WHO WE ARE
Meet the team
Chiltern Rangers was founded in June 2013 by John Shaw and Tony Speight as a Community Interest Company delivering practical land
management and advice. Since then we have expanded our team of staff which also includes a number of volunteers.
We aim to provide enriching experiences with local communities to conserve and enhance the local environment.
We are based in High Wycombe and operate in and around the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
I have led Chiltern Rangers since we spun out from Wycombe District Council in Sept 2013 – how time flies when you’re having fun!! Setting up a new social enterprise has been something of a learning curve, which in reality more closely resembles the north face of the Eiger than a curve especially in those early years.
The learning never stops but hopefully is more Marlow Hill than North Face… I really enjoy the time I spend working in our woodlands and nature reserves, improving them for wildlife but crucially doing that conservation work with people from all walks of life, from all parts of our community. That much has never changed.
Today for example, we spent a fantastic autumn morning at one of our bigger, long term projects at Deangarden Wood in High Wycombe, an ancient semi-natural broad-leafed woodland in need of some TLC. It’s a Carington estate site and we are helping restore it as part of a brownfield redevelopment agreement. We are starting with opening up the paths and creating small glades and scalloped edges. Sessions like these and others we run, give me such a buzz, working with the Green Thursday volunteers having fun outdoors in nature and giving back – it’s just so good for our health & well-being.
As MD, much of my time is putting the three Ps (people, places and pounds) in place which make a project, like the one above, come to life. Once we line those up, we can set about making the people and the places better – that is the true power of social enterprise. We are about to launch our next 5 year plan which includes our single biggest challenge to date, a relocation to a new, purpose built and environmentally-friendly community hub serving and supporting the wider community and environment. Beyond that there are conservation projects with young people, the military and more in the pipeline.
It’s a really exciting time and will unlock our future potential at the heart of the community. It’s really important to me that as an organisation, we are as inclusive as possible and engage people of all ages and abilities. We give lots of volunteering and work experience opportunities to young people and people who may struggle in the mainstream ‘system’ for a number of reasons. Inclusivity has always been important to me, however this is driven even more so by my gorgeous daughter Holly (9) who has Angelman’s Syndrome – a rare neurological genetic disorder, learn more at www.angelmanuk.org
Away from the office, I enjoy spending time with my wife Louise and Holly – who happily loves being outdoors – nature/nurture? We often can be seen scooting around Burnham Beeches. Apart from lattes and gallons of tea to keep me going, I enjoy real ale particularly the legendary IPA from our local brewery Rebellion in Marlow and red wine from, well, anywhere really! In sport, I love/endure watching Wycombe Wanderers at football, Beaconsfield RFC at rugby and playing cricket for Penn & Tylers Green.
Thanks for checking out our website keep up to date on our projects and ramblings on Twitter & Facebook, I look forward to meeting you at one of our sites very soon.
Operations and Financial Director
I have always enjoyed the outdoors and spent a lot of my childhood cycling through the countryside. Admittedly it was partly through necessity. When you are too young to drive, buses arrive only once or twice a week and the nearest shop is nearly four miles away it does become the only reasonable way to travel. Luckily it was South Lincolnshire, an extremely flat part of the country (although it can be very windy).
There may well have been fields at the front of my house and fields to the rear of my house and generally a landscape that is almost devoid of trees and hedges but I did get to see on a regular basis Starling murmurations, hares in the fields, Tawney Owls, Little Owls, Stoats, Weasels and Barn Owls as well as a wide range of farmland birds. Something that I never really appreciated until I moved away so I want to make sure that people do appreciate the wildlife on their doorstep. You don’t know how long it will be there for and without help a lot of it will be lost.
After leaving the flat lands, getting a degree in Zoology and doing some travelling around Europe I eventually moved to High Wycombe and volunteered to gain some practical experience in conservation management and an NVQ in Environmental Conservation. Since then I have always worked in conservation with an emphasis on community engagement.
I have been part of Chiltern Rangers CIC since its inception, helping to make sure that the business is a success. I have quite a mixed role within the organisation generally trying to make sure that the business is on an even keel and we are delivering everything that we’ve promised. That means I can be doing a day of practical work, followed by a day of chasing up invoices and planning, followed by a day of discussing business strategy and how we can ensure we’re a viable business for many years to come. It has been hard work but worth it and plan to be here for many years to come as we continue to improve The Chilterns and surrounding areas for the people and wildlife that live here.
