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walk on the wild side; Take six people who rarely venture into the big outdoors, send them off with Iolo Williams in search of dung beetles and you've got a wildlife programme with a difference. Matt Thomas joined them on their bug hunting escapades.

Byline: Matt Thomas

IT has been a rough ride for some of the subjects of Iolo Williams' latest wildlife programme.

But it's not the plight of the endangered red kites of Mid Wales or Anglesey's red squirrels he has taken on this time.

Now it's the turn of the so-called most dangerous animal on the planet. We are talking, of course, about man.

Although, at first glance, this motley crew of six Welsh men and women don't look that threatening. They look pretty normal.

But we're hoping a little digging behind the scenes of Williams' new BBC project will reveal enough claws-out real-life conflict to put rival nature shows to shame.

The premise for the new Monday night show, called Not In My Nature, involves taking a group of avowed nature-shy homebodies and plunging them into Iolo's rough-and-tumble world as they travel the length and breadth of Wales in search of wildlife.

Hopefully some of his gung-ho enthusiasm for all things creepy and crawly will rub off on the participants, leaving them more aware and open minded about the natural world. More informed about their impact on the planet. More passionate about saving the whales.

Well that's the plan. But can rummaging through a cow pat in search of dung beetles really bring a "beauty lecturer and therapist" from Denbigh out of her shell?

When we caught up with the team, they were entering the last phase of filming. With six weeks of tiring travelling and testing challenges behind them, surely some of the guinea pigs - sorry, "contributors", to lapse into BBC speak - would be able to dish the dirt on behind-the-scenes spats?

"Oh I've absolutely loved it," says Julie Howatson-Broster, who is a 34-year-old beauty therapist from Denbigh.

"We've been looking at stuff we've taken for granted every day. I can't wait to take my children out to show them some of the things I've learned."

Her two sons, Arthur and Alaw, are certainly going to be exposed to a lot of different experiences as a result of Julie's enthusiasm.

The recruits have been hunting for crayfish in the Wye and avoiding getting dive-bombed by gulls on Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel, alongside the aforementioned cow pat-sifting. And that's just the first episode.

"We've been travelling all over the place," explains Julie, who is very even-tempered and professional.

"Pembrokeshire, Caerphilly, I've been away a lot, from home and work. But the girls have been great looking after the salon."

Being away from home is nothing new for Julie. Her family, which includes husband Aaron who is a chef and a body piercer, often take holidays abroad. Or they used to until she started filming.

"Well I've become much more aware about the problems facing this planet as a result of doing the show," she says.

"We used to take three foreign holidays a year but now I think we will start holidaying in Wales much more.

I'm thinking of taking the family to St Brides. We've already booked a trip to Cardiff for the Eisteddfod this year."

It certainly seems like Julie has been persuaded by the message of the show.

Pretty good going for something she signed up to essentially on a whim.

Julie, like the other participants, applied for the show after seeing an advert. But this is not her first sojourn in front of the lens.

"Well I do a spot on a shopping channel, and I've been a beauty consultant on a number of S4C programmes and Welsh radio, as I'm a Welsh speaker. So it's not a problem for me to be on camera", she says. This explains her easy air, even in the face of my taxing interrogation.

She's not immune to the lure of a star though. "Working with Iolo has been great, he's very knowledgeable and his crew are lovely. And he certainly has a way with the ladies. "

It seems the journey into Iolo's world was an easy trip for media-savvy, enthusiastic Julie.

"I've had a couple of down moments," she said. "When we were climbing Snowdon for example. But I don't really moan. Unlike another one of the contributors. I sort of go quiet."

And that's exactly what she does when pressed to reveal the moaning member of the group. Hopefully one of the others will be a little less tactful.

Julie might claim to go quiet sometimes, but another participant has got her beaten in the quietness stakes.

She is Carly Jones, a 17-year-old from Quakers Yard, near Merthyr Tydfil, where she lives with her parents.

She is studying hair and beauty at a training centre on the Gurnos estate, Merthyr. She was picked to star in the show by a producer following a visit to the centre.

She's not averse to certain animals, she has been riding horses since she was 11, but "just doesn't go outside otherwise".

The show has been "really good, but it's a bit boring doing takes. It's been doing my head in a bit."

It can be quite hard to get Carly to open up about things, like the identity of the rogue element in the Not In My Nature herd, but she warms up a bit when talking about the "bug hunt".

"It was disgusting," she said. "I hate bugs. I'm sure it's going to be really embarrassing when it comes on television."

Carly got on well with everyone, but was particularly close to the other younger member of the group, Lloyd Jones. Asking Lloyd about this elicits a short groan. This is because Lloyd is hungover, as it is the day after his 21st birthday celebrations when we speak.

