Author: johnraytrust

Still a necessary cause!

The experience of one of our Trustees, Paul, during the Commonwealth Games 2022 proved that our mission to increase awareness of the work of Ray is still very much needed!

Paul volunteered at the lawn bowls competition and was placed with a host family in Leamington Spa. It turned out that his host was a Professor of Plant Science, Ian Crute, who had only vaguely heard of John Ray! Paul proceeded to tell Ray’s story, and since then Ian has enjoyed researching Ray’s story. Below is an extract of Ian’s write up published with his permission.

“July and August 2022 in Leamington Spa saw the influx from around the world of several thousand devotees to the game of lawn bowls (contestants and spectators). Victoria Park is the HQ of the sport in England and was the venue for contests between men and women of all ages from far and wide. The tournament comprised eleven separate events and the award of 33 medals. Contestants were able-bodied and disabled including teenagers, a 75-year-old medal-winner and all ages in between.

Earlier in the year, we had responded to a request for local homeowners to provide volunteer marshals with “bed-and-breakfast” accommodation. Two such guests (Paul from Essex and Janet from Nottingham) stayed with us for the duration of the games. Simultaneously, and with less notice, three generations of six sports-loving, ticket-holding northern Crutes also descended on us. This required sleeping arrangements to be established in all rooms apart from the kitchen and bathrooms. We all had a thoroughly enjoyable couple of weeks, but thereafter Liz and I were firmly resolved not to start a bed-and-breakfast business! However, meeting new people can be instructive.

Our guest Paul is a trustee of the John Ray Trust (inaugurated in 1986 – The trust has a scholarship scheme and awards bursaries to students in the natural sciences. I had a vague recollection of having previously heard the name John Ray in a natural history context. He initially spelled his name “Wray” until 1670 when he changed it to Ray. Despite my having a degree in botany, I was previously completely unaware that it was John Ray (1627-1705) who developed the species concept and inspired Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) in the development of the structured taxonomic approach we are all familiar with for naming and classifying plants (as well as fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects). My conversations with Paul about John Ray stimulated me find out more about this remarkable 17th century figure who, from a humble background, became such a highly influential scientific pioneer.

Paul obtained for me the 2005 publication (“John Ray – Pioneer in the Natural ~Sciences: a Celebration and Appreciation of his Life and Work”) by Malcolm Bryan (a former Chairman of the John Ray Trust). This stimulated me to delve deeper into John Ray’s life, work and travels coincident with particularly turbulent times in English history (the civil war raged between 1642 and 1651). Having read Bryan’s informative publication, I managed to secure a second-hand copy of the second edition of Ray’s biography (John Ray: naturalist – his life and works; 1950) authored by Charles Raven (formerly Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University). While not being scientifically trained, Raven had both a keen interest in natural history and, particularly, the necessary facility to read the Latin (in which all of Ray’s published work and correspondence was written)……….

My reading continues. I am particularly interested to try and understand better the influence that Ray’s writings may or may not have had on Darwin and the way in which Ray conceived that the natural world was organised and structured. ” 

Winner of the 2022 Science Prize Announced

The John Ray Trust is pleased to announce that the winner of this year’s John Ray Trust Science Prize is Joel Gayford for his research on sharks. Congratulations to Joel for his fascinating project investigating how and why two species of shark, the Pacific Sharpnose and the Scalloped Hammerhead, change in shape as they grow from a juvenile into an adult shark. His meticulous fieldwork, and consideration of the life cycle and adaptations of the sharks to their environment and food sources, demonstrated clear links to the style of natural history John Ray championed during his lifetime.

On Thursday 15 September 2022 Joel attended a special prize giving ceremony at Notley High School and Braintree Sixth Form where he talked to current GCSE and A-Level students about his research project and what it was like to study at the University of Cambridge. Joel carried out his field research in Mexico, and it was interesting for the students to hear more about the practical side of studying the natural world. The talk was very inspiring for this next generation of students, and we hope it has encouraged some of them to considering studying natural history and/or applying to study at the University of Cambridge.

