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ON THE SMALL SCREEN.

ATTEMPTING to abseil underneath a glacier live on TV is all in a day's work for explorer and nature enthusiast Steve Backshall. But camping in the company of 14,000 noisy, squabbling walrus on a remote sub-Arctic island proved to be more of a challenge.

"In the middle of the night you'd hear these rasping sounds and you'd get woken up by an acrid smell of fish farts," says the former National Geographic adventurer, who's in between filming sessions in Alaska. "It was absolutely impossible to sleep."

Steve was visiting the aptly named Walrus Island to film a segment for Wild Alaska Live, an ambitious three-part live wildlife show from the team behind Big Blue Live. Along with co-presenters Liz Bonnin and Matt Baker, the daredevil naturalist is hoping to capture some of the greatest spectacles on Earth - ranging from bears feasting on an abundance of salmon swimming upstream to spawn, to humpback whales synchronized diving and blowing a ring of bubbles to attack a shoal of herring.

"I would rather be filming the summer feast of Alaska than the wildebeest migration across Africa or the Great Barrier Reef," says Steve, who's visited America's 49th state on numerous occasions and always jumps at the opportunity to return. "The spectacles are more dramatic and we stand a good chance of seeing things that are going to blow people's minds in real time."

It was the near guarantee of wildlife sightings coupled with Alaska's conservation success story that led the team to one of the world's last true wilderness destinations.

"You can be in a plane flying for hours and see nothing below you apart from blank Arctic tundra and then just mountains - no A Brown Bear in Katmai National roads, no houses, no sign of humanity at all," remarks Steve.

That sense of size and scale is something Liz struggled to comprehend when she first visited the sprawling state, which is bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined. "It's hard to put into words, but I'm super excited to try to relay what that feels like to viewers," she says.

Stationed in a protected area within Katmai National Park, 300 miles from the nearest road, Liz is hoping to focus on the subtleties and complexities of bear behaviour.

Although she'll be camping amongst wolves and the highest density of brown bears in the world, the biochemist and wild animal biologist isn't at all phased by any potential dangers.

"It's as remote a place as I've ever been to," she admits. "Wherever we go, I'm always in the little tent far away from everybody else because all the boys snore so badly. You can't do The mozzies in Alaska are hell. They're the size of horses Liz Bonnin that here; we've all got to be in a tight square surrounded by an electric wire.

"This will be my first time with brown bears and I'm thrilled... Sometimes I get so excited I wonder if I'm being 100% safe. But I'm with experts who know what they're doing."

Some of those experts have been working with bears in the area for 20 years, and Liz is hoping to learn from their experiences. "I want to find out what it takes to be part of a conservation outfit that has successfully protected Park whole eco-systems. I want to understand what it takes for a person to do that job and to convey that passion, to inspire our viewers to protect the wildlife on their doorstep."

The programme's producer Adam White, who also works on Springwatch, is eager to engage audiences and prove the worth of wilderness through sister daytime TV show, Wild UK.

"If you know where to look, Britain is actually wilder than you might think," he says.

"Places like Alaska are expensive to visit and hard to reach; live TV is the closest most people will get to seeing them. But if people don't experience these wild areas, they won't last."

Matt, who'll spend his time at the Wild Alaska Live hub in Tongass National Forest, agrees. Part of his focus will be on local communities, finding out what it's like to live alongside wildlife.

"The whole point of doing this live is to show the pace of life over there and the tempo of nature," says The One Show and Countryfile presenter.

The Alaska first-timer is also hoping to encounter beavers, black bears and bald eagles.

"I'll be getting up close and personal to Kodiak bears, which, through generations and natural selection, have become the largest brown bears," he says.

"They tower 10 or 12 feet above you!" Although the live shows will be an adventure for Matt, he claims the experience will by no means be the most extreme thing he's ever done.

"I'm from the Durham Dales!" he jokes. "I'm always camping... and I did eight years on Blue Peter, so there's no environment I've not been in."

So if bears, wolves and descending into glaciers aren't cause for concern - what are the team apprehensive about? "The mozzies in Alaska are hell," exclaims Liz. "They're the size of horses!" "If it's bright blue sunshine, there are 20 different species - plus the black flies," shudders Steve. "And they seem to actively enjoy insect repellent, so you end up walking around in circles."

| Wild Alaska Live is on BBC1 on Sunday at 7pm, Wednesday, July 26, at 8pm and Sunday July 30, at 7pm.

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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Jul 22, 2017
Words:912
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