Martin Wood – engineer, philanthropist and conservationist

A joint statement by sister charities: Earth Trust, The Oxford Trust and Sylva Foundation

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Sir Martin Wood (1927-2021).

Sir Martin and Lady Wood together founded our three sister charities. Each of us has a distinctive vocation, voice and vision, yet at our heart we inherited our founders’ generosity of spirit and innovative approach to getting things done for science, people and nature.

As a visionary engineer, Martin started Oxford Instruments with Audrey, developing and marketing the world’s first superconducting magnets. These were soon in great demand for scientific equipment, notably in the development of MRI scanning technology. As the business flourished, ultimately floating on the stock market, Martin and Audrey became prolific philanthropists, supporting business start-ups, scientific innovation, young people and the natural environment.

Martin and Audrey co-founded Earth Trust in 1982 (previously known as Northmoor Trust for Countryside Conservation) after years of appreciating the challenges faced by nature and the environment. From its earliest pioneering beginnings it has grown to be an advocate and demonstration of people connecting with the natural world. Earth Trust’s wildlife-rich green spaces include the iconic Wittenham Clumps and 500ha of farmland, woodland and wetlands, welcoming 200,000 visits each year. Its passion for quality and accessible green spaces is shared with and through events and engagement activities, award-winning volunteers and a thriving young people’s environmental education project.

Chief Executive of Earth Trust, Jayne Manley, commented:

“Martin’s love of the environment, his appreciation of the benefits of being close to nature and his desire to make it better for everyone have shaped Earth Trust into what it is today. Just as he pioneered in science, he wanted to support innovation in thought and action. Alongside this he understood that Earth Trust was a ‘start-up’ charity, bringing with it similar challenges to those faced by small businesses. He was much loved by staff, volunteers and visitors and will be missed enormously by all.”

In 1985, Martin and Audrey co-founded The Oxford Trust, creating Oxfordshire’s first innovation centre for science and technology start-ups. Hand-in-hand with business incubation, the trust has always supported young people and encouraged students to consider pursuing careers in STEM. The Oxford Trust owns the Oxford Centre for Innovation and opened the new the Wood Centre for Innovation in 2019. Together these centres help dozens of young tech companies get a head start. Though its Science Oxford programmes it reaches over 20,000 students, 600 teachers and hundreds of families across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire annually.

Chief Executive of The Oxford Trust, Steve Burgess, said:

“Martin’s passion for innovation and physics cannot be understated. Not only through his direct work on superconducting magnets which, via MRI scanners alone, effects millions of lives every year, but also supporting early-stage technology companies at a time when no one else had the vision to do this. With Audrey always at his side the duo has made an incredible impact on today’s entrepreneurial landscape and in science education. His legacy will be carried forward by The Oxford Trust.”

Sylva Foundation was co-founded by Martin with Dr Gabriel Hemery in 2009 aiming to nurture Britain’s wood culture. Its origins stem from a collaboration between the two while working closely together for 13 years to create a forestry science programme at the Northmoor Trust. Sylva Foundation combines many of the qualities of its sister charities, with a passion for the environment, business, and education. It has brought technical innovation to the forestry sector, where its online platforms are supporting 9,000 landowners and managers in caring for 140,000ha across Britain. When Martin and Audrey donated land and buildings at Long Wittenham to the charity, this led to the creation of the Wood Centre. The foundation supports 25 woodworking business and delivers an education programme supporting employability and promoting the use of home-grown timber.

Chief Executive of Sylva Foundation, Gabriel Hemery, commented:

“Martin’s friendship and leadership transformed my life, professionally and personally, and consequently the lives of the entire Sylva team, the thousands of people we work with, and the tens of thousands of hectares of woodland we help care for across Britain. On my office wall hangs a framed note from Martin that I found waiting on my desk on the first day we started working on the idea of founding a new charity: ‘Greetings, a great day – we’re going to change the face of forestry in the British Isles!’ In a few words, this perfectly captures Martin’s unparalleled vision, philanthropy, and humanity.”

Our thoughts and love are with Martin’s widow, Audrey, and the Wood family.

 

Read Earth Trust’s statement

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