THE coldest snap many on The Lizard peninsula can remember may have wiped out an entire generation of frogs.
Sub-zero temperatures in recent weeks have also caused havoc to rare plant species.
The peninsula is home to some of Britain’s rarest flora and fauna, many of which have adapted to flourish in the unique conditions.
But as mild winter weather gave way recently to the severest frosts in decades, the ground was turned rock solid and shallow water froze – killing off plants and animals.
Justin Whitehouse, National Trust area warden for The Lizard, said it was heartbreaking. “It has been the coldest that I and many others can remember on The Lizard.
“Any frost is a rare occurrence and many of the rare and unusual flora and fauna unique to The Lizard only occur here because frosts are so unusual.
“Species like the frogs have adapted their lifecycles to make the most of the mild winters, breeding in October rather than the more usual spring.
“The wet summer and autumn looked like it was going to be a bumper year for the frogs, until the severe frost arrived and froze the tadpoles into blocks of ice.”
Mr Whitehouse said that after a very dry December, the freezing temperatures caused serious damage.
Data from the Met Office recorded a temperature of -7.8 on the night of January 6, the coldest there for 20 years.
The weather recording station, situated at RNAS Culdrose on the outskirts of Helston, reported three nights of consecutive hard frosts with temperatures at -5 and -4.
While residents could wrap up warm or turn their central heating up a notch, the peninsula’s wildlife had been dealt a terrible blow, said Mr Whitehouse.
There is little permanent water on The Lizard, so most of the frogs breed in old cart-tracks and temporary pools on the heaths. The arctic conditions led to shallow breeding pools being frozen solid, wiping out common frog tadpoles en masse.
Mr Whitehouse said he feared for the delicate balance of nature in places like The Lizard as climate change made weather patterns more erratic.
“While the frog population will no doubt recover, my main concern is that with climate change we are likely to get more and more unpredictable weather which some of these highly adapted species will find difficult to survive longer-term.”
The frost has also made life difficult for one of The Lizard’s most celebrated, but elusive, wild residents – the Cornish chough.
The iconic birds usually feed by poking their beaks into the ground and rummaging for invertebrates. But the frozen ground has made this impossible.
It is also feared that the frost penetrated deep into the soil, potentially affecting some winter annuals.
The Lizard, the most southerly point of mainland Britain, is a unique environment. Thanks to the Gulf Stream and relatively warm prevailing southwesterly winds, the peninsula enjoys one of the mildest climates in the country with an annual mean temperature close to 11C (52F).
Severe frosts are exceptionally rare and its micro-climate sees Mediterranean plants which die elsewhere in Britain surviving all year round.
From this is cornwall.co.uk