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A Halloween conservation tale – bringing Norfolk’s ‘ghost ponds’ back from the dead

PUBLISHED: 14:56 31 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:56 31 October 2018

A 'ghost pond' on the Felbrigg Estate, before restoration. Picture: National Trust

A 'ghost pond' on the Felbrigg Estate, before restoration. Picture: National Trust

National Trust

They may not be the most obvious spectres to spring to mind on Halloween – but a dedicated team of conservationists is working to bring Norfolk’s “ghost ponds” back from the dead this autumn.

Many farmland ponds were lost during the post-war drive to increase food production, as the enlargement of agricultural fields meant small ponds were typically filled in with hedges, hedge bank soil and trees – contributing to declines of wildlife in the countryside.

Recent research suggests Norfolk lost around 8,000 ponds after the 1950s – but the remnants of these so-called “ghost ponds” are still visible as wet depressions and crop marks in the fields.

And now efforts are under way to bring this important part of Norfolk’s rural heritage back to life, restoring habitats for aquatic plants and wildlife, including invertebrates, amphibians, fish, mammals and farmland birds.

At the Felbrigg Estate, near Cromer, the National Trust is working with the Norfolk Ponds Project and the Pond Restoration Research Group at University College London (UCL) to restore three previously in-filled farmland ghost ponds.

Emily Long, the trust’s project manager, said: “We have also created three new ponds to similar dimensions that will not only increase the benefits to wildlife in the area, but it will also allow us to see differences in how new and restored ponds colonise with species, which has never been done before.”

As part of the National Trust’s Riverlands project, a national partnership with the Environment Agency, work has also begun in Norfolk’s River Bure Valley to restore vital freshwater environments.

Dr Carl Sayer from UCL and the Norfolk Ponds Project said: “Our previous work has shown that seeds of water plants that used to grow in ghost ponds remain viable in old deposits even after hundreds of years of burial beneath arable fields.

“Therefore, once re-excavated, ghost ponds can quickly spring back to life and the species that colonise the ponds are often the ones that used to be present in the ponds – it is truly amazing and a very positive thing for conservation.”

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