Joel displayed a clear passion for sharks and his career goal to become a leader and expert in the field of elasmobranch [sharks, ray and skate] ecology and evolution. We wish Joel all the best as he begins his MRes in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at Imperial College London and we are sure we will be continuing to read of his future successes and breakthroughs in this field.

Joel Gayford, prize winner, holds a biography of John Ray, to his left are John Ray Trustees Paul Wood and David Gask, and to his right is Cllr Andrew Hensman, Chairman of Braintree District Council. Taken at Braintree Sixth Form after a presentation to students.
Joel Gayford (centre) with (left to right) Paul Wood, David Gask (John Ray Trust) and Cllr Andrew Hensman, Chairman of Braintree District Council
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark [Photo by Kris Mikael Krister, shared under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.]

An ice cream sundae with Prince William and Beth Chatto – the BBC Essex Quest

On Sunday 1 March the John Ray Trust was excited to take part in the BBC Essex Quest show on BBC Essex radio. The BBC Essex Quest is a radio ‘treasure hunt’ across the county of Essex. The programme broadcasts live every Sunday morning between 9am and 12midday, and has been on-air since July 2011.

Liana and Barry are its two ‘out and about’ presenters who have to try and solve four clues to four mystery places in Essex, without maps or the internet.

Listeners call the programme to help unravel the clues and give Barry and Liana directions to the places they’re visiting.

On March 1 our John Ray Garden, part of the Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens in Bocking End, was one of the mystery locations

The clue Barry and Liana solved to find the garden, which they collected at Coggeshall Museum (their previous stop) was:  “Enjoy an ice cream sundae with Prince William, to support a row of books. Beth Chatto would like it here”.

 The answer to the clue is:

> One type of ice cream sundae is a knicker-BOC-ker glory.

> Prince William is second in line to the throne and as such would be crowned KING.

> You might support a row of books with a book END.

> Beth Chatto is a well-known GARDEN designer.

On their arrival we took Liana on a tour of the garden, and introduced her and listeners to John Ray’s remarkable story and the work of the Trust today.

To find out more about our garden and how to visit please click here

Liana from BBC Essex radio interviews Trustee Jennifer Rowland in the John Ray Garden

Research on Butterfly Habitats wins the 2019 Science Prize

Each year the Trust invites final year students at the University of Cambridge who have conducted research that would have interested John Ray to apply for our science prize. This year’s winner was Natural Sciences’ student Matthew Lewis for his research into how butterflies are responding to climate change. Since 1976 76% of British butterfly species have declined in distribution or abundance. Matthew’s research looked at how well 29 butterfly species were able to ‘buffer’ their body temperature against fine temperature changes at a RSPB reserve. His findings suggest that providing varied habitats and vegetation, and therefore importantly shade, across a nature reserve can help the butterflies. 

On 8 November Matthew visited Notley High School in Braintree to talk to GSCE Science students about his research, and about student life at Cambridge. It was a very inspirational talk, and we hope it will encourage many of the students to consider studying natural history at university and appyling to Oxbridge.

We were pleased to hear that Matthew is continuing his butterfly research and we wish him all the best with his future career.

For more information on the Science Prize please click here

Matthew Lewis with Trustees and staff from Notley High School

Family Nature Fun at our Garden

Over 200 people joined Trustees of the John Ray Trust this Sunday bank holiday (5 May 2019) for an afternoon of family nature fun in the John Ray Garden. The event marked the launch of new family-friendly garden signage, which was officially opened at the event by the Chairman of Braintree District Council.

The families enjoyed a range of free activities, including building an insect hotel, making their own geological planet, creating a butterfly mosaic and planting a sunflower seed to take home. There was also free face painting with Funky Fun Parties and Facepainting.

David Gask, Chairman of the Trust, said ‘It was lovely to see so many local families enjoying the garden and the activities, and learning more about John Ray through reading our new signs. Our charity supports natural science students and we hope the garden and these activities will help inspire the next generation of local natural scientists.’

The John Ray garden is situated inside the Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens and is planted with flowers, herbs and shrubs that would have been familiar to local science hero John Ray in the 1600s. Ray founded the scientific study of the natural world, and with the new signage garden visitors can learn more about his famous discoveries, including that trees can be dated from counting their rings.