Norfolk Wildlife Trust travels back to the Ice Age to support wildlife

Tuesday 02 August, 2022

Conservation charity excavates rare ‘ghost pingo’ ponds dating back to the Ice Age to restore wildlife-rich habitat to Norfolk  


This week, Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) is excavating arable fields at Watering Farm to rediscover a lost wildlife-rich landscape characteristic of the Norfolk Brecks and dating back to the Ice Age.  


Watering Farm is found on one edge of NWT Thompson Common, a site with incredibly rich wildlife interest focused on its 400 rare Ice Age pingo ponds.  


On site until the end of the week, NWT will be joined by academics from University College London and Brighton University, as well as members of Norfolk Ponds Project and Norfolk Geodiversity Partnership as they painstakingly dig up areas of the site that they believe to be the location of 'ghost' pingos. 


Found at a time when woolly mammoths roamed the land, pingos are shallow, fluctuating pools created by small hillocks of ice melting and making depressions in the soil. Pingos harbour a variety of interesting flora and fauna, however as agricultural practices intensified, the ponds were frequently filled in and these vital wildlife-friendly features were lost from the landscape.  


As they dig down into the earth and hit a layer of black peat, which indicates the original base of the pond, NWT will find seeds and organic matter that can be used to regenerate the pingos for wildlife.  


Following the purchase of land at Watering Farm in 2017, NWT began excavating ghost pingos last year as part of the Brecks Fen Edge and Rivers Landscape Partnership, with funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund.   


In 2021 NWT excavated four of a possible 20 pingos believed to be located on this patch of land. This week, as part of the same project, they are hoping to restore a further six pingos.  


The sites for these ‘ghost’ pingos have been discovered using a combination of old technology and new.  


NWT are working with University College London to analyse old maps, some dating back to the 1700s, and aerial photos of the area to find signs such as longstanding depressions in the landscape that could indicate the presence of a pingo. Combined with Lidar data, a modern method of 3D landscape mapping, this research can reveal the location of the historic landscape features.  


Jonathan Preston, NWT Area Manager, said: “The prospect of rediscovering further pingos at Watering Farm is thrilling.   


“It takes a great deal of detective work to establish the locations of these Ice-Age relics, so there is a lot of excitement as we dig down into the earth, knowing we’re reaching far back into history to support wildlife into the future.  


“Our work at Watering Farm is helping to extend this unique habitat, providing more space for wildlife that is better connected across the landscape. This will help to buffer the existing sensitive habitats of Thompson Common, create even more space for special Brecks wildlife, and help wildlife adapt to the impacts of climate change.”  


NWT have also recently acquired Mere Farm, a 130-acre site that borders with Thompson Common, and have plans to do similar work for wildlife excavating pingos on that land in future.   

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