About Richard Waddingham

Richard has farmed Manor Farm Briston for over 60 years. He has preserved and enhanced what are now widely considered to be some very special habitats for farmland wildlife.

Richard was born on May 11th 1938 and grew up in Exmouth, Devon – the youngest of three children. He became interested in wildlife – in particular birdwatching – on the River Otter Estuary and the marshes of the Exe Estuary. He went to school at Greshams in Norfolk where he took up cross country running; finding the distance from the school to the North Norfolk coast the ideal distance for a run, a spot of birdwatching at Cley Marshes and then a run back.

Richard returning to the Otter Estuary in July 2017

Shortly after Sir Peter Scott started the Slimbridge wetland centre – Richard went on a family trip there and was taken on a personal tour by the man himself. This was hugely influential and gave Richard an insight into the possibilities of habitat creation for birds as well as the pleasure of capturing the beauty of birds and their habitats in paintings. All the paintings on this website are by Richard in the 40 years following that Slimbridge visit.

Geese flying through spray 1962

After Agricultural College at Cirencester Richard’s parents decided to relocate to Manor Farm Briston which they rented at first before later buying. Richard lived with his brother John at Church Farm Stratton Strawless and they jointly farmed the two farms (15 miles apart) – sharing a lot of the machinery. When John got married Richard moved to Manor Farm permanently – close to the Cley marshes he knew as a schoolboy.

Richard c1960

Manor Farm has 44 ponds – a relic from a time when fertilisers weren’t widely available and locally sourced clay was used as a soil improver (to retain water and nutrients). There’s one or sometimes two ponds in nearly every field. Pre-war a lot more people worked in the fields and no doubt many ponds would have been cleared for firewood in the winter months. However Richard started farming at a time when it was becoming more mechanised and ponds were generally seen as getting in the way of the efficient use of tractors.

Barn Owl mobbing 1965

It was at this point Richard departed from mainstream agricultural practice and started spending the winter months clearing the ponds of woody growth to encourage wildfowl in the way he’d seen it working at Slimbridge. Being so close to the North Norfolk coast and bird migration routes meant that the ponds were ideally located for this. As well as letting the light and air in to the ponds Richard also experimented with dredging the ponds to remove built up silt and leaves as well as to maintain open water.

Geese over ice 1964

Life flourished in the restored ponds and Richard took a keen interest – adjusting how he managed them and observing the effects. However it was not all about the ponds for Richard, he was interested in how what he did on the farm and the landscape where he was doing it affected the wildlife. Manor Farm is in the headwaters of the River Bure and close to the headwaters of the River Glaven and Richard took pleasure in finding Otters and Eels using his farm to move between the two river systems. He also always made sure he retained some cattle grazing amongst the arable and often spoke of the value of grassland for birds. When initiatives like set-aside and grass margins came in he was very interested to note the effect on birds. He kept a record of all the visiting and breeding birds he identified on the farm – over the years this became a very long list.

Richard’s Manor Farm bird list

Those who know Richard will agree that people were very important to him – both those who lived locally as well as his willingness to open up his farm to visitors to show what he was doing there. He also had a lifelong passion for flat coated retrievers and travelled to trials across the country as well as hosting them.

Richard c1990

By 2006 Richard had a well established management programme for the ponds and was running the farm in a way that both made a profit as well as provided the habitat for wildlife to both live in and move through the landscape. He heard Carl Sayer from University College London talk about farmland ponds at a local naturalists meeting and afterwards invited him over to show him the Manor Farm Ponds. Carl found a farm where some of his emerging theories about pond restoration and management had been applied for decades with many rare plants and animals long since lost from most farm land. Richard was more than happy for Carl to bring his researchers and students up to study the ponds and this allowed a wide range of scientific findings that are now influencing advice on how to maximise the benefits of farmland ponds.

Geese 1980

For Richards 70th birthday in 2008 he invited his extended family to a day at the London Wetland Centre – the ultimate development of the idea originally started at Slimbridge.

Richards awards include:

1987 – Norfolk Farmland Conservation Award – Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group

FWAG 1st prize 1987

2003 – Norfolk Farmland Conservation Award – Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group

2014 – Community Biodiversity Award – Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership

2014 – The Ian McNicol Memorial Trophy highly commended – Norfolk FWAG

2016 – Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation – Wildlife and Wetlands Trust

WWT Marsh award 2016 – a prize commemorating the legacy of Sir Peter Scott