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31 October 2022

Non-native species - do you know your obligations as a pest controller

TECHNICAL | PPC109 October 2022

The team at Scotland-based Pest Solutions encountered a traveller recently, so we asked Managing Director Chris Cagienard to explain the process when dealing with an imported non-native species.

non native hero

As professional pest controllers working in towns and cities throughout the UK, most species we encounter are the usual suspects. 

We know our native species well, and can easily identify what is and is not a ‘pest’ based on our training and experience. 

But what about the times when we are faced with the unknown: an animal or insect species that we are unable to identify or have no knowledge of? 

For many of us working inland, this is not so likely to happen. 

But there are many pest controllers who work in environments where the likelihood of encountering a non-native species is much higher, such as harbour ports, container yards, airports and the like.

What will you do when faced with a non-native species? Are you aware of your obligations? Are you aware of the risks?

I believe this is an area where we lack clear direction as an industry.

The story of Zippy, the Indian palm squirrel


At Pest Solutions, our Aberdeen team regularly work on ships and offshore vessels, as the port of Aberdeen is one of the busiest in the UK (due to the oil industry).

Natasha, one of our Graduate Service Technicians, received a call-out from a ship agency client to deal with a rodent on an exploration vessel that was due to dock. 

This ship arrived from India via Malta, and the crew encountered and caught a stowaway rodent identified as a squirrel.

The ship’s captain needed the rodent removed from the vessel on safety grounds. 

When Natasha and her fellow graduate Clara attended, they found the squirrel had been trapped in a box by the crew. They were able to safely transfer it to a cage to allow them to examine the animal to try to identify it.

It quickly became clear that it was a squirrel, but not one we had seen before. Using zoology training and the power of the internet, they could identify that the rather small and fast-moving fellow was an Indian palm squirrel.

What next?

‘Zippy’, as they named him, could not remain onboard as he may have damaged sensitive equipment. Would you know what to do next? There are lots of things to be aware of when dealing with non-native species.

A non-native stowaway animal may be a carrier of diseases that we do not have in the UK, such as rabies. It is your responsibility to understand these risks, and you must ensure that you are wearing suitable PPE so that you are protected from bites or scratches.

It is your responsibility to inform the correct authorities of the existence of any such animal you encounter and to request guidance on how it should be treated. Do you know that you are required to contact, report and request advice from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)? If you were not aware, you are now.

Campbell at the Animal and Plant Health Agency said: “Every scenario may be different. Disease risks are dynamic, and each situation will need individual risk assessments. 

“In the first instance, I recommend calling the numbers detailed according to the location of your incident.”

I guessed that the Indian palm squirrel would have originated from India, but Campbell informed me that Malta has a significant resident population of palm squirrels as well. 

The fact that they were the direct result of poor control of non-native species is a good example of why we need to be careful. Indeed, many of the species we now count as pests arrived on our shores from elsewhere originally.

Are you ready to do the right thing when faced with a non-native species?

Happy ending for Zippy


Natasha and Clara transported Zippy to The New Arc animal sanctuary near Aberdeen, where he underwent a planned period of quarantine and is being well looked after.

The New Arc team are investigating if he can be returned home or if he can be relocated to a more permanent home. His story made many of the UK’s newspapers and even gained an article in the New York Post.

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