Reed cutter, marshman and “true Norfolk man” Eric Edward dies aged 71

He was the man who bravely told Margaret Thatcher she was 'doing it wrong' when she tried her hand at stacking reed during a visit to Norfolk.

After dedicating his working life – and a great deal of his retirement – to tending the Broads, legendary marshman Eric Edwards has died.

Yesterday tributes to the MBE, described as a 'true Norfolk man', flooded in from friends and colleagues.

Mr Edwards, who lived with his wife Ruby in Ludham, passed away Thursday evening following a short illness.

Just two weeks ago he was hard at work at How Hill Nature Reserve, where he had begun working in 1967 and continued even after his retirement from the Broads Authority in 2007.

An ambassador for the Broads and the traditional skills of reed and sedge cutting, the 71-year-old, who would have celebrated his 72nd birthday next month, was well-known across the county and beyond and played a key role in educating thousands of Norfolk's young people.

Simon Partridge, director of the How Hill Trust, last night paid tribute to his friend and colleague.

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He said: 'People loved Eric. He was a character and we don't get many characters in society. He was very open, he was authentic – a true Norfolk man.'

Mr Partridge first met Mr Edwards in 1987 when the now-director began working as a teacher at How Hill.

He said the marshman had been 'swinging his scythe' at the reserve just two weeks ago after giving a talk to a local gardening group.

The trust director said Mr Edwards' enthusiasm for his work – and the traditional skills and processes involved – was infectious.

'He was one of those very, very lucky people who absolutely loved his job,' he added. 'He didn't just love the reed cutting and the sedge cutting, he loved the whole How Hill environment.

'It is a very lonely job at times over at How Hill in the middle of winter, knee high in mud in the freezing weather, but he loved it.'

Mr Edwards worked with a number of organisations and groups across Norfolk as he fought to keep the increasingly-rare skill of hand cutting reed and sedge alive and appreciated in the county.

David North, head of people and wildlife for Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: 'He inspired many thousands of children, families and visitors to the Broads with his stories and practical demonstrations of reed cutting and dressing. People across the country will remember their meetings with him with great affection and he'll be sincerely missed.'

Marshman Mr Edwards was made an MBE in 2004 for services to the Broads and gave lessons in stacking and dressing reed to both Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles in addition to thousands of talks and demonstrations to local people.

Stephen Johnson, chairman of the Broads Authority where Mr Edwards worked for 40 years, described him as an 'irreplaceable Broads character and an inspiration to thousands of children and visitors'.

He added: 'When he first joined the authority as a marshman, Eric was reluctant when asked to give talks to visitors but everyone very quickly realised he had a real talent for it and he never looked back. He captivated people with his natural enthusiasm. He truly loved his job, the scenery and wildlife of the Broads, and was never happier than when telling others about it.

'He was an ambassador for Norfolk reed, recommending the use of it and the sustainable management of the reedbeds whenever possible, even once persuading the BBC to change the storyline of The Archers in order to promote it. He was one of a kind.'

Mr Edwards had objected to a mention of Hungarian reed being used to roof Shula's thatched cottage in the radio soap.

After he visited the BBC building in Norwich and left a pile of Norfolk reed on the steps, the storyline was changed and the cottage re-roofed with material from this county.

It was not his only television appearance.

Mr Edwards also appeared on the Generation Game with Bruce Forsyth and Jim Davidson three times, was interviewed by the late Sir Harry Secombe on religious music show Highway, and appeared on The New Paul O'Grady Show just a month before his retirement. He also made regular appearances in television documentaries about the Broads.

A funeral service will be held at St Catherine's Church, Ludham, on Friday June 8 at 2.30pm.