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LOCATION: HOME > INDUSTRY > NEWS > National Rodent Survey 2001

   DATE: 1 January 2002   AUTHOR: NPTA


Following the publication of the first National Pest Technicians Association (NPTA) Rodent Survey Report at the Association's annual PEST TECH exhibition on Wednesday November 6th 2000, we can report that more column inches of editorial appeared in both newspapers and magazine articles, alongside more air time on both national and local radio and Television stations on one single subject in the Pest Control industry than can ever be remembered.

However, one has to report that despite the positive things to come out of the original survey report, even though the vast majority felt the report had done a good and responsible job, there were a few from academia and certain institutions who were critical and poured cold water on the report saying "it was not scientific enough", "it did not count the actual rat and mouse population per square kilometre", "they had not been asked for their views", "it was badly conceived" and so on. Suffice to say here, that despite us being twelve months down the line from the original Survey Report, no one came forward to help and assist the Association with the 2001 Report. This Association has again had to go it alone to produce this second report.

It was always envisaged that a follow-up survey for 2001 and subsequent years would be undertaken in order to obtain yearly figures for both comparison purposes and in order to highlight any changing circumstances. Possibly to bring them to the attention of the general public, the Pest Control Industry and, where considered appropriate, to those in positions of power within central government (both the elected Members of Parliament and the Civil Service), the privatised Water Industry, as well as local government - both their elected members and also their senior officers.

A most disturbing trend we feel we need to report, having taken note of many written comments received from the local authorities that responded to the survey, is the fact that many local authorities are starting to bring in "charging policies". This is immediately producing a reduction in complaints and requests for treatments with, what is after all a well-known public health preventative approach. More details may be read on page 8 of the report where we have taken account of this trend.

Design of the Survey and who was covered

In order to be able to compare "like with like" the survey form was left almost the same apart from one major deletion, the deletion of any questions on the Black Rat "Rattus rattus". The reason behind this decision was because not one local authority making their return last year, for the years 1998 and 1999, had any statistics that identified the Black Rat. The fact that no local authorities were prepared to admit they had a "black rat" problem within their boundaries makes the Association rather worried. Are local authorities now unable to distinguish the major differences of these two separate species any more?

The other change was in the actual wording of the second part of each of the three questions on the Brown Rat, the House Mouse and what we term the Summer Rat. In the first questionnaire and report we asked on each of the three occasions for "Total number of initial visits, external/internal". This, it was pointed out by several people, was not worth asking! What they suggested we should be asking is "Total number of initial visits where a treatment was carried out". The argument being that it was the treatments actually carried out that were the most important and not the number of initial visits, as in many cases the complaint may have been wrongly identified in the first instance. We therefore took on board this most constructive suggestion.

Every District and Borough Council and Unitary Authority within England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were sent the questionnaire towards the end of July / early August 2001, as we did last year.

In the first report several local authorities appended comments upon their own findings, so for this report we added an additional page to prompt local authorities for their comments. See page 10 for how this extra comment page was worded.

The survey form was again adaptable and allowed for authorities to either provide their figures for the true calendar year 1999 and 2000 or, if it suited them, for the financial years 1999/2000 and 2000/2001. One has to realise that many local authorities now keep their records as per their financial year, in order to keep any statistics in line with their budgetary requirements and needs for controlling expenditure.

Again we had an overwhelming response from local authorities and the Association would like to thank all those who took part for their help and assistance in compiling the report.

Outline findings of the National Rodent Survey 2001

The average overall findings for the United Kingdom are as follows:

The total number of Infestations reported during the previous two years (1999 and 2000) and dealt with by local authorities is divided into:

BROWN RATS The average figures from individual local authorities ranged enormously and taking the figures from the regional averages they ranged from a decrease in five regions in the UK, to an increase again in ten regions. Average decreases were from as little as a 2% decrease in Wales. The figures also reveal a staggering 29% decrease in Northern Ireland and this is commented upon later in the report. Average increases ranged from 5% in the Southern and Northern Regions up to a massive 34% in the Midlands Region. However, the average UK figures showed an increase of 6% (18% in the previous 12 months) in brown rat infestations.

Adding this smaller 6% increase on to last years overall percentage increase makes a reportable total increase of 24% for the years 1998, 1999 and 2000.

