Pest management

Adequate control of pests is essential to the maintenance of a safe and decent environment for people to live in.

Pests pose a range of health hazards. They spread pest-borne illnesses, which reduce people’s quality of life and increase the demand on scarce medical resources.

Pests cause damage to structures and contaminate products. Rodent activity is a nuisance and, at worst, can lead to fires and floods. Bird fouling can make pavements unsafe, resulting in significant claims for damages. Food and medical supplies are rendered unsaleable or unusable when contaminated by either insect or rodent pests.

Pest infestations make urban areas undesirable and inhibit inward investment. They tend to be part of a vicious circle: poor housing, health and education together with social exclusion, low business investment and high unemployment are common in areas where chronic pest infestations persist.

The CIEH has set up the National Pest Advisory Panel (NPAP) to take the lead in setting high professional standards for EHPs and to offer advice and guidance to those in charge of local authority pest control departments.

NPAP comprises pest management professionals from right across the environmental health community and runs an annual programme of projects, seminars and events. Its prime objectives are:

  • To raise the profile of pest management in the UK, leading to better understanding of the need for good pest management;
  • To establish channels of communication throughout industry, government, local authorities and academia, leading to a greater awareness of problems and the need to set priorities;
  • To improve the standards of pest management throughout the UK by promoting good practice, leading to reduced pest levels and pesticide use;
  • To provide expert advice to government departments and agencies via the CIEH;
  • To identify and promote research needs in the area of pest management.

▼ Councils and pest control 

Local authorities (councils) are not legally required to provide a pest control service, however, under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 they are required to take such steps as may be necessary to secure as far as practicable that their district is kept free from rats and mice. They must, in particular, keep the local authority’s own land, and other land that the local authority occupies, free from rats and mice. They are also required to ensure that other owners and occupiers of land comply with their similar duties under the Act and, in addition, to tell the local authority in writing if it comes to their knowledge that rats or mice are living on or resorting to their land in substantial numbers. (NB. This does not apply to agricultural land.)

Some councils provide a free pest control service to householders for public health pests such as rats, mice, bedbugs and cockroaches but charge for dealing with other pests. Some are now charging even for rats and mice, however, and an increasing number provide no pest control service at all. Most will provide lists of private pest controllers in their areas though.

In the knowledge that charges may deter some householders from using these services, that treating properties individually may be ineffective and that amateur use of poisons is dangerous, the CIEH is seriously concerned about this trend. It has stated that increasing charges for pest control services and/or contracting out the service is inconsistent with local authorities’ public health responsibilities.

To find out if your council provides a pest control service and if so, what it charges for, log on to your council’s website.

Help with identifying household pests can be found on the Natural History Museum website.

▼ Amateur use of pesticides 

Under the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 and 1997 (as amended) it is an offence for a ‘professional use only’ pesticide to be used by someone who is not a professional user. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines a professional user as someone who is trained and competent to carry out the work they are called on to do and uses the product as part of their work.

However, it is not an offence for a pesticide manufacturer or distributor to sell or supply a ‘professional use only’ pesticide to an unqualified purchaser and there is no existing regime which actively monitors the use of professional use only pesticides to ensure that they are not used illegally by amateurs. As a result, ‘professional use only pesticides’ are regularly being offered for sale to amateurs at country fairs, on the internet and through other means.

The CIEH has a considerable concern about this, in particular as regards rodenticides (rat poison.) Research has shown that amateur users often adulterate rodenticides, believing it will make them more palatable. Some amateur users believe it is good practice to keep rodenticides topped up so that there is bait available at all times. Such ineffective treatments are likely to increase resistance, leading to the need to use more rodenticide in the environment. Another problem is that amateur users are less likely to interpret safety instructions on correctly and are less likely to understand how to use the products to best effect.

For example, in order to control rodent infestations effectively a block treatment programme is required. If some householders in the block treat their individual dwellings in isolation, the rodents in neighbouring properties that have not encountered the rodenticide will soon invade and infest those properties and the householder will buy more and more bait, but never achieve control. As the infestation continues those residents that are purchasing baits may use it in ways that are not specified on the label. Thus relying on individual DIY action is not likely to lead to effective control of infestations. This increase in misuse and abuse is particularly important in the case of second generation anticoagulant rodenticides because of their toxicity to humans and non-target species.

The CIEH believes that it should be illegal to sell or supply ‘professional use only pesticides’ to unqualified persons and that an effective enforcement regime should be introduced to control this.

If you are intending to use pesticides of any description you must make sure that they are kept, used and disposed of strictly in accordance with their instructions.

  • Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU)
    ▼ Existing and emerging threats 

    Rodents are the species most commonly associated with pest control. The full extent of the rodent problem is not known but there are estimated to be between 10 and 20 million brown rats inhabiting Britain’s streets, sewers and waterways. All the more reliable survey evidence suggests that numbers are increasing, particularly in inner city areas.

    The range of organisms known to be carried by rodents and the severity of some of the diseases they cause should be enough to demonstrate the importance of preventing rodents from entering areas where people live, work or play. However, there are also significant economic factors to consider, such as the effect on degraded environments.

    Certain insects also pose dangers. Flies and cockroaches, in particular, can spread numerous disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa. The free movement of flies, cockroaches and other insects from unsanitary to sanitary areas allows them to carry infections. Many common allergic reactions, notably asthma and eczema in children, may start as a result of exposure to pests such as cockroaches and house dust mites.

    In addition to existing problems relating to pests already native to the UK, pests are associated with a number of emerging diseases. Rising atmospheric CO2 and climate change due to global warming will undoubtedly affect the distribution and proliferation of insects and the diseases they carry.

    Several diseases could become more prevalent if warmer temperatures enable insects such as mosquitoes to become established further north, leading to the spread of malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and encephalitis. Southern regions of England may become warm enough to support mosquitoes carrying such diseases.

    Various tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, which is already present in the UK, could also spread with milder winters and extended spring and autumn seasons. Even now, accidental introductions of these species could cause serious outbreaks of diseases resulting in vast public expenditure on treatment and eradication.

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