TELEVISION presenter Iolo Williams has raised the issue of using wild animals for entertainment after the RSPCA raised “serious concerns” about the welfare of animals used on ITV's I'm A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!

The reality TV show – being staged in North Wales instead of Australia for the first time this year due to coronavirus travel restrictions – started last Sunday, with presenters Ant and Dec putting a team of stars through the gauntlet of battling creepy crawlies like spiders and scorpions to earn prizes for the team.

This year’s show is being held in Gwrych Castle, Abergele, with viewers so far this week treated to an episode that saw Radio 1 DJ Jordan North and television and stage actor Shane Richie locked in a small box in the ground surrounded by snakes.

But the treatment of the animals has been criticised, while nature observer and conservationist Mr Williams aired his frustrations over the release of non-native species into Wales.

He tweeted on Thursday night: “A question to @NatResWales. Why is #ImACeleb allowed to release thousands of non-native species at Gwrych Castle in north Wales? As well as the moral issue of using wild animals for entertainment, surely there are huge ecological issues here also.”

The RSPCA published a statement on its website last week saying it was concerned for the welfare of animals used on the show.

“Since 'I'm a Celebrity' was first aired, animals have been dropped, thrown, handled roughly, crushed, chased, overcrowded, scared by contestants and prevented from escaping from stressful experiences,” said a statement published last Friday ahead of the first episode.

“There have also been incidents where animals have been killed for no other purpose than entertainment.

“The show's messaging and the potential to prompt people to try and copy the 'bushtucker trials' at home for entertainment is also worrying and we feel that deliberately portraying certain species as nasty or frightening or as objects that can be used purely for entertainment rather than sentient, living creatures sends out totally the wrong message.”

The organisation said previous attempts to contact the show’s production company had been ignored – until this year, although they were ultimately left disappointed.

Ledbury Reporter:

Iolo Williams has raised concerns over I'm a Celebrity.

The statement added: “We were very pleased when the show's production company got in touch with us in the planning stages of this year's series, set here in the UK. We spoke to them about changing the way they use animals along with the change of continent – perhaps introducing welfare-friendly alternatives to animal use in the trials.

“However, we were really disappointed to be told that they would continue to be using animals in this way during this series.

“We'll continue to urge ITV and the production company to rethink the way they use animals in I'm A Celebrity and replace the challenges with animal-friendly alternatives. We'll be watching the programme and will flag up any concerns we have to the producers.”

ITV responded, telling BBC’s Newsround: “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.”

In terms of whether show bosses are breaking any laws in using creatures not native to Wales, supporting Mr Williams’ claim, Defra and Welsh Government guidance on Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act considers ‘release into the wild’ to be the active letting-go of an animal, from a condition of captivity, such that it has the freedom to go where it will. In essence, it is considered that the deliberate introduction of an animal into an area considered to be ‘the wild’ would be an act of release.

No applications were received by Natural Resources Wales in relation to the release of non-native species covered by the Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act as part of the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ production.

The police are responsible for enforcing breaches to the Wildlife and Countryside Act including the release of non-native species into the environment.