HOUSE MICE The average figures from individual local authorities ranged even more so and taken from the regional averages we have twelve regions showing a decrease and only three showing an increase. The Eastern region had a large 15% decrease whilst both the Southern and London regions had a 14% increase. Of the three regions showing an increase these ranged from 2% (South Western) to 6% (Isle of Man) and 7% (Midlands Region). However, the average UK figures showed an overall decrease of 5% (2% in the previous 12 months) in house mice infestations.

Adding this 5% decrease on to last years overall percentage decrease makes a reportable total decrease of 7% for the years 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Finally, because of certain comments being put forward from many authorities we also wanted to know the total number of Brown rat infestations reported and dealt with during the two summer periods of 1st April to 30th September of both 1999 and 2000. This showed:

SUMMER BROWN RAT FINDINGS The average figures from individual local authorities as to be expected again ranged greatly and taken from the regional averages, we had seven showing an increase and eight showing a decrease in summer rats during the years 1999 to 2000. However, the average overall UK figure showed a decrease of just 1% (a 31% increase in the previous 12 months) in brown rat infestations comparing the summers of 2000 from 1999.

This small decrease of 1% added to last years figure, which showed an increase of 31%, means in the years 1998, 1999 and 2000 we have experienced an overall increase of 30% in Summer Rat reports and treatments.

Graph of percentage results for rodent populations.

Division of statistics into regions

Not surprisingly the results of the survey varied to such an extent that we again decided to divide the whole of the UK into the same fifteen (15) regions.

These fifteen regions are shown on the report maps on pages 6 and 7 are as follows:

Name of Region   Includes the following counties
Eastern   Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk
East Midlands   Derbyshire,Leicestershire,Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire
Isle of Man   Isle of Man
London   includes all the London Borough Councils
Midlands   Gloucestershire, Hereford & Worcestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Midlands
North Western   Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside
Northern   Cleveland, Cumbria, Co. Durham, Northumberland,
Tyne and Wear
Northern Home Counties   Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire
Northern Ireland   includes all the Northern Ireland local authorities
Scotland   includes all the Scotland local authorities
South East   East Sussex, Kent, Surrey and West Sussex
South Western   Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and also Bristol and its surrounding area
Southern   (includes Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and
Isle of Wight) Wiltshire
Wales   includes all the Welsh local authorities
Yorkshire   East, North, South and West Yorkshire

Regional Findings

The map accompanying the report on page 7 summarises the survey findings. The table below also details these same findings:

Eastern   17%   15% decrease   10%
East Midlands   3% decrease   9% decrease   13% decrease
Isle of Man   4% decrease   6%   7% decrease
London   6%   14% decrease   6% decrease
Midlands   34%   7%   20%
North Western   13%   2% decrease   4%
Northern   5%   4% decrease   5% decrease
Northern Home Counties   13%   12% decrease   9%
Northern Ireland **   29% decrease   2% decrease   30% decrease
Scotland   5% decrease   4% decrease   9% decrease
South East   21%   1% decrease   11%
South Western   13%   2%   4%
Southern   5%   14% decrease   5%
Wales   2% decrease   6% decrease   6% decrease
Yorkshire   8%   10% decrease   3% decrease
------------------------   -----   -----   -----
Average for UK   6% increase   5% decrease   1% decrease

Note: Where no word follows the percentage sign this indicates an increase in infestations in 2000 compared to the figures found by local authorities in 1999.

General observations on the regional figures

** We feel we should make a comment upon the percentage statistics shown for Northern Ireland in relation to those for Brown Rats and Summer Rats. Due to the poor response rate from the Northern Ireland local authorities, these particular statistics, we believe, are not a true reflection of the actual situation. It is the NPTA's intention to undertake a separate and special enquiry early in the New Year with these particular authorities.

As already mentioned in the Introduction we believe it right and proper to bring to readers' attention the Association's concern over what is starting to happen in a proportion of local authorities. Namely, that included within a percentage of the returns we are seeing the results now of Council's who have introduced "charging policies". We wish to repeat what two local authorities have stated.

  • "From April 2000 members introduced a charging policy for the first time, a 25 standard charge (incl. VAT), with 10 for senior citizens and free to householders on means tested benefits. Due to the alarming drop in treatments, members decided in June 2001 to return to free treatments for domestic rodent treatments."

