Stewardship key in bid to beat rodents

Rodent control practice on farms usually involves placing second-generation anticoagulant (SGAR) bait points in both indoor and outdoor locations and leaving these in place for extended periods.


This approach can lead to increased risks to wildlife that share these environments and is also less likely to produce successful results.


As a consequence, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK’s Competent Authority for biocides, has produced proposals that will promote effective rural rodent control at the same time as protecting non-target wildlife.


Time to tighten up


Paul Butt from Natural England, says when bait boxes are filled with rodenticide and left unmonitored for long periods, there is the likelihood a range of non-target species, such as voles, will be exposed to these compounds.


“New guidelines need to be put in place in order to help protect wildlife from either directly consuming the bait, or, in the case of predatory species such as foxes, badgers and birds of prey, ingesting the poison by feeding on poisoned rodent carcasses,” he says.


In an initiative co-ordinated through the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU), the HSE has invited pest control industry stakeholders to collaborate with the agricultural industry to develop a stewardship regime for second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides.


The outcome of initial discussions revealed the future use of SGARs may require a stewardship campaign that will affect all main rodenticide user groups, including pest-control professionals, local authorities, farm and land managers, gamekeepers and amateurs.


“All users of rodenticides will be involved in the new stewardship approach,” says Mr Butt. “However, particular responsibility will fall on the shoulders of farmers, rural pest controllers, gamekeepers and landowners who, through the very nature of the environment they work in, will be laying bait outdoors in areas shared by other wildlife.”


Mr Butt explains that it’s about striking a careful balance. “We want to avoid the levels of restrictions imposed in some European Countries. If these constraints were imposed in the UK, it would make it very difficult to effectively treat a rodent problem and have a detrimental effect, particularly on farms.”


The stewardship aims to educate all sectors, and the HSE is keen to see the relevant industries working together to develop tools to help end users understand the risks involved with rodenticides, as well as the consideration of alternative control and preventative methods.


What the pig industry is doing


Recognising the important role that rodent control plays on a pig unit, BPEX is piloting a series of day-long workshops offering pig farmers the skills and knowledge to not only effectively control rodent infestations, but to do so in the most responsible way possible.


Adrian Meyer from FarmTrain, says a tailored approach is needed. “Livestock farmers face a specific set of issues, most evidently the fact it’s difficult to remove the rodent’s source of food. As a result we are developing our own syllabus and hope to develop this into a Lantra livestock rodent control qualification.”


A unique component of the pilot workshops involves on-farm monitoring before and after the training. “We want to visually demonstrate the level of activity on the farms we’re working with.” Before each workshop, and following an initial farm inspection, Mark Lambert from the AHVLA places motion-activated cameras around the farm.


“In almost all cases, this has confirmed our suspicions of how the rodents behaved on that site, it also identified where producers may be going wrong in their approach,” says Mr Meyer.


Key advice


One key piece of advice delivered through the workshops is the importance of removing the rodent’s habitat. “This is usually overlooked, but so important,” says Mr Meyer. If you’re able to, tidy up the farmyard and remove any shrubbery, long grass, old machinery and general debris, ideally within a 30m radius of farm buildings.


“You’ll be removing the rodent’s harbourage sites and that will have an enormous effect on their activity and reduces levels of infestation.”


Mr Meyer believes poor rodent control could be costing farmers thousands.


“On a farm with 1,000 rats, you could be spending as much as £2,500 a year on unintentionally feeding them alone, not to mention the costs associated with structural damage and disease transmission, such as salmonella and swine dysentery.


“Rat resistance to certain anticoagulant rodenticides may also be an issue on some farms, increasing the costs of the problem.


BPEX is running pilot workshops at selected sites with a view to rolling them out nationwide in the new year. For more information please email pighealth@bpex.ahdb.org.uk


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