He lives with his family in Pontardawe and is a student of international travel at Swansea Metropole university.

The hardest thing he has ever done, he says, is coming out as gay to his parents, some three years ago. He was also at the centre of one of the most infamous Not In my Nature incidents - the tent fiasco - of which more later.

Lloyd, despite feeling a little liverish, is positive about the programme.

"I didn't enjoy everything," he says, "but it was mostly good fun."

Like Carly, he wasn't too keen on the bug hunting. "God," he says, "We had this sort of tube for picking up the bugs so we could identify them. We had to suck one end of it to bring them up into a jar.

"I hate insects anyway, just don't see the point in them, and I managed to suck on the wrong bit of the straw and ended up with a mouthful of worms and random bits of stuff. Urgh, it was disgusting."

It might have been disgusting but at least it was interesting. Lloyd occasionally gets bored by the wildlife.

And this is where the seeds of the tent fiasco were sown. At this point it is probably wise to introduce the other major player in the tent fiasco, Chris Edwards.

A train conductor from Newport, Chris is a father of two and "cards on the table, a Christian, a good Baptist".

"I went into this not knowing whether I was going to enjoy it at all," he says.

"But I did. Especially the abseiling in Snowdon. I was a bit terrified to start with, but I braced myself and basically went for it.

"As someone who has settled into a bit of a routine, in front of the computer or the television, I felt like I had become disconnected from nature.

"When your kids are young you take them out and about, but as they get older and get interested in the opposite sex and rock and roll, they look to you less and less for that.

"Even though I see a lot of the countryside as a result of my job, it's almost like watching it on TV. This was a great chance to get back out there.

And it's actually something I can share with my children again."

As the oldest, and at 45 the veteran of a Christian rock band, Chris found himself in a bit of a supporting role.

"Well, sometimes, and this is hard to realise, the best thing you can do to help someone who is having a bad time is to stand back.

"But have they told you about the tent?"

Ah, finally, the tent fiasco. A bit of scandal. A bit of real conflict.

"Well the main problem with the tent was its size. It was a two-man hide with me, Iolo, Lloyd a cameraman and the sound guy with a boom mike, all crowded into this tiny little tent," he says "We had to get up at about two in the morning as we were looking for black grouse, which are very rare and do these displays in the early morning.

"I was lying down in corner of the tent, and my circulation's not great at the best of times, but as you can imagine it was playing up. Well we'd been sitting there for a while and Lloyd got bored and decided he wanted a cigarette. So everybody basically had to manhandle me out of the way so he could lie down and stick his head out of the back of the tent.

"They were filming the outside of our tent from another hide further down all the while and they said they could just see arms, legs and elbows flying everywhere," Chris laughs. He laughs a lot.

It certainly doesn't sound like the most comfortable place to spend the early hours of the morning.

But the early hours weren't too much of a problem for Chris, thanks to his boundless optimism and experience working early shifts on the railway.

One person who has been finding the early starts and the travelling a bit of a bind is Kate Foley.

"Well I live in North Wales, so getting up and down is a bit of a problem," she says.

Kate, who lives and works as a cook on a country estate near Denbigh is, in her own words, "the person most likely to say 'Oh God, can't we just go shopping instead?'"

She was at the centre of most of the drama that occurred outside of the tent.

"If you have seen the trailer, I'm the one in the car park, in the rain, probably looking foolish," she says.

"The reason for that is that I said, right at the start of the programme, that I hated snakes, I have a phobia of snakes and that I couldn't have anything to do with snakes.

"Then they took us to a slag heap outside Merthyr Tydfil and told us that we were going looking for adders. I mean when you tell someone something like that you'd hope they would listen."

The 43-year-old, who "fancies herself a literary person, a bit of an intellectual" worries the programme will end up making her look a bit negative. Even though she freely confesses to possessing a bit of a negative attitude.

"Well a lot of it wasn't really very interesting. For example we're off to Newport today to look for something dull I imagine.

"But some things I was 1,000% committed to. The abseiling off Snowdon for example. I've recently lost quite a lot of weight and for me to do something like that was a great achievement.

"The next day we hiked to the top of Snowdon, well we took the train some of the way, and we cut a chocolate cake that I had baked for the crew."

It feels like Kate has the most invested in the programme out of all the contributors.

"I was in London before I moved back to Wales, my family are in Cardiff, where everything had gone wrong - relationships and my job.

"I worked in education, at a school with what we called school refusers - truants basically. Taking that job was a mistake. Before that I was working at a university, finding jobs for business students. I enjoyed that.

"But I felt like a change so I answered an advert in The Lady, a women's magazine, for a cook and housekeeper and a couple of weeks later I was in Wales. Taking part in this programme was part of getting involved with my new life".