  • "I have also included out of interest our summer brown rat figures for 2001, because from April 1st 2001 we introduced a 25 charge for a complete treatment. We find a summer rat increase from 1999 to 2000 of 16% turning into a 71% decrease from 2000 to 2001. Tells a story doesn't it!"

If this decision is allowed to expand and becomes the "norm" where are we going to go? Nature has a habit of sometimes hitting us hard where it hurts in our pockets; just think what will it cost us eventually when we have in approximately 4/5 years time, the possibility of a "rat plague". See comments made in our final views on the vital importance, since local authorities were formed in the last quarter of the 19th Century, of "Preventative Public Health measures".

Possible reasons for these changes

Results from any survey findings need interpretation and whilst it is not the intention of the NPTA to point the finger at any one reason for the continuing increase in the Brown Rat population we feel able through our own experiences and that of local authority officers to indicate again several key factors that could play a vital part:

1. The increasing use of "charging policies" by local authorities on what has always been a vital public health preventative measure and the general reduction of pest control funding within a local authorities overall budget.
2. Global warming affecting climate patterns allowing breeding cycles in temperate zones to increase;
3. The general reduction in funding, by the privatised water authorities in the majority of regions, with their annual routine sewer surveys and follow-up treatments, associated with the lack of routine maintenance and replacement of the decaying Victorian sewerage systems in urbanised areas that are allowing rats to escape to the surface;
4. Many local authorities are reporting the close association between extensive wild bird feeding and domestic pet feeding which is creating a ready and steady source of abundant food for rats, particularly in town and city centres and shopping areas.
5. That many fast food outlets are continuing to create much litter with the general public also tolerating poorer rubbish standards, the continuing use of black plastic bags with no bin, plus the general increase of "fly tipping" of rubbish, including food waste, now that many local authorities are not allowing free waste disposal at their civic amenity sites;
6. 'Second generation' poisons may be attributing to some of this increase by the development of resistance amongst certain pockets of highly resistant rats and mice. We now have an organisation known as RRAG (Rodenticide Resistance Action Group) who are now meeting on this very subject. RRAG is made up from within the pest control industry itself and is chaired by Professor Robert Smith of Leicester University.
7. The increasing use of plastic building products - such as air bricks, pipework and drainage chambers that allow rats to chew through them and thus enter buildings and homes; (the response we had from one plastic product manufacturer who took exception to this statement and the subsequent replies from our members was fully covered and reported within our quarterly journal "Today's Technician");
8. The legislation that local authorities currently still have to work with was designed just after the World War II in 1949 when conditions and expectations were far different and consequently are out-dated in today's mainly urbanised and heavily populated society.

These eight factors are not in any order of priority and also will not, on their own, be the reason for the continuing rat population increases, but their combined effects are becoming only too obvious.

Final Views

That the large increases in annual rat complaints and treatments reported in the first report have not been repeated is certainly welcome news. However, it is important when looking at any annual statistics to appreciate what the overall picture shows, namely, that for the 3 years of 1998, 1999 and 2000 we have now had a total increase of 24%. This is well illustrated on the bar charts shown on page 3.

Mice have continued to show a decrease giving an overall decrease for the same 3 years of 7%. This is extremely gratifying news to thousands of homeowners.

Finally that the extremely alarming increase of Summer Rat problems in the first report of 31% has reduced somewhat to an actual decrease in this report from 1999 to 2000 of 1% However, this means we still show an overall increase of 30% for the 3 summer months of 1998, 1999 and 2000. See again the bar charts on page 3.

What we should all remember is that both rodent and public health insect pest control has since the early years of the 20th Century been used as a basic public health preventative measure. To undertake the control of rodents, particularly reducing the rat population, was always taken to be a number one aim of local authorities

We are now in the first year of the new millennium (2001) and what we are finding is a regime of "best value", "Investors in People Awards", "response times" and similar jargon words. What we believe is happening is that the accountants with their "bottom line" mentality thinking, are not giving any thought to preventative public health and suggesting to both central and local government that it is old hat! In the long term possibly a very expensive mistake?

We wish to remind, as well as warn, readers that preventative public health measures are always, in the long term, far cheaper than the current knee jerk responses where we get the "fire fighting" mentality of some of today's local authorities, their elected members and accountants.

