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28 July 2022

ICUP: 7 key takeaways from the 2022 conference


Delegates from across the globe were excited to be at the 10th International Conference on Urban Pests (ICUP) in Barcelona last month. 

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Held at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain from 27-29 June 2022, it had been a long time coming for this event.

Originally planned for 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works. That meant five years had passed since the last ICUP event was held in Birmingham, UK, in 2017.

As a result, over 250 academics, manufacturers, regulators and service professionals representing all sectors of the urban pest management sector flocked to Barcelona for ICUP.

Delegates came from 28 different counties from as far away as Argentina, South Korea, Australia and India but, as to be expected, there were strong contingents from European countries, in particular Italy, Germany, France and of course, the host country Spain.

Here Frances McKim gives a rundown of the 7 main talking points from the show. 

1. "The world is changing"

Dr Bill Robinson, chair of the ICUP Executive Committee, opened the event. Imploring all those present to get out of their boxes and start thinking laterally about urban pest control, he told delegates: 

"Economics are coming into pest control. The world is changing. We are all safe and sound here in Barcelona, but the world is no longer such a friendly place.

"Some of our East European colleagues are absent. And several of us have had to battle with airline and train cancellations as well as lost luggage."

Problems certainly, but this failed to dampen the excitement and enthusiasm of those lucky enough to be present.


2. Facing challenges head-on

Dr Ruben Bueno, chairman of the ICUP Organising Committee, highlighted the challenges and new problems faced within Europe, such as the growing threats posed by the arrival of invasive species, including Asian tiger mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus) Asian hornets (Vespa velutina), black flies and termites.

With these insects comes an increase in arboviruses such as Dengue fever, West Nile virus and leishmaniasis. 

At the opening ceremony, Dr Bueno was joined by Elisenda Realp Campalans, director of Environmental Health in the Public Health Agency of Barcelona, who explained how the monitoring of urban pests was an increasing issue, especially with the changes in climatic conditions.

She stressed how Barcelona is committed to the health of its residents and the challenge it faces.

3. Emerging threats

Changes in climatic conditions and the related threats emerging from vector-borne diseases proved one of the conference themes.

Management strategies designed to combat these threats were addressed by several speakers during the event, including three of the four invited plenary speakers. 

One of these plenary speakers was Dr Rachel Lowe, ICREA research professor and Global Health Resilience team leader in the Earth Science Department of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. She detailed their work creating probabilistic models capable of forecasting disease outbreaks, such as dengue fever, up to six months in advance.

She also announced the establishment in June this year, of IDAlert. This is an infectious disease decision support and alert system designed to tackle the emergence and transmission of zoonotic pathogens.

By developing novel indicators, innovative early warning systems and efficient tools for decision-makers, it aims to make Europe more resilient to emerging health threats.

4. Proactive not reactive


By no means overlooked, rodents featured in the fourth plenary presentation given by Dr Jason Munshi-South based at Fordham University in New York City, USA. He outlined his work looking at the ecology and evolution of rat populations species living in Manhattan, New York.

He explained how individual rat populations are connected over tens to hundreds of meters in NYC and how the age of buildings, socioeconomics and residential density can be used to predict rat numbers.

Whilst rat movements can be predicted by the type of built environment and urban infrastructure with small parks providing ideal rodent reservoirs.

He concluded by saying: “Management programmes need to be proactive rather than reactive. Larger scale strategies are required. Neighbourhood level interventions can drastically reduce rat populations.”

These results seem to be hitting home as on 15 July a number of New York City councillors put forward a series of Bills they are calling a “rat action plan.” These aim to tackle the growing rat population across the five boroughs.

One Bill would require construction companies to submit a rat mitigation plan before obtaining permits, whereas another would set up rat mitigation zones.

5. Doing things differently….

Complementing the scientific research papers there was a series of presentations where more practical user experiences were presented. One theme which stood out from these was that the industry had to do things differently and better. 

At least two speakers drew parallels from the agricultural sector. Dr Bill Robinson reminded everyone that the classic sprayer used today is still based on those developed for agriculture back in the 1940s. “We are applying 21st century pesticides with 70-year-old equipment and technology.”

Dr Dini Miller from Virginia Tech, USA drew another parallel saying: “We all talk about Integrated Pest Management. This is a term developed for use with crops in agriculture.

"We need to switch this to Assessment Pest Management. We need to asses insect populations, not just spray them.”

6. Doing things smarter….

Looking more to the future several speakers emphasised the growing significance of digital remote monitoring equipment.

With good and experienced technicians ever hard to attract and retain, remote monitoring offers the advantage of achieving more for less time spent – technicians are released from simply being ‘bait box checkers’. 

We need to shift the expectation placed on PCOs from being reactive to proactive. From putting out fires to being the smoke alarm.

Byron Reid, Bayer Digital Pest Management

In his presentation, Byron Reid from the Bayer Digital Pest Management team explained that he estimated there were over 20 million rodent monitors in use in the US alone. Just think how many there must be if you multiply this up globally.

“The use of electronic monitoring allows us to shift our approach from task-orientated bait box checking to strategic analysis, investigation and corrective planning. We need to shift the expectation placed on PCOs from being reactive to proactive. From putting out fires to being the smoke alarm,” he stated.

Another new smarter application on the horizon is a lateral flow test designed for detecting the presence of bed bugs. Presented by Alexander Ko from Bayer Environmental Science based in Cary, USA it has a similar set-up to a covid test and detects specific proteins left on surfaces by bed bugs.

Still, in the final development phase, it is hoped the product will be introduced next year.

7. Enjoyed by all


Having had to wait five years for this ICUP event certainly seemed to make delegates even more enthusiastic and were very appreciative that the event was finally happening.

The goodwill towards these ICUP events was neatly summed up by one delegate who wrote on their feedback form:

"Long-live ICUP." 

In addition, the social events added local flair. During the reception on the opening night, a local traditional band provided the entertainment.

On the second night there was an organised tour of the Saló del Cent (City Hall) and on the final night the gala dinner, during which, as is now an ICUP tradition, there was the making and flying of paper airplanes!

Delegates went home with a copy of the printed and bound proceedings, which contained the text of the oral presentations together with abstracts of the 60 posters.

In the autumn, these papers and posters will all be added to the permanent ICUP website. Here they, as well as the papers and posters from all previous ICUP conferences, can be searched, viewed and downloaded free-of-charge.

The next ICUP Conference, when the ‘ICUP family’ will once again be able to get together, will be in 2025. Further details, including the location, will be announced when available. 


Check out the ICUP website for past events, webinars, papers and more.

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