British Wildlife Centre’s Matt Binstead on his perfect Surrey weekend

PUBLISHED: 14:22 02 March 2017 | UPDATED: 15:41 04 April 2017

Matt with the British Wildlife Centre's two new otter cubs (Photo: British Wildlife Centre)

Matt with the British Wildlife Centre's two new otter cubs (Photo: British Wildlife Centre)

Matt Binstead

Taking care of our fascinating wildlife is more than a full time job for Matt Binstead. Here he reveals how he spends his weekends at the centre, near Lingfield

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2017

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WORKING with animals, I don’t tend to experience what many would call a “normal weekend”. I both live and work at the British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield, but I don’t see it as a job... it’s more a way of life. Ever since I was young, I have been truly passionate about British wildlife. Britain’s wildlife is often overshadowed by more exotic species that get plenty of exposure on TV but we can in fact boast one of the smallest and most efficient predators in the world - the stoat - as well as the most aggressive cat species - the Scottish wildcat - and the fastest recorded animal - the peregrine falcon!

As head keeper at the British Wildlife Centre, I am on site pretty much 24/7, 365 days of the year. Our philosophy here is conservation through education. We participate in or organise many of the breeding programmes around the country involving native animals but our main focus is education. During the week we welcome school groups of all ages to the centre, where we can show them and teach them about animals they can find in local woodlands, parks and maybe even their own back gardens. Then at the weekends we open to the general public.

Just like any other day

So, a typical weekend for me would start like any other day. Firstly I check on my own animals, just a few chickens and my loyal and best friend Bess, a sheepdog I rescued 12 years ago and has been by my side ever since.

The keeper team arrive at 9am and, once they are set up for the day, I open up the Visitor Centre. Next on the agenda is a brisk walk around our 26-acre nature reserve to make sure all is in order and then a quick check on all our animal residents to ensure they are well and healthy. When the public arrive we start a series of half-hourly keeper talks on the different species we have here, starting with the red squirrels at 10.30am and finishing with the owl flying display at the end of the day.

Aside from these routine duties, every day is different. The variety in this job is one of the things that keeps me fresh and motivated at work. One day we may be cleaning out an enclosure, another providing enrichment for an animal or maybe taking care of a new arrival to the centre. Recently my weekend was a particularly memorable one. Towards the end of last year, our female otter gave birth to two beautiful cubs. We left the mother to care for the young (as mum knows best) but when the cubs reached six weeks old it was time to sex them, give them a health check and microchip them for our records.

Even after 13 years at the centre, I still get a high from seeing such wonderful sights as these otter cubs. This winter we had one male and one female. Surprisingly they start off life afraid of the water, but it won’t take long for mum to teach them to swim.

Taking a snapshot

At the end of a long day, Bess and I go for a walk to relax. I am a keen photographer, so there is nothing I enjoy more than spending more time with our animals, only this time with a camera in hand. My photos are used on the British Wildlife Centre’s website, literature and signage, helping to promote the centre and the wonderful wildlife we have here. Once at home, I relax while listening to music or reading. I do have a guilty pleasure of playing on my PlayStation 4 but then if I don’t, who else is going to defend the galaxy from the ever encroaching forces of darkness?

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The British Wildlife Centre is open every weekend and bank holiday and daily during state school holidays (excluding 24, 25 & 26 December). Eastbourne Road (A22), Newchapel, Lingfield, Surrey RH7 6LF. Tel: 01342 834658. Web: Britishwildlifecentre.co.uk

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Dame Judi Dench on Bond, theatre, wildlife and her love for Surrey

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