Farmer, naturalist and countryman who inspired Norfolk’s pond restoration project dies aged 82

Richard Waddingham working on a pond Picture: ARCHANT

Richard Waddingham working on a pond Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Award-winning north Norfolk farmer and conservationist Richard Waddingham, who has died aged 82, inspired the industry with his enthusiasm for pond restoration.

A painting by late farmer and naturalist Richard Waddingham Picture: THE WADDINGHAM FAMILY

A painting by late farmer and naturalist Richard Waddingham Picture: THE WADDINGHAM FAMILY - Credit: Archant

Award-winning north Norfolk farmer and conservationist Richard Waddingham, who has died aged 82, inspired the industry with his enthusiasm for pond restoration.

He combined efficient farming and enhancing wildlife across his 600 acres, which was home to at least 78 species of breeding birds and one of the country’s rarest fish species, the Crucian carp.

Mr Waddingham, of Manor Farm, Briston, near Melton Constable, twice won the Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group’s top award and a national conservation award.

Growing a mix of food crops on the arable and grassland farm, he was one of the first to keep his beef suckler cattle outdoors throughout the year.

Farmer and conservationist Richard Waddingham who has died Picture: THE WADDINGHAM FAMILY

Farmer and conservationist Richard Waddingham who has died Picture: THE WADDINGHAM FAMILY - Credit: Archant


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Crucially, for more than 50 years he showed how efficient farming and caring for wildlife could exist side-by-side. At a time, when Whitehall policy was funding removal of hedges, trees and ponds in the 1970s, he was creating wildlife havens in the middle of his fields.

His first pond clearance around 1972 involved cutting back overgrown willows and removing hundreds of tons of mud, debris and trash, which had accumulated over the years. As the water level rose, typically spring-fed, it attracted birds, insects and invertebrates including newts into the light, bright and airy ponds.

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His first field pond was so successful that Crucian carp, a species thought to be extinct in Norfolk, thrived again. At the time, he didn’t even know they were on the farm. He had orchid-rich meadows, grassland margins, old hedges, bluebell woods and about 40 small field ponds and marl pits. During his life, he recorded more than 175 bird species on the farm.

He breathed new life into the farm’s ponds – and his success attracted interest from conservation and wildlife bodies. Great crested newts were recorded breeding in 30 ponds, and the great silver water beetle, also rare, was found in spring 2012. A survey noted 19 dragonfly species in his ponds including the scarce emerald damselfly.

A painting by the late farmer and naturalist Richard Waddingham Picture: THE WADDINGHAM FAMILY

A painting by the late farmer and naturalist Richard Waddingham Picture: THE WADDINGHAM FAMILY - Credit: Archant

Richard Nowell Waddingham, who was born in Devon on May 11, 1938, was the youngest of three. At Gresham’s, Holt, where he was a keen artist, he took up cross-country running. It gave him the chance to bird-watch on the Norfolk coast, at Cley, for example.

When the family visited Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, where the Wildlife & Wetland Trust (WWT) had been founded in 1946, he was taken on a personal tour by the late Sir Peter Scott. He saw how wildlife and farming could thrive and so the seeds of a life’s mission were sown by the inspirational founder.

He and older brother John started farming at Stratton Strawless, near Norwich, in 1957 – returning from the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, at weekends. In 1960, they took on Manor Farm, Briston, where Richard then farmed for the last 60 years.

A breeder of flat-coated retrievers, he enjoyed success in gundog trials and picked up on local shoots.

In 2016, he won a national award for wetland creation – ironically, from the WWT, recognising an exceptional individual’s achievement. On that occasion, Dr (now Prof) Carl Sayer, of University College, London, explained that he had been invited to Manor Farm to see the pond recreation work in 2006. It had inspired the Norfolk Ponds Project, which spread the message that good farming and conservation could co-exist, he said. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 ponds remain in the county, most spread across north and central Norfolk,

Receiving the award, typically modest, Mr Waddingham, said: “I think, that as a country, we’re on the threshold of realising that water management is as important to us as food.” His farm is the source of two rivers, the Glaven and Bure, which reaches the sea at Yarmouth.

Over the years, Mr Waddingham, who was a long-standing member of Holt & District Farmers’ Club, shared his enthusiasm with hundreds, if not thousands of visitors – from farmers to wildlife and conservation groups. When Prof Sayer took a party to a pond in the middle of a potato field, they found 10 different aquatic plants and 14 species of dragonfly – more than probably on many nature reserves.

His successes including Norfolk FWAG’s conservation award in 1987 and then again in 2003. In 2014, he won the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership’s community award and was a runner-up in FWAG’s Ian MacNicol Award.

His older sister Ann and brother John predeceased. He leaves four nephews and a niece. For further details, see the website - www.manorfarmbriston.co.uk

The family plan to have a memorial service, which may take place in the spring. Anyone who would like to attend is asked to email: richardwaddi@hotmail.co.uk

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