Is ‘I’m A Celeb’ Bad For The Environment?

Gemma Cockrell

I’m a Celebrity…Get me Out of Here! is renowned for being controversial. Since its debut series in 2002, it has been located in the depths of the Australian jungle, but due to 2020’s COVID-19 restrictions, this year it has been held in Gwrych Castle in Wales.

There has been much concern about the environmental impacts of using non-native species of bugs during trials. If these critters escaped into the Welsh countryside it would lead to severe problems, posing serious threat for the native Welsh wildlife, as well as permanent damage to the countryside, and “a range of invasiveness potential”, according to CEO of Buglife Matt Shardlow.

The North Wales police have stepped in, advising ITV to improve “set management and biosecurity” following the use of species such as cockroaches, scorpions, and mealworms in Bushtucker Trials.

Concerns were first raised by TV presenter and naturalist Iolo Williams, and these were backed by Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, who explained, “If any of these species were to naturalise, we could have severe problems. And we do have a history in this country of invasive species which have caused enormous ecological damage”.

Examples include the UK’s native white-clawed crayfish, which have dramatically declined due to the arrival of invasive American signal crayfish, which pass on diseases that the native species has no natural resistance to.

“The programme is indirectly saying that these animals don’t matter. And that’s ignorance of the highest order”

Another example is the red squirrel, a species which was once widespread in the UK, but are now near threatened in England, Wales and Northern Ireland following the introduction of grey squirrels in the 1870s. Shardlow explained this phenomenon- “We’ve got everything from flatworms, to slugs, to invasive crayfish, all out there causing harm to native wildlife”.

Packham further emphasises that the use of wildlife in the show has been a problem since its first series. He admitted that he has written to the show’s hosts, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly – better known as Ant and Dec – every year that the show had ran, desperately encouraging them to discontinue the use of live animals during their trials, suggesting that there are plenty of ways to make celebrities uncomfortable whilst avoiding animal abuse.

“We don’t need very popular television programmes demonising, stereotyping and abusing animals which are key components to any ecosystem,” he said. “I find this programme really distressing because it undoes so much of our good work. The programme is indirectly saying that these animals don’t matter. And that’s ignorance of the highest order”.

Despite increasing concern from wildlife experts, ITV declined to confirm which species were used in filming, but said all insects were non-invasive, reaffirming that animals used “are only ever released in a contained area and collected immediately after filming”.

85% of non-native species do not cause any problems when placed in a habitat which is not their own, however, the ones that do cause harm disrupt delicate ecosystems, with devasting and dire consequences and severe long-term effects, resulting in the decline of biodiversity globally.

Invertebrates are likely to be crushed, animals will become distressed from being confined to small boxes or enclosed spaces

The plot thickens with the knowledge that filming of the show is taking place close to an ancient woodland managed by the Woodland Trust, which is a site of special scientific interest. “There is currently no evidence that species used in filming have not been contained,” a spokesperson for the Trust confirms reassuringly, “Nor do we know what those species are, so we are unable to give any indication of what the impacts might be,” they add, creating uncertainty.

Animal welfare charity RSPCA are no strangers to criticising I’m A Celeb. This year is no different – the charity has expressed their major concerns about the welfare of the animals used in the Bushtucker trials on the show. A spokesperson for the charity confirmed: “The RSPCA has serious concerns about the welfare of animals featured on the new UK-based ‘I’m a Celebrity’ TV show and our scientific and inspectorate experts have been monitoring the show over the past week”.

Their main concerns are that invertebrates are likely to be crushed, animals will become distressed from being confined to small boxes or enclosed spaces, the animals may be mishandled as celebrities reach for stars, and the nature of trials may instil fear in the animals.

The spokesperson explained that “A number of the animals used in the challenges, such as cockroaches and crickets, are invertebrates and sadly have no protection under the law despite growing evidence that they feel distress and pain”.

The RSPCA understands and respects I’m A Celeb’s popularity, but they are desperately pleading producers to stop using living creatures within the show, because it sends messages to audiences that it is morally acceptable for animals lives to be disregarded for the sake of entertainment.

They have launched a campaign which can be signed to demonstrate support for this cause. Fellow animal charity PETA has echoed these complaints, also establishing a campaign. Enraged TV viewer and Welsh resident Linda Goodman also set up her own petition on the site change.org, calling for the ITV series to put an end to their animal abuse and unethical exploitation of non-human species.

At the time of writing, over 4770 people have signed in agreement. Goodman adds that “At a time when our society is being urged to respect non-human life forms and our environment, ITV continues to laugh in the face of this serious issue in favour of ratings and sponsorship deals”.

However, there has been recent ethical progression within the show – in 2019, they announced that live animals and insects would no longer be eaten on the show, with ITV stating that “Producers have taken a look at the trials and decided that no live critters would be eaten in the trials this year”.

This is a positive step in the right direction, as the show has still proved to be equally entertaining since this change was made, with no effect on viewings or ratings. Packham approved of this change, describing it as the “first step” in the right direction, and stating: “I hope this is the start of some significant change”.

A spokesperson for I’m A Celeb has responded to these accusations, promisingly stating that “I’m A Celebrity complies with animal welfare law concerning the use of animals and we are proud of our exemplary production practices. We have a long working relationship with the RSPCA in New South Wales, Australia and as such contacted their counterparts some months ago when we knew that the programme would be made in the UK, with a view to working collaboratively with them”.

Hopefully, this information is accurate, and they are taking sufficient measures to protect the animals that we see on our screens.

Gemma Cockrell

Featured image courtesy of David Clode on Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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