A wasp nest in a roof

The impact of lockdown on pest control

Pest patterns have changed considerably under the lockdowns introduced in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Natalie Bungay, Technical Officer of the British Pest Control Association, gives some insight into the main factors behind that change, setting out ways the cleaning sector can ensure workplaces are protected professionally from infestations.

Empty buildings, a lack of food and quieter streets saw members of British Pest Control Association (BPCA) report a significant increase in rodent activity during the spring lockdown. As colder temperatures started to drive rats and mice indoors, the second lockdown in November caused an increase in the likelihood of a pest infestation. Fast forward to the New Year and plunging temperatures around the start of the third lockdown will be certain to have an impact on pest numbers too.

All this reinforces the importance of effective pest control, to protect public health and safety, and prevent the reputational damage to a business that an infestation can cause.

Changing patterns
During the UK-wide COVID-19 lockdown last spring, 51% of BPCA members reported an increase in rodent activity. In October, 78% of pest controllers polled reported increased rat sightings, with 63% noting a rise in mouse-related incidents.

In the first lockdown, BPCA had reports of rats and mice infesting areas that they were not normally seen in, such as empty buildings, and it seemed their lifestyle patterns were changing.

Rats, in particular, were also becoming more visible in areas of population. With less footfall across cities and towns, there was less associated food waste being left in bins and on the floor. Also, bin areas behind restaurants and pubs were empty and free of food waste which was not available for the local rat population.

As a result, rat populations were likely to move further afield to satisfy their need for a food source and this, in turn, was likely to cause more sightings.

By nature, rats try to avoid humans directly and so, with fewer people on the streets, they were perhaps getting a little bolder, being seen in areas they normally wouldn’t.

Colder climes
A regular pattern for rodents is that, as temperatures begin to drop and food becomes scarce, they head indoors. Rats and mice do not hibernate and are a problem all year round. House mice are already living in and around wherever people are, while rats begin looking for shelter indoors and scraps in more urban locations in autumn and winter.

As the weather gets colder, field mice will also look for warmer places to nest and begin to move indoors too. They are highly adaptable and won’t hesitate to take advantage of a warm place to nest during the winter months. This pattern for rats and mice all points to a need for extra care and attention in the third lockdown, in the heart of winter.

The importance of preventative pest control
One of the biggest threats that many closed businesses will have to face is the possibility of a serious pest infestation, which may have established while their premises were left without any activity and unguarded from pests.

Property owners have a legal obligation under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 to keep premises rodent free, or, if rodents pose a threat to health or property, to report infestations to the local authority. Owners of food businesses also have obligations to keep premises pest-free under the Food Safety Act 1990.

Pest control has been designated as an essential service, and there has still been access to COVID-secure, professional services in the pandemic, even in lockdown. If pest management visits have been maintained, then properties and businesses should be in a good position to reopen safely.

However, when we start to emerge from the third lockdown, there could be some cleaning professionals returning to those premises left empty who might face issues with pests. If pest control services have been stopped, then the worst-case scenario when re-opening is that a pest infestation has been given weeks or months of free time and space to feed, breed and damage the building and the contents within.

Rodents won’t only damage the food they actually want but will also gnaw through other packaging, as well as wood, cables and some soft metals. This behaviour can cause serious damage such as burst water pipes, faulty electronics and, in rare circumstances, pose a fire risk.

Top tips
BPCA has a number of tips for being ‘pest-ready’ when premises re-open. These include:

  • Safely securing all food sources from pests;
  • Checking access points are sealed;
  • Performing thorough cleaning and hygiene processes;
  • Checking the condition of pest management equipment, e.g. fly screens;
  • Visiting the site to perform routine maintenance and pest activity checks;
  • Conducting a back-to-work pest inspection with your pest management company; and
  • Getting a good pest management company on your books – find one in your area with bpca.org.uk/find.

More information can be found in a guide produced by BPCA, entitled Becoming Pest Ready, which offers guidance for reopening businesses after the COVID-19 lockdown.

The guide goes through a step-by-step process to enable businesses to mitigate the potential risk of pest problems. It is designed for any business that has been closed for a period of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The document sets out legislation and regulations to consider, as well as outlining checks that should be taking place ahead of re-starting production or re-opening to the public. It also explains the breeding cycles and habits of rats and mice, highlighting the speed with which they can become a serious issue.

Measures that can be taken to deter pests from entering a building in the first place are featured too, as well as an explanation of when and how to call in a pest control company. A handy checklist of tasks to tick off before opening the doors to staff and customers is also included.

Take action
During lockdowns, as designated key workers, the professional pest management sector is working hard to protect homes, as well as key areas including healthcare environments such as hospitals and the food manufacturing industry. Rodents and many other pests carry and transmit diseases and can breed at an alarming rate if left unattended. They contaminate food, ruin stock, and can even cause fires and floods with their gnawing.

It is vital that vigilance is maintained in these challenging times and that professional pest control works hand in hand with professional cleaning services to deliver the very best outcomes. Proactive pest management is the best way we can manage the risks an infestation can cause to public health and safety.