An Officer of the Order of Canada, she taught both in botany and landscape architecture, served on nearly 100 graduate committees, and published more than 50 scientific papers.
She was a lifelong champion of conservation, and spoke on environmental issues through speeches, workshops, newspaper articles and appearances on television and radio.
Born at Sunny Bank in Hull in 1930, she attended Newland High School and from an early age became passionate about the natural world. She won a place at Bedford College, University of London, and in 1952 gained a BSc in biology. She then became the first female employee on the scientific staff at the Field Studies Council, and worked there for five years.
She went to Canada in 1957, initially to stay for a year. When she arrived at Manitoba University as a research assistant, she was shocked to discover that students were not required to undertake any observational or field study, an omission she viewed as a serious error in the Canadian education system.
In 1966, she was able to address this when a timely legacy allowed the university to purchase a field station and Dr Shay became its founding director, a position she kept for 20 years.
Her love of the countryside endured through her life, and she served on many local committees with interests in natural history and conservation. For this involvement, she was given the national Pimlott Award by the Canadian Nature Foundation and the Harkin Award by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Back home in England, she served for three years on the planning and priorities committee of the British Ecological Society.
After her retirement from Manitoba University in 1993, she remained a senior scholar and later became a professor emeritus.
Her last 16 years were spent at Welton in the East Riding, and she is survived there by her husband, Tom, and an extended family.