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How to Get into Airgun Pest Control

How to Get into Airgun Pest Control

Many people have an unrealistic idea of vermin control, very often thinking about it as another sporting day’s shooting, when they feel like it, or when they have time. Pest control is NOT sporting shooting. It is required when there is a threat to food crops or damage to buildings; threats to public health or the survival of protected species is endangered; and action needs to be taken quickly within the law. A farmer with a field of oilseed rape, which is under attack from hundreds of pigeons, needs something doing NOW and this needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Similarly, feral pigeons in a food production facility or in a paint shop in car factory (it does happen) can cost a lot of money.

Legal nightmare

This brings us into the debacle caused by the scrapping and re-issuing of the Open Licences. In my experience, talking to the general public, just because a species appears on the license does not mean it is fair game! All too often, many in the shooting community think it is okay to shoot these species without real due cause. Please read the terms of the license before you do! Can you justify your actions on one of the reasons given there? If so, fine. If not, then you are probably breaking the law. I talk to many people who want to control wood pigeons in the back garden but, unless you can prove ‘damage to food crops’ or ‘environmental health risks’, they are on dodgy ground.

As professional pest controllers or would-be PCs, we have a duty to do our best to achieve a clean kill, and to treat our quarry with respect and to be aware that not everyone will understand the issues around what we are dealing with. So, in a lot of the environments that you might be working in, you will often be captured on CCTV, or seen by a workforce, who may have to be educated into why we have to take the actions we are doing. If we don’t do this, we risk alienating the client’s work force and cause further problems for the company. You’re meant to be solving a problem, not causing one. In my experience, the Health & safety and HR departments in many factories are afraid of what the work force will think about us shooting pigeons. I know a car factory where, at the moment, pigeons are humanely trapped rather than shot. They are then taken outside and then released. This is all because of the fear of how the workforce will react to culling the birds. Guess where all the released pigeon fly back to. In this case, an education programme is being undertaken on the risks to public health and to the staff, particularly the risk of pigeon mites getting into the fabric of the factory’s air conditioning systems and the associated costs.

Doing things the right way

So, words of warning duly delivered, it’s time to consider how do you get into being a professional pest controller? Notice, I did say “professional.”

Remember I did say, at the beginning, that this is not ‘sporting shooting’. If you are wanting to help a farmer to protect his crops, then you have to come at it as a professional. The first place to start is to look at insurance and the legal aspects. A lot of insurance policies cover you for ‘sporting purposes’. Are you sure this covers you for your activities? If it does, then that’s great. However, if you have a potential claim, then you have to be able to prove due diligence. We live in a climate of litigation, where there is no such thing as an accident. If there is damage or an injury, “Who can we sue” is the immediate response, followed by “Who was to blame?” A recent claim for damages against a shooter amounted to £140K, but because documentary evidence was available, his insurance company had to pay out to settle the claim, rather than leave him to settle the bill. Would your insurance and paperwork support you? Or have you left the insurance company a way out.

To prove due diligence, we need a certain amount of documentary evidence that we have behaved within ‘good practice’, ‘within the law’ and that we have completed even a basic risk assessment and have a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs). The main problem is that good practice guidelines are a bit woolly, to say the least. I think you will need a number of documents that will keep your insurance company ‘happy’ (well, unhappy, really, as they’ll have to pay out in the event of a claim!) and which will also keep the government happy.

Making a start

I always start with justifying what I’m about to do with these threee questions: What. Why. How.

The answers might be: What: rabbit control; Why: crop protection; How: options are - 1) trapping 2) using ferrets & shotgun 3) Rifle shooting.

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So, we finish up with a structured analysis of the problem, the solutions open to us, and from that we can choose the best action to be taken. If the quarry is being killed under the open license, then this gives us our justification.

Next, there should be a plan of action or operating procedure, which will cover how are we going to carry out this activity. What do we need to do? Any notifications needed? Should we inform the Police, the landowner, neighbours etc. Do you have a risk assessment for this activity in this area? This could be a generic one that covers all the activity and all the risks involved. Do you have chrono records, and a service record, for the rifle or pistol we are using. Is it fit for purpose? I see a lot of kit that isn’t! Are we using the correct calibre for the job in hand? Many people aren’t, and if you are using the wrong kit, you leave yourself wide open to a non-humane kill allegation.

Managing risk

Do you have a risk assessment for your air bottle and a charging procedure in your standard operating procedure? Do you have any certification of your ability or skills? Being a keen amateur doesn’t really count anymore, and competition for ‘permissions’ is fierce.

Your risk assessment for the day’s activities can be a tick sheet that basically proves you are following your own best practice and standard operating procedures, and that you have taken everything into account. This also needs a comments box on it that allows for any unusual occurrences to be recorded; make a note of it, so that if there is a complaint to the landowner or yourself, it will come back two or three weeks later to haunt you (don’t rely on memory) you should also record the bag,

To sum up, you need in the office or at home a file, with: justification and analysis for every species you control; standard operating procedures for how YOU approach doing a job; a generic risk assessment and policy and a risk assessment and service record for your equipment including air bottle, pellets, rifle, night vision etc; a day sheet that proves your due diligence and that you follow your own procedures. This day sheet must have a comments box for anything unusual or out of the ordinary. This documentation proves you know what you are doing. There will still be unforeseen occurrences, but you have a history built up over time showing BEST PRACTICE. If you don’t have these documents, you are open to a claim, one that your insurance company will walk away from.

On the plus side, having this documentation shows the landowner that you are responsible, that you know what you are doing, and are protecting him and yourself from claims. This documentation, put together in a pack, can give you a marketing tool that sells your services.

Under the spotlight: Dave Mills

Dave Mills has spent the last 15 years training professional pest controllers. He has advised on putting safe systems of work into blue chip companies around the UK, some for building and employee protection, and some for food protection. He has analysed & advised on pest control in nuclear power stations, steel plants, food production factories and nature reserves, and he has trained many employees in pest control.

Conclusion

I carry out a lot of pest control training programmes; the above is just a snap-shot of what you need. We haven’t even considered safety/ballistics/ scopes/pellets/lasers/night vision/FAC airgun/shooting styles and techniques/ gun fit and many more things. Pest control work can be enjoyable and great fun, but it does have to be approached seriously and with thorough preparation. Be prepared and be safe.

Dave Mills can be contacted through: ateo.org.uk
Tel: 01543 450 173, or
email dave@ateo.org.uk.

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