Plant last seen in Norfolk 100 years ago rediscovered

The Grass-Poly up close, rediscovered after a century-long absence in Norfolk. 

The Grass-Poly up close, rediscovered after a century-long absence in Norfolk. - Credit: Rob Peacock

A species of plant thought to have become extinct in the county more than a century ago has been rediscovered in a Norfolk farmland pond. 

The plant, known as ‘grass-poly’ was found in good health by Professor Carl Sayer of University College London, on the edge of a pond in Heydon, west of Aylsham.


One the project's pre-restored ponds. 

One the project's pre-restored ponds. - Credit: Carl Sayer

It is thought the seeds of the plant lay buried deep in the mud surrounding the pond and were preserved by the darkness and lack of oxygen, before being disturbed by restoration work.

“We’d restored the pond about a year ago,” said Professor Sayer, “removing the mud and fallen trees and had gone back to resurvey it.

"I found something that I just didn’t recognise. It’s not something you see every day and I knew it was probably very rare.

“We’ve got some really amazing plant gurus in Norfolk… and they said it hadn’t been recorded in Norfolk for over 100 years.”

One of the project's restored ponds.

One of the project's restored ponds.  - Credit: Carl Sayer

Professor Sayer said that the plant was an endangered species in the UK, and existed “only in a handful of other places”. 

“So it’s a really nice thing to see it come back,” said Professor Sayer, “something we’re on the edge of losing in Britain.” he added. 

Most Read

The Norfolk Ponds Project began in 2014 in partnership with the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group. 

The project was inspired by north Norfolk farmer and conservationist Richard Waddingham, who died earlier this month at the age of 82. 

The county has more ponds than any other in England - there are estimated to be 23,000 present.

Professor Sayer said that restoring the ponds was beneficial to both birds and amphibians, but that his discovery was “the icing on the cake” and that he hoped it would spur on the recovery of further species. 

“There’s lots of things that are rare and even extinct nationally that may live in this form, buried under the ground and in the darkness, perfectly preserved - it’s almost like a time capsule.

“There’s the potential for things we’ve announced as extinct, to come back to life, and that’s what we’re discovering.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter