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

Zoology Jottings: Nineteen 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in expansive mode the dialog at tea time was broad ranging, from what he was writing to the individuals (principally outdated colleagues on the Royal Veterinary Faculty) he loathed. One afternoon within the early Nineteen Seventies he described how within the early Nineteen 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 had been with him (Leo Harrison Matthews was one), that they had 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 had been his different companions?

By likelihood I used to be wanting by an outdated Bulletin of the BHS after I got here throughout an article by John Francis Deryk Frazer (1916-2008) describing the actions of the BHS within the early years.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

At the moment, 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 had been getting on, which as far as I can collect was a glorified pub crawl during which Marsh Frogs had been included.

Whether or not this was the entire group I have no idea however Frazer’s recollection is flawed in a single element. Amo was already Professor of Physiology on the RVC. All of the trippers had 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 bunch 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 had been conspicuous—his endurance and tenacity, his talent 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 ultimately reaching the comfortable inn parlour to debate the restoratives ignored towards our return.

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

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

The reader will be aware {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 passion, 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 presents of penetrating remark, guide dexterity, and infinite endurance. He was working within the laboratories of the Royal Veterinary Faculty on the time of his dying. His work on the neurological management of micturition, revealed 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 take a look at of time. [Barrington is known for the eponymous structure in the brainstem, Barrington’s nucleus or the Pontine Micturition Centre.]

That pub looms giant once more and certainly suits the definition of ecology we propounded within the Nineteen Sixties as the one helpful information 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 Nineteen Sixties, Marsh Frogs had been usually known as Edible Frogs, and vice versa. Water frogs (Pelophylax) of no matter species had been imported to complement the numerous tens of hundreds of Widespread Frogs (Rana temporaria) caught in Britain annually for sophistication dissections and, when pithed, for sensible physiology lessons. The twelve Marsh Frogs had 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 beneath 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 bought greater than he bargained for when spring arrived. ‘For weeks on finish’, he wrote, ‘no person might sleep on the pond facet of the home, and the frogs had been turning into a first-class nuisance’. In June two of the biggest 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 had been within the mere. A 12 months later (1936) the mere was filled with younger Marsh Frogs and people had been discovered three miles away. By Could 1937 in what E.P. Smith described because the ‘Nice Yr’ there was ‘an infinite quantity of spawn, and tadpoles and minute frogs had been to be seen in every single place’. Frogs had been seen as much as 14 miles away in each instructions.

Over time the unfold of the Marsh Frog has been nicely documented and I feel it will need to have been the big variety of frogs, their giant measurement, their speedy 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 Nineteen Fifties—in addition to the considered the native hostelry.

Monitoring the inhabitants and vary of the Marsh Frogs in southern England has in fact 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 due to this fact the deleterious results of inbreeding might need been anticipated. Nonetheless, Inga Zeisset and Trevor Beebee discovered the same 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 had 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 enable the presumed empty niches to be refilled nonetheless persists however launch has been unlawful since 1981. The alternative view invokes the precautionary precept: that every one non-native animals are probably 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 harm. Regardless of the views, and regardless of the proof of doable competitors with Widespread Frogs or predation of different wildlife, there is no such thing as a doubt that the descendants of  Edward Percy Smith’s Marsh Frogs are right here to remain. By sheer likelihood they discovered themselves in an excellent habitat.

Lastly, there may be a lot flawed 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 take pleasure in 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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