I still enjoy the outdoors and luckily my work gives me the opportunity to get out more than most people but I do find myself sitting in front of a desk more than I would like. The cycling stopped for a long time but I am now back in the saddle cycling to work when the weather isn’t too bad and go on the occasional weekend ride through the Chilterns where the hills make the rides a bit more challenging!
Community Projects Manager
I have had a varied and interesting career that has now led me into working for Chiltern Rangers. I worked in the commercial side of the Biotech industry before training to be a primary school teacher. I spent sixteen years teaching in schools, the last six years as a headteacher. I have always loved the outdoors, my interest in conservation grew over the last few years where I found myself spending more and more time working at my ranger aunt’s croft in Inverness during the holidays. I Ieft teaching at the end of 2014 and spent a year gaining lots of new experience. I worked with our friends at BBOWT as a conservation trainee where I learnt so much. On a lighter note we built up our fitness from time to time running around trying to round up their very jumpy Hebridean sheep. To continue the working with animals theme I spent a few months milking cows on the evening shift.
As an all-rounder, I love my role at Chiltern Rangers and that we have the focus of both communities and conservation. I work with teachers and pupils helping them to set up and run their Forest Ranger Schools, enjoy using my new found skills in practical conservation work with lots of lovely volunteers, putting together project funding bids and working with communities so that they can make the most of and look after our beautiful nature reserves and river.
One of my favourite projects so far was working with the amazing team of young people and staff at Harlow House CAMHS day hospital. We transformed a disused garden courtyard in to a vibrant place for patients and staff to relax in. The project seemed to encapsulate everything that motivates me: working with lovely people in need of encouragement, designing and then building something special together, creating a beautiful habitat for plants, animals and people, plus I get to play with power tools!
For those of you who might be confused by the surname, I was Paul New but changed to my wife Amanda’s name Stack when we married a little while ago. Away from Chiltern Rangers, I enjoy spending time with Amanda and step children, cooking for family and friends, a nice pint of real ale, a woodwork project, playing tennis and golf (I like to say to myself that the banter is more important than winning!) I am about a year and a half away from being a black belt in Taekwondo – if my memory for the increasingly complex patterns holds up and I survive the increasingly fast and furious sparring!
Like a lot of people, it took me a while to work out what I wanted to do in life (I haven’t got all areas covered yet either). I have been a successful imposter along the way and my route to becoming a Ranger is fairly convoluted with most of what I was doing beforehand being totally disparate to where I am today! There are thousands of clichés I could insert here but I’m definitely a believer in staying patient, trusting the journey and, however hard it seems, never giving up.
I worked as a Lifeguard whilst I collected a few A-levels; had a fun-fuelled few years at Sussex Uni studying English and Media; graduated and spent a couple of years working for a local Solicitors pretending that I was blissfully happy being shackled to a desk from 9 to 5…
Next step was my PGCE at Reading Uni. Teaching is brilliant but exhausting and after teaching English in a secondary school for 5 years I was more than ready for a new challenge (and a long nap). One of the kids’ favourite sayings was ‘YOLO’ and as much as it annoyed me as an excuse for the slightest misdemeanour; they were right… You Only Live Once. So I took a massive (and frightening) leap of faith and left my job and started a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Conservation and Wildlife Management at Sparsholt College, Hampshire.
As part of the study programme at Sparsholt, I needed to arrange a Work Placement. You know the Universe is giving you opportunities when things just seem to fall into place. There I was, walking my dog through Penn Woods (one of my favourite local places), wondering if I was doing the right thing; worrying I’d made a terrible mistake (I wasn’t always very good at trusting the process), when I happened across a poster nailed to the gatepost…. it was a Chiltern Rangers poster advertising a volunteer session. I took down the number and later that day phoned John. Work Placement organised, I then started volunteering on my day off from college. Without a doubt, volunteering is one of the best ways of getting into conservation careers – I learnt so much extra from being out with the team – it was a great way to consolidate my studies and get experience in the practical delivery of habitat management.
I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world in that I truly love coming to work each day and I look forward to being outside in our beautiful local countryside. It is great working with so many different people: I like the people element alongside making our local environment better for wildlife.
Outside of work, I love walking and exploring with my dog Scout; keeping tropical fish and swimming (not with the tropical fish – the tank is too small). I recently swam the distance between Dover and Calais – 22 miles! All done in the pool – none of that dodging container ships business.
