Being an Academy Ranger

Academy Ranger Finley Binns

Last September Heddon Valley's new Academy Ranger, Finley Binns, started his new role as part of the West Exmoor ranger team. Volunteer Bob Walters spoke to Finley about his life and career journey, volunteering, and what nature and conservation means to him.

'The first time I met Finley Binns was along the track to Woody Bay on a dark and dismal winter’s afternoon of 2017. We were all enjoying the Ranger and Volunteer Christmas Treasure Hunt around the Heddon Valley and Finley had just emerged from a ‘shortcut’ through the trees. He was determinedly trying to catch up with his team mates and was not pleased at having fallen behind. Even so, I recognised something quite endearing about Finley, although, at the time, quite unaware he was Heddon’s recently recruited Volunteer Ranger.

As the year rolled on we saw more and more of Finley, and I was intrigued on how this effervescent young man had ended up on Exmoor from his life in Spain. So I set about finding out.

Fin, as he is known to everyone, was born in Bristol in 1998 and moved to Spain with his mum and dad at just 4 years old. ‘I completed my primary and secondary education there, with biology being my favourite subject. From a young age I was fascinated with dinosaurs and this urged me to find out more about wildlife as a whole. I was captivated with the behaviour of ants, where I would just stand back and observe, watching the to and fro of the colony busying about their daily routines,’ he told me. 

This, then, fired his desire to gain more and more knowledge of all kinds of animals. And as this developed, so did his interest in conservation and to learn how wildlife ‘ticks’. As he was completing his secondary education, Finley began to look to the next steps in his career, and with the help and support of his mum, he eventually enrolled at Lackham Farming College. At the end of two years, he proudly received his NVQ Level 3 in Animal Management and set about finding a job.

Clearly not being averse to a challenge, Finn landed a 6 month volunteer role on the small, isolated island of Flatholm, perched in the bleak Bristol Channel, just off Weston-Super-Mare. This bastion island was the perfect stepping stone for him, where he revelled in the expertise of their staff. And although resupplied only once a month, the solitude and opportunity to study wildlife at close hand was the perfect life. Alas, after just one month, funding was curtailed, and Finley found himself jobless wondering what to do next.

He spotted a volunteer ranger role advertised at National Trust’s Heddon Valley, and with his indomitable determination, got himself from Bristol to the remote North Devon coast under his own steam. One factor in impressing the interview panel! 

Josey Field, Finley’s line manager, recalls, ‘Out of 5 candidates, we were instantly impressed with Finley’s enthusiasm and passion at his interview, not only for the post, but his natural curiosity in wildlife. Over the year, he has been developing his skills and knowledge to become a successful member of the team and we have no regrets at all in appointing him as volunteer ranger. He is able to pitch in and take the initiative, and whilst it’s steep learning curve, he rises to the challenge every day.’

I asked Josey about one of Finley’s high points. ‘Well. It must be the Bug Mansion! This was Finley’s first opportunity to lead the Heddon’s Volunteer Group, and I know from feedback, it was a complete success. And Finley was immensely proud of this first solo encounter with the volunteers.’

And so Fin’s year-long journey as a volunteer ranger has borne fruit. With encouragement from Josey, and Kev Davies, the head ranger at Heddon’s, Finley has been appointed as the newest Academy Ranger in North Devon. And very proud he is too. 

During our conversation, I asked Fin about his favourite tasks. ‘Well. I can say that as long as it’s not checking Public Rights of Way, I’m happy doing anything. But my absolute favourite is being at Kipscombe Farm. I don’t think of being a ranger as a job. It’s like a hobby. And I love every day of it.’'

Bob Walters,
West Exmoor Volunteer