There may be a few thousand years of selective breeding separating them, but, as any owner will tell you, when faced with a stressful situation a dog will reveal the wolf lurking just beneath the skin.

It’s the same for us too, when anxiety levels are ratcheted up or things make us angry, it’s an ancient part of our brain which is firmly in control.

The limbic system is the part of the brain which scientists believe is associated with emotion and regulates these ancient traits. As Homo sapiens evolved, it was our brains which gave us the Darwinian edge.

In that primitive state, the brain was concerned exclusively with keeping the vulnerable hairy lump, in which it was trapped, alive. Things that gave it a better chance of survival or reproductive success were positively reinforced, while any behaviour to the contrary would have quickly been lost from the collective gene pool through the untimely demise of its protohuman.

When the wolves were circling near the cave (to labour a hackneyed point) this part of our brain kicked in and helped keep us alive, preparing the body for fight or flight.

Today, it is that ancient part of our unconscious which is exploited by a mind-boggling array of modern influences. Marketing strategies are honed to appeal to our self-gratification reward system. We’ve got accustomed to not living next door to the wolves, but the innate fear of the natural world is still there, like a little switch waiting to be flicked on.

I’ve run headlong into this instinctive issue in a number of activities I’ve arranged for the Countryside Service events programme. The line is drawn in different places depending upon the genuine risk involved and the mitigation I can influence at the time.

Wild food, for example, is a really popular topic at the moment and, because of this, its a great way to engage people with the natural world who might not otherwise be interested. So I conduct a number of wild food cook-ups in the school holidays, a morning looking for wild ingredients to add to a meal, these events are always popular. However, I agonised over their inclusion in the events programme for fear of encouraging people to pick and eat plants at random in the East Devon countryside.

The fact is, there are a few very common plants that grow in a variety of habitats, which, if you were to eat them in sufficient quantity, you would find yourself in hospital shortly before you were transferred to the morgue. Hemlock water dropwort, for example, looks like a myriad of tasty treats, but is fatally toxic with no simple antidote. After much thought, it was decided that we could conduct the wild food events, but that this sobering fact would feature prominently in the warnings given during the morning.

The knowledge that there are superficially benign things out there that can mortally harm us often elicit the same response - it should be got rid of, immediately.

Of course, the truth is that the plant is completely harmless unless you decide to stuff it in your mouth, and the countryside is not some fairytale gingerbread world where you can skip about nibbling at tangerine trees or marmalade skies.

It’s not just plants, adders are our only venomous reptile and the fear in which they are held is out of all proportion to the risk they pose any of us.

When planning the ever-popular reptile rambles, I was faced with the poser as to whether I should handle the species found under our reptile traps. On one hand common lizards, slowworms and snakes are small and fast-moving and so are difficult to show to a large group of people, especially with a wide age range. On the other hand, all these animals need to be handled correctly for their own safety, as well as that of the handler. Moreover, I would not want to encourage people to grab at reptiles they might find in the countryside like some Devonian Steve Urwin, in case they harm the animal as much as for fear of getting bitten by a venomous snake.

Most adder bite victims admitted to hospital present with bites to the ankles or hands. In other words, the snake has either been accidentally trodden on while it sits unseen, or someone has bent down to pick it up. I personally love handling snakes and have either owned or looked after a wide variety of species. However, it was decided that I would handle all species encountered for the sake of the event, but draw the line at adders, engineering the way in which each trap is approached to maximise the time an adder might sit in view to help everyone at least get a glimpse.

It saddens me, when we live in such a sanitised, urbanised, humanised world, that, collectively, our initial response when faced with ‘threatening’ biodiversity is to look to eradicate it, rather than learn how to live safely around it. So next time you are reading a shock story about the natural world, take a moment to weigh up how much of a risk it genuinely poses to you. It’s often said, you wouldn’t leave the house if you were able to accurately assess the risks involved, but those risks come from traffic and other people, rather than a delinquent hemlock plant leaping down your throat!