ONE of the founders of the Friends of Paxton Pits has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in The Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Retired chemistry professor Ray Matthews, 67, from St Neots, who has been chairman of the voluntary body for nine years and on the organising committee since its formation, was given the honour for services to conservation.

Dr Matthews founded the friends, with Trevor Gunton, in 1995, since when it has grown to nearly 2,500 members, 200 of whom are active volunteers.

"I was honoured, of course, but surprised and also delighted that it's a way in which the huge voluntary effort has been recognised," he told The Hunts Post.

"It's over 25 years since we had the gleam in the eye that a nature reserve could be realised. Huntingdonshire District Council appraised the potential leisure value of the Ouse Valley in the early 1980s and had a little symbol on the draft plan as a potential nature reserve - so credit goes to the then councilors and officers for recognizing the potential."

The reserve was eventually declared in 1988.

"It's also a really important amenity for the people of the area. It has just grown from there, and the voluntary effort is really very substantial."

There are plans to extend the nature reserve downstream as far as Diddington and the edge of Buckden, expanding from the present 192 acres to more than 700, though the economic slowdown has reduced the requirement for the gravel extraction that forms part of the plans with landowners including the University of Oxford and Thornhill Estates.

"But we're not waiting for that," Dr Matthews told The Hunts Post. "Even before the extension was thought of, the volunteers were managing some of the habitat there."

Dr Matthews, who retired from the groves of academe eight years ago, has also now retired from 38 years' voluntary work with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

His conservation work would not have been possible without the support of his wife, Pam. "She has been totally supportive and enabled me to lead this dual life," he said. "These things are never down to one person."

Also honoured by The Queen last weekend was Trevor William Huddleston, from Huntingdon, who leads the strategy directorate at the Department for Work and Pensions. He was made a Companion of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).