With sewage spewing into British waterways and David Attenborough back on the telly, nature is having its day in the sun, if often for the wrong reasons. Attenborough may be the most high-profile name associated with nature in the UK, but other personalities are also using their voices to shout about the need to protect Britain’s wildlife.
Ceallach Spellman, known to all as Cel (pronounced Kel), is recognisable for his clean good looks and roles in various UK TV dramas, including the ITV series Cold Feet and Netflix’s White Lines. Away from the cameras, the 28-year-old Mancunian enjoys getting his hands dirty in his allotment and campaigning in his capacity as WWF ambassador, which involves working with schools and young people to get them excited about the natural world around them.
While the media debates whether David Attenborough’s latest series, Wild Isles, delves deeply enough into the poor state of UK nature or is simply eye candy for the armchair masses, Spellman is in no doubt. “I wasn’t sure whether he was going to blow me away like he did with his last series, but once again Sir David has nailed it,” Spellman assures me enthusiastically over Zoom.
Britain’s nature is in a worse state than that of any other rich country and sits in the bottom 10 per cent of all countries globally. Spellman isn’t sure, however, that giving the British public too big a dose of this gloomy news is helpful. “You don’t want to go too far in terms of dire straits,” he says. “Very quickly people will switch off if they feel it is very overwhelming, very negative. People will go, ‘Alright, that’s a bit too much for me’.” Instead, Spellman advocates helping people to “reconnect to nature” through their “love and appreciation” of it.
Salford, where Spellman grew up, is not known as a beacon of biodiversity, but he credits the “great access to nature in the north in general” for awakening his love of flora and fauna. He reserves special thanks for Lightning the dolphin, who he adopted via the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Another formative influence was his great-uncle George. “We’d go round, and he’d have me and my brother outside and maybe there was a toad that had passed away,” Spellman recalls. “He’d show us the toad and what all the little maggots would be doing to it and really get us hands on… As a kid we’d love going round, as we knew he’d be taking us on an adventure—even if it was just the wonders of his back garden.”
Today, Spellman has an allotment with his “three best mates”. “We’re looking at trying to grow our own food, creating small ecosystems. We’ve got a pond in there and we leave a little section for rewilding. It sounds silly, but I spend as much time in nature as I can.”
And his fondness for water-based mammals continues: his dream is to see an otter in its natural habitat. Not only are they considered a “keystone species” that helps balance out local ecosystems, but “they crack me up”, says Spellman. “When they are on the water, they look like they’re chilling out.”
He uses his role as a WWF ambassador to share this passion. This spring he has been supporting the People’s Plan for Nature manifesto that the WWF and other wildlife NGOs jointly published in March 2023. It is based on a citizen’s assembly, and sets out what politicians need to do to protect and restore habitats and species in the UK before it is too late.
Spellman isn’t impressed with the current government. “The way these sewage and water companies are poisoning our waters is disgusting,” he says. “We are one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and our policies are not enough. Business as usual is continuing to fail people and nature.”
“Sometimes we forget politicians are there to serve us,” he adds. Spellman refuses to see himself as a “celebrity” (“it’s such a funny word”), but insists that “when you’re afforded a slight position of influence, whatever you are about and believe in, you should stand up and speak about it. If you can educate people, shine a light on something and bring people with you, you should absolutely do that.”