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Shirley hit by flying frogs
by Phil Walton

Shirley, a small-town on the outskirts of Croydon (UK), was the reported victim of a frog fall in local, and some national, newspapers in early spring (1998). It was reported that an elderly woman phoned the local meteorological office and asked if there had been any unusual winds in the area. She then went on to say that her lawn was covered with frogs.

It has proved difficult to trace the witness first hand as the woman apparently phoned without leaving her name or phone number. The Met Office then contacted the local papers and the story then grew legs - in this case frogs legs. Several papers reported that a Fortean event had occurred, namely a frog fall.

A closer examination of the story leads to some curious observations. The woman in question said that the lawn was covered with frogs - nothing else unusual, just frogs! So what force or agent could have lifted frogs, but not water, out of a nearby pond? Why no newts, fish or aquatic plants? Could it have been that the frogs had a sense for the event that was about to happen and all gathered on a lily pad ready to be whisked off? Such behaviour would indeed have been strange but I think I have heard and witnessed enough Fortean events to believe in them.

Over decade ago a local town, Orpington, was the victim of a straw fall which covered the High Street, and unsuspecting shoppers, with straw from a local farmers field, an event that made it in to the main evening weather forecast. I came out of work one evening to see my car, and everyone else's, covered with red sand. The next day the papers were full of the story of the Sahara sand that had been whisked up by a freak wind into the high atmosphere and deposited over a large area of South East England.

Nevertheless, I find it difficult to come to terms with a selective force whisking up a small crowd of waiting frogs only to put them onto a nearby lawn. Of course it could be a malicious prank by some children but I think I have a far better solution to the frog fall story. For one thing, the woman never said that she saw the frogs fall. It has just been assumed they had fallen because she did not have a pond and the lawn was covered in frogs.

When not working on ASSAP Investigations, I spend my time with colleagues maintaining gardens. About five years ago, one early spring, we were presented with the not very pleasant sight of lots of dead frogs on our customers lawns. Some of the customers had ponds but not all did. Worried that I had poisoned the frogs with fertiliser, that had been applied to most of the gardens the previous week, I investigated. I found out that other local gardens that had ponds, and alsothose that did not, had the same problem, even when the entire garden was left to nature. Then on Radio 4's natural history programme, there was an item about the widespread deaths of frogs caused by a parasite, either viral bacterial or fungal. Over the years, more articles have appeared in the media about the problems of these sudden and tragic outbreaks that leaves whole areas devoid of frogs.

I think that what the woman in Shirley witnessed was exactly what I seen many years before. It was probably an outbreak of an illness hitting a local frog population.