North East survival expert James Reay on how to survive in the great outdoors

PUBLISHED: 15:20 27 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:57 20 February 2013

James Reay

James Reay

North East survival expert James Reay explains why basic survival skills are more important now than ever, as Ruth Addicott reports

Hes bitten the heads off bugs, chewed through moth larvae and survived a bomb blast that nearly killed him. Having trained in some of the worlds most hostile environments, there is little that fazes North East survival expert James Reay.

Born and raised in rural Northumberland, James has a background in bushcraft survival and is now encouraging people to get out of their comfort zone and back to nature.

Inspired by the popularity of TV programmes and survival experts such as Ray Mears and Bear Grylls, James set up Survival Training in 2011, taking groups of people into Kielder Forest and teaching them basic skills to live in the wild.

With a laugh and learn ethos, James says its not just about building a shelter, but building peoples self-esteem.

Its quite physical when youre out there foraging and collecting materials to make a fire and shelter, but its mainly about having fun and getting people outside, he says. Weve had everyone from school teachers to people who work in McDonalds. Theyve seen it on telly but never been taught.

Based at Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland, the courses are open to all ages and are suited to everyone from student backpackers and mature hikers to company directors on a corporate day out. Teenagers have been among the most enthusiastic, learning skills from building a fire to foraging.

What my courses do is give people the peace of mind that as long as theyve got food, fire, shelter, water, they can get by, says James.
While he hasnt gone quite as far as Bear Grylls who ate a tarantula for breakfast, James has eaten his fair share of grubs and shrubs.

Pine needles, nettles, rosehip, grass and moth larvae all have nutritional benefits. Foraging in the wild can be extremely dangerous and you should be with an expert who has lived to tell the tale, a stomach bug can be fatal as youll be in a severely weakened state, he says.

Ive fried up a few earth worms before which tasted of grit and dirt, but they were ok. At the end of the day its not there to please your palette, its there to keep you alive.

One thing he stresses is the importance of a balanced diet, even in the wild. Rabbits are probably the easiest source of protein, but if you eat nothing but rabbit you can give yourself protein poisoning.Its important to get fibre and vitamins from fruits and leaves. Even a mouthful of grass has got vitamins A and B, youll never be full, but it doesnt taste that bad.

But what if you dont have the stomach for moth larvae?
No-one is under any obligation to do anything they dont want to do, he says. But nine times out of ten they want to get stuck in. The key to survival is using all the things you possibly can.

Jamess passion for the outdoors began when he was nine and he joined the Cubs and Scouts and at 16, he signed up for the Army where he was posted to Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands. He is trained in abseiling, rock climbing, canoeing and potholing as well as survival training.

One of the most dangerous places was South Armagh when he nearly lost his life in a mortar bomb attack. South Armagh was tough psychologically because of the constant threat, he says. There was no distinguishing the enemy. I did a lot of border patrols and was 100 yards from being wiped out when a massive car bomb went off. Im lucky to be alive.

The toughest conditions, however, were in the Falklands where they trained in soaring temperatures one minute, a snow storm the next. With no sleep, sun burn and the threat of hypothermia, James was pushed to his limits.

It was the most hostile environment Ive ever been to, he says. Its so barren and so exposed. Youd have four different climates in one day. I had big blisters on the top of my ears from the sun, the next minute it would snow and with the wind chill it could feel like minus 30. A lot of the soldiers got frostbite and he recalls others being carried back to base with hypothermia.

The key, according to James, is mental toughness. If you cant get yourself motivated, all the skills in the world are no good to you, youve got to keep yourself moving and keep alert, otherwise, in a survival situation it can kill you, he says. While it might seem a million miles from everyday life back in the North East, James believes that in the current climate, its more important than ever.

A lot of people are losing their jobs and end up feeling useless, thats why going outdoors, getting back to basics and saying hey, Ive just made a fire with two sticks gives someone the jab in the arm they need. It takes away their fears and can instil a lot of confidence in people to know they can survive and get by on nothing, he says.

The North East is one of the best areas in the UK for national parks, were really lucky to have so much countryside. People need to stop going on Facebook and get outdoors.

To find out more about Jamess survival courses, go to

Its a jungle out there

Five essential tips for surviving in the great outdoors

Fire: Essential for warmth, cooking and warding off inquisitive animals. Try rubbing two sticks
together or try to get sparks from pieces of flint to land on a loose pile of dry wood chips. Look out for crampball, a type of fungus which burns particularly well. Sensible alternative: All-weather matches and firelighters.

First aid:
There are scores of readily available natural remedies out there if you know what to look for. Meadowsweet has medicinal properties and its roots smell like Germaline so youll know its doing you good. Sensible alternative: A first aid kit.

Food and water:
Foragers will find a wealth of fish as well as edible fruits and leaves in the North East but remember to be ultra-cautious with fungi and watch other scavengers, too. Birds are likely to find a carcass before you do so watch and listen for them and you could bag yourself a feast. Sensible alternative: A packed lunch.

Protect yourself from the worst of the wind and rain by leaning fallen branches and foliage against a horizontal branch. Sensible alternative: A tent or, better still, a country pub with rooms.

Signalling: Sooner or later youre going to want to return to civilisation so youll need to let people know youre out there. Smoke is good but if youve given up on rubbing sticks together, use a piece of glass or shiny metal to reflect sunlight towards where people are or spell out SOS and hope for the best. Sensible alternative: A mobile phone.

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