Key advice on pest control

Urban sprawl, irresponsibly discarded litter, international travel and the onset of climate change are all factors caused by human behaviour that expose us increasingly to pests and pest-related diseases.
It is the CIEH’s view that in the UK and other parts of Europe some of the relevant ministries and agencies currently lack the capacity, the legal basis for action and, even more worryingly, the political will to address future urban pest management issues.
To protect public health we must improve pest and pest-related disease management at international, national and local levels, through legal action, education, institutional capacity building and research.
Perhaps surprisingly, modern living and certain practices considered exemplary by government or ethical by ‘good citizens’ can encourage pests and pest-borne diseases into the urban environment. Wall-to-wall carpets, cavity wall insulation, urban green spaces, walks in the country, affordable warmth, composting and feeding the birds can all present opportunities for pests to colonise built-up areas. These apparent contradictions represent important challenges to public health and wellbeing for government, business, academia and the public today and tomorrow.

How big is the problem?
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.

What role do councils play?
Local authorities 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 their council provides a pest control service and if so, what it charges for, individuals can log on to their council’s website.
Environmental health is concerned with the health and wellbeing of individuals, the communities in which they live and the organisations for which they work.
By improving the conditions in which we live and work, we can move forward with our aim of reducing the incidence of disease and enhancing wellbeing by better environmental health.

Further information