Obituary Richard Leopold Calvert Williamson

Richard Calvert Williamson was born in North Devon on 1 August 1935, the fifth child of author Henry Williamson (Tarka the Otter, Salar the Salmon, The Flax of Dream, the 15-volume A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight and many other books), but was brought up on the north Norfolk coast on Old Hall Farm at Stiffkey, owned and worked by his father for the duration of the Second World War.

He was educated at St Michael’s College (a Worcestershire choir school), and Blundell’s School, Tiverton, Devon; but not a scholar, his interest from earliest years was that of a lone wanderer watching birds and observing natural history. After leaving school he joined the RAF and served for five years in radar stations in England, Iraq, Jordan and Cyprus (awarded the General Service Medal during the Suez Crisis), so gaining valuable experience in life’s rich and wide panorama.

On leaving the RAF he worked in Forestry and on National Trust Nature Reserves in north Norfolk and Suffolk to gain experience to fit him for a career in what was then the Nature Conservancy (later English Nature, now Natural England).

His father encouraged him to write, and while writing his first book, The Dawn is my Brother, and working during the day at forestry, Richard wrote a daily wild-life correspondent article from 1957-9 for the Daily Mail. He has also written for many other national newspapers and magazines over the years.

He became warden of the Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve near Chichester, Sussex, from autumn 1963 until his retirement in 1995, where he carried out continuous long-term weekly monitoring (and continued until 2018 though retired) of breeding birds, butterflies and plants, particularly wild orchid colonies. Thousands of visiting school children have benefitted from his enthusiastic teaching. He has also carried out weekly breeding bird monitoring annually in the woods where he lives, and has also done a section for the wildfowl counts in Chichester Harbour over the same period. He was instrumental in gaining special status for Chichester Harbour by preparing a report on its natural history value in the late 1960s.

From 1964 to date he has written the weekly wildlife column ‘Nature Trails’ for the Chichester Observer (and sister titles) plus other features as well, including for some time a ‘Local Character’ article highlighting many important people past and present in the area; an ‘Old Car’ feature in an associated magazine; and ‘Williamson’s Weekly’ in the West Sussex Gazette. Currently popular is his weekly ‘Williamson’s Walk’ feature. Over the years he has given hundreds of lectures on various natural history subjects. Richard is a well-known and popular local character whose work is thoroughly enjoyed by southern readers.

He has been president of the Henry Williamson Society since its inauguration in 1980 (where he is held in almost as much affection and esteem as his father!).

Apart from natural history his main interests – indeed, passions – are classical music, vintage cars and literature, and he has a large and varied library reflecting these, as well as three Alvis TA14 classic cars.

Richard was married in March 1964 to Anne (who manages the Henry Williamson Literary Estate and is herself author of two biographical books on Henry Williamson & is responsible for most of the content on the HW Society website: They have a son, Brent (b. 1965, ballet dancer, lives in Portugal, 2 children), and a daughter, Bryony (b. 1966, drama and English teacher, 1 son)

Richard and Anne live in an isolated old gamekeeper’s cottage in the middle of a wood on the estate of the late Edward James (the eccentric millionaire patron of surrealist art, with whom they were friends), in an area which is a nature reserve under the aegis of Sussex Wildlife Trust. Richard also carries out wild-life monitoring on this reserve and is chairman of its committee.

Books published

The Dawn is My Brother (Faber & Faber, 1959): it was runner-up to the John Llewellyn Literary Prize, 1959, and was considered an antidote to the then popular vogue of ‘kitchen-sink’ genre. It is a charmingly innocent story of his young life. (Reprinted as an e-book by the Henry Williamson Society, 2015)

Capreol: The Story of a Roebuck (Macdonald, 1973): a novel about the life and adventures of a roebuck, situated on the South Downs and the nature reserve where he worked – akin in spirit to his father’s Tarka the Otter, and ending inevitably in death. (Reprinted as an e-book by the Henry Williamson Society, 2015)

The Great Yew Forest (Macmillan, 1978): the story of his work in Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve – at the time it was on best-seller lists for top twenty books of the month. (Currently updated & extended – see below)

Nature Trails (self-published, 1995 – 2000 copies sold): a compilation of a selection of the weekly newspaper articles, illustrated by John Davis.

52 Favourite West Sussex Walks (Summersdale, 2012): drawn from his weekly walking column with a wealth of natural history detail and illustrated with his own quirkily decorated hand-drawn maps.

The Birdwatcher’s Year (Summersdale, 2013): a handbook full of facts, tips, and folk-lore for each month of the year.

Books currently finished and awaiting publication

Posted to Cyprus – interesting and amusing tale of life in the RAF on the island of Cyprus during the Suez crisis when the author was just 21 years old and suffering from the collapse of his first love affair: novelised autobiography.

Yew, Ewe, and You – an updated, extended, and more personal version of his earlier book.

The Great Yew Forest (see above)

Shadow in the Cloudsa true and idyllic story of searching for a snow leopard in Afghanistan in 1971 – before the internal uprising and then Russian invasion & subsequent devastation of the country by continual war. Based on a visit made by the author to prepare for a BBC film (never made – due to insurgency). This is a ‘Paradise Lost’ story.

Flights of the Mind – a volume of poems: thoughts mainly about birds but with a integral intertwining of themes revealing the author’s life philosophy.

With Love From Russia – a novel set in Russia and Sussex telling the story of two lonely people, a Russian girl living and working on a remote island off the coast of Northern Russia and an English airline pilot living on the south coast of England, who are brought together by a brent goose go-between which the girl hatches out and attaches a message to its leg before it migrates to Chichester Harbour where, injured, it is found by the pilot.

The Star Swan – a novel telling the story of a young girl growing up on the North Norfolk Coast in the late 1930s, who falls in love with a German youth visiting the village, who later becomes a pilot in the Luftwaffe, inevitably resulting in tragedy.