A brief tribute from fellow ECOS editor Rick Minter
We bring you the sad news that Martin Spray passed away, aged 74, in mid May 2021. He had been active in his wonderful garden earlier in the day, before experiencing a sudden heart failure. He had lived with Parkinson’s for many years, keeping up his love of walking and gardening, and helping causes dear to his heart, including ECOS.
I first met Martin through our mutual roles in editing ECOS, which became a regular duty for us. At the time he was a lecturer in ecology and landscape design. I asked who he worked with and learnt most from in that role. “The students of course” was his immediate answer, befitting a man who shunned status, always stayed humble, and was a natural teacher.
In all he did Martin embodied the yin and the yang. He was maverick but grounded, calm and considered. He knew many activists but never became one outright, keeping below radar as he hated crowds but was good at background prodding and letter writing. He always debated with respect and reason. His Sheffield upbringing lent him a blunt Yorkshire style, but it was cushioned by his dry wit and his gentle charm. Above all he oozed wisdom, always keen to help people notice and learn from simple things and everyday nature. His meeting with my daughter at a young age included a chat to her about the badgers living in the bank below his garden. It was followed by his hand made Christmas (actually Yule) card enclosing a badger’s whisker, and a note, “Remember those badgers…?”.
Martin was a good fit for ECOS, with his independent spirit, his questioning style, and his willingness to help writers express themselves clearly. Always holistic, he brought art, play, culture and poetry into his views of the natural world, and in the scope and content of ECOS. He was a detailed editor – urging high standards, spotting weak points and omissions. Most contributors both cursed and valued his demanding feedback, knowing they’d upped their game in the process. In recent years his input to ECOS was tailing off, but when the student article series was devised he quickly embraced the role of judging submissions. True to form, he instinctively looked to give guidance and comment to improve the texts. The actual need to rank them was not high on his agenda – aiding people with critical thinking was always his preference.
His inspiring garden, crafted with his wife Jane, reflects their great plant knowledge, a passion for experimentation, and their skills in ecological design. It is a garden with spaces for any mood – an ecosystem for people and their campfires and secret corners, amongst the plants, pond, fruit trees, mossy banks, and collection of ferns. Beyond the garden he built dens and hides in the nearby forest for himself and with his daughters Rowan and Helen. In earlier times he would walk the forest landscape after dark to experience nature’s night world.
Martin preferred keeping feral in the outdoors, but inside he became the scholar. His interests across ecology and related topics ran wide. His book collection featured flagged pages on every shelf. He marked and highlighted text and verse, so a suitable quotation or poem was always in reach, feeding his own writing. His output was prolific, with book reviews, pithy comments and long essays throughout the decades with ECOS and across many other outlets. His writing, like his character, was never formula.
Martin loved his locality – he blended into the quirky, anarchistic Forest of Dean where he networked with soul-mates in many circles. No doubt his subtle mentoring was an asset in the community.
The local forest stirs with the passing of an elder – travel well Martin. In your company and from your wise words, we have become better students.