"I CAN hear the seagulls in the background. Those noisy old herring gulls!”

It seems the seagulls are making an extra effort to be raucous during my call with bushcraft and survival expert Ray Mears but he isn’t one to let rowdy birds disturb him. Compared with his adventures presenting next to 4m crocodiles and enormous whale sharks, an interview set to a seagull chorus is unlikely to put him off.

A household name since his first TV programmes in the mid-90s, Mears will celebrate 35 years of teaching bushcraft next year. Yet his passion for sharing his knowledge of nature remains as strong as ever.

“Everyone thinks bushcraft is a children’s thing; it’s not,” he says. “Actually, it’s a very grown-up subject for adults, for people who want to travel in remote places. We do so much with children, with whom you can set the ground, but really we teach adults and they go off all over the world and do amazing things afterwards.”

Mears founded Woodlore, the School of Wilderness Bushcraft, to help others build nature into their everyday lives by actively engaging with it. In his new live show, Born To Go Wild, he aims to build on that by interacting directly with his audience. Children are particularly welcome at his live events because, he says, they always ask the best questions. “I had a six-year-old once ask me ‘What is nature?’. They cut straight to the chase.”

Inspired by his recent travels to Australia, this tour focuses on what Mears considers the two vital areas of bushcraft: outdoor skills and a knowledge of nature. “For the first part, I’m concentrating on fire because it’s the most important skill and it’s also very visual and fun.” Man’s creation and manipulation of fire is what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, he says.

“The second half of the show will be about knowledge of nature. And fortunately I’ve got footage from Australia that I can use to illustrate my point and explain how important and rewarding it is to take an interest in nature.”

He wants to use these tools – his stories, fire demonstrations and video footage – to inspire younger generations. Growing up in the North Downs, Mears spent his childhood roaming the chalk country and he speaks enthusiastically about how influential this was in sparking his passion for nature.

“Downland was really instrumental in my love of plants because the chalk country is so rich in wild flowers and trees. And plants are an incredible way to engage in other environments because the plant similarities give you an immediate point of contact with local communities.”

He speaks just as passionately about our local landscapes as he does about his travels half a world away: “The South Downs is stunning. Especially in the summer – you can’t beat it.” But he is reluctant to share his favourite spot because “otherwise everyone heads there”. Mears’ love for nature is seemingly boundless and, he hopes, highly contagious. His greatest wish is that people will see the benefit of the countryside and learn to interact with the environment in a non-invasive way.

Through teaching bushcraft and encouraging engagement with the natural world, he spreads his message of conservation. It is, he says, like holding a handful of sand.

“No matter how tightly you squeeze there are always a few bits that fall between your fingers. So the only way to work in that regard is to increase the amount of sand in your hands. It’s not about putting a fence around something and saying, ‘keep out’. We really ought to be doing the opposite thing, saying, ‘come in and enjoy this’.”

Hannah Burley

Ray Mears: Born To Go Wild
Pavilion Theatre, Worthing, October 22, For more information and tickets visit worthingtheatres.co.uk or call 01903 206206