Gulliver Hill of Superproof explores the question of whether or not it is time to change our pest control strategies
The main problem with our attempts to control mice is that the rodents have moved on, but we haven’t. House mice have evolved to live with us humans, and that means coping quite brilliantly with our attempts to get rid of them.
At the same time, our approach to mouse control has remained in the dark ages, literally. The first response to a mouse infestation is a programme of baiting and poisoning and trapping. The problem is, neither were effective in the time of Alfred the Great. And they are not effective now.
The result is that housing managers and maintenance professionals are facing a growing crisis of confidence in their attempts to control mice and keep tenants, property owners, and clients happy. In big cities, like London, mice have become endemic. Some people just accept that they must share their space with rodents. Others are horrified by the thought of it.
Evidence for this pops up in the news almost daily. We take delight in seeing that the White House in Washington is infested with vermin, including mice. The House of Commons is also riddled with rodents, we are told.
These stories are designed to make us smirk. But mouse control is a very serious problem, which the British Pest Control Association (BPCA) expects to get worse. It also costs housing managers £millions a year and causes misery for many thousands of people.
For example, in Glasgow, it was reported that a mother and her young son had to leave their flat after she caught eight mice in a few weeks. The housing association said it would carry out “repairs” to solve the problem, as it began a process of also trying to fix its damaged reputation.
Rise of the Super Mouse
One of the biggest problems is that mice are smarter and biologically tougher than we give them credit for. Mice have developed a resistance to many of the rodenticides currently available, so putting down poison can be tantamount to feeding them. They also evolve behaviourally, so learn to avoid bait boxes and mouse traps.
These rodents are now called Super Mice, and the BPCA has predicted that Super Mice will be one of the biggest challenges facing the pest control industry in the 21 st Century.
Growing resistance is making worse a process always associated with baiting and trapping. Some mice may be killed, but there are always more to take their place, a cycle that leads usually to serious infestation.
Mice are not fussy
There is also a misnomer that mice are associated with dirty homes. This is not true. Yes, they thrive in conditions where householders are relaxed about hygiene and leave food everywhere. But they fit in just as well in pristine-looking luxury homes too. Many estate managers are shocked to find how entrenched mice can become, and how difficult it can be to evict them using conventional techniques.
One of the main reasons baiting and trapping is still the most pervasive strategy for trying to get rid of mice within our living space, apart from cultural and scientific inertia, is that it is relatively low cost at first intervention.
When tenants and housing management clients complain, it is quick and easy to send a pest controller. People can see action is being taken. But as those first interventions fail, and repeat visits are needed, costs quickly mount up.
Tackling the real problem
People are less happy about poisons and traps being used to kill animals, especially when the measures do not work. At the same time, they are worried about risks to their children and pets. Continuing to use rodenticides is making mice more resistant to poisons, not less, just as we are in danger of weakening the effectiveness of antibiotics for medical treatment.
An alternative response has been to develop a system for mouse proofing properties, to stop mice getting in. Mice need three things to survive, shelter, warmth, and food. They find the first two in the walls, floors, and ceilings of our homes. Stopping mice getting into our living space can deprive them of the third, food. Then, they must either leave the property to find another food source, or they will perish.
This only works if your mouse proofing methodology blocks all possible entry points into human living space, and there can be hundreds of them in a standards three-bed home.
Proof in the pudding
Interestingly, the key challenge for is proving that mouse proofing does work. Housing managers have become so browbeaten by the scale and intractability of mouse infestations in their stock that they cannot believe anything can work.
They are also sceptical about whether it is possible to effectively proof whole housing estates or blocks of homes. One client Superproof won over was Arhag Housing Association in London. The problem was found at a block of 24 flats in West London. Tenants had been complaining about mouse infestations for many years.
Adeola Oke, head of asset management at Arhag, said: “Since the mouse proofing was completed we haven’t had another complaint about mice.
Given the scale of the problem we faced this is unprecedented.”
Mouse proofing has a high up-front cost. It requires a significant commitment from a housing organisation. However, if done effectively, it can pay dividends. Calculations made by Superproof suggest that, over a five-year period, high-quality mouse proofing of 1,000 homes costs 40 per cent less than baiting.
Happier tenants and property clients, lower management costs, and proof of a more sustainable approach to pest control are all benefits that follow.
Mice will continue to evolve. They might develop the know-how to invent advanced cutting equipment to drill through our proofing materials. Who knows what the future may bring? At the moment, though, they are laughing all the way to our kitchen cupboards.
Gulliver Hill is the Technical Director at Superproof