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Britain's favourite bushcraft expert Ray Mears has travelled across the world learning the survival techniques of indigenous people. He talks to TNT about his love for wolves and what he thinks is a traveller's most important tool.

You are backing npower’s Climate Cops SOS campaign, which aims to give Britain’s youth a passion for the outdoors. Does a city kid need to know bush survival skills?

You could argue they’ll never need to learn fly fishing, but that’s not what this campaign’s about. It’s about the peripheral skills, lighting that spark in kids. The problem is, adults are not giving them the opportunity to develop their imagination. Of course, the practical skills are important, too. Learning to recognise the trees and plants around you is always helpful.

What’s the first survival skill you ever learned?
How not to get caught when you do something you shouldn’t have!No, seriously. The first thing I remember was learning a particular edible plant. I grew up on the North Downs, a green belt surrounding London, and many of the skills I learned, I learned there. I decided from then on I wanted to know what plants I could eat, and I took photographs of them and learned to recognise them. I’ve never looked back.

Have you got any other skills beside survival?
RATI probably have one or two, but I’d prefer to do them than talk about them. I’m from that generation.

Are there any animals you’re afraid of?
Yes. The saltwater crocodile is the one creature that I have above normal respect for. They are seriously dangerous and they’ve got a reputation. What were small crocodiles in the late 1970s are now very large. I’ve had close encounters before with them, when I’ve been with Australian Aboriginal communities, where people have been taken. The animals are so sneaky and so patient. You have to be very careful.

Are you a flight or fight kind of man when confronted with danger?
My instinct is to be prepared for any situation, so I do my homework and learn about creatures. I find out about what makes them tick, what makes them angry, so I’ve go the tools to deal with dangerous situations. I’m certainly not flipping coins.

Who is your survival hero?
An explorer in the 1770s called Samuel Hearne, who walked from Hudson’s Bay to the Copper Mine River and back. He was a very first man to show that Canada could be explored by learning from indians. He was remarkable, not just because of his endurance and what he did, but also because of the wonderful journal he wrote when he returned. He captures a way of life that has subsequently vanished.

If there is one piece of survival knowledge everyone should have, what should it be?
To make fire. If you can make fire for free, then you have to know about nature and that means you break your dependency upon modern society. And that’s also the tool that separates you from other species. There are many animals that use tools, but there’s no other creature that uses fire.

You’re in a bush a long way from anywhere and you can choose only choose to keep one of the following: an axe, tweezers, or (rival TV adventurer) Bear Grylls. Which is it?
(Mears laughs heartily) I’d probably keep the axe because it’s the most useful tool and I can do a lot with that. I don’t need Bear Grylls. He’s a very nice chap, I’ve met him before, and I can improvise tweezers.

Do you hate Bear Grylls?
We have a completely different outlook on the subject of survival. He’s done some very important work and good luck to him.


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