eradicators, the latter advocating the extermination of launched species no matter an illustration of ecological injury. Regardless of the views, and regardless of the proof of potential competitors with Frequent Frogs or predation of different wildlife, there isn’t any doubt that the descendants of  Edward Percy Smith’s Marsh Frogs are right here to remain. By sheer likelihood they discovered themselves in a super habitat.

Lastly, there’s a lot improper info on the origins of the Marsh Frogs on Romney Marsh that I can solely conclude that even so-called native consultants haven’t learn the unique descriptions and even famous the right date. Learn at your peril. I did although get pleasure from this brief video by Paul Bunyard:

Beebee TJC, Griffiths RA. 2000. Amphibians and Reptiles. A Pure Historical past of the British Herpetofauna. London: HarperCollins.

Frazer D. 1983. The British Herpetological Society—a memory. British Herpetological Society Bulletin No 8 December 1983, 10-12.

Frazer D. 1983. Reptiles and Amphibians in Britain. London: Collins

Smith EP. 1939. On the Introduction and distribution of Rana esculenta in East Kent. Journal of Animal Ecology 8, 168-170.

Smith M. 1951. The British Amphibians and Reptiles. London: Collins

Zeisset I, Beebee TJC. 2003. Inhabitants genetics of a profitable invader: the marsh frog Rana ridibunda in Britain. Molecular Ecology 12, 639-646.


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