It is certainly the NPTA's intention to again repeat this survey with all UK local authorities in the Summer of 2002 in order to identify any positive or negative changes. Obviously we shall publish the results throughout the whole of the UK and also within our quarterly Journal entitled "Today's Technician" and on the Association's website at as well as sending every local authority who participated in the survey their own special copy. Without them there would not be a report, so we owe them all our grateful thanks.

Author: J. Barrie Sheard FCIEH
Promotions Officer to the NPTA

November 2001



As an experiment enclosed with this year's survey sheet we attached a questionnaire, which stated, "Please detail below any comments you feel may be relevant to be included in the final report".

Selection of observations and points raised by local authorities that have not been included within our eight factors

  • "Financial restraints on farmers means that less rodent control measures are being taken by them;
    More home owners feeding the birds and other wild animals;
    Water features in gardens provide a life source for vermin;
    Increase in fast food shops and the general public's attitude to disposing of the remaining packaging etc."

  • "Seven years ago sewer treatments were stopped by the Water Company and spot treatments are now carried out where rodents have broken to the surface, this treatment (fire fighting) is now on the increase. The majority of sewers prior to seven years ago had been treated twice annually.

    After several meetings with the Water Company they are now (2001) considering doing block treatments again in this area."

  • "We have installed large numbers of brick built bait stations around the city which coupled with a sewer baiting strategy has decreased the number of rat complaints steadily over the past three (3) years.
    We are also running a pigeon campaign at the moment which discourages people feeding them in public areas. It was found that a large amount of food was not being eaten by the pigeons and encouraged rats to feed. Litter patrols have also been increased."

  • "Officers report that not only have the number of reports increased but infestations are tending to be much more serious than they were in previous years."

  • "Larger infestations with over 30 rats appear to be becoming the "norm".

  • "We now carry out sewer baiting on council owned estates and roads funded by the Housing Department. We also have a programme of Interceptor inspections for defects and baiting. This we feel has reduced the number of repeat infestations."

  • "This Council has the view that a free treatment for domestic rodent infestations is important in their effective control. If charges are introduced, the tendency would be not to report problems in the early stages - when it is easier to nip the problem in the bud. Under reporting resulting in greater numbers and more difficulty in controlling them."

  • "Increased quantities of rubbish - "throw away society";

  • Increased public awareness and sensitivity to rats raised by media articles.

  • Our records show a decrease in rat complaints of 90% between 1990 - 1998. During that period sewer treatment was carried out all year round. However, since 1998, little or no treatment has been carried out in the sewers and we have seen an increase in rat complaints of almost 50%.

  • We are further concerned that increased pressure on public spending and the "best value" process may lead to increased rodent populations in the future due to reduced control."

  • "The number of calls has increased noticeably within the centre of this authority. This fast growing authority has an ever-increasing number of fast food outlets plus very dense vegetation incorporated with new landscaping. Food availability and an inability to bait effectively without a large financial support from our landscaping depot will mean that the number of rats will get worse as new planted areas mature.
    The rats are now living out of the sewerage system, as we have not had one report in either the foul or surface systems in the central of this urban area."

  • "A large number of sightings of rats are reported by members of the public in situations in which there are concerns about accumulations of refuse or overgrown vegetation harbouring vermin."

  • "This authority covers both urban and rural areas. There are many matters that contribute to rodent problems namely, in our urban areas discarded fast food, deliberate feeding of birds, poorly maintained drains and sewers, refuse left out in black plastic bags (no bins), large student and tourist populations, a canal and river through the town, feeding waterfowl on waterways by public, also discarded food and fishing bait, derelict buildings in both urban and rural areas. In our rural areas particular changes in agricultural practices i.e. growing sweet corn etc. composting of inappropriate waste kitchen scraps, keeping of domestic animals and fowl etc. poorly maintained and overgrown gardens."

  • "Up to 20% of visits find heavy bird feeding involved.
    Other attractions - poor domestic waste management and compost bins in inappropriate places."

  • "The common rat in this authority's area are still on the increase. We had to employ an addition PCT to cope with the demand for the service. For your information this year's 2001 summer rats have gone up yet again to 26%! (24% increase from 1999 to 2000). So a huge increase of 50% from 1999 to 2001!"

  • "We have included out of interest the figures from April to September 2001, because from April 1st 2001 we introduced a 25 charge for a complete treatment. A decrease of 71%! Tells a story doesn't it!"

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