When I started working at NWT, way back in 1999, one of the first County Wildlife Site owners I met was Richard Waddingham. We spent a sunny afternoon walking the ponds and woods on his North Norfolk farm and looking at meadow filled with wildflowers. At one point, we stood back from a hornet’s nest in a veteran oak tree – entranced, but at a safe distance.
Our paths crossed many times in the following decades and so it was with great sadness that I heard of Richard’s death in November.
Richard will be best remembered for his contribution to farmland pond contribution, earning his farm a long feature in British Wildlife magazine. During the last century, most farm ponds fell into decline, as they were no longer needed for watering livestock – some were filled in, but most were simply left to dry out, clogged with tree growth, leaves and silt. Richard revived the age-old practice of periodically dredging the ponds and cutting back bankside trees. As a result, his ponds hummed with life: great crested newts laid their eggs in the leaves of the plants that thrived in the open, sunlit water and dragonflies flew over the surface, while their young stalked their prey in the depths.
The ponds also attracted ecologists, including many academics studying pond ecology and those like myself, eager to see what lessons could be applied to ponds in other locations. Students studied the use of ponds by birds, the movement of the newts between farm ponds and the insect life of the water. Many species rely not just on one pond, but on a connected network of ponds, often with a mixture of sunny water and shaded. Richard’s farm was ideal for this study.
As awareness of ponds conservation grew and the Norfolk Pond Project was founded, training days for farmers and conservationists alike were held on Richard’s farm. He was always interested in what everyone had to contribute and generous in providing his dining room for a fine spread and tea – including his housekeeper’s impressive array of homemade cakes.
Richard’s interests in conservation went far beyond ponds. On that first day we met, he stood scratching the head of a cow he told me was well into her teens. She was worth keeping, although she no longer calved, because she would follow him around and the other cows would follow her. ‘Saves me spending time and money rounding them up’ he explained. With this knowledge of grazing animals, Richard was a valuable contributor to developing plans for grassland conservation in Norfolk.
People with a deep knowledge of their land, of its wildlife and management, are few and far, so Richard will be missed in many ways. I will remember him as a quiet, gentle man of great wisdom and humility, whose legacy will live on in so many ways.