Spotting ghosts

Ghost ponds are fairly easy to find, although once you have located them on a map, spotting them in the field varies in difficulty depending on the time of year, rainfall, and crop cover.  We found surveying in February, after a wet winter and before crops had grown up, made the process of ‘ghost spotting’ pretty easy.

Most of the ghost ponds that you are likely to encounter will be fairly recent, probably lost between 1950 – 1970.  As such, they often appear on the 3rd revision OS maps, drawn between 1930 – 1960.  I used Edina Digimap to compare OS maps of different ages, and thus locate ghost ponds, but this is a paid-for resource.  If you are looking for a free map resource, British History Online can be quite useful;  Alternatively, if you are in Norfolk, the County Council has a fantastic Map Explorer resource, which goes right back to the tithe maps;

To identify ghost ponds across the whole of Norfolk, I went through a process of comparing the modern OS maps with the 3rd revision OS (drawn around 1952), and 1st edition OS (drawn around 1890).  I also used the tithe maps in some cases, although these do not always mark ponds.

Once I had located the ghost ponds on the map, I went to an area of Norfolk I know reasonably well, to see how easy these ghosts were to find.  As it turns out, many of them do indeed leave traces in the landscape – a wet patch of field, a noticeable depression in the ground, or sometimes just a subtle change in the vegetation.

Here are some of the ghost ponds we found – the three we ended up resurrecting, and a couple of others which remain in their ethereal state.


Frog ghost 


Original ghost – you might spot that Original ghost is not the only pond on this map which was filled-in between 1952 – 2013.


Crescent ghost – this pond was filled-in so long ago that it doesn’t appear on any OS maps (the first being drawn in 1857).  It is however on the tithe map, circa 1840.


Ridland’s ghost – this pond remains in it’s ghostly state, although seems to be trying its hardest to come back to life – the photo was taken in February 2013 after heavy rain.  The even larger ghost pond to the west of this one was also evident, although more muddy and holding less surface water.


Willow Farm ghost – this ghost pond still sits on a hedgerow – depending on current land  use, these sort of ghosts might be the best targets for resurrection; they have some terrestrial habitat for amphibians and birds, and are often in areas which might already be margins / buffer strips, especially if the farm is in HLS.


4 responses to “Spotting ghosts

    • Hi Mike, thanks for the tip on the Where’s the path website – I’ve been playing around with it this morning. Strangely, I haven’t seen your ECRC report (125) – I just tried to get hold of it but received an odd combination of errors telling me it either isn’t available, or I don’t have “staff access level” (?!?) I would love to have a look at it though – I don’t suppose you have an electronic copy you would be happy to send me? My e-mail is

  1. Pingback: Resurrecting the UK’s water landscapes - The London NERC DTP | The London NERC DTP·

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