Martin Spray (1947 – 2021)

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.

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Minter, Rick “Martin Spray (1947 – 2021)” , British Association of Nature Conservationists,

3 thoughts on “Martin Spray (1947 – 2021)

  1. Barry Larking says:

    I met Martin and Jane plus the girls once long ago in the Forest. He thought me an Irishman – I do have some connection – and expected a cheerful curly haired Hibernian instead of what he got. Thereafter we exchanged Christmas letters and the occasional e-mail. ECOS went sideways once or twice down those long years and but for Martin and Rick might now be just a faint memory. In his essays Martin’s repertoire of cultural references was impressive and sorely needed to give breath to an often marginal, minority cause back then. He was ahead of his time seeing clearly that for us acolytes nature is not set down in policies and legislation in columns of text, but life itself.

  2. Gavin S says:

    When I wrote for ECOS there were a tiny handful of people who vetted the raw material before it went public. Rick of course was one, and I knew Rick well, and having met him many times I could visualise him as I read his gentle criticisms. Martin Spray I never met. He was, for me, only a manifestation of words on a screen, and yet he made a deep impression on me. His words were never mundane. They were colourful, eccentric, somehow off-kilter in a gently mocking, but always wise way. I felt unnerved, in a good way, by his questioning. And when he praised what I was trying to say, the praise carried more weight because I knew it was not offered out of politeness, but only with sincerity. I valued the connection I felt with a man from the Forest whom I never had the good fortune to meet. I regret his having passed without me having the opportunity to rectify that.

  3. David P says:

    MARTIN SPRAY (1947 -2021)
    I met Martin in 1976, and immediately took to him when he interviewed me for a place on the Diploma in Landscape Architecture course at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design. He asked me what poets I liked. ‘The Thomas’s: Dylan; Edward; R.S.; Thomas Hardy…..’ I began. He seemed slightly disappointed, perhaps hoping for a less mainstream reply, but I scraped in anyway. Martin was the best of tutors, genuinely interested in his students, critical yet encouraging, and always with a twinkle in his eye.
    Later, he introduced me to Ecos, and his were the articles I came to look for and read first – invariably insightful and humane, it would be a lovely tribute if they could be collected and published together in a special edition to celebrate not only his life, but his lasting contribution to many, many lives.
    Thank you Martin.
    David Percy

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