Invasive crayfish species used in I’m A Celebrity… kept without licence

After a four-month investigation, it was been shown that the crayfish used in I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! was not kept with a licence, despite it being an invasive non-native species.

Turkish crayfish. /Credit: Trevor Renals, via GB NNSS

Invertebrate charity Buglife has revealed that the makers of the popular ITV programme I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! did not possess the required licence to keep the Turkish crayfish (Astacus leptodactylus) that were used episode five of the 2020 series, which was filmed in north Wales.

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In November, an ITV spokesperson said that the insects used in programme were all non-invasive species, and that “they are only ever released in a contained area and collected immediately after filming. They are all purchased commercially within the UK and are normally bred as animal food.”

In addition, Clare Pillman, the chief executive of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) confirmed that no application had been received from the ITV to release non-native species into the wild, a licence which is required under the Wildlife And Countryside Act 1981.

However, Buglife identified that one of the bushtucker trials involved Turkish crayfish, for which is licence is required to keep in captivity under the Prohibition of Keeping of Live Fish (Crayfish) Order 1996.

Upon investigating further, Buglife heard from the Welsh government that they were “unable to find any evidence that a licence application was made in this instance”. Defra also confirmed that “no licence was applied for in this case, and Cefas [the licencing authority] would not have issued one for the purpose for which they were used”.

“In light of these shocking revelations it is imperative that the police reopen their investigation into potential wildlife crimes committed in North Wales by the makers of I’m a Celebrity…,” says Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife.

“Invasive species cause billions of pounds worth of damage every year; preventing that ecosystem destruction is a high priority.  If the police conclude that the programme makers were using invasive species for frivolous entertainment without holding the relevant licences, considering their track record and previous misleading statement, a prosecution would appear to be the appropriate resolution.”

Also known as the narrow-clawed crayfish, the Turkish crayfish is one of six non-native crayfish species present in the wild in the UK. It is deemed to be an invasive species, and is believed to have either escaped from fish markets in the 1970s or to have been deliberately released. It is thought to outcompete the native and threatened white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), a species listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. However, the Turkish crayfish does not carry the crayfish plague or damage riverbanks like the invasive non-native American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus).

A captive white-clawed crayfish from River Wensum, Norfolk, UK. /Credit: Mike Lane/Getty Images
A captive white-clawed crayfish from River Wensum, Norfolk, UK. /Credit: Mike Lane/Getty Images

Normally I’m A Celebrity… is filmed in the Australian jungle, but due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions, last year’s series took place in north Wales at the estate of Gwrych Castle. The site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and is close to another SSSI – Coed Y Gopa, that is managed by the Woodland Trust.

At the time of filming, concerns were raised by conservationists and wildlife charities about the potential for non-native species to be released into the Welsh countryside during the bushtucker trials.

These trials involve the celebrities undertaking challenges, which sometimes involved live animals such as rats, snakes, cockroaches and spiders. Although they take place in an enclosed environment, contestants can still carry insects on their person on exit.

Concerns about the welfare of the animals used in the programme have also been raised over the years by campaigners.

ITV didn’t respond to our request for a comment.


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Main image: Turkish crayfish. /Credit: Trevor Renals, via GB NNSS