GOVERNMENT spending cuts could spark an explosion in the UK pest population, it has been claimed.
New figures reveal the number of local authorities who provide a free pest control service has declined by 26 per cent over the last four years.
And the industry's leading trade body is warning that has the potential to prompt a significant increase in pests, including rats and bedbugs.
Simon Forrester, chief executive of the British Pest Control Association, believes pest numbers across the UK have increased significantly in that time and fears the problem is likely to get worse.
He said: "Four years of austerity measures have left local authorities under immense pressure to come up with savings and a number of public services have been cut as a result.
"A growing number of authorities who once provided pest control free of charge have either introduced charges or done away with their service altogether in a bid to balance the books.
"That has already had a significant impact on the pest population because numbers are higher than ever and, if cuts continue, the problem is likely to get much worse.
"It's posing a big risk to public health and we're worried that short-term budget cuts will result in higher overall costs down the line."
A total of 679,110 pest treatments were carried out by local authorities in 2010/11. But that figure dropped to 501,595 in 2013/14.
And the number of councils offering a pest control service - either in-house or sub-contracted - declined by four per cent last year alone.
The not-for-profit BPCA says it's a policy which has created big problems, particularly in low-income areas.
Mr Forrester added: "The cost of professional treatments, either through the local authority or the private sector, can be prohibitive when people are struggling to make ends meet.
"But if residents try to deal with issues themselves, or bring in unqualified controllers because they're cheap, infestations can quickly get out of hand."
The annual BPCA survey also identified the areas of Britain most affected by pests in the last year (figures available).
The trade body sent requests for service demand figures to all 407 district, borough and unitary authorities in the UK under the Freedom of Information Act.
Pests covered by the data, which covers the 12 months to the end of March, 2014, include rats, mice, bedbugs, cockroaches, wasps, ants and birds.
Mr Forrester added: "Our study provides a comprehensive and graphic indication of the demand placed on local authorities for pest control.
"There are many localised reasons why a particular area could have a high prevalence of a certain pest, but there's certainly a recurring theme.
"If an infestation of any pest isn't dealt with quickly and professionally, it's likely to spread. The problem then becomes much more expensive and carries a greater risk to public health.
"The best advice is to employ a member of the BPCA."
NB: The study ranks each local authority according to the number of times pest controllers were called out per 1,000 residents.
A full set of data for each authority in the UK, including individual pest categories, is available, along with an executive summary. Previous Years' data is also included for comparison.
Note that the figures could be distorted if a particular council launched or discontinued an in-house service or if they introduced or scrapped charges during the year. Contact individual local authorities for details.
Press release issued by Guy Pearson, Shepherd PR.
For more information or to arrange an interview with Richard Moseley, Technical Manager of the BPCA, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (01335) 368020.