If you’d have asked me ten years ago what I thought I’d be doing, I would have said I’d be working in the police force. From the age of ten I wanted to be in the police force, so I pursued and completed a Criminology and Forensics Studies degree at Portsmouth University. Although I loved the course, and I still find the subject incredibly interesting, when I studied a unit on wildlife crime in my second year I realised I felt more passionate about helping wildlife and saving the planet than I had done about joining the police force.
Although most people still think I’ve either just finished university, or even worse just finished my A Levels (my mum says I’ll take this as a compliment in the future!), I’ve had quite a few jobs between finishing university and starting at Chiltern Rangers. After university I landed myself an amazing traineeship with the Bucks, Berks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, where I was a Community Trainee at Woolley Firs. Following this I worked at the Thames Basin Heath Partnership, Ashridge Estate (National Trust), Henley Town Council and most recently on the Country Parks Team at Buckinghamshire Council. So now, at age 25, I’m hoping I’ve found my dream job at Chiltern Rangers and can avoid having any more job interviews for a while!
My spare time is mostly taken up with playing Ultimate Frisbee (an intense sport with a brilliant focus on community spirit), climbing/bouldering, hiking/walking with my partner, Matt, also a Ranger elsewhere and my Border Collie named Cosmo. In addition, having bought our first home in April, I’ve proceeded to fill it with house plants and now own over 50 house plants. Who needs cats!!
Local boy born and bred, I was bought up in the countryside just out of town and spent a lot of time outside as a kid, nature was, and still is, fascinating to me. After leaving school, I’ve floated around different jobs with no real plan; some general handyman labouring, window fitting and fabricating, and retail management.
Having considered conservation volunteering before, when I heard about Chiltern Rangers through a friend (who highly recommended them) I decided to take the frankly terrifying plunge in 2016 and quit my job to start some volunteering. I very quickly realised that I loved it and increased the days to three or more a week. It’s very interesting seeing some of the places I spent as a youth through fresh eyes, and to now have an active role in their management.
I’ve learnt, and am still learning, so much, and after eighteen months of this hugely rewarding experience I’ve got a job out of it! It’s a lot of fun and all with a lovely bunch of people. It’s very gratifying to be able to protect and enhance our natural places, and to give something back to the community that I spent a lot of my years growing up in.
I’m really excited to be joining the Chiltern Rangers team. The role combines many of my interests, and working in conservation is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. It took a long time to get here- I got very side tracked along the way! Previous roles have included working as an EFL teacher in Spain, working for a company that makes apple juice, and a couple of years working in horticulture.
London born, my interest in nature kickstarted in the playground of the Brixton primary school where a friend and I started a ‘save the snails’ enterprise, carefully relocating the molluscs away from the dangerous playground and dropping them into a neighbouring garden. I have much the same attitude to snails on the allotment.
My mother is an artist and I followed in her footsteps by going to art school in Falmouth and Glasgow. Most of my work focused on plants and animals, but I was discouraged by careers advisers when seeking advice about switching to study conservation. However, several years after graduating from art school I ended up studying Conservation Biology at Oxford Brookes University, and from there did a fantastic traineeship in environmental education with BBOWT at Woolley Firs.
Starting any new job is a big learning process, but especially so with conservation- it’s a never- ending, fascinating accumulation of new knowledge, and I’m looking forward to working with people who really know their stuff!
For as long as I can remember I have had an interest in nature. This ultimately led me to study Animal Biology and Conservation at Oxford Brookes university. I absolutely loved my degree, and I learnt loads about a wide variety of topics ranging from primates to evolution and development! However, I really found my passion when I got the chance to do work experience at the Earth Trust with the land management team. It was brilliant working outside looking after beautiful habitats and I was instantly hooked on practical conservation.
After graduating I continued to volunteer at the Earth Trust while looking for a job, but I still didn’t feel qualified for any of the jobs coming up. It was then suggested to me that a traineeship with BBOWT could be just what I needed to get started in a career in conservation. After months of waiting, a trainee position finally came up, I applied and was successful. What followed was an incredible year working with great people in stunning habitats in North Bucks. One highlight was getting my chainsaw license and putting it to use. Nearing the end of my traineeship I applied for the Assistant Ranger position at Chiltern Rangers, and here I am!
Outside of work I love long walks, especially those where I can do a bit of nature watching (birds in particular). I also play the guitar (not well) and I am in the slow process of learning French.