Perhaps the significance she placed on the show is why she found herself cast as the complainer. Even level-headed Chris identified her as a moaner.

"Looking back on it, it has all been fun," she says.

"But I don't think it has changed me that much. I still only really like cats, I don't care for any other animals. I have to look after two dogs and I don't really like them. I'm learning how to ride but it's not because I'm fond of horses. I don't like horses. I like speed. I want to be cantering over the moors, that sort of thing."

Certainly, Kate found that the process of filming threw up a number of worries, mainly about how she was going to be perceived in the final cut.

"We went canoeing on the Wye," she says.

"I had built myself up as a bit of a sailor and I felt that I had to live up to that. It would have been very embarrassing if we had tipped in after all that.

"And there's a lot of joking about me and Iolo, people saying will I do something if Iolo holds my hand, that sort of thing. But it's all in jest."

Love for Iolo is the one unifying factor for this disparate group.

Carly thinks he's brilliant. And the final member of the troupe, Abul Shikdar, likes his legs.

"He certainly does show them off doesn't he?", says the 35-year-old restaurant manager.

Abul lives in Cardiff's Fairwater with his wife and their four children, "three boys and a girl. They keep the wife busy", he says.

Born in Bangladesh and raised in London's Bethnal Green he moved to Cardiff six years ago. and he loves to talk. About the programme, his family and his garden, about anything really.

"London is great for the night life when you are younger but not when you have children. That's why we moved away."

But despite the move, Abul says his only real knowledge of Wales comes from his trips along the M4.

In fact he was unaware of a wildlife centre right on his doorstep which became one of his favourite discoveries.

"Yes yes, the Cardiff wetlands," he says, speaking quickly and enjoying every minute of it.

"I'll be taking the family there for a picnic. It's amazing to have this right in the middle of town and not know about it. Usually when I go to the Bay it is just to go to a restaurant or to the cinema you know, so to find this amazing scenery was quite an experience.

"I had been interested in nature before the programme but I have been busy with work.

"I have a garden and I plant a lot of things in there, like banana trees and fruit and other things. Not all of it is successful, but I plant it."

When it's next possible to get a word in, it is easy to steer Abul in the direction of his other contestants. Julie, he thinks is "very well mannered, the way she was brought up was excellent".

"Lloyd, he is very quiet. Kate, she moans a lot but is a lovely lady who makes flapjacks for everyone so she does think of other people. Chris I like a lot, we talk about our children."

The biggest surprise is that he thinks Carly is "the life and soul of the party".

I must have caught her on an off day.

The whole process has been a joy for Abul, who "is loving the attention".

"I always wanted to be a model, but I never got the chance," he beams. "Are you sure I have told you enough about myself?"

But what does the man with the legs, who ties all of the six together, think?

Given the glowing praise he's received from his team, it would be a surprise to find out that he secretly hated every minute of filming but surely one man can't be that saintly, that optimistic, that professional?

It seems, in fact, that he is.

"The worst part of it has been the Welsh weather, but we've actually been very lucky with that," says Wales' Mr Wildlife, possessor of the easily-admired legs.

"We are always in the lap of the gods with animals but again it hasn't been a problem."

Not even the occasional complaint from Kate has been able to dent the 45-year-old naturalist's good humour.

"I was realistic about the fact that they wouldn't necessarily enjoy everything to the same extent as I do," he says in his friendly baritone.

Iolo is particularly pleased with the new format. "It's educational, it's a documentary, it's real life. It's even drama," he says.

"I've not seen anything quite like it on television. I hope people will enjoy the characters in it, the development."

For Iolo, working on the series has been a two-way process. "I would compare it to teaching my own children about nature. It helps you to see things through fresh eyes and take pleasure in things which might be familiar to me, but are new to the group."

Finding newness seems to be the overriding theme of the series. There's a wealth of information alongside the drama, and if you've ever wondered about the natural world that lies just outside your door, then it is an engaging prospect.

After all, getting people to think about the world in new ways can only be a good thing. But do be warned. it does contain gratuitous footage of snakes. And spiders. And a big Welshman in shorts.

Not In My Nature is on BBC One Wales every Monday at 7.30pm.

I hate insects, just don't see the point in them, and I managed to suck on the wrong bit of the straw and ended up with a mouthful of worms

1. Kate and Carly bird watching at Newport

2. Iolo explains the next challenge

3. Lloyd gets to grips with a hedgehog

4 & 5. Julie in hard hat at Flatholm and striking a pose in her wetsuit

6. Chris Edwards conquers Snowdon

7. Carly and Lloyd head out to the water

CAPTION(S):

Iolo Williams; From left to right, Chris, Abul, Julie, Lloyd, Kate and Carly; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 28, 2008
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