Celebrities, Critters and Chaos
Issy Murray explores the risks of relocating I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here from the Australian jungle to Wales.
Despite the obvious change of setting I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here faced this year, more viewers than ever before tuned in to its launch, with a record 14.3 million people turning their attention to Gwrych Castle in Abergele, north Wales. For many, the trials and tribulations of castle living served as a welcome distraction from the intensity of a second lockdown, but not everyone was quite so convinced by the show’s conduct amid a change of scene from Australia to Wales. Nature observer and presenter Iolo Williams and First Minister Mark Drakeford were among the people pointing out a key concern: that non-native wildlife was being allowed to interfere with Welsh ecology.
Referencing the cockroaches used on the show in particular, Williams voiced his worry that
“Cockroaches are the ultimate survivors, and if they survive in north Wales and escape into the wild there, what effect are they going to have? I don’t know, nobody knows …”
also arguing that not all those cockroaches released could possibly be recaptured: “There are going to be cockroaches in every nook and cranny along their bodies, you’re going to tell me that every single one of those is found immediately? Of course it’s not”. Although non-native species are not necessarily invasive, Williams raises an important point that the exact effect these cockroaches could have on the Welsh environment is unknown but the potential for damaging change is present, especially in the immediate surrounding area which is the location for multiple sites of special scientific interest.
Due to these complaints, police have opened an investigation into ITV’s releasing of non-native species, and for good reason. The environmental audit committee reports invasive species in the UK (of which there are approximately 2000) have an annual cost of £1.8 billion, with examples including signal crayfish, which have negatively impacted native crayfish through disease transmission. Furthermore, the UN lists non-native species introduction as one of five main causes of biodiversity decline and considering Wales’s hesitation to reintroduce beavers (a native species) to their landscape, it does seem unusual non-native cockroaches are being used. This is magnified by the claim that Natural Resources Wales weren’t presented with an application from ITV to release non-native species, and hence don’t have a license – a violation of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
In response to this criticism, ITV has defended its use of animals by saying they release them only in a “contained area”, they use only “non-invasive” species and they are “collected immediately after filming”. While they declined to comment on exactly what species are being used, they did announce that they were all purchased in the UK. However, this is not the first time I’m a Celeb has come under scrutiny over its use and treatment of critters. Previously, figures such as Chris Packham have spoken up about the use of living creatures for entertainment purposes during Bushtucker trials. Last year on The Jeremy Vine Show Packham spoke about the show’s cruelty and the damage to the image of the animals it uses. Packham commented “I spend a lot of my time to get respect for all life, it’s not the survival of the cutest. We can’t pick and choose, we need a functional eco-system.” and when confronted with the question “Even the mosquito that carries malaria?” he replied, “We need the mosquitos, they are there to do a job”.
What this debate makes clear is that it’s time for our entertainment industry, and I’m a Celeb in particular, to evaluate its relationship with the use of living beings.
As for the threat of non-native cockroaches and other such critters being introduced into the Welsh wildness, it’s now a matter of waiting to see whether significant damage will come about as a result.