July 24, 2018

Parch Marks

For most of the summer, many of us have been suffering through a horrible drought (it broke here in Baltimore over the weekend with 6+ inches of rain since Saturday!), but it’s still going strong in the UK. This drought has uncovered a trove of information, much previously unknown. Appearing in the grass and on the lawns of many historic sites are what is known as parch marks. These marks are the remnants of what existed in the space in the past.

In this garden at the historic house, Hardwick Hall, you can make out the original garden design with the original design just below.



Here’s a general explanation of parch marks, or as they’re sometimes called, crop marks:

Crop marks appear due to the principle of differential growth. One of the factors controlling the growth of vegetation is the condition of the soil. A buried stone wall, for example, will affect crop growth above it, as its presence channels water away from its area and occupies the space of the more fertile soil. Conversely, a buried ditch, with a fill containing more organic matter than the natural earth, provides much more conducive conditions and water will naturally collect there, nourishing the plants growing above.

The differences in conditions will cause some plants to grow more strongly and therefore taller, and others less strongly and therefore shorter. Some species will also react through differential ripening of their fruits or their overall colour.

Here are some additional images that which have been discovered over the past few weeks in the UK. In the UK, the big drought in 1976 revealed many unknown sites,  but many of these parch marks are only being found now because of the availability of drone photography which provides the perspective needed to see the marks.

Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashireimage


This house at Clumber Park was demolished in 1938, but the outline is now showing.image

The outlines of a former circular garden at Knole.image

WWI Trenches in Kentimage

Outlines on the lawn at Chatsworth (still peeved that I couldn’t visit)image

A newly discovered henge in County Meath, Irelandimage

Remains of a former RAF airbase in Hampshire.image

Parch marks of a large prehistoric enclosure in Wales' Vale of Glamorgan (where I used to live), with the faint footings of a probable Roman villa image

The remains of a Roman town in Norfolk.image

WWII air-raid shelters in Cambridgeimage

Although the drought is not a good thing, it’s certainly fascinating what it has been revealing!


  1. Fascinating. All I get are my septic laterals. So much more interesting in places of historic settlement.

  2. Hello Meg, Archaeologists have used aerial views for years to locate old sites, but this drought has brought these images out dramatically. Also, the drought dries up rivers, making riverside searches and excavations (called mud-larking in England) much easier.

  3. Wow! Time to put some of that stuff back where it was.

  4. This a great post on a fascinating topic. Thank you. You are one of favorites.

  5. This is very cool and very informative. I imagine archaeologists are going crazy---confirming long lost artifacts and cities.

  6. Meg, those are totally cool, and without your pointing them out in a single post, I would never have come across so many photos. I guess this is a minor plus to all the heat and dry weather.

  7. This is so interesting. I had never heard this term before.

  8. I've been following this, it's a fascinating and beautiful phenomenon.


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