I am at my happiest when I am outdoors, whether that is going for a ride in the woods, or fishing, or gardening – I just love being outside. I also really enjoy fixing machines like lawn mowers and brushcutters and learning how things work.
For the last two years I have been studying Construction at Bucks UTC in Aylesbury (alongside English, Maths and Science) and it was there that I found out about Chiltern Rangers. I went along for a morning of volunteering and ended up staying all day! From May 2021, I started volunteering four days a week, sometimes five. I enjoyed the work from day one and the staff and other volunteers made me feel very welcome. I feel like I belong at Chiltern Rangers.
I was so pleased when John offered me an apprenticeship and I said yes straight away. I started my apprenticeship in August through Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA) and I’m looking forward to progressing and becoming a Ranger and now my first chapter of my working life begins.
Growing up in the countryside (briefly in the Cambridgeshire Fens then the slightly more hilly area of the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border) I’ve always had a love for nature and the outdoors, especially the links between people and place and the arts and the environment. Having the Malvern Hills on one side of the village and the small rchards, fields and lanes of east Herefordshire on the other clearly made an impression – another favourite part of the world that I’m very lucky to spend time in is rural Jutland.
After finishing my MPhil I lived and worked in Staffordshire and Cheshire – a good few years on my narrowboat (now no longer with me). I then moved to Wycombe – it was only supposed to be for a couple of years but have now been here for over twenty.
After a long spell working in bookselling I took the life-changing decision to abruptly leave my job and stepped off the cliff – luckily there were good people at the bottom to catch me!
I started with Chiltern Rangers as a volunteer, firstly with the Green Thursday group and then on a more full-time basis before joining the team as a Trainee Ranger. I qualified as a Forest School Leader and now spend a lot of my time working with community groups and schools and I also work as a Community Ranger in partnership with Marsh & Micklefield Big Local. Working with a diverse range of people is a hugely rewarding experience and Forest School is a highlight of the week (although the children find it hard to imagine a primary school where there were only 30 people, including teachers…)
Outside of work I enjoy walking, art and photography and firmly believe that in life there cannot be too much music, too much cider or too many books…
Sarah Valentine is the Principal at Bucks UTC and has been on the board as a NED since January 2019.
She joined to support our work engaging with young people and help us deliver more into that sector as she shares our belief of getting young people hands on experience as a way to change attitudes and behaviours and foster understanding.
We have worked with UTC students on several occasions at several sites and hope to do more of that in the coming months.
Sustainability is key in their BTEC construction course and our sessions show why this is so important.
She is also helping us as a board member with her experience at a senior level running a business. Like all NEDs, part of her role is to advocate and promote Chiltern Rangers such as attending business networking events and so on.
This summer she has also helped by getting hands-on at our Almshouses wildlife gardening project planting wildflowers and removing errant wildflowers from the path!
Her passion and reason for getting involved at Chiltern Rangers centres around her love of nature – she is currently enjoying reading ‘Gods of the Morning’ by John Lister-Kaye
I’ve lived and worked in the Chilterns area for over 20 years. I enjoy being outdoors and always taken a strong interest in nature and the environment. I really enjoy walking and hiking and I’m a keen cyclist and mountain bike rider.
I’m in a new career phase of my life, having worked in commercial roles for large corporate businesses over the last 30 years, and I want to use my skills and experience to make our planet a better place to live and help others enjoy the nature and countryside around them. I’ve been doing business mentoring as a non-executive director with another social enterprise and wanted to get involved with a business that is making a difference to the environment so I’m very pleased to have been recently invited to join the Chiltern Rangers board and play a part in helping the business grow and flourish.
I’m getting to know the business much better now, and I’m also please to have been able to get in some “hands on” volunteering with a few local projects.
Penelope Tollitt joined the Board of Chiltern Rangers in the summer of 2020. Her background is in planning, design and sustainability. Until March 2020 she was Head of Planning and Sustainability at Wycombe District Council, a job she had for 6 years. Previously she has worked for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Bath City Council. She currently runs her own consultancy ‘Making Places Together’.
As well as being a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, she is also a member of the Institute of Environmental Sciences. She was raised on an organics smallholding, and has always been is a committed environmentalist. Her interest in supporting Chiltern Rangers is not only because of what they do – the vital nature conservation work – but how they do it, through engaging communities to work together.