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Manning was educated at Strode's School in Egham, University College London and Merton College, Oxford where he completed his DPhil under Niko Tinbergen. After National Service he joined the University of Edinburgh as an assistant lecturer. His main research and teaching interests are on animal behaviour, development and evolution. He has been involved with environmental issues since 1966 and with the Centre for Human Ecology since its inception at the University of Edinburgh in 1970. He was Professor of Natural History at the university from 1973-1997. In December 1997, a gallery in the Natural History Collection of Edinburgh University was named in his honour on his retirement. He is now Emeritus Professor.
Manning was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1973) and received an Order of the British Empire in 1998. He also holds honorary doctorates from Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse and the Open University. He received the Zoological Society of London Silver Medal in 2003 for public understanding of science.
Among his many posts, he has been Chairman of Edinburgh Brook Advisory Centre, Chairman of Council of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and a trustee of the National Museums of Scotland and is President of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts. Professor Manning is also Patron of the British Optimum Population Trust.
He has written An Introduction to Animal Behaviour (1967) Cambridge University Press, which is now in its fifth edition. His television broadcasts have included: the BBC Two's Earth Story and Talking Landscapes. He is currently working on a new series called The Rules of Life for the BBC Radio 4 and the Open University.
In 1959 he married Margaret Bastock (d. 1982) and had two sons. In 1985 he married Joan Hermann PhD and had a son.
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