Make pest prevention part of your maintenance schedule




For owners and managers of heritage buildings, the on-going list of maintenance and repair work can often omit pest control. In this article, John Horsley, Technical Support Officer at British Pest Control Association (BPCA), explains how professional pest control can play a key role in the protection and preservation of our heritage buildings.

Firstly, three quick benefits that can come from taking an integrated approach to pest control and building  maintenance:
• Reduced risk to human health
• Reduced risk of damage to building
• Reduced risk to reputation of organisation/property/business.

BPCA is a not-for-profit national trade body for pest professionals and represents member companies that work strategically to defend public health and protect natural environments.

Our members work with property owners, businesses and other organisations to promote a ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach to pest control.

We believe pest control needs to be included in any rolling programme of works designed to maintain and repair homes, public spaces and businesses, because proofing against pest activity – and early identification of potential problems - is crucial in swift and effective pest management.

This is particularly pertinent for heritage homes and buildings, where features such as Victorian drainage systems, thatched roofs, little-used attic spaces, areas of disrepair, and older fixtures and fittings in kitchens and bathrooms, can provide harbourage for pests.

Risks to human health

Certain species are classified as pests when they come into conflict with people and pose a risk to human health because:
• Pests may contaminate food with droppings, urine, egg cases, hair etc
• Some species are vectors of disease
• Certain pests may bite or sting, which can result in allergic reaction or transfer of disease.

As an example, cockroaches move from sewers and drains into dark, damp spaces in human habitats and are known to carry bacteria harmful to human health, like salmonella, staphylococcus and streptococcus.

When foraging for food and water, they contaminate everything they come into contact with, dropping faeces and disgorging portions of partially digested food at intervals.

Often found around the heating ducts and boiler rooms of large centrally heated buildings, as well as around pipes, stoves and sinks, cockroaches are notoriously difficult to treat.

A more common pest problem in the UK is wasp nests. In low traffic areas such as little-used parts of the garden, wasps can be safely left to their own devices, but nests in busy areas may need to be treated.

Nests have been found in some unusual places, such as a toilet cistern and brass instruments, which bring them into close contact with people. In old buildings, they’ll often be under eaves, in lofts and chimneys.

An established nest can be home to around 5,000 wasps - and if just one feels threatened it may emit a pheromone which acts as a call for back-up and can trigger a defensive stinging frenzy.

Wasp stings can lead to anaphylaxis – an allergic reaction that can be fatal – hence the need to ensure a nest   that requires treatment is dealt with by an experienced professional.

It’s also vital to correctly identify the species, and to seek help from a professional if you’re not sure.

In the UK we have more than 250 species of bee, including one honey bee, 24 bumble bees and the remainder being solitary bee species.

Honey bees often make their home in a difficult to reach location, such as a cavity wall, loft or chimney.

Removals in newer properties should normally be straightforward with the help of a bee removal specialist.

In the case of a listed property, this can become more  challenging and may require liaising with your local council, or a relevant organisation such as Historic England.

Ideally, relocating the bees, comb and honey from the nest site will help avoid any property damage and prevent attracting other pests such as wax moths.

Risks of damage to property
Pests are rarely at the top of the list when considering factors that can cause property damage, but electrical fires and floods have been attributed to rodent activity, while pigeon droppings can corrode brick and stone.

Rats and mice both need to gnaw to maintain their teeth. Both are capable of gnawing through wood, metal, cables and brick, which can cause leaks, electrical faults, fires, floods and even structural damage.

Another common issue can be feral pigeons, which carry a variety of diseases that can be transmitted to people via contact with the bird and its droppings, which, when dry, can become airborne in small particles that can lead to respiratory complaints.

Pigeon droppings are also acidic and can corrode metals, stone and brick. Nesting materials used by birds can block chimneys, flues and guttering, which can then lead to water overflows from blocked gutters, or possible issues with carbon monoxide.

Nests can also cause secondary infestations of mites, fleas and beetles.
As well as possible damage to the fabric of the building, pests can be a problem for furnishings within the building.

Textile moths don’t spread disease and don’t bite humans – many don’t even have mouths, but some moth larvae will feast on natural fibres such as hair, wool and cotton, as well as animal-derived materials such as fur, hides and feathers.

A large infestation can cause distressing damage, particularly if they infest items such as family heirlooms, antiques, or furniture that is unique to the property.

Risks to reputation
Many heritage buildings, from stately homes and landmark buildings to museums and churches, are open to the public for at least part of the year.

And while historic buildings that have become hospitality venues will need to adhere to food-related legislation in relation to pest control, those open to day visitors or worshippers should also consider the reputational risk of a pest sighting by a guest – or worse, a visitor suffering a bite, sting or illness due to the presence of pests.

Some pest infestations can’t be avoided – bed bugs for instance can travel on luggage, bags, clothes and even period furniture – so regular checks are even more important to help nip any sign of infestation in the bud.
Another notoriously difficult pest to tackle, regular vacuuming and cleaning around and under furniture makes early detection of bed bugs more likely, increasing the chances of a successful treatment.

Reducing risk
BPCA always recommends a ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach. Pest activity that escalates into an infestation can pose a risk to human health and result in property damage, which in the case of heritage homes and buildings, can be extremely expensive to rectify.

Owners and managers of heritage buildings can mitigate multiple risks under one contract by establishing a pest control maintenance cycle.

This usually involves a schedule of regular visits by a pest professional, such as a BPCA member, to inspect the premises for pest activity.

A pest professional will be able to identify potential proofing measures that can deter pests, and points of action to be completed between visits to help prevent an infestation.

It is also wise to cultivate a culture of reporting any possible pest activity among staff, volunteers and family members, to ensure any necessary action can be taken swiftly.
BPCA also recommends checking the credentials of pest professionals before agreeing contract terms.

BPCA members:
• Carry the correct insurances
• Are trained and qualified technicians
• Are assessed to the British Standard in pest management EN 16636
• Follow BPCA’s Codes of Best Practice.

Pests can pose a real risk to public health and a failed treatment by an untrained operative can make an infestation even worse.
To find a BPCA member visit:



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