The makers of I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! brought invasive crayfish to north Wales without a licence, according to an investigation by a UK wildlife charity, prompting fresh calls for police to investigate the popular ITV show.
Turkish crayfish were used in “bushtucker trials” in episode five of the series, hosted live from Gwrych Castle in north Wales at the end of last year, but the show did not have permission to possess them, the Buglife investigation found.
The revelations come four months after the Guardian revealed police launched an investigation into the show over concerns non-native species from the set were escaping into the Welsh countryside.
TV presenter and naturalist Iolo Williams said: “What this does is reinforce my thoughts that it was highly irresponsible to posses or release non-native species in this area. It doesn’t matter how safe they claim the whole process to be, it’s still highly irresponsible.
“We know we have massive issues with non-native species that have been introduced in the past, and ones that are constantly being introduced – this is costing the country millions of pounds each year.”
Turkish crayfish, also called a narrow-clawed crayfish, are listed as a non-native invasive species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and keeping them, even in captivity, is outlawed by the Prohibition of Keeping of Live Fish (Crayfish) Order 1996. They grow to 15cm long, and are one of six non-native crayfish now wild in the UK, after originally being introduced in the 1970s.
“Entertainment isn’t one of the reasons why people should be having these dangerously invasive species at all – they just shouldn’t be using invasive species for sort of frivolous purposes,” said Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife, urging the police to reopen their investigation.
“These crayfish were in a situation which has already been highlighted as potentially risky for the escape of non-native species into the environment. Now, I don’t know whether there was any risks of these particular ones escaping but that’s certainly something the police needs to look at.”
Bushtucker trials are designed to scare celebrity contestants by covering them in live animals such as spiders, snakes, cockroaches and rats. The show is normally hosted live from the Australian jungle but due to Covid-19 was filmed at Gwrych Castle, which is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
The Welsh government said it was “unable to find any evidence that a licence application was made in this instance”. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it also received no licence application and “would not have issued one for the purpose for which they were used”.
A spokesperson for north Wales police said: “If someone wishes to provide us with any further information and evidence, we will consider if a subsequent investigation is required.”
ITV did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Turkish crayfish are particularly common in the Midlands and south-east England, outcompeting the native white-clawed crayfish, which is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Globally, invasive species is one of the five main drivers of biodiversity decline.
Authorities previously investigated the show after complaints from Williams, who said he was appalled after seeing thousands of cockroaches poured over contestants. “I’m not sure which species they’re releasing, but I can tell you they’re not native. We don’t have those cockroaches here in the UK and we certainly don’t have them in north Wales,” he said.
The challenges happen in enclosed environments but questions have been raised about what happens to critters once contestants leave the filming set. “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,” said Williams.
In November, an ITV spokesperson told the Guardian that animals used are “only ever released in a contained area and collected immediately after filming. They are all bought commercially within the UK and are normally bred as animal food.”
Original posted at www